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This report is taken from PN Review 120, Volume 24 Number 4, March - April 1998.

Letter from India Tabish Khair

If the logic of Khomeini's so-called 'fatwa' was a knee-jerk off-with-his-headism, Salman Rushdie's own introduction to the Vintage Book of Indian Writing can almost be described as a fatwa. Not only has Rushdie decapitated sixteen official (and as many unofficial) vernacular Indian literatures with the flaming sword of Indian English, he has even put the heads of Indian English poets on the chopping block.

Indian literatures, Rushdie pronounces in the best traditions of canonical fatwamaking, cannot produce (barring Saadat Hassan Manto) even one writer to join the ranks of the thirty-odd Indian English writers represented in Rushdie's anthology. This bone I no pick for if I do Rushdie sahab say I spik with twisted tongue and I no-good dumb unhybrid nationmentalist. But then Rushdie takes his argument a step further and strikes Indian English poetry off the lists of the living. Indian English poetry, Rushdie claims, does not really deserve to be included in his anthology of 'the best' Indian writing since 1947. Oh, there are exceptions, he concedes and tosses off three senior names (Mahapatra, Ramanujan, Kolatkar - whom he does not include anyway), but as a general matter of principle we have to segregate the shudra of Indian English poetry from the Brahmin of Indian English (mostly fiction) prose. Rushdie employs a curious logic that seems to owe more to the glorious traditions of celebrity fatwa-making than anything else. Having dismissed vernacular Indian prose for not being in the same league as Indian English prose, ...


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