India and Pakistan reach 60 – can genre keep up with the real?

It’s the sixtieth anniversary of the creation of India and Pakistan.

I find that my mind has turned to the lack of genre writing that concerns the region yet it has a long tradition of the fantastic. The genre scene is remarkably Anglo-American centric, although there does seem to be a brief interest in literature from Eastern Europe at the moment.

For a genre that prides itself in looking outwards, the gaze is surprisingly inward looking. Ian MacDonald is creating worlds set in the developing worlds (River of Gods, Brasyl) and is taking another look at places foreign and alien to so many of us. Yet he is largely alone. Salman Rushdie has been mining the subcontinent for years (Midnight’s Children, Haroun and the Sea of Stories) yet perhaps the greatest (genre) writer that we have of the area is Rudyard Kipling (Kim, Mark of the Beast) who embodies imperialism.

Let me say this from the outset: I do not support Kipling’s politics. His literary genius though is largely ignored and this is a severe mistake. He is one of the finest short story tellers in the English language. The way he uses the common language in the barrack room tales, the Jungle Book’s use of landscape and countryside and his descriptions are to die for in terms of control.

As a genre, we need to begin looking outside again and to stop taking our own world for granted or ignoring it. There are jostling narratives that would add weight and difference to our writing.

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