Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why You Can't Read These Stars of India

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why You Can't Read These Stars of India

Article excerpt

You have probably never heard of them. But Claude Alvares, Dharampal and Ashis Nandy are big names in India. Any Indian version of Waterstone's "Top 100 Books of the Century" would certainly include works by these writers. What they have in common, apart from being self-proclaimed radical intellectuals who write in English, is their refusal to have most of their works published in the west.

Yet until recently publication in the west was the conventional route to fame and recognition in India. Aspiring scholars and writers sought to have their books published first by an American or British publisher and then tried to bring out a local edition through an Indian publisher. The assumption was that if one desired to be heard in India, one had first to be published in the west.

All that has changed. Alvares regards the western publishing industry as a totally "imperialistic enterprise". It works on the same principle as technology transfer. Technology always flows from the west to India and the west frequently dumps its obsolete, irrelevant and off-the-shelf consumer goods on the third world. Similarly the flow of books is almost exclusively one way. "We are being drowned in this incredible stream of garbage," Alvares asserts, "which has hijacked our minds and made Indian thinkers strangers in their own land."

Alvares has established his own publishing house, The Other Indian Press, which publishes more than 50 titles a year. Others have followed Alvares' lead. The past few years have seen the emergence of a host of new publishers, such as Stree, Kali for Women and Seagull Press, all aiming to promote indigenous writing.

The issue is in essence about the politics of knowledge. Where one publishes often determines whom one writes for and what one has to say. Dharampal's work, for example, is all about rescuing Indian history from the clutches of western historians. …

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