Introduction to South Asian Literature


English 191/Asia 191

Fall 2002

Amardeep Singh


Email: (most reliable way to reach me)

Office: 610-758-3319

Home: 610-527-2206


Deep's formal office hours: Wednesdays 2-4 pm. My office is in 201 C Drown Hall.

I am also available to meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays by appointment (please email me to set up & confirm appointments).


Required Texts


Rushdie and West, Eds. Mirrorwork

Bapsi Sidhwa, Cracking India

Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace

Meera Syal, Life isn't all Ha ha hee hee

Mohsin Hamid, Mothsmoke

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Michael Ondaatje, Anil's Ghost

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses




We will make extensive use of the Blackboard service for the dissemination of handouts. To access Blackboard, go to and enter your userid and password.




1.      25% Attendance and participation. This is a small, discussion-oriented class, so your presence is essential to the chemistry of the class. Equally essential to the functioning of the class is everyone doing all the reading, every week. I will likely introduce simple in-class writing assignments as the term progresses to ensure that everyone keeps up. Also note: I will be taking regular attendance! If you have more than 3 unexcused absences, attendance will adversely affect the participation portion of your grade.

2.      10% One in-class presentation. Roughly every other week on Thursday we will have student presentations. These will involve you doing some individual research on a topic either suggested by me or chosen by you.

The goal of these presentations is to give you an opportunity to deepen your knowledge of certain aspects of South Asian history, culture, and literature in an area that interests you. Presentations will generally have something to do with the readings assigned for that week, though there also be variations on that pattern for a good reason (such as, for instance, the relevance of a topic to current events). I would encourage people to use visual aids such as handouts or images for their presentations; film or audio clips can work too, if you let me know in advance.

3.      65% (10%, 15%, 40%) Three papers. Two are relatively short; the final will be about 10 pages.

The two shorter papers will be focused arguments interpreting the texts in the course. The final paper can also be primarily interpretive, or it can be more research-oriented. For instance, I could imagine a person interested in the controversy over Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses doing some outside research on blasphemy in the Islamic tradition.



1.      Reading load. I have designed this course to be as accessible as possible to non-majors while still making it challenging to English majors taking the course. In either case, there is a significant amount of reading here. I have tried to use shorter books where possible so as not to overwhelm you, but be forewarned that some weeks will have somewhat heavy reading assignments, so arrange your schedule accordingly. My suggestion is to use weekends to work through novels in concentrated sittings.

2.      Meetings. Though I do have formal office hours, I am increasingly moving towards an appointment-based model. My preference is to meet with students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays when at all possible. I would strongly encourage (almost require) you to come in and talk with me at some point during the term, and generally encourage you to come in as often as seems helpful to you.

3.      Film Screenings. I have put five films on the syllabus -- which may be a bit optimistic. The films I have selected depict the issues being discussed in the course, including the Partition, gender relations, sexuality, caste, terrorism, and cross-cultural interactions (i.e., between east and west). Attendance at the screenings is optional, since I suspect we will not be able to find a time when everyone can be present at screenings. But I will require you to see screened films before the next class meeting, since we will be discussing the films in class; the films may also factor into your papers. Video copies of the films will be made available at the Fairchild-Martin media center.

I am currently envisioning screenings on Thursday evenings at 6:30 or 7 pm, in the video room in Maginnes Hall. One further thing: the film screenings will be open to the public. So feel free to bring friends & food along with you.




What is the goal of this class?


This class aims to introduce South Asian literature in English. A number of South Asian writers have emerged on the global literary scene since the end of the colonial era, offering a substantial contribution to world literature. Writing either from the South Asian subcontinent itself or from abroad, many of the writers featured in this course have had a significant impact in places like the United States and England, where they have won prizes and earned recognition.

But how comfortable are they in the world of 'English' literature? To what extent does the English establishment accept and incorporate South Asian writing? Or is it more correct to understand the emergence of writing from this region of the world as lively, but essentially marginal to 'canonical' European writers like James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway? Put another way, South Asian literature might be seen as simply 'exotic' and 'different,' and not as important or lasting literature. This question, which I call the question of canonicity, is one that each South Asian writer seems to respond to in his or her own way, so we will discuss it throughout the term. My general belief is that the literature we are reading is in fact highly original, both in the sense that the stories being told have not been told before in English-language narratives, and in the sense that many of the texts we are reading are formally quite innovative. South Asian writers use European techniques such as modernism and postmodernism, and modify or inflect them in unique ways.

The question of canonicity leads to what might be the central goal of the course, and that is, to develop an approach to this literature that is at once an insider and a universalist perspective. In other words, we will work on the historical and cultural background elements that are important to fully understanding these novels. At the same time and in parallel, we will think about how these novels have been influenced by western aesthetic values and novelistic form, and how they might in fact be transforming and reinventing this form.

More particular questions will come up from book to book. The different short stories, novels, and films in the course represent some very important 20th century historical events, such as the moment of Independence for India and Pakistan, an event immediately followed by the ghastly violence of the 'Partition.' Others deal with more recent events: the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, which led to the founding of Bangladesh; Indira Gandhi's Emergency, in 1975; the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984; the civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 80s; or the recent border conflicts between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Also, a significant number of the books in the course are written by 'diasporic' authors -- people who for various reasons live outside of the subcontinent. Some of these writers focus quite specifically on what life is like for displaced South Asians in London, the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. Finally, it is important to note that several of the authors in the course deal extensively with the question of women in South Asia, with an aim to criticize the mistreatment of women in South Asian society while nevertheless refusing to condemn that society (societies, really) outright.
Introduction to South Asian Literature


English 191/Asia 191

Fall 2002

Amardeep Singh



Syllabus by week


8/27 Introduction (some poems to read)

8/29 From Mirrorwork

Rushdie's Introduction

Nehru, "Tryst with Destiny" (short!)

Nayantara Sahgal, "With Pride and Prejudice"

Saadat Hasan Manto, "Toba Tek Singh"

Mulk Raj Anand, "The Liar" (short!)


9/3 From Mirrorwork

Rohinton Mistry, "The Collectors"

Anjana Appachana, "Sharmaji"

Vikram Chandra, "Shakti"

Poems by Agha Shahid Ali (Blackboard)

9/5 Start Cracking India

An essay on Partition from The Other Side of Silence (Blackboard)

Student presentation(s): Partition


9/10 Cracking India

9/12 Finish Cracking India

Film screening: Earth (7pm)


9/17 The Glass Palace (Parts I, II)

Amitav Ghosh, "Nashawy" (in Mirrorwork)

9/19 The Glass Palace (Part III)

Student presentation(s): on Burma, or open topic


9/24 The Glass Palace (Parts IV, V)

9/26 The Glass Palace (Parts VI, VII)

Film screening: Such a Long Journey


10/1 Finish The Glass Palace

Paper due: 3-4 pages

10/3 NO CLASS -- Pacing Break


10/8 Start Mothsmoke

10/10 Finish Mothsmoke

Short story by Jhumpa Lahiri: "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" [Bangladesh] (Blackboard)

Short story by Upadhyay: "Arresting God in Kathmandu" [Nepal] (Blackboard)

Student presentation(s): Literary traditions of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal


10/15 Start The Satanic Verses

Rushdie essay: "In Good Faith," from Imaginary Homelands

Various readings on the 'Rushdie affair' over the course of the 3 weeks


10/17 The Satanic Verses


10/22 The Satanic Verses

10/24 The Satanic Verses

Student presentation(s): On the Rushdie Affair

Film Screening: Fire


10/29 The Satanic Verses

10/31 Finish The Satanic Verses

Paper due: 5 pages


11/5 Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee

11/7 Finish Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee

Film Screening: Dil Se

11/12 The God of Small Things

11/14 The God of Small Things

Student presentation(s): Open topic on Arundhati Roy


11/19 Finish The God of Small Things

An essay or two by Arundhati Roy, from The Cost of Living

11/21 Start Anil's Ghost

Readings on Sri Lanka by Neloufer de Mel and Stanley Tambiah

Student presentation(s): Literary traditions (and ethnic conflict) in Sri Lanka


11/26 Anil's Ghost

11/28 NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)

12/3 Finish Anil's Ghost

12/5 Last day of class: wrap up

Film screening with Indian food: Monsoon Wedding


12/13 Final papers due (10 pages)