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10-08-2015, 23:09

South Asian Art and Literature Since Independence

Recent decades have witnessed a prodigious outpouring of literature in India. Most works have been written in one of the Indian languages and have not been translated into a foreign tongue. Many authors, however, choose to write in English for the Indian elite or for foreign audiences. For that reason, some critics charge that such literature lacks authenticity. Because of the vast quantity of works published (India is currently the third-largest publisher of Englishlanguage books in the world), only a few of the most prominent fiction writers can be mentioned here. Anita Desai (b. 1937) was one of the first prominent female writers in contemporary India. Her writing focuses on the struggle of Indian women to achieve a degree of independence. In her first novel, Cry, the Peacock, the heroine finally seeks liberation by murdering her husband, preferring freedom at any cost to remaining a captive of traditional society. The best-known female writer in South Asia today is Taslima Nasrin (b. 1962) of Bangladesh. She first became famous when she was sentenced to death for her novel Shame (1993), in which she criticized official persecution of the Hindu minority. An outspoken feminist, she is critical of Islam for obstructing human progress and women’s equality. She now lives in exile in Europe. The most controversial writer in India today is Salman Rushdie (b. 1947). In Midnight’s Children, published in 1980, the author linked his protagonist, born on the night of independence, to the history of modern India, its achievements and its frustrations. Like his contemporaries Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez, Rushdie used the technique of magical realism to jolt his audience into a recognition of the inhumanity of modern society and the need to develop a sense of moral concern for the fate of the Indian people and for the world as a whole. Rushdie’s later novels have tackled such problems as religious intolerance, political tyranny, social injustice, and greed and corruption. His attack on Islamic fundamentalism in The Satanic Verses (1988) won plaudits from literary critics but provoked widespread criticism among Muslims, including a death sentence by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), which focuses on the alleged excesses of Hindu nationalism, has been banned in India. Like Chinese and Japanese artists, Indian artists have agonized over how best to paint with a modern yet indigenous mode of expression. During the colonial period, Indian art went in several directions at once. One school of painters favored traditional themes; another experimented with a colorful primitivism founded on folk art. Many Indian artists painted representational social art extolling the suffering and silent dignity of India’s impoverished millions. After 1960, however, most Indian artists adopted abstract art as their medium. Surrealism in particular, with its emphasis on spontaneity and the unconscious, appeared closer to the Hindu tradition of favoring intuition over reason. Yet Indian artists are still struggling to find the ideal way to be both modern and Indian.