This post was created by Sunil Sharma, an Indian scholar and writer with whom I am planning to compile an anthology of Indian-Zimbabwean short stories. An Indian publisher has expressed interest in taking up this project, but before we make a call for submissions, here is a short writing on the project.
Sunil Sharma is currently Vice-principal and Reader in the English department of Model College, which is affiliated to the University of Mumbai—MIDC, Dombivli (East), in District Thane,state of Maharashtra, India. He is a bilingual critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. Some of
his short stories and poems have already appeared in journals like New Woman (Mumbai), Creative Saplings, Muse India (both of them e-zines), Munyori Literary Journal, the Seva Bharati Journal of English Studies (West Bengal), Indian Literature (of Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi), Indian Literary Panorama (Mumbai), Contemporary Vibes (Chandigarh), The Plebian Rag (USA), and Indian Journal of Post-colonial Literatures (Kerala),Kritya (online). Besides that, he is a freelance journalist in English. His book on the Philosophy of the Novel—A Marxist Critique is already published. His debut novel—Minotaurch—is forthcoming from Jaipur (India).
Tentative Title: Nations on the Move: A Salad of Indo-Zimbabwean Contemporary Short Fiction in English
Have you ever visited the sun-kissed Africa?
No, not the Dark Continent of the imperialist imagination but the bright, multi-splendoured Africa from where the first Eve emerged. An Africa that all of us carry in our DNA; home to not AIDS but to ancient civilizations. An Africa seen from an adoring son’s or daughter’s eyes, warts and all.
I have not visited this fascinating landmass of great contrasts. A land ruled by the West-educated corpulent dictators in two-piece suits and red ties who want to crush the indomitable spirit of the toiling masses. They can physically intimidate or kill a large number of silent people but can not crush the rising tidal waves of the popular resistance.
I am talking of this struggling Africa, the Africa of common person’s dreams and the cherished Muse of an exiled poet in London or Paris. True peoples’ land and their global aspirations: very much like my own India with same aspirations, dreams and struggles, despite the persisting bane of the constant threat of the terrorists, militant regionalism and deeply-entrenched casteism. Chances of going to this vast continent are remote also for a middle-class teacher like me who wants to travel around the whole world— Africa included— but does not have the kind of extra dough needed for such a long and eventful journey.
I am not a brutal Henderson trying to journey to an Africa for finding redemption. Nor, the salvation seeking Harry. The Snows of Kilimanjaro are not for me. The Great Columbus was also not my great-great-great- grand father. I do not have such an illustrated pedigree! Marco Polo and Vasco da Gamma are the difficult foreign names encountered first in the history books written/ taught so badly to the poor primary-level kids that they still curse these bold explorers of the yore for making their tiny lives miserable for them. One man’s joy, as they say, is another man’s poison! So, it is clear that the travelling gene is not in my blood. Discoveries are not for folks like Mr. J Alfred Prufrock or Joe Six-pack.
So, I am stuck up permanently in a 24/7 world of repeating sickening news, recessionary gloom, senseless killings and murders, violent rapes, devastating wars, ethnic cleansing, cruel racial attacks, food and celeb-chasing and what not on the idiot box. This wide-screen nonsense can drive anybody crazy. If aliens were watching, they will sure run away in their flying saucers thinking that the lonely planet is the most dangerous place in the entire Milky Way. That is why they come, see and safely retreat to their red Mars or the ringed Jupiter in their super- fast vehicles. The antennae-studded aliens with the glowing oval eyes are right in their spot assessment of the terra firma. Spielberg could not persuade even a single green-bodied creature to stay on the earth for long among the divided humans. Well. Well.
So, how to be upbeat on a bad hair day when every Murphy principle comes true for the poor you? Dining out is so passé and predictable (and costly) these days. You pay exorbitant prices for eating the same exotic stuff in various overpriced hotels that taste the same everywhere and are served by the same white-uniformed bored men with plastic smile and a robotic thank-you. What to do next? How to beat the tedium of a dull routinised existence? Eating out is not a very appealing option for a friendless soul in a crowded city. So, on a stormy night, feeling wretched and lost in a walk-in apartment in London/New York/Mumbai, with TV turned down to avoid further dumbing down in an already dumbed-down commercial culture, what should one do to remain sane, healthy, human and non-suicidal? To break the monotony of a standardized life decided by the cartel of the MNCs for us? To escape from the MacDonald-type of identical worlds of greedy consumption? Or, how to break out of the highly-regulated and highly-regimented everyday reality decided by the transnational capital?
Or, how to recover the colours, the wide-eyed romance, the joy of the first rainbow seen from tiny eyes, when the everyday blasé was a novel mystery for all of us?
In other words, how can I stage my own Truman’s Show and come out of it a better person?
Answer to these fundamental questions is very simple. If I want to make mental journeys during lonely moments, I pick up a writer of my choice. Latin America. OK. Here we are. Yes, Marquez will do, as your companion on the solitary nights…to comfort you. Africa? Hmmm. Contemporary? Well, Ben Okri. Turkey? Well, Orhan Pamuk. Egypt? Naquib Mahfouz. Afghanistan? Khaled Hosseini. India? Salman Rushdie. The list goes on. These gentlemen (feminists, please excuse) pop up from behind the pages of their fat books and become R-E-A-L for you in your bedroom! In this process of reading, you become a citizen of a new land, a new Atlantis of spirit and imagination. You visit these airy realms and feel a strange lightness of being, thus neutralizing the accumulated and deadening toxicity of everyday reality that eats into the finer sinews of your soul.
These writings reclaim a space from the colonial West. Africa no longer is a dark continent but a place where men and women struggle to make sense of their liberated lives under a different kind of tyranny. Bellow’s or Conrad’s Africa gets inverted by Okri and others. These writers tell the tale in reverse gear. The native speaks and speaks in English, but in their English. They sound familiar to the readers waking up, after a long time, in a free world. Caliban is forging his new identity through the former master’s language and appropriates their cultural references as well. This dualism helps. A global language but local contexts. The dubbed films catch this mood , this restlessness the best. In the process, new worlds are opened up like little castle casements on the windy seashores for the curious and the willing. Okri takes you where you can not go alone. You are on a conducted tour.
That is the magic of good writing. It helps you connect with common experiences that sound more or less like yours, yet are rooted in a culture light years away from your grim reality. Basically, all writing is middle-class and reflects the same ideology also. The beauty lies in the presentation of the local scenes; different, yet the same, at the core. For a global reader, new realities bring old shadows where you are self-shocked to see the same truths repeated but in a different idiom and milieu. Like the exotic cuisines that are cooked in standard bases or the international cuisines made in five mother sauces throughout the cooking world.
So, you turn to a book and through empathy and vicarious pleasure, get transported to a reality different from yours in vast degrees but that basically remains human and qualitatively the same. It tells via Faulkner that man can never be down for long and will prevail, or, through Hemingway that he can never be destroyed. This essential humanistic-liberal transcending vision is uplifting for a struggling person or a collective pitted against the economic forces.
Through writing, nations move and come to you very close in the form of a fluid text. So far, English anthologies have been Euro-centric or Euro-African or –Latin American. This anthology is, for a change, Indo-Zimbabwean! Two nations, two post-colonial economies, collide in a common literary space and produce a unique creative synergy. Indians are winning the Booker for long now. The Zimbabwean cousins are equally strong and writing very well. Their experiences of a post-colonial society are more or less the same but the flavours and seasonings are different. The language is English but spoken by two non-native communities/ nations. Through pucca English, dispersed in different cultural contexts (Zimbabwean- Americans, Indian-Americans), these voices bring a refreshingly new vision to the realities of the day for the post-modern/post-colonial English speaking readers for the first time. They open up tiny windows on their individual colourful cultures and invite us to be a participant in this enriching aesthetic experience of feeling a remote culture, first hand. That is the beauty of serious art!
Want to be part of the project? As a writer, you are welcome. Send two shorts, with the bio, to the following editors for this anthology. Let us begin the story. A fiction that tells the truth and brings your country to me in a moving narrative of struggle and human hope…Let us get going N-O-W.
Once there was a wonderful fictionist who brought his nation alive in few pages.
Email stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com