Breezily positing ‘two broad categories’ of Indian writers in English, he ignores a host of stylistically original novelists and poets – R.K. Narayan, Arun Kolatkar, Amit Chaudhuri and Vikram Chandra, to name only those whose work has been discussed in these pages. Literary criticism may not be Subrahmanyam’s thing. But the ethnographic authority he invokes while describing the ‘falsity’ of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger doesn’t persuade either. He seems to think it wholly implausible that Adiga’s ‘subaltern’ narrator Balram Halwai (I would rather call him a shrewd member of globalising India’s lumpen proletariat) should know of books by James Hadley Chase, Kahlil Gibran and Hitler. He has clearly not visited Indian mofussil bookstalls where No Orchids for Miss Blandish, The Prophet and, alas, Mein Kampf have long been ubiquitous in Hindi translation, or in cheap English editions (Hadley Chase in especially lurid covers).
Subrahmanyam mocks Halwai, who cannot read Urdu, for claiming Mirza Ghalib as his favourite poet. But North Indians who cannot read Urdu have long had access to the great writers of that language in Devanagari script. According to Subrahmanyam, the expression ‘“kissing some god’s arse” . . . doesn’t exist in any North Indian language.’ How does he know? In actuality, millions of speakers of Hindi, or Hinglish, improvise such commonplace idioms daily, too prodigiously, perhaps, to be archived at the American university where Subrahmanyam teaches history.
Pankaj Mishra questions Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s literary and ethnographic credentials!