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.