The idea called India today affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people. This idea is embodied by a geographic area which has ever-changing borders in the minds of those who name(d) it. We who were born on Indian soil know it. Those who were not but who are related to India in some way feel a very powerful relationship between themselves and India.
Those born at this moment, in these hours, weeks and months fall into a different category. They are the contemporaries of nations and countries named.
They will come to call places India, Israel, Ecuador, Panama, America, Europe & etc. There is lessening influence from the time when they were not named as such. As the years pass those who called other names, or fought for other names or fought naming, grow older and eventually die.
When a person who thinks carefully about names has a child, it is a moment of great importance. For many, naming a child is an important act, but for many others naming does not stop there. The act of teaching names to a child is equally important. Because the names one teaches may live for at least another generation through this act.
Early in his essay, “Damme, This is the Oriental Scene for You!” (New Yorker, June 23 & 30, 1997, p.52) Salman Rushdie makes use of a newborn name: Indo-Anglian literature. And in so doing teaches the many children of his revolution a new name. Whether this name lives for another literary generation depends upon its use and its use, as with all language, is a function of its necessity. Indo-Anglian literature is, by the parameters of its creation, a contemporary art. Contemporary arts throughout history are marked with factors that distinguish them from previous movements. Among these factors perhaps the most impressive is risk. In contemporary arts risk may become more valuable than endurance.
History is dying.
The era of the written word as a valuable and trustworthy guide to understanding is yielding itself to other processes by which we come to estimate the world around us. The diversity of the tools and media we have available to estimate and distribute estimations of events and acts around the world are affecting literature in unprecedented ways. The historical word, first spoken, then written and now reduced to an accompaniment to images in both written and oral forms, is dying.
In its place a concert of word and image and sound and space and portrayal and metaphor are being utilized to represent truth. The modern citizen of the physical world must deal with this as the ideological world shrinks to the size of a p-nut in the palm of an Indian boy running the aisle of a plane travelling a tres grande vitesse on 16mm film, 24 frames per second.
The greatest contemporary artists in the written history of the arts have been brave. In the face of change and alteration of beliefs, they have sought methods by which they can represent truths. These artists exist today. They seek trust. They try to represent hope. They are as Gandhiji, conducting “My Experiments with the Truth.” In this way we are living in a very complex time for an artist or writer who wishes to participate at the most important, the most global, the most contemporary level.
Indo-Anglian writing and arts share, with the arts of other ancient cultures (Afro-Anglian? Chino-Anglian? Sino-Anglian?) the new joy of working in the Post-Colonial Era. Indeed, the joy of supporting the end of the colonial era in an effort to support the whole one-ness of the human species. At his wonderfully unifying musical concerts, the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti used to say, “You can say many things with English, but in order to say many other things which are true you must break it, which is why we speak broken English. This next song is in broken English. You must break your English to understand it.”
In this country, we are faced with a unique set of problems as artists and writers trying to represent truth with the tools available to us. We are subject to the philosophies of the dominant culture in the United States of America, which paradoxically represent the Colonial Attitude in a different aspect.
To be an Indo-Anglian writer in the United States is to choose to be a contemporary artist working in a contemporary arena to represent truths which affect millions of people using the tools available in the most powerful country in the world, an awesome task.
The writers who represent post-colonial Indian thought in literature in English are dedicated to many similar topics, but writers who are Indo-Anglian face the same difficulties with naming as anyone who wishes to express: we do not want to be grouped. And yet we are all tied to this land mass which, as an island something like 45 million years ago smashed its way into the continental spread of Asia forcing up the formation of the tallest mountain in the world and the twisted masses of mountainous geography in the North of India. Such a violent, willful act of inclusion seems so contradictory to this desire for independence.
Choosing to be here in the US, I struggle to represent the truths I experience despite this. In the United States the way in which the cultures relate has been poisoned by the specter of racism. The complex way in which racism was born, named and now has insidiously changed itself into a thing which can exist despite the stated collective desires for freedom, peace and equality is a direct function of the way this country has been created. It is something for which everyone who lives here is responsible.
In conclusion, I care about where you are from … but how we behave now that we are all here is what concerns me most.
M.T. Karthik, Harlem, August 10, 1997
[did not appear in the New Yorker magazine]