“I can tell you as a novelist that I wouldn’t want to be Caucasian, Christian or American. Because there just isn't enough raw material if you are any of these.”
I was a bit surprised at this comment by Pakistani writer, H.M.Naqvi. He has lived in New York and returned to his hometown Karachi. For someone who can invoke hip-hop despite being from an “Urdu-speaking background”, the remark was strange. I would understand if he had said that as an outsider those cultures/identities might be difficult for him to navigate or were inaccessible. Instead, he said there isn’t enough raw material if you are any of these. Absolute rubbish. South Asia may have more ‘colour’, but how can we dismiss off the others mentioned?
Is Black writing more relevant than Caucasian writing? In what context? What kind of Christian is referred to here? And besides the Bible, a most quotable work, there is quite a bit of literary exploration that has been done from varied Christian schools of thought. As for American writing, I wonder how Mailer, Bellow, Miller, Salinger, Fitzgerald, Updike, Plath, Hemingway among the few who wrote often quite specifically about their country managed to find the raw material. And one is not even going into the territory of American literature by outsiders or ethnic groups as well as the huge output of poetry. America has had its fair share of struggles, including the Great Depression.
While it is quite natural to choose one’s own environment and personal ideology as the canvas, I find such blanket assertions rather narrow-minded and racist in their own way.
Patrick French, author of India: A Portrait goes the other way and says his book is a “biography of 1.2 billion people. And what about that? “I’m drawn to complicated subjects. In writing about India, I was trying to make an inexplicable subject comprehensible.”
Comprehensible to whom? How can a nation be inexplicable – what aspect of it is French talking about? Is it the writer voice or the ‘other’ voice or the human voice or the global voice or the inquisitive voice or the empathetic voice or the sympathetic voice or the voice of reason or the voice of emotion? Which voice is deciding that India is complicated and which voice will make it understandable and for what kind of audience?
Are people uniform entities?
“You don’t sound Indian enough.” How often have I heard this and how often do I want to ask how nationality can be measured. The sound of my words may not carry the baggage of the soil, but the undergrowth has to do with the environment. I don’t wish to take the quick way out and say I am a global citizen, for I know the globe is one round blob but everyone is chasing everyone else to be the next superpower, the next big franchise deal and even the next Paris Hilton. And I don’t want to flash my India card deliberately, too, only because it will give me a niche market. If it is generic to what I am saying, then yes. If it flows as part of the flood of emotions, then yes.
But I’d be damned if I’d let it act as a dam.
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Here is a political look at the subject in No Multiculturalism Please, We’re British