Friday, March 04, 2011

The 10 (okay, 13) Commandments of Writing Indian Fiction in English

For those of you who know me (or at the very least read my blogs or tweets) you may recall that I am a fan of fiction. By virtue of my ethnic origins, I also bear more than a passing interest in fiction written by writers from the South Asian subcontinent. Including that written in English.

Indian authors have written in English for decades now. However, only recently has the work that they've produced taken on an international dimension; with the Indian community spread far and wide across the globe, publishers have discovered a new genre in fiction: the indubitable Indian Writing in English (henceforth known as IWE). This happy interest in all things Indian has also been mirrored by a growing non-desi interest in South Asian fiction. So just as much of Britain finds going for a curry part of the norm on a Friday night, so do literary types in Bloomsbury offices and Hampstead flats find reading the latest product of the dusty subcontinent gratifying in an intellectually suggestive way.

This international interest, has, of course, opened the flood gates to thousands of Indians, educated in the English language, to try their hand at writing the great Indian novel. (No, not The Great Indian Novel - that's already been written by some former UN bureaucrat) But what these poor souls, all frantically rushing to hurl their mediocre Indian childhoods into a word document, do a quick "Find - Replace" for major character names, and then add a title don't realise is that there are very clear rules to be a successful writer of Indian fiction in English. The title of IWE is not one lightly bestowed or easily won.

However, because I am a kind and nurturing soul, I've taken the liberty of codifying the main principles of how to write a novel in order to win the title of IWE. Stick to these, oh mediocre writer, and all will be well. Watch the plaudits come rolling in, the publishers lining up at your door, and the pundits gushing over your shoddy tale in the weekend edition of The Hindustan Times.

The Ten (okay, Thirteen) Commandments

1. Thy Book Must Have a Title That is Strange & Wonderful. Also Very Long.

2. Thy Narrative Style Must Be Long Winded With Disjointed Grammar. And Much Punctuation. Badly Used.

3. Thy Male Characters Must Be Misogynists, Brutal & Uncaring. Or Sensitive & Caring. But Only If Gay. Or Dead.

4. Thy Female Characters Must Be Sexually Frustrated, Oppressed & Withered. Or Wild, Wanton & Uncontrolled. But Dead.

5. Someone In Thy Fiction Must Have Magical Powers. Or Purport To Have Some. Preferably a Grandparent. Preferably Female.

6. Thou Shalt Write About The Sordidness & Poverty Of India. Thou Shalt Not Ignore Caste or Religion-Based Violence.

7. Thy Novel Must Have Long Passages Devoted to Indian Food & Its Preparation. They Must Be Boring. And Accurate.

8. Thou Shalt Write About the Healing Powers of Spices. And Not Ignore The Sexual Tensions Inherent In Green Chillies.

9. They Characters Who Live Outside India Must Return to Discover Themselves. And Be Desperately Unhappy Wherever They Are.

10. Thy Prose Shalt Be Peppered With Much Vernacular. But Italicised & Used Like a Foreigner. Like French. Or English.

11. Thy Novel Shalt Have Tales of Lust. Preferably Incestuous. Or Consummated Amongst Pickles. Or Spices. Or All Three.

12. Thy Characters Shalt Always Have Bad Sex. Straight Sex will be Dull & Unsatisfying. Gay Sex Shalt Be Rancid & Devious.

13. If Travelling Abroad, Thy Brahmin Character Shalt Debase His Purity Via The Medium of Alcohol, Meat & White Women.

And as some old crabby God said to the Israelites in the Middle East - keep my commands and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.

Now go forth and prosper, ye maggoty rats.