Was Prince Siddhartha’s wife Yasodhara so awful that he felt compelled to renounce everything to get away from it all? So runs, at least, a misogynistic joke about the story of Buddha’s life and Enlightenment. The question remains, however, and in recent times, this story has been revisited in fiction to imagine the circumstances that could have led to his departure from worldly affairs.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was the earliest advocate of the Non-Alignment Movement, a doctrine that enabled the newly decolonized nations to keep away from the larger world politics of the Cold War. Additionally, Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, took the stance of non-violence that, in the sphere of international politics, restrained India from interacting with the world in a way that requires aggression. On the one hand, both non-alignment and non-violence have encouraged a view of India as a nation that has not engaged with the world in terms of clearly taking a stand in the face of international conflicts. On the other, India also has also been known to cultivate strategic alliances with nations that show considerably less reticence contrary to the spirit of non-alignment. India also maintains nuclear weapons, thus seemingly violating the fundamentals of non-alignment and non-violence.
Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo’s collection The Wait and Other Stories, translated by Xavier Cota into English, stands out for its simplicity. One might expect it to be about Goa, the region in southwestern Indian where Konkani is spoken. However, the canvas of the storytelling is far wider.
South Asia is a literary universe unto itself. It is home to hundreds of languages intersecting in multiple ways with history, ritual, and traditions of the classical Sanskrit as well as vernacular orality. In Sensitive Reading: The Pleasures of South Asian Literature in Translation, editors Yigal Bronner and Charles Hallisey put together a set of texts from multiple languages translated by renowned Indologist David Shulman (along with works of music as well as a work of visual art). The chosen texts all to a greater or lesser extent deal with love—declarations of love, desire, longing, love for the divine, and the pain of separation. Their curation brings together the classics from the ancient and medieval periods in Indian history with a smattering of works closer to the present—19th and 20th centuries.
In India, caste can determine power and privilege. Indian fiction captures the nature of this power and privilege in different ways. Some novels depict the characters belonging to lower castes (Dalits) as victims (for instance, Mulk Raj Anand’s The Untouchables, one of the early classics of Indian English fiction) and some as villains in the sense of anti-heroes (the 2008 Booker winner Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger).
There are two thoughts about how English fits in India. One holds that it is a foreign language; the other claims that it is an Indian language. In her book Vernacular English: Reading the Anglophone in Postcolonial India, Akshya Saxena takes English out of this Indian/foreign binary and argues that it should be seen on the spectrum of its usage in India. At one end of this spectrum is its use by the state (in official documents and even in election slogans). At the other end is the use of English in protests against the state.
In India, a land of many languages, not all languages are created equal. In particular, the government has designated a half dozen as being “classical” and therefore deserving of special support. One of these is Sanskrit, but others are still being spoken (albeit in versions very different from the ancient times). One of these officially venerable languages is Telugu, spoken in two southern provinces Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The “best” in Telugu: The Best Stories of Our Times—a collection of works from 26 writers, selected by award-winning Telugu writer Volga and translated by by Alladi Uma and M Sridhar—is not meant as a superlative or subjective but rather as a reflection of Telugu-speaking society since the 1990s: the “our times” of the title.