INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.

INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
Irony in the Soul

A debut novel set in an excessively politically incorrect university in south India delights with its acidic humour and arch archetypes


By Srividya Natarajan


Price: Rs 295; Pages: 326

Srividya Natarajan is better known as a dancer and illustrator of children's books. Though she quotes Bottom's advice to actors on sweet breath and sweet comedy, sweet is not a word one associates with Natarajan's debut novel on the shenanigans in a south Indian university. Her acidic tale pits the entrenched brahminical forces against the feared hordes of barbarians such as the Dalits and the feminists.

Surely, this picture of a university is a little outdated? No one would dare to be as politically incorrect as the professors of the Chennai University in this book. Perhaps the time warp that is often seen in the India-view of the non-resident Indian has influenced Natarajan's picture. This reduces the cast of characters to distinct shades of white and black. And the language spoken by the research scholars in the English department, even if they are Brahmins, would at least be correct, if badly pronounced?

Having said that, the picture of the academy, including its politics, is a delight. The games of one-upmanship played by the professors who are so busy jetting around the world that their students would be hard put to recognise them, and the elbowing that goes on when any post which has a chance of publicity is on offer, are the same in any workplace. Everyone will recognise the participants who have been comparing increments for the past 40 years, the group photograph where Caroline gets a seat in the front row because she is Caucasian, the paragraphs-with a splattering of "demarginalisation" and "paradoxical hyperloco-globality"-read out by Sankaranarayanan alias Chunky.

The book keeps you chuckling even as you try to place that elusive allusion ranging from A Midsummer Night's Dream in the title through the baby in the handbag-sorry, pressure cooker-to Jane Eyre. Quite a few of the conventions of 19th century plots are followed as well, including the discovery at the moment of crisis, with its attendant melodrama, that you are actually what you have despised all your life. The peripheral characters of Bucket Mami and Sri Sri Sri Panchapakesa Sastrigal, and even the assembled statue of Goddess Saraswati are almost worthy of Bottom and his players.

Tongue Twister

The author exaggerates the problem of archaic English
By Dilip Bobb


By Jyoti Sanyal; edited by Martin Cutts

Viva Books

Price: Rs 295; Pages: 418

It's rather ironic that a book that reflects the author's angst regarding 'Indian English' and his attempts to correct the abnormalities bequeathed by the British Raj should be edited by someone else-and a Brit at that! Jyoti Sanyal's credentials are impressive enough. He drafted the style book for The Statesman and wrote a 'language' column in the paper while teaching at the Asian College of Journalism. This is a collection of his articles. Sanyal has undiluted contempt for the way English is written in India by journalists. Most examples he provides are valid, but his fulminations exaggerate the problem. Some journalists do use archaic English but to claim, as editor Martin Cutts does in his foreword, that this book is the "last hope for reform" is really stretching credibility.

Sanyal generalises too much, painting all journalists with the same red pencil. He claims the East India Company didn't just rob India of its riches but also of its ability to write good English. The conclusion that clumsy Victorian English hangs like a dead albatross around each educated Indian's neck is a heavy weight to carry through the pages of this book, and at times it drops dead from sheer overkill. Contemporary writers in the English media have no Raj baggage to hang their syntax on. Despite that, this is a valuable primer for those wanting to take up writing as a profession. This is written from the perspective of a teacher of journalism and a lover of language so one can forgive Sanyal his long-winded diatribe. Yet, this is certainly not, as the sub-title suggests, "the book for every English-speaking Indian". Publishing hype sometimes takes more liberty with language than the examples in Sanyal's book.

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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
OCTOBER 23, 2006



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