Commodifying Culture: Language and Exoticism in IWE

  • Nivedita Majumdar


Ambalavaner Sivanandan’s When Memory Dies (1997) portrays the ravages of colonialism in its myriad forms. A young character, Rajan, wonders about the seemingly contradictory practices embraced by his father, like making Rajan have private tuition to learn Tamil while insisting that he does well in English at school, or forcing him to go to the temple and yet sending him to a Christian school. This is the plight, as Rajan eventually understands, of the colonial subject who will never know the luxury of a unified subjectivity. They will always have to negotiate the contrary pulls of expediency and authenticity. In some crucial senses, it is the predicament also shared by writers of Indian writing in English (IWE). Institutional recognition of Indian writers in English (IWrE) in the West is at its pinnacle, built around illustrious awards, lucrative publishing contracts and an increasing readership. Such success, however, comes with a price for writers practising their art in a colonial language. Recognition and acceptance by the West coexist with a mixed response back home, where IWrE receive some critical praise but are also routinely treated with a dose of suspicion, if not with hostility, by other critics and a large section of the readership. Serious questions are raised regarding this body of work and what makes it commercially and critically successful, especially in the West.


Mother Tongue Indian Language Global Literary White Tiger Christian School 
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© Nivedita Majumdar 2014

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