June 19, 2021
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'No One In India Has Ever Spoken In One Voice'

'No One In India Has Ever Spoken In One Voice'

An expansive interview with Amitav Ghosh in Guernica where, among many fascinating things, he 'discusses the link between anthropology and writing, The New Yorker’s edit of his essay on the Iraq war, and John Updike’s worst book'.  With many interesting insights about the diaspora, various literary figures, his literary tastes (doesn't care much for The Catcher in the Rye) and much else besides. Some excerpts:

Salman Rushdie

'His books are national projects. One book was sort of like a modern history of India, the other is modern history of Pakistan. But I don’t think one can write about India like that'

V.S. Naipaul

'I don’t think I would agree with more than like ten or twenty things that he says. I think he’s completely wrong about a lot of things... His representations of India, his representations of Islam. I think very often they’re just mistaken. They’re just in fact a sort of perverse kind of autobiography rather than representations of what he sees...Often I think the weaknesses of Naipaul’s work come from the fact of his having grown up in a circumstance where there were very intense small conflicts. Where he, I think, could never really claim Trinidad for himself, and never felt enabled to claim it for himself'

Arundhati Roy

'She’s not afraid of talking about emotion. About very essential, powerful, human emotions. And that’s what you don’t find in American writing anymore. It’s just so ironicized, it’s just boring. I can’t read any American writing anymore; it’s just not interesting to me'

and on being asked about the women writers from India he likes, and whether he likes Jhumpa Lahiri:

'Anita Desai, she’s a great favorite. Kiran Desai, who’s a very dear friend… You know, it’s such a long list, I could just go on. It’s a very fortunate moment to be an Indian writer'

On how the IWE were received in places like the US:

And the sorts of reviews we would get, it would be like, you know the singing dogs? It’s just interesting because they do it. But I think that’s what really changed... I would say. I think that’s what really changed with people like Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha. I think they really changed the grounds of the debate so that it was no longer possible to take that position in relation to us. So I really respect what they’ve done. Does it in any way inform my writing? I don’t think so.

On India:

One of the interesting things about the Indian voice is that it’s always been a composite voice. As late as the nineteenth century every Bengali learned Persian; it was normal! We’ve always learned Sanskrit. No one in India has ever spoken in one voice; it’s not something anyone thinks of. But this much is clear: India and China in the 18th century controlled 50% of world trade. After the end of colonialism they controlled less than 2 percent of world trade. But what is happening? The balance is being righted. India and China will again control 50% of world trade. And it’s taken us… We’re just now awakening from the long night of that colonial experience.

Read the full piece at the Guernica

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