the mutt

Can Rakesh fire a Walther PPK?

Posted in indian writing in english by grx20 on December 10, 2008

It’s something that has been bothering me a lot.

I’ve spent countless hours brooding over it, ranted to my friends, wife and troubled myself with it no end.

The problem, in one word, is authenticity. As a reader of Indian writing in English I do not find Rakesh wielding a PPK or Inspector Siva whipping out a SR 75 believable. But in the hands of say, Baldaccci’s Web London, the SR 75 fits like a glove. Rakesh is a far cry from Jack Bauer and somehow I cannot see him do the things Agent Bauer would.

Why is it hard for us believe it? Is it because we have grown up (or old, as you please), watching Die Hard and reading Clancy, and therefore that sounds perfectly normal to us?

By that same token, we cannot deal with little Harish disappearing suddenly on Platform 3 at Madras Central Station and magically appear on the other side – in a world of wizards. And of course it is out of the question for a girl from Kolkata to fall in love with her classmate – who incidentally is a vampire from Trichur. As for Guhan being the sole survivor in a haunted space station, forget it.

These things that I mention, it’s not in our culture, one of my friends told me. (Right! It is all there in Western culture!) That’s an answer that throws up more questions in the process of answering one.

I could go on and on about this, but I neither want to abuse my freedom of speech nor your patience with it. I just wanted to throw this question up and invite thoughts from my readers.


10 Responses

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  1. Vyshnavi said, on December 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    hello! Are these real characters?!?
    Agree. There are some ground rules, even if you’re experimentative. An author is creating a world for the reader. Imagine James Bond asking for cutting chai at Lucky’s Cafe. Why call him James Bond then? You can’t call a train Kacheguda Express and take people to Frankfurt, however cooler Frankfurt is. They would feel cheated, because they WANTED to go to Hyderabad.

    • the mutt said, on December 11, 2008 at 10:47 am

      No no no, not real characters but products of my imagination – the could-be desi equivalents of their western counterparts. Like Harry Potter and the Stephanie Meyer phenomena. You’re right, the Kacheguda can’t go to Frankfurt … and very often it is the name itself that makes a scenario or a character unbelievable. As for James Bond saying, ‘chai … masala chai,’ well, that isn’t quite his cup of tea, methinks! : )

  2. Murali said, on December 11, 2008 at 2:22 am

    This is one of your best posts.

    I’ve followed your blog with stalker like intensity and I will admit this is easily one of the funniest blog postings I have read. It is a topic that I relate to easily, a topic that has occupied my own musings with friends and family and has led to laughs and bitter arguments. I’ve made fun of my brother’s attempts at humor with names of Western origin in an Indian setting and I’ve carefully hidden my sensitive writer’s confidence from the more than slight smirks of my inner reader. And never more so than when I was blatantly guilty of trying to get Rakesh to fire a Walther PPK in one my stories.

    I was laughing out loud when I read the examples of Harish on the platform and Guhan in the space station. But that laughter, that humor and that bittersweet smile is precisely the point. That we find it so ‘unreal’ or so incongruous is something we have to live with. Something we have to come to terms with. And finally, something we have to find peace with.

    And I recently have made peace.

    I was talking to my friend Dorai, as we walked East on West 67th Street towards Central Park, past the stately Barnes & Noble, sipping our cokes, pulling our Abercrombie & Fitch scarves a bit tighter and admiring the display on the Gap store, about this very topic and we realized the incongruity of me, Murali and Dorai out for a walk to pick up babes in New York City. If we could ‘westernize’ ourselves enough in New York City to impress the local women, then perhaps there was hope for Guhan to survive in the space station.

    If that is feasible, and it was, then a time will come for Rakesh to fire his Walther PPK at Jackie Bauerina as he dismounts his BSA SLR on Devanatha Chinnasami Street in Mylapore, Chennai as the students of Araivarairaj School come running out for the summer holidays. Bullets will fly, children will run, Jackie will fall and Rakesh will be on the run from his own government for firing his Walther PPK against the rules. But he will be back. And this time, he might head to New Delhi.

    • the mutt said, on December 11, 2008 at 10:58 am

      Hi, thanks for stopping by.
      You’ve made peace!? Tell me how! I’d love to hear that. Valid point you make – about adapting to the western lifestyle and culture and if that can happen, perhaps our writing will also follow suit one day. Interestingly though, we have accepted (rather amazingly), Mylapore maami’s sporting Nikes and going for a walk in Nageshwara Rao Park in saris, very well. It is perfectly normal for Mr. Mishra to sport a PSU Dad tshirt without being mistaken for being the founding father of a Public Sector Unit.
      My point is: I don’t think we ever had a problem embracing and incorporating the western world into our everyday lives. (True, there was a lot of ‘getting used to’ when VH1 and MTV came to our living rooms, but it didn’t portend an eternal conflict of interests or morality)
      But in a novel, somehow the disconnect seems more obvious and jarring.

  3. AJ said, on December 11, 2008 at 4:38 am

    Very nice post … it is of interest though that this idea translates better to movies which copy Western movies to the letter. In books, it does not come across so well.

    • the mutt said, on December 11, 2008 at 11:00 am

      Hi. Thanks for your appreciation.
      I agree with you completely. In fact, in my reply to Murali I had just mentioned something similar. In movies and even music, the crossover is seamless. Not so in books, as you rightly say.

  4. Mani said, on December 11, 2008 at 4:40 am

    Great post … we need more fiction in India that talks about how we are as good as the West if not better

    • the mutt said, on December 11, 2008 at 11:03 am

      Hi Mani,
      Thanks for stopping by. I don’t think we need more fiction to tomtom our greatness, that would come across as defensive. Which in fact, we don’t have to be. I feel, it’s just that we are brought up on Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Jack Higgins, Forsyth, Sheldon, Rowling, Baldacci, Perry Mason, Stephen King, to name a few … so much of our fiction is dominated by non Indians, that we cannot accept any Indian trying to get his foot in the door.

  5. PWillow said, on December 11, 2008 at 4:49 am

    Interesting blog … I wonder if this discrepancy (is that word appropriate?) applies to other non English native language countries?

    • the mutt said, on December 11, 2008 at 11:03 am

      Great point. I wonder too if this problem persists in other languages too. Would be interesting to find out.

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