February 20, 2020
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Proof Of A Pudding

Gives translations a complete go-by. All poetry is passé. So is drama. Political reportage is hot in non-fiction. Fiction disappoints.

Proof Of A Pudding
First Proof—The Penguin Book Of New Writing From India
Penguin Pages: 440; Rs 295
The need for a Granta-like anthology of new writing in India has long been felt, so one eagerly scanned First Proof for fresh names, fresher writing. Over 30 years ago, Penguin’s New Writing in India edited by Adil Jussawala brought a similar anthology. English then was still struggling to be heard in Indian literary circles. Political verse with a distinct bias for the fashionable socialism of the ’60s—translated from a range of Indian languages—was the dominant genre. This anthology gives translations a complete go-by. Political verse, actually all poetry, is also passé. So is drama. The new, hot genre of non-fiction is political reportage and the names are familiar—Saba Naqvi Bhaumik, Sankarshan Thakur, Ajai Shukla.... A refreshing, maverick piece is Manmohan Malhoutra’s Living Dangerously with V.S. Naipaul, an account of when he accompanied Naipaul as he researched the malodorous reality of mofussil India for An Area of Darkness. Funny and cruel (but never cynical), it has a sophistication other, more self-consciously profound pieces, lack.

Sadly, the fiction section disappoints. With the exception of Mamang Dai’s story, Woman, Leaf, the stories are set in urban India and mostly have a weary sameness.

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