Category: April A to Z Challenge

X is for eXophoric

X is for eXophoric


It’s X day and I’m late. But today I bring on not one but three eXophoric authors. That is, multilingual authors who grew up speaking one language yet chose to write in another. India has lots of authors who write in English, so it really doesn’t seem like such a big deal. However the authors I have picked for today have not just written in their adopted language but have crafted works that have gone onto become Internationally loved.

Ha Jin (Born February 1956)

From a young teen who didn’t know a word of English to teaching it as a professor in an English speaking country and becoming an award winning author.. how’s that for progress? As a young boy Ha Jin joined the People’s Liberation Army. By the time he was 17 he was teaching himself the high-school course. In his late teens he joined an English Learner’s Programme only because he wanted to read, in original, Friedrich Engels’ book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844′. At the University he was assigned English as a major despite it being his last choice. Later he went on to study in America and stayed on after the Tienanmen Massacre. His books ‘Waiting’ and ‘War Trash’ won various awards.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

He was a true multilinguist. Born an Irishman he is one of the most famous novelist, poet, playwrite and theatre director. He had degrees in French and Italian. His works, at least initially were very strongly influenced by friend and fellow Irishman James Joyce who was similarly qualified and equally well-known. Beckett is known for his black comedy and a rather tragic take on human nature. He began writing in English. After the Second World War he switched to French. He said French allowed him to write in much simpler form and let him ‘escape the habits’ of English writing. His French works are thus rather minimalistic. In 1956 he returned to English and then on wrote his works in both languages. He translated his own works too. He is perhaps the only author whose entire works exist in two languages and also one who wrote simultaneously in two languages. Each time he translated his works, he revised them. What an interesting read it would be if one were to compare the same works in the two different languages!

Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1954)

He was Polish by birth and couldn’t even speak English fluently till his late twenties and even then with a strong Polish accent (which is why he could never take on teaching assignments). It was his third language after Polish and French. Conrad never finished school however he left with a knowledge of Latin, German and Greek along with Polish and French. He was fluent in the the latter two. He picked up English while working aboard a British ship from his shipmates. He was hired to take a steamship to Africa and was so appalled by the horrors inflicted by colonial rule that he felt he had to write about them and the fictional account turned into a book – Heart of Darkness. His works offer glimpses of French, Polish and Russian literature. He once commented, “English is so plastic – if you haven’t got a word you need you can make it, but to write French you have to be an artist.”

Isn’t that just the opposite of what Beckett said? And this is what I find so very interesting about authors. I love the way they perceive languages, the way they find their comfortable linguistic corners and come with startling works.

Personally, since I do not know French, I would go with Conrad. Living in India learning English has come to me quite as naturally as Hindi, my mother tongue and our national language. It is indeed one of the most pliant languages, absorbing diverse slangs, adapting multilingual words making them it’s own and allowing people world over to make it their own too. And so we have American English, British English and Australian English. Back home in India we have Hinglish, Punglish and scores of South Indian versions.

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Tomorrow I bring for you another Exophoric author from China. Her books are rather dark, even gory yet the glimpse of China they offer is priceless. Stay tuned.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

W is for Wodehouse

W is for Wodehouse

1881-1975
Today’s author is, to put it in his own words, – a dashed good fellow, although much of Britain didn’t think so for quite some time. It’s PG Wodehouse today and you need to read on to find out why he decided to make his home in the US despite being born in Britain.

The Beginning..

To put it in his own words, “I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.”

So, British humourist, PG Wodehouse, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse or simply Plum, started writing pretty young. He was born in a family with a long respectable lineage. He spent his childhood being looked after by a nanny. Till he turned 15 his parents barely spent 6 months with him. He also lived with a varied bunch of aunts and was very close to his older brother.

… and then he became a writer

Although he was expected to go to Oxford like his brother, a turn in the family fortunes made him take up a position at the HSBC bank. Banking was hardly his cup of tea. He kept up his writings and finally took up position as a journalist. H progressed to writing for a number of publications. Later his stories were compiled for his first books. He also wrote lyrics for muscial comedies and some plays too. Oh he was very very prolific! He was knighted a few years before his death.

Brush with the Nazis

When WW 2 broke out Wodehouse was in France. In a typically ‘Wodehousian’ manner he was completely uninterested in world affairs. He didn’t return to Britain and stayed on in France apparently because ‘his wife couldn’t bear to leave their dog’. When the German’s occupied France they interned Wodehouse. After they released him he did some radio broadcasts for them that showed him being civil to the German military. He anticipated he would be appreciated for having kept up the British stiff upper lip. However, that didn’t happen. People, in a wartime mood, accused him of treason, of having struck a deal with the Germans for his early release. 
Author’s like AA Milne (of Winnie the Pooh) criticised him heavily. Others like George Orwell wrote in his favour. He quotes Wodehouse in his essay ‘In Defence of PG Wodehouse’…


“I never was interested in politics. I’m, quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent feeling. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts or feelings.”

Doesn’t that sound just like Wodehouse?
You can read the full text here. http://www.drones.com/orwell.html.


An investigation, later on absolved him of all blame, calling him merely naive. However the truth never came out clearly in his lifetime. For some time his books were banned in Britain and he never went back taking up an American citizenship and staying there till the end of his days.

He writes about…

… the vagaries of upper class British society. That was a smart thing to do since it was a world he was familiar and comfortable with being born and bred there. He writes with humour and weaves in scores of loveable laughable characters.
First, his very English humour
He has a wonderfully underplayed, dry sense of humour. It is almost always delivered with a British straight face, with a high handed dignity that you cannot simply smile at, you have to roll with it. At other times it catches you unexpectedly out if the blue. My favourite times, however, are when I see it coming… And I wait for it till it is upon me. Then there’s that physical aspect too with the characaters literally ‘falling’ into traps. Oh it’s tough deconstructing the Wodehouse humour.
And his characters..

Reginald Jeeves has to go first. He became a benchmark for the perfect butler, even though he was more valet than butler (yeah I know the difference from watching Downton Abbey episodes back to back over the last few days). He is perhaps the only fictional character who has a search engine named after him askjeeves.com. Wodehouse based the character on a real life butler Eugene Robinson. The name Jeeves came from a cricket player Percy Jeeves. Though Jeeves is obviously way smarter than his master his proper English upbringing will not let him quite say so. 
Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, Bertie Wooster is Jeeves’ woozy master. ‘Mentally negligible’, regularly falling in and out of love, always ready to help a friend or to take on the craziest wager – yeah that would be him. He got his middle name from a horse who won his father money the day before Bertie was born. He struck a kind of lottery when he fired his butler for stealing and Jeeves came to him from the agency. Jeeves stuck on from them, extricating him from scrapes and improper romantic engagements (which he probably considers the same thing).

And the aunts. I cannot wrap up without mentioning them considering PGW did a book called ‘Aunts aren’t gentlemen’. I doubt his books would have been the same without the gaggle of daunting aunts lead by Aunt Dahlia and Aunt Agatha. “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof,” says he.

And there are scores of others – Psmith, Lord Emsworth, Galahad Threepwood,The Oldest Member, Gussie Fink Nottle and so many many more. So who’s your favourite?

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Once again give yourselves a rest. No guessing for Monday. But do drop by… another ‘special’ post coming up.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

V is for Vikram Seth

V is for Vikram Seth

Born 1952
I begin this post with a confession – I don’t quite know the entire works of this author other than the single one I enjoyed. Given that Vikram Seth’s greatest love is poetry and I’m not much of a poetry person this post is destined to be lopsided. However I am hoping my love for his single epic work A Suitable Boy and for him as a person will offset my ignorance. Bear with me dear readers. And if the poets among you will comment upon his poetry, I will be truly grateful.

First, a bit about his life…

Vikram Seth was born in Kolkata and spent his childhood in Patna to a businessman father, Prem Seth and judge mother Leila Seth. He studied at St Xavier’s, Patna, Welham’s Boys’ School and later at the famous Doon School of Dehradun, India.

A Suitable Boy

‘I took seven years to write it and 3 to recover,‘ says Seth. The book is an epic novel of over 1400 pages and traverses the Indian cities of Brahmpur (imaginary), Calcutta, Delhi and Kanpur. Set in post partition India the books centres on a mother’s search for a Suitable Boy for her 19 year old daughter Lata. Where there’s a young girl looking for marriage, there has to be some kind of a love story, right? And so we watch as Lata makes up her mind between her three suitors.. The one she loves – Kabir, the practical choice – Haresh and the one most like her – Amit. Along the way we get an insight into the India of that time – the Hindu-Muslim strife, an inside view of a politician’s life, the Zamindari system and much more. It is a simple story told simply with no pretensions of high flown language or over the top emotions. A Suitable Boy is a book not to be just read. It is meant to be befriended.

What impresses me about him as a person..

His knowledge

He knows French, German, Welsh and even Mandarin in addition to English, Hindi and Urdu. He has learnt Classical Chinese poetry. He also plays the flute and the cello. He has dabbled in Indian and Western classical music though he loves the latter more. He sings Leider (German love songs), specially Schubert. Oh and he has studied creative writing and also holds a graduate degree in Economics from Stanford University. He’s a travel writer and a children’s writer as well. Amazing, isn’t it? 

His honesty

He has never made an attempt to hide his sexuality and is a self-confessed bisexual. Of course it can be largely credited to his family. His mother has written about his homosexuality too and of her coming to terms with it. Here’s what he has to say about himself..
Some like Jack and some like Jill
I’m glad I like them both 
but still I wonder if this freewheeling really is an enlightened thing
Or is it’s greater scope a sign of deviance from some party line
In the strict ranks of gay and straight
What is my status: Stray or great?

His bravery

I like the way he stands up to his beliefs. He openly opposed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay sex at a function in the presence of the Indian President. Although he’s a very private peson he has been very vocal about the subject. Says he, “To not be able to love the one you love is to have your life wrenched away.”

His quiet sef-deprecating wit

His is not the kind of wit that has you rolling with laughter. It’s the kind that makes you smile and ensures the smile stays there for a long long time. Sample his quotes..

I often feel newspapers are just filling up space. Of course, I also know people who write really long books.

Basically my mother couldn’t hold a tune and when I was a baby, a rather tactless baby, I would ask her not to sing… You can’t get to sleep if someone is singing off key nearby.
(and now I’m wondering why my son specifically asks me not to sing each night!!)
If you’re a fan like me, here’s an interview you’ll certainly like to read. Seth is a private person and this is the most forthright interview I’ve ever come across. http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?232671
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If Vikram Seth’s wit was the quiet kind, tomorrow’s author is one who’ll have you laughing out loud. If you haven’t guessed already, he has the honour of being knighted and goes by the nickname Plum. Easy peasy I know.
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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

U is for Upamanyu Chatterjee

U is for Upamanyu Chatterjee

Born 1959

I’m not quite sure how to begin about Upamanyu Chatterjee since I’m a one-book fan. However there was something so authentic about that one book that I wanted to write about it’s author. The book was – English August, published in 1988. It had to be born out of personal experience – just the way most wonderful books are born (Yeah well Harry Potter is one of the exceptions).

I read some of his other works too like The Last Burden, The Mammaries of the Welfare State but didn’t enjoy them much. I found them rather cumbersome and much too long.

Chatterjee lived his novel

Born in Bihar he studied at St Xaviers and then at the prestigious St Stephens. He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1983. That marked, not just the start of his administrative career but also his literary one. It was at his postings that he picked his characters and crafted his first book, English August, published in 1988.

English August…

… tells the story of a young boy Agastya Sen, August, Ogu or simply English, to his friends and relatives. He spends his early days in Delhi and Calcutta and then, like the author, becomes a Civil Servant following in his father’s footsteps. His first posting takes him to the tiny provincial town of Madna. Rural India is eons away from its urban counterpart and Agastya is completely culturally alienated.
Then follows a cynical yet witty account of Agastya’s life as he fights frogs in his bathroom and mosquitoes in his bedroom. There is absolutely nothing heroic about this protagonist. He hardly tries to fix the system as any self-respecting hero would. He chooses to go with the flow. Losing himself in a marijuana induced lethargy, lying on his bed he spends his days faking illness and staring at the ceiling. A more aimless confused protagonist you won’t find.

It is Chatterjee’s characters that hold you. Along with Agastya there is the pompous boss, his wife – who heads the cultural activities of the town, the America-influenced young man who roams around with a ‘walkman’ (where did they vanish?).. delightfully familiar, aren’t they?

To me..

… the book is special because I stumbled upon it some six years after its publication when I had just moved to Mumbai. Although there were absolutely no similarities between the protagonist and me or between the tiny town of Madna and mad mad Mumbai yet the newness of the place, the heat, the feeling of disconnect and of utter loneliness were all so real that the book will always remind of my early days there.

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Sreeja you got it yet again and on a slim clue this time!

It’s another Indian author tomorrow, one who is responsible for the cutting down of many many trees..and that’s kind of a cryptic clue. Yeah well.. I’m just trying to spice things up a bit as we near the end. Come now do give it a shot. How many Indian authors are there beginning with the letter ‘V’?
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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014, for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge
T is for Tahmima Anam

T is for Tahmima Anam

Born 1975
All of us Indians share this great curiosity for our Western neighbours, Pakistan. In quite a contrast, tucked away quietly in the Eastern corner, our other neighbour Bangladesh draws very little attention even though it shares as much of our history as does Pakistan. In many ways it is more similar to the Indian state of West Bengal than it is to Pakistan, of which it was once a part.
I wasn’t sure what I’d be served when I picked up A Good Muslim by a Bangladeshi author Tahmima Anam. However the novel affected me like few others have. I found myself thinking about the right and wrong of religion and of sibling relationships. It left me a bit confused too. And I found myself hunting for the other book, the one written before this A Golden Age. I wasn’t disappointed there either.

The beginning

Tahmima Anam was born in Bangladesh but grew up abroad. Her father is the editor and Publisher of the Daily Star, an English newspaper in Bangladesh, so writing would have come pretty naturally. She completed a PhD in Anthropology from the Harvard University, which was based on the 1971 Bangladeshi war of Independence. While researching for her PhD she travelled and met people who had been part of the war. That’s where the seeds of her stories were sown.

Her books

Tahmima weaves intense human relationships in the setting of war and post war turmoil of Bangladesh.
A Golden Age is the story of Rehana. When she is widowed her children were given away to be brought up by her brother-in-law in far away Pakistan.  Rehana manages to get them back but now, years later, as she watches them plunge headlong into the war, she fears losing them yet again and is ready to sacrifice everything for them. One part of her wants to let them follow their heart in supporting the country’s struggle while another part wants to keep them safe.
The character of Rehana is loosely based on her own grandmother, also a widow. From a simple housewife she turned into a passionate nationalist during the war and much like Rehana she actively helped with the war effort and even harboured freedom fighters.
The Good Muslim talks about Rehana’s children Sohail and Maya in post-war Bangladesh. They are separated during the war. By the time they meet after a decade, the once close sister and brother, have grown far apart by the choices they have made. While Sohail embraces his faith becoming a charismatic Muslim leader Maya remains a revolutionary and cannot empathise with her brother’s choice. Caught in the tussle is Sohail’s son who Sohail puts is a madarsa to Maya’s distress. The book brings up issues of religion and how each one interprets it differently.
I had heard stories of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. However the book made it very real for me. This is truly the best way to learn about history.

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Tomorrow we take a trip through India’s babudom. Guesses?
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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.


Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.