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.
Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir’s “Life and Political Reality”, the first of two novellas in this collection and more aptly described as a long paragraph, is a breathless account mostly of two days fifteen years apart—and to some extent a few days in between. The first day is the day the then-West Pakistani army enters Lakshmi Bazar, a small neighbourhood in East Pakistan in 1971.
After the Buddha died or, as believers hold, attained Mahaparinirvana, the remains of his body—tooth, hair, bones—were reportedly disseminated to different Buddhist stupas in India. These relics have been understood to be at the centre of various miracles and legends since then and have also been highly coveted objects. Rulers of various kingdoms have wanted to get hold of these relics in their bid to legitimate their sovereignty with the Buddha’s blessings. As a result, each relic has interesting stories around its existence—about being lost, stolen, refound, and even destroyed.
Saadat Hasan Manto is a writer the South Asian reviewer or commentator attempts with trepidation. Usually approached in anthologies of Partition literature where the brutality and violence of being human are expected, there is temptation to wash one hands of him by reading Toba Tek Singh, his most well-known story about the exchange of inmates of mental asylums between the newly independent India and Pakistan and thereby, along with maybe a couple more, tick the box.
The grand churches of Europe are studied as great works of art and architecture. They continue to fascinate believers, historians, and art historians alike. The great names behind these works are hailed as legends and visionaries blending beauty with devotion to give meaning to the rituals that these buildings were home to. Compared to these monuments, what does India, as a land of great faiths and temples, offer as manifestations of art, architecture, religiosity, ritual, and symbols of power—both divine and human?