28 January 2012

THE DISCREET CHARMS OF A FILMI DIALOGUE


The two most recent books in Film Studies published by Permanent Black are 
 Ravi Vasudevan's THE MELODRAMATIC PUBLIC 

 
and Monika Mehta's CENSORSHIP AND SEXUALITY IN BOMBAY CINEMA.


Below, the two authors converse with each other about their books and related matters:

RAVI VASUDEVAN ASKS MONIKA MEHTA …

1. RV:     Censorship is often considered a negative act, as something which cuts out images and sounds. Could you outline the rather different theoretical premises of your book? I’m particularly interested in the way you pose the relationship between censorship laws and practices, and film-making's own relationship to the acts of cutting, selecting, and classifying.
MM: As you mentioned, censorship is most associated with the practice of cutting, and the censors’ are seen as film “cutters” or “hackers,” who distort a “complete” film or a “director’s vision.” My task in the book is to draw attention to other practices of censorship, namely, certification and classification in order to show how they frame our understanding film, impact film-going practices and define a film’s potential audience.   In addition, I wish to show that these practices also are central to film production and distribution.  After all, editing (i.e. cutting) is central to film-making and to the production of meaning.  This editing is done both keeping in mind and actively soliciting distributors, reviewers, and now, audiences’ opinions.  Editing also helps craft or undermines stars’ careers.  More recently, the practice of including deleted scenes on DVDs cultivates cinephilia and autership as well as generates profits.

2. RV:       How would you position your book in relation to recent feminist interventions in censorship debates in India, especially regarding issues of sexuality?
MM: I am indebted to the recent feminist censorship on censorship.  For example, both Ratna Kapur and Shohini Ghosh’s work has been very important to me in terms of thinking about women as sexual agents as opposed to sexual victims.  More generally, their work, along with work of other feminist scholars, has informed my thinking on agency and resistance to practices of censorship.  Like most feminist work on censorship, my work is interested in thinking through how female sexuality is produced through the process of cutting (state censorship and film production); it extends feminist scholarship by examining how practices of certification and classification produce normative notions of sexuality.  To that extent, my work conceives of sexuality not only as “exposure”, “nudity”, genital acts or their anticipation, but also as reproduction of tradition (e.g. kinship relations). 

3.    RV:     Your book undertakes novel research through its ethnography of the censorship process, shifting, or at least expanding focus beyond the realm of laws, official decisions and so on. How does this complicate our understanding of censorship?
MM:  By spending time at the Central Board of Film Certification, speaking with officials and Examining Committee members, I realized that certification was central to process and practice of censorship.  Also, I saw varied hierarchies at play when members along with the Regional Officer viewed films. I observed that context, language, and class played significant roles in their assessments of films. Class was not only central to how they conceived of the potential viewing audience, but also to their interactions with one another.  Thus, I came away with a more complicated understanding of the operations of a state institution.   I also discovered the conversations amongst the members’, and the reasons for particular decisions were radically reduced and edited in the official records.   It alerted me to the potential silences in the official documents.

4.  RV:      Could you outline the archival resources we need to research censorship as  a process, not only in terms of policy and institutional history, but as a history of the pressures it has been subject to, and of the strategies exhibitors and viewers use to circumvent its authority?
MM: The records, which would provide a macro-view of state censorship, include government acts, reports commissioned by various governments on cinema (1927, 1951, 1969, 1981), supreme court and high court judgments on cases, and parliament debates and discussions on censorship.  To understand the micro-practices of state-censorship, one would need to look at the Central Board Film Certification’s records on each film.  These records generally include information about film’s certification, cuts, classification, and a summary of examining committee’s discussion.  In cases that are controversial, the files also include internal memos and letters, letters from the public supporting or protesting a film, and legal documents. These documents reveal that the state is not a monolith; in addition, the letters from public both show alignment with and resistance to state practices. The film and its visual cuts would also be important to view. Film magazines and  newspapers provide insight into the industry’s views and audiences’ opinions on this process. Finally, I think it would be useful to examine exhibition practices—considering both interpolation and cutting—often occurs at these sites.

5.    RV:    For some time now you have been interested in a more global history of Bombay’s Hindi cinema, looking at the emergence of new genres and modes of address, but also how Hindi film has exercised a presence in other film-making contexts. This is arguably a major current nowadays, with several articles, books, and anthologies devoted to “Global Bollywood”. What is your perspective on the study of contemporary global film cultures?
Studies of “Global Bollywood”, transnational Chinese films, Iranian films produced in exile (to name a few) expand our understanding of globalization and film production, de-centering Hollywood as an authoritative site.  These studies help to demonstrate that globalization is not a one or two way street, with Hollywood always occupying a central role.  Benny Toratis’ Israeli film, Kikar Ha-Halomot/ Desperado Square, which I have written about, draws our attention to different routes of film circulation and the distinctive pleasures of Hindi cinema.  Most importantly, it shows that the transnational circulation of Hindi cinema is not a phenomenon of the present.  The film both remakes and visually quotes Raj Kapoor’s Sangam.  I very much appreciate the fine textual analyses which consider how family, diaspora, and desire have been addressed and represented in post-liberalization Hindi films as well as ethnographic studies have thoughtfully considered the current reception of Hindi films at various diasporic locations.  These studies largely focus on the present.  In doing so as a whole, they suggest that globalization and the transnational circulation of Hindi films are contemporary phenomena.  I hope future scholarship examines earlier histories (of not only Hindi cinema’s) but Indian cinema’s circulation.

6.     RV:       Name 6 books, outside your field, which have been important to you.
MM: I’m going to cheat a little on this one because in addition to film, postcolonial and partition studies have been important research and teaching fields for me: Assia Djebar’s Fantasia:  An Algerian Cavalcade; Raymond Williams, What I Came to Say; Amitav Ghosh’s In An Antique Land; Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark; Saadat Hasan Manto’s “Khol Do” and “Sharifan;” Gyan Pandey’s The Construction of Communalism in North India.



MONIKA MEHTA ASKS RAVI VASUDEVAN …


1. MM:  The concept of melodrama has been central to your scholarship. Why does this concept appeal to you?
RV: In the early 1980s three films, seen in very different contexts, made a strong impression on me. These were Mukaddar Ka Sikandar (Prakash Mehra, 1978), Pyaasa (Guru Dutt, 1957),  and Subarnarekha (Ritwik Ghatak, 1962). They're very different movies, but I recall being startled by their capacity to capture, without inhibition, deeply felt emotions, of loss, of marginality, of victimhood. These movies developed strong expressive registers, if in different ways; and they were shot through with all sorts of contrivances at the level of plot, most notably of coincidence. What looks like contrivance from one angle comes across as relentless fate from another. The performance style, heightened form, and relentless, almost ruthless logic laid bare by these movies urge us to consider how destinies and histories, public and private, are entwined; how large historical transformations can be captured through individual lives. The method may be foolhardy in its bid to convey large, often inchoate feeling, but the results can be fascinating. What I discerned instinctively when watching these films evolved into more systematic analysis and reflection, prompted by reading Thomas Elsaesser, and then Peter Brooks and Christine Gledhill on the phenomenon of melodrama. Often seen as realism’s other, melodrama emerged as mode of story-telling and expressive form intimately tied to realism but refusing realist protocols of plausibility, causal logic, actorly restraint. Its appeal and interest lies in its recourse to a certain grandness of design, its breaking of boundaries between the public and the private, and its bid to engage the big picture of historical change. Melodrama is then a key to understanding how the world has changed in the modern epoch, and international scholarship suggests how productive it has been as a category with which to explore the film cultures across the world.




2.  MM:    The Melodramatic Public refers to films that traverse almost a century of Indian cinema. In what ways has the use of melodrama in Indian cinema shifted or changed?  More specifically, what role has technology played in re-crafting melodrama?
 RV: One of the issues I wanted to stress is that melodrama and popular cinema are not the same thing. The popular is a compendium of things that have appealed to audiences over time, including song, dance, comedy and so on. Melodrama intervenes in the popular format to facilitate a form of navigation, to cultivate a narrative architecture which shapes spectatorship as an emotional experience. Crucially, the private public axis, the home, its dispersal in the world, and its recovery, provide a key narrative itinerary. Melodrama could cross genres, as I try to suggest in examples from social, historical, and even mythological and devotional films. The public/private architecture is key to melodrama, and my argument is that while melodrama is often seen to be contrived in the way it personalizes big events and historical change, its architecture ensures that the personal is not properly personal, for it’s always publicly rendered. This comes across in various ways: in the failure of the couple to separate out into a nuclear unit, or the implication that such privatized resolution is inadequate to the larger, inclusive drives
demanded of justice. There is publicness not only in terms of narrative architecture, but also in the way characters express themselves and scenes are staged, with a higher pitch and resonance. More privatized forms of melodrama, centred on the household rather than on the wider public realm, did  emerge, especially in Bengal, and cultivated more fine-grained sentiment. And this has tended to develop in the contemporary epoch, with new genre formation, as I'll discuss later.

Technology is a fascinating subject in melodrama studies. In the first instance, I think stage technology contributes significantly to film, and the sensational components of the so-called Parsi theatre, documented by Kathryn Hansen, Anuradha Kapur, and others, suggest lines of influence on film melodrama: painted backdrops in studio sets, miracle scenes motivated by divine manifestation, and as the continuing tradition of Andhra’s Surabhi theatres shows – very much inthe tradition of the Parsi plays – the influence cuts both ways, with theatre simulating cinematic effects of the dissolve and parallel editing. If theatre affords one node of technological intersection, then the radio and gramophone seem  important reference points for the particular musical and dialogue structures – sentimental and declamatory – which compose melodramatic form, and which for which playback is particularly important. We will observe, especially from the 1950s, various other stylistic intersections, including American noir chiaroscuro and Soviet montages “horizon” shots. All of these lend a particular global period specificity to Bombay melodramas. These issues need to be better explored, as does the use of zoom shots that emerged from the 1960s and gave melodrama’s sensational qualities a new fillip, sometimes tediously so. In the book, I try and develop an argument about how digital formats and their challenge to cinema’s association with realism provide new challenges to rethinking melodrama’s symbolic drives.


3.   MM: Discussions on  spectatorship (and formal analyses of film texts) have assumed that the spectator is an “individual” or a singular entity.  In contrast, The Melodramatic Public invites us to think about spectatorship in terms of a community, or a “public”. Could you comment on how this theoretical move expands our understanding of spectatorship? Through this theoretical move, do you seek to question a conventional disciplinary division between the film spectator (the domain of film theorists) and audiences (the domain of mass communication or more recently, anthropology and sociology)?  If so, what do you find problematic about the division?
RV: Film Studies developed a disciplinary space from the mid-1990s in India by working in close dialogue with a cultural studies in which a post-colonial political theory had a strong presence, There was a fairly sustained complication of the idea that the sovereign individual subject and citizen defined the horizon of historical possibility. Community often emerged as a key alternative frame; I think this works sometimes for cinema, as in the notion of a community of readers/viewers/listeners who share cultural references and way of making meaning. But to suggest that subjectivity was defined or bounded by trans-individual sense of self failed to engage a more complicated spectrum. The alternative idea of a cinematic public, solicited by a kind of ‘direct’ address from the screen, offered to me this possibility of a spectrum, where different ways of engaging the spectator – individual, communal, social – could have a coexistence. And yes, this move seeks to explore on-screen and off-screen discourses to connect better with the variety of things that an audience was simultaneously exposed to. Recently, the work of Sabeena Gadihoke, on a well-known 1960s scandal, explores how a public is constituted through multiple registers, including tabloid sensationalism, photojournalism and film narrative; Ranjani Mazumdar is another scholar expanding the way we can think about cinema by situating it alongside technologies of visualization and travel, of fashion and interior design and urban planning. And a quite different sense of publicness emerges from Shikha Jhingan, whose work on the film song, sound and interiority suggest that the cinematic public can, in some instances, be a very intimately conceived one, too.  All of this holds onto a film's textuality but avoids too inward a disciplinary discourse by expanding the frame of reference and research.


4.  MM:    The Melodramatic Public points to new genres which have emerged in
post-liberalization India.  What industrial and political changes have made possible these new genres? What new elements in film form or grammar have these genres introduced?  Do these genres assume and constitute new publics?  If so, which ones?
RV: I draw attention to how new genres, including gangster films, erotic thrillers, ghost movies, road films, and so on have emerged. None of this is meant to suggest that other, hoarier genres such as the family social film have been displaced, and, as we know, it was this genre which attracted most attention and spectacular box office returns when it was revamped by the Chopras and Karan Johar to target audiences abroad and in India. The multiplex, offering possibilities of targeting niche audiences in small auditoria for longish runs is one part of the story, a possibility exploited both by smaller players and by corporates who realised the importance of product differentiation. The other part relates to the multiple revenue streams now available, moving beyond theatrical exploitation and the sale of music rights, onto a spectrum of televisual and dvd related returns, which the small player could utilise as much as the big producer. Formally, some of the new genre work mirrored elements of comparable Hollywood genres, but never in quite the same way. Often centred on the modern couple, and models of romance, household economy and consumption profile associated with them (cars, condos, supermarkets), it’s very rare that they can resolve matters within the precincts of the couple, or reproduce its space as autarchic. They often carry a sense of unease with new lifestyles. Politically, this may relate to the continuing uncertainty of urban transformation, the question Partha Chatterjee poses when he asks, rhetorically, “are Indian cities finally becoming bourgeois?” The parallel question, have Indian films finally achieved their aspiration to be like Hollywood, leaves a similar trail of imponderables that arise from the glaring inequities within which we live.


5. MM:  Could you tell us about your current research on documentaries? What lines of inquiry are you pursuing and what methodologies are you adopting?  Through this research, which concepts in film studies are you interested in re-thinking or developing?
RV: Well, I’m really enjoying this new project, without really always knowing where it’s going. My plan was to explore non-fiction films in all their diversity, from official films such as newsreels, propaganda films, wartime films by army units, through to a host of short film and non-fiction genres, with names like “topicals” and “actualities”, as well as films made for and about industrial processes, promotional films for particular industries and products, travel films, cultural films, training films, instructional films, educational movies, many of which would be shown outside theatres, in classrooms, factories,
corporate offices, army barracks, clubs, associations, trade unions. I’m particularly interested now in amateur films, a term which needs to be complicated as there were significant intersections between the amateur, the official and the professional. I suppose the project is about how film came to acquire such a presence at so many different levels and contexts, from the most public to the most intimate, how it in a sense becomes continuous with life in the twentieth century, and what this means. In the process I hope to contribute to an emerging trend in Film Studies scholarship, which is to look at the way an infrastructure emerged, based on the circulation of technology, industrial organisation, state intervention, and the movement of practitioners across different spaces. Many of these issues overlap in crucial ways with so-called mainstream film culture, as infrastructures are shared amongst different types of cinema, and I
hope there will be interesting connections which might ask us to think afresh what going to see a movie meant.

6.  MM:    Name 5 or 6 favorite books outside your core research areas.
RV: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Scandinavian crime novels, (Sjowall/Wahloo, Mankell, Larrsen, Nasser,
Nesbo)
Glaswegian crime novels (Rankin, Denise Mina)
The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
A Princely Imposter? By Partha Chatterjee
Writing Social History by Sumit Sarkar
Cultural History: Between Representations and Practices by Roger Chartier
The Birth of the Modern World by Christopher Bayly

17 January 2012

INGLISTAANI

Rashmi Sadana

English Heart, Hindi Heartland

The Political Life of Literature in India


English Heart, Hindi Heartland examines Delhi’s postcolonial literary world—its institutions, prizes, publishers, writers, and translators, and the cultural geographies of key neighbourhoods in light of colonial histories and the globalization of English.

Rashmi Sadana places internationally recognized authors such as Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, and Vikram Seth in the context of debates within India about the politics of language, and alongside regionally recognized writers such as K. Satchidanandan, Shashi Deshpande, and Geetanjali Shree. She undertakes an ethnographic study of literary culture, probing the connections between place, language, and text in order to show what language comes to stand for in people’s lives.

In so doing she unmasks a social discourse rife with questions of authenticity and the cultural politics of inclusion and exclusion. She illustrates how the notion of what is considered authentic not only obscures larger questions relating to caste, religious, and gender identities, but that the authenticity discourse itself is continually in flux. To extract cultural capital from India’s linguistic hierarchies, writers deploy what Sadana calls ‘literary nationality’.

Her book argues that English in India, and the way it is positioned among the country’s other languages, does not represent a fixed pole, but rather serves to change political and literary alliances among classes and castes, often in surprising ways.

Rashmi Sadana lives in Delhi and is working on a book about the Delhi Metro.

Hardback / 230pp / Rs 595 / ISBN 81-7824-349-0 / South Asia rights / Feb 2012
Copublished with the University of California Press, Berkeley

To coincide with the appearance of this book, Permanent Black asked Vasudha Dalmia and Rashmi Sadana to converse with each other. Both have worked at Berkeley, have focused on cultural history, and have collaborated with each other. (Dalmia's classic monograph, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions, appeared in a new paperback edition some months ago, see here.) Their conversation appears below.


Rashmi Sadana to Vasudha Dalmia …

1.    RS: After writing your dissertation on Brecht and drama in modern India, what took you back to the nineteenth century and to Bharatendu, the “father” of modern Hindi?

VD: I encountered Bharatendu while working on Brecht, while trying to trace the history of modern Hindi drama. He stood at the fountainhead, so to speak, and he had the same irreverence, the same ready wit as Brecht. He lived extravagantly, transgressed every known boundary, squandered the family fortune in the process, and yet broke new ground, creating a new language for literature and creating works that outlived him. He managed to do a prodigious amount in his thirty-five years. When I finally came to write on him, I had, ironically, to exclude drama, it would have added another seventy pages to a book that was already spilling out of its covers. Rukun Advani [who edited the book] would not have allowed it. That had to wait another ten years and for another book.



2.    RS: Could you explain how your research took you from the study of literature to the study of religion, from “Hindi” to “Hindu”?

VD: I was literally forced to. I was quite unprepared to handle what I discovered while wading through Bharatendu’s collected works and his dynamic new journals, tucked away in mouldering recesses of the city. He was a leading light, he found the formulations for a reconfigured Hinduism, articulated now in a Vaishnava context, to figure out which I had to go back in time, in order to understand where he came from and then to understand what Western Indology was doing with the texts under consideration, and what nationalists such as Bharatendu were making of that. I learnt on the job, so to speak.    



3.    RS: From the start, your book draws on and qualifies Ranajit Guha’s notion of the “third idiom” as a way to understand the forces of cultural assimilation and resistance by Indians in the colonial period. Now, fifteen years on, do you still believe it is an important way forward for scholarship on India’s colonial modernity? Is it relevant to contemporary scholarship on India?

VD: It was the most useful heuristic device for understanding what was happening in nineteenth century India, as new terms came into being and older terms were put to new uses. To fit into some frame that sense of excitement, at times overwhelming, of encountering a new world, of melding it with the already known. It was the best way, I found, of getting rid, once and for all, of the tradition-modern binary. I am surprised that the three idioms have not found more currency in scholarship today.



4.    RS: What is your relationship to Banaras in the years since writing your book? Do you feel you are walking among ghosts – the 19th-century writers and institutions you wrote about? What about the present-day city inspires you intellectually or otherwise?

VD: Initially, I went back to Banaras to find the missing pieces of my Bharatendu work. But then, somewhat to my own amazement, I found myself going back in order to discover the radically different world of Premchand, who returned to the city insistently in his fiction. And later still, to look at a world not unrelated to his, that of theosophy and the theosophists, foreign and Indian, and the modernization and politicization that, perhaps surprisingly, often went hand in hand with the occult. Apparently one lifetime is not enough to exhaust the fascination that the city can hold for people once they get hooked. 



5.    RS: I know you are now at work on a book about the Hindi novel of the 20th century. How does this new work relate to or depart from your study of Bharatendu?

VD: I’ve spent so many years in the nineteenth century, it has come to form my base. In my present work, I begin once again with a late nineteenth-century novel, when Hindi was still struggling to define itself, and a nascent Hindu middle class was beginning to emerge. The rest of the novels I take up, at least as I plan the work now, three before independence and four after, become a kind of discovery, almost a self-discovery, of what happened, culturally and politically, to these Hindi-Hindu middle classes, as they came into being in the great urban centers of North India, Delhi, Agra, Banaras, Allahabad, Lucknow and Lahore, themselves entirely re-configured after the great destruction of 1857. 



6.    Name six books unconnected with your academic interests that have influenced you deeply.

VD: When Brecht was asked to name the single work that had made the most impact on him, he replied: ‘You’ll laugh, the Bible’. I begin then with Tulsidas’s beautiful and moving Ramcharitmanas; it would be the single work, were I asked to name only one. We learnt large stretches of it by heart as children. The same holds true for Shakespeare; many of his plays are now ingrained in my memory, Hamlet, if picking one. Ditto Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Agyeya’s Shekhar ek Jivani. Hertha Mueller’s The Land of Green Plums, on the power of poetry in dark times.



Vasudha Dalmia to Rashmi Sadana …

1.   VD: You grew up in Los Angeles, studied in Berkeley and SOAS; it would be easy to imagine that you would become interested in Anglophone literature and explore its antecedents. What moved you to write on English and Hindi? 

RS: I had been exposed to Hindi through my family and relatives growing up and on visits to Delhi, and was always aware that if I had been growing up in India rather than in the U.S. I would have had a much more naturally multilingual life. I think that prompted me to take Hindi as an undergraduate at Berkeley, and then in my last year of college, I took a course on Indian women writers where most of what we read was in translation, not only from Hindi, but also Bengali, Malayalam, Gujarati, Kannada and others. This was the early 1990s and the “boom” in Indian fiction was in full swing. But, as we know, this was an English-only phenomenon. It seemed to me that something was missing. I knew from all the time I had spent in Delhi that the languages around me, at home and in the street, were Hindi and Punjabi. I wanted to find out what got lost - not in translation, but in transnational literary production. Why was India only being represented by English? Surely this writing existed in a multilingual context, but looking at how Indian novels in English were read and received in the U.S. and the U.K., you would never know it.



2.    VD: Do you feel you have to defend the place of English in India? 

RS: Not at all. Just about everyone will agree that English is a language of opportunity, aspiration, and exclusion - and not only in India, but in many parts of the world. There is a hierarchy of languages in different Indian contexts, depending on the languages in use, but even these hierarchies shift according to different situations. English is the language of the elite, but it can also be an underdog at times. Hindi is also a language of elites in that there is an elite discourse in Hindi. But Hindi is also popular in a way English is most certainly not. And yet, English more and more is “popularly” desired. It is a complex situation that seems simple on the surface. That's what drew me to write about it. 



3.   VD: Of the various situations and people you encountered in the years you worked on this project, which do you think provided you with the most immediate insight into the Hindi-English relationship in the nation’s capital? 

RS: Actually there is no one person or situation that encapsulates the relationship for me. What was fascinating for me while I was doing my research was how each person I spoke to offered a different angle on the question of language politics based on his or her work and personal history. Geetanjali Shree showed me a novelist's intimacy with language and emotion, whereas the bookseller Amar Varma shed light on what it meant to promote Hindi books internationally. Ashok and Arun Maheshwari and then Ravi Dayal made the worlds of Hindi and English publishing appear like completely different ones with different histories, yet operating side-by-side. Ashok Vajpeyi and K. Satchidanandan were fascinating to listen to because they understood the politics of the multilingual literary landscape and helped shape them, yet as poets, they were also incredibly sensitive to the wide gap between the world of politics and that of contemplation and creativity. I was intrigued by how they dwelled in that gap.  


4.   VD: Alok Rai, in his widely acclaimed Hindi Nationalism, dealt with quite another aspect of Hindi, the relationship of official “Hindi” to Hindi, as actually spoken. How do you place your work vis-à-vis his?


RS: Alok's book was foundational for me; it came out during my first major research stint in 2001 and became a kind of intellectual guidebook I toted around. It brought the political and cultural history of the Hindi-Urdu divide that Amrit Rai and Christopher King had written about in regard to the 19th and early 20th centuries, into the post-Independence context - with such passion and sense of immediacy. My book looks at the competition between English and Hindi elites from an ethnographic view. I interview figures from Delhi's literary establishment and place them in relation to one another and the larger field of literature and politics. Perhaps because of my insider-outsider perspective, these figures stood out for me, even though they are mostly known and regularly featured in the Indian press. I make the ideologies that Alok Rai maps out come alive through contemporary figures in the literary world. In the process, some of these ideologies get refined, re-tuned, debunked, or emboldened, enabling me to make new arguments about such vexing topics as cultural authenticity, literary nationality, and the postcolonial / global status of English.



5.   VD: Could you say something about the range of authors whose works you analyze? What moved you to include the works of Chetan Bhagat, a writer who would ordinarily be excluded from the galaxy?

RS: The texts I write about emerge from what I saw and experienced “on the ground.” My book begins with me reading the slush pile at Granta in London, since that is how I very literally found my subject. In India, it was seeing books being sold on pavements and at stoplights that initially brought me into the realities of language, class, and caste. Living in Old Delhi for a time made me reflect more deeply on Delhi’s linguistic history and led me to write about Twilight in Delhi and In Custody. I wrote about the Hindi translation of A Suitable Boy (“Koi Accha-sa Ladka”) because it came up in a debate I witnessed at the Sahitya Akademi. I conclude the book by reflecting on Chetan Bhagat because it is impossible to ignore the impact he's had on English in a popular context. His books draw readers into the “having made it” world of IITs, and aspirational worlds of call centers, bank jobs, and love marriages, through a more simple, manageable English. My book is motivated by the story of English vis-à-vis Hindi and the bhashas more generally, and Bhagat's novels speak to that. I was also teaching at IIT Delhi when I wrote the conclusion to the book, so I was thinking about my students and the range of Englishes they spoke.



6.   VD: Name six books unconnected with your academic interests that have influenced you deeply. 

RS: The exciting thing about reading a new book is that, when you begin it, you don't know how it might influence you, and then when you finish it, you can never be sure exactly how it will influence you. Everything I read probably affects my intellectual life in some way, but if I were to name some of my cherished, non-academic books, those that moved me and shook me up in some way, I would include: Ovid's Metamorphosis, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Ismat Chughtai’s short stories, Anne Michael's Fugitive Pieces, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, and just about everything by J.M Coetzee. Wait, was that seven?