Thursday, May 24, 2007

A brief quote from me -- in the Times of India

An old blog post by me was quoted in a recent Times of India article on the outgoing Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam.

The TOI didn't email me to ask if I had any recent comment, nor did it notify me it was using a quote. It also doesn't specify that the quote in question is actually from a blog post, not from a live source.

Still, the Times of India does have a lot of readers!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Community Norms vs. Free Speech: Don Imus

Just a brief comment on the current Don Imus controversy.

This morning as I was driving to work I was listening to one of the Philly hip hop radio stations as they were discussing Don Imus' racist and sexist comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Most of the callers were outraged by the remark, and thought Imus should be fired. But the DJs, who I believe were both African American, said they didn't think so. As one of them put it: "We don't really want to go down that road, because if you fire him, it will restrict the kinds of things we can do on our show too." The other DJ then chimed in: "Yeah, you have to respect free speech."

As I heard that statement, I thought, "well, would it be such a bad thing if Don Imus getting fired led morning talk radio to clean up its act?" The current norms -- after 20 years of Howard Stern -- are pretty sad, whether we're talking about the white DJs on the pop/rock stations or the black DJs on the hip hop stations. Sleaze, strippers, and mean-spirited gossip are just about omnipresent. How to change those norms so that racism and sexism become less endemic across the board is really the question, NOT freedom of speech.

The journalist Gwen Ifill, who was the victim of another nasty Imus remark back in 1993, has this to say. Also see Tony Norman's column.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Vikram Chandra Media Fun

On, if you search for "Mild-mannered Author Delves Deeply Into India's Underworld," you'll get about 25 newspapers that printed an AP article by Marcus Wohlsen on Vikram Chandra.

I have a bite-size quote in this article too -- all 25 printings of it.

[UPDATE: Another 25 newspapers have titled the story "Author Delves Into India's Underworld." So the real number of newspapers that have carried the story is about 52.]

"This is a great novel, perhaps the greatest book on Bombay ever written. Certainly a contender for the Great Indian Novel," wrote one reviewer in the Hindustan Times.

Whatever the book's standing as literature, the popularity of "Sacred Games" is undeniable. It has remained on India's top-10 best seller list since its release.

Younger Indian readers have embraced the novel's rowdy social panorama of criminals, cops and slum-dwellers in a country still saddled with the class tensions of the caste system, says Amardeep Singh, a professor of world literature at Lehigh University who keeps a blog about new South Asian fiction. They also find its encyclopedic use of Indian obscenities "thrilling."

"It's a breaking of a certain unwritten set of taboos of what you can and can't talk about and the language you can use," Singh says.

"Sacred Games" has also sold well in England, where it was named a top book of 2006 by several British critics, and has been translated into 14 languages, from Hindi to French to Croatian.

HarperCollins beat out five other publishers to buy the U.S. rights to "Sacred Games" for $1 million, and has reportedly pushed the novel with a $300,000 marketing budget - a rare sum for a single book. There are 75,000 hardcover copies in print in the United States so far, with the book already in its fifth U.S. printing.

Ah well, not the greatest quote. But I do think there's an almost refreshing rudeness in books like Sacred Games and Maximum City.

UPDATE: Also check out this piece by Josh Getlin in the L.A. Times.

(Next week, I promise -- no more Vikram Chandra propaganda!)

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In the Washington Post: Vikram Chandra, and a little from me

I'm quoted in an article in this past Monday's Washington Post, on Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games:

The seminal event of Chandra's 45 years, by contrast, has been the transformation, beginning in the early 1990s, of India's sleepy socialist economy into a dynamic engine of internationalization and growth.

"We're living through this precarious time when great changes are happening," Chandra says. The India he grew up in felt like "a little bubble at a far distance from the rest of the world." But in the India his 7-year-old nephew has inherited, "the West as a presence is completely available every day -- and his expectations of his place in the world are very changed."

This new India is a place where the middle class is growing in size and confidence. It's also a place, as Chandra points out, where there's still "this huge mass of people who have nothing" but who can now see what they lack.

And it's a place, according to Lehigh University professor Amardeep Singh, where "the stories people want to tell" aren't so much about colonialism anymore.

Singh teaches courses with titles such as "Post-Colonial Literature in English," using texts from regions as diverse as Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. He notes that Chandra's first novel was replete with colonial themes, but he sees "Sacred Games" as something quite different.

"I would use the phrase 'novel of globalization,' " Singh says. In "Sacred Games," he points out, the English language Chandra's upwardly mobile gangster struggles to learn is associated less with India's former colonizers than with the broader international economy that dictates its use.

Not surprisingly, the notion of a globalized Indian literature has sparked a backlash. Indian authors writing in English, especially those living overseas, have been charged by some critics with distorting Indian reality to cater to Western audiences. Chandra took some hits on this front himself, even before "Sacred Games," and was irritated enough to lash back in a Boston Review essay titled "The Cult of Authenticity."

His advice to any writer similarly attacked: "Do what it takes to get the job done. Use whatever you need. Swagger confidently through all the world, because it all belongs to you."

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