My Foray Into The Magical World of Literature (3/3): Kamala Das to Manu Joseph

Sangeetha Alwar
2 min readJan 24, 2021

A true discovery of Indian Literature in English and in translation only began through my English Masters curriculum — it took a while to make peace with the fact that my college did not have Shakespeare/Keats/Yeats but had names like Raja Rao, Anna Akhmatova and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I understand it now and I am deeply grateful.

Canons of literature are canons for a reason, true. But that doesn’t mean we need to insist on reading only them in academia. The Indian Arts departments need to acknowledge that English was imposed on us — it wasn’t a choice.

Inherent prejudice against the vernacular, and literary elitism are the unpleasant remains of colonialism — which we still mistake to be erudition.

Though my curriculum was limited (as most of them are), the library offered my choices aplenty. The books I read had a different kind of allure as compared to the ones I had been reading before. I could now believe what I was reading to be reality — it could happen to me, in my city and in my country. I no longer had to look up cities and maps to just get a feel of the place — this was a breath of fresh air.

A fairly recent stroke of brilliance by Kandasamy in her reply to a bigot on Twitter!

I read Rushdie, Anita Nair, Kiran and Anita Desai, Amartya Sen, Meena Kandasamy, Mahashweta Devi and Jerry Pinto among others. World Literature was another course that sent me down a path hitherto undiscovered — to read Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Anna Akhmatova, even in translation was magical.

I firmly believe that the sole duty of a course in the Arts must be to expose its students to all the literature that awaits consumption and not pigeonhole the entire syllabus into an archaic misconception of ‘classic’ literature.



Sangeetha Alwar

A Professor of English by day, a “Quasimodoesque” figure while hunched over the iPad, a reluctant academician and a passionate reader.