Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Indian Literature - Four hundred Shakespeares, zero Jules Vernes

Reading Jules Verne's book, From the Earth to the Moonit struck me what a detailed knowledge of science and engineering he brought into his novels and how he did not hesitate to showcase it to the reader. No attempt to dilute it to the ignorance of the lay reader, only an invitation to share in the exhilaration of new knowledge, of building something, attempting something beyond the imagination, let alone the skill of our ancestors. In Indian literature, be it Sanskrit or Tamil or any of the other languages, we have plenty of dramatic, romantic, valorous, humorous, delightful, imaginative, cunning, brilliant, honorable stories, but nothing to rival this. To be fair, I don't know how many other languages have this kind of writing. Even in English most of what passes for science fiction is unscientific fantasy, with honorable exceptions like Arthur C Clarke and perhaps Larry Niven. Even the French language is only famous for social criticism like Victor Hugo, philosophical works ala Camus, Sartre, Balzac or adulterous domestic drama ala Gustave Flaubert.

Here is a passage from Edward Roth's introduction to Jules Verne's, 'From the Earth to the Moon' :

The elements usually considered indispensable in the ordinary novel, were totally absent. There was no killing, no betraying, no persecution, no heart breaking, no courtly pageantsy, no metaphysical speculations, no mystery, no complicated plot, no thrilling descriptions, no fine writing, no photographic sketches of real life, no turning the human heart inside out, no apotheosis of nastiness - and still the story was profoundly and absorbingly interesting.

Can we say this of any Indian writing?

We have plenty of Shakespeares and Molieres and Walter Scotts and Dickenses and Scherezades and Homers and Omar Khayyams and Wordsworths and Shelleys, in Indian literature. But zero Jules Vernes. Also zero Conan Doyles / Agatha Christies. That is a pity.

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