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Published On:30 April 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond boundaries


By Sravasti Datta


Tabish Khair's novels address multiple themes. His recent novel, How to Fight Islamist Terror From the Missionary Position, is a satirical take on “dead serious issues”


The theme of identity has been explored variously by Indian writers in English. Yet, hackneyed as it may seem to some, the genre takes on a new meaning in Tabish Khair's works. In the award-winning “The Thing About Thugs” Tabish, with his unique plot, touches upon identity while drawing from Victorian literature. The award-winning author, in an e-mail interview, contends that he lives out his identity rather than think too much about it. “I know that all identities, including mine, change as well as stay the same in some ways. What I feel strongly about is the bid in the world today to fix people in identity slots. I resist that when it is done to me, even when it is well-intentioned. That is why I resist being called ‘diasporic', ‘postcolonial' etc.”


Tongue in Cheek


In his latest novel, “How to Fight Islamist Terror From the Missionary Position”, Tabish employs an interesting narrative style. “In my new novel, with its tongue-in-cheek title, I try to provide a funny, suspense-filled narrative that, finally, makes the reader confront his own preconceptions and, perhaps, prejudices. You can say that I laugh at both — so-called Islamist terror and the so-called ‘war against terror' from a largely third world-ist position, and in the process I provide a portrait of life and love in the world today. It is very much a novel about love too.” Tabish admits that he considers the “dead serious issues” that fundamentalists and others concern themselves with absurd. “What I find ludicrous are people who are absolutely convinced that they, and only they, are right. These people might be religious fundamentalists or atheists, they might be capitalists or communists; it hardly matters if they do not allow difference around them and doubt in themselves.”


Tabish, hailing from Bihar, worked briefly as a journalist before leaving for Copenhagen to do a Ph.D. Having lived in small towns such as Gaya in India and Aarhus in Denmark, where he presently lives, and big cities such as Delhi and London, Tabish says that living in small towns is as rewarding as living in big cities. “I find the overlooking of supposedly non-cosmopolitan spaces very disturbing; I don't think we have ever lived in an era where aggressively ‘cosmopolitan' narratives have been so dominant. It seems to me that just as most capital flies from one big city to another, most narratives traverse big city networks. The pity of it is that this reduces even our understanding of a term like cosmopolitanism. My works often try to highlight how small places have their own avenues of exchange and even cosmopolitanism, which are rendered invisible in the light of big city narratives at times.” Tabish has written a range of critical essays, from “Babu Fictions” to “Muslim Modernities”, apart from a collection of poetry, “Where Parallel Lines Meet” that won the Indian poetry prize.


But to him, fiction and reality are related. “Each defines the other, each exists with the other. All our realities are partly fictional and even our wildest fiction is partly real. To a large extent, this is in the very nature of language, which permeates both our realities and our fictions and yokes them together.”


In a column, Tabish once wrote about the death of the reader, basing his arguments on Roland Barthes' “The Death of the Author”.


One wonders what a reader must do to come alive. Tabish puts the onus for this on writers and publishers. For the reader he only suggests: “Read, read and read, writers need to write with respect for the intelligence of the reader, her capacity to read creatively, and publishers and bookstores need to have respect for the thinking reader.”


(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on April 30, 2012. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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