Former Booker judge dislikes Indian novels

November 22nd, 2008 - 9:26 am ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 22 (IANS) A former Booker Prize judge has confessed to a “narrow-minded” prejudice against English-language novels written by Indians, saying they are full of “all things I don’t want in a novel.”In an article published in a British newspaper, David Baddiel also said the fact that Indian novels are “so beloved” of Booker judges may be one reason that keeps him from reading them.

“I don’t know why I’ve read so little Indian literature. I think, undoubtedly, it demonstrates a prejudice.”

“Not a racial one, hopefully, but a literary one: a prejudice that Indian novels are likely to be magical, mythic, sweepingly historical, quirky of humour, and spring from the tradition of folk tale; all things I don’t want in a novel,” Baddiel, who was a 2002 Booker judge, wrote in The Times Friday.

Baddiel, who is in India filming a documentary, admitted that although he owned such literary classics as V.S. Naipaul’s ‘A House for Mr Biswas’, Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ and Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy,’ he had yet to read any of them.

“This prejudice is of course entirely not based on reading these novels; although it is based on opening them occasionally and seeing sentences such as “Was it then - yes why not - that Dr Narlikar first dreamed of tetrapods?” he said quoting from Midnight’s Children, which was named Best of Booker in July after a global poll to mark the 40th anniversary of the prestigious literary award.

Baddiel, a British comedian, novelist and filmmaker, said the only Indian novel “of any stature” that he had read was Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Family Matters’ - as a Booker judge in 2002.

But he said he found the book “very 19th century in feel.”

With the Booker having been won recently by Indians Kiran Desai in 2006 and Aravind Adiga this year, Baddiel said the fact that Indian novels are “so beloved of the judges may form another plank of my prejudice.”

“Generally, in my book-choosing life, I avoid the Booker shortlist like the plague (except in 2002); year after year (except in 2002), it’s a compilation of the worthy and the worthier, and, however good the recent winners by Kiran Desai or Aravind Adiga might be - obviously I haven’t read them - that can make the ever-presence of Indian novels on the list feel like it’s because someone at The Guardian would have a fainting fit if there weren’t any.”

“Anyway, obviously, I’m at fault, not Indian literature (if I was splitting up with Indian literature, which I sort of have been all my life, I would say ‘it’s not you; it’s me’).”

“I know my prejudice against it is a narrow-minded impulse,” he said, adding he feared Indian books were “full of odd names and customs and sometimes with ornate decorative covers.”

However, Baddiel said, he had packed The Bloodstone Papers by Britain-based Anglo-Indian writer Glen Duncan on his trip to India - not only because it deals with the history of “the almost invisible Anglo-Indian community” but also because his “normal themes include sex, drugs and more sex.”

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