Sunday, April 13, 2008

What I really want.

A historical fiction novel set in India. Must be set in a time at least 400 years ago, and older the better. With elaborate explanations of Indian warfare, heraldry, politics and the like. Written in English, of course. With little or no religious subtext, if that is possible.

Shouldn't be about Anarkali and Salim, or about the nutter Allaudin Khilji coveting Rani Padmini of Chittor. I can read Shakespeare if I want something so sordid. (Anyone who goes around besieging castles without even pretending that the damsel is in distress, is a nutter. And he was gay for crying out loud! Hmm... perhaps a case of over-compensation.)

Know of any? Please do let me know.

As I haven't found any so far, and as I have finished David Gemmell's series set in Helenic(sic) Troy (See what I did there?) twice, I shall endeavour to read A Song of Ice and Fire again. Bliss. The next two weeks are taken care of. All work goes down the drain, of course.

PS. I'm curious. Have Ponniyin Selvan and the other Kalki novels been translated well into English? I know, I know, even these are sappy stories. I remain curious.

PPS. Feel free to thank me for all the wiki links. I really doubt that any of you would be very familiar with all of the things I've mentioned. Though the last one is kinda superfluous. :)

PPPS. If anyone replies to this asking me whether I've heard of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, I'll hunt them down to the ends of the earth and make them listen to all of my poetry.

9 comments:

shr said...

Most Indian literature is set in India. Most literature is fictional, or fictionalised. Most if not all work written at least 400 years ago is set at least 400 years ago. So you're asking if there exists any Indian literature older than 1600? :)

Helpful Wikipedia pages point to some translations...

So, what of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana? :)

Bharath said...

Hi.
This might be what you are looking for.

(From yesterday's Hindu supplement:)

http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/04/13/stories/2008041350020100.htm

PS said...

@Vatsa Well, I was referring to the genre historical fiction, loosely defined as it is. It is, and I quote, a sub-genre of fiction that often portrays alternate accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. Stories in this genre, while fictional, make an honest attempt at capturing the spirit, manners, and social conditions of the person or time they represent with attention paid to detail and fidelity.

Also, almost everything that was written 400 years ago in our country was steeped in religious subtext. Be it Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist. I know know reasonable work of fiction dealing with ancient India can avoid religion, nor do I want it to, but I would prefer it if piety and sanctity did not ooze from every word.

Cambridge is a little far away at the moment, so you survive for now. :) You think I would ask for historical fiction set in Ancient India if I hadn't already read the Ramayana and the Mahabharata? I'm still looking for a good version of the former, though. Rajaji's Mahabharata was brilliant, but unfortunately he was much to obsequious in his treatment of Rama.

There are some works I do want to read though. The Kannagi story for one.

@Bhatta Interesting. This just might be what I'm looking for. Kinda pushing the 400 year mark, but I can work with that. :) Guess I'll start reading Rushdie sooner rather than later! Many thanks for pointing this out.

PS said...

"I know know"
Dyslexia, sweet dyslexia.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't offering the M&R as suggestions; was wondering in what sense you'd brought them up, considering that the Iliad doesn't fit into the genre you want, for example :)

I really don't think there's piety and sanctity oozing from every word in most literature, especially fiction (non-mythological, invented). What examples are you thinking of? (I can't even remember what I've read in school...)

I too find the versions of the Ramayana less interesting than the versions of the Mahabharata I have read...

For what it's worth, I've seen in a bookstore a bunch of thriller-format novels on the Ramayana by some Ashok Banker. They seemed to be hilarious, but they may actually be readable, I don't know...

Sorry for the delay; I had typed a reply here earlier but a browser crash ate it and I forgot after that. Was reminded of this today because I was trying to watch Peter Brook's >5-hour Mahabharata movie, and didn't get far :)

PS said...

When I spoke of piety oozing from the text, mostly I was speaking of Rajaji's treatment of the Ramayana. There are quite a few instances in the book where a more open mind would consider the idea that Rama was actually an ass, but he stubbornly refuses to do so in each case.

Have you read the Iliad? Please tell me that you have. For then it would make you the second person I know other than myself who has read it. Though it is filled with the talk of gods, as the Greek gods are not worshipped by anyone any more, the translations are stripped off a certain reverence that isn't possible with translations of Hindu texts. (Btw, if you have read Homer, I would strongly recommend David Gemmell's Troy series.)

Oh yes, I think I've seen those Ashok Banker books - the Ramayana divided into more than 10 fat books? Yeah, they seemed more funny than anything else.

ranjan said...

Have you heard of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana:p....??

shreevatsa said...

Well if you read a religious work (and the Ramayana is), it is often very religious :)

I have not read the Iliad; I plan to learn Greek first :P (Not really. Also, I have been reading Dante's Inferno in what appears to be a nice translation.)

The problem is that the Mahabharata is *much* longer than the Iliad. There are also more people learning Greek, a larger tradition of reading the Iliad etc., which makes translations more likely, and so you will have many kinds of translations. Every translation of the Mahabharata I have encountered (only a couple) dwells on what a monumental undertaking it is, etc., and they seem to more or less translate it literally.

Anyway, much literature isn't religious, but there is less interest in India in historical non-religious work, and so the English translations you will find are usually from the 1920s or earlier, after which I guess the academic interest in India etc. declined (my university doesn't offer Sanskrit, for example, but it did at some point in the distant past).

I expect that there are authors right now writing historical fiction novels set in India, in many Indian languages, and we are unaware of it. Or the state of Indian literature is worse than I think. Pretty sad, actually, that most of us don't know what's going on (I'm speaking for myself...)

PS said...

Much of the religious overlay in M&R came later, I think. The Valmiki Ramayana is flowery in the extreme, but it is Kamban's writing that oozes with the piety that puts me off. While I am often proud that Hinduism is the only surviving pagan (or at least, pseudo-pagan) religion where all others have been squished out... had it been a dead religion like that of the Greeks or the Egyptians, perhaps more scholarly and less religious translations and adaptations might have been possible.

It's times like these when I wish that I knew at least ONE Indian language well. Well enough to read novels in. Apparently there is a Kannada novel set on one of M&R where the author's done a significant amount of research and drawn from surviving cultural practices from certain parts of north-central India.

Oh yeah, Homeric studies is BIG, bigger even than that of Shakespeare (Yippee!). Still, it's a pity that I haven't met many who have actually read Homer or Euripides.

Good luck with the Greek. :)