Featuring stories from millennial and Gen Z writers, editor and publisher David Davidar’s new anthology, A Case of Indian Marvels, traverses realism, fantasy and more.
Featuring stories from millennial and Gen Z writers, editor and publisher David Davidar’s new anthology, A case of Indian wonderstraverses realism, fantasy and more
Identifying the best writers from a country as linguistically diverse as India is an exercise as ambitious as it is fraught with vanity. David Davidar, veteran editor and current publisher of New Delhi-based Aleph Book Company, pleads guilty to both counts in the introduction to his finely curated anthology, A Case of Indian Wonders: Dazzling Stories from the Country’s Best New Writers – a collection of short fiction films by 40 writers, all aged 40 or younger in 2020.
Most of the works are originally written in English, with only a handful translated from other languages (Malayalam, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada and Telugu). In an email interview, he shares what marks this generation of writers. Edited excerpts:
In the introduction, you refer to the “golden generation” of Indian writers – those who published for about 20 years following Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” in 1981. The writers collected here are limited to those under 40 years in 2020. differences between them?
The stories of these millennial and Gen Z writers are very diverse, and that’s okay. Some of them are molded in the mode of classical social realism, as was the case with a large part of the generation that preceded them; others are written like fables or with dollops of magical realism or woven mythology or fantasy.
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The range is impressive. Besides the variations in style, it was interesting to me that the writers were scattered all over the country unlike the previous generation, many of whom lived in big metros. It was also encouraging to see that the majority lived in India. Since most of them write in English, their backgrounds are quite similar. I think it is too early in the career of these writers to make a fair comparison with the writers of the “golden generation”. What can be said without reservation is that they are very talented and can expect great books from them in the years to come.
“The stories of these 40 Millennial and Gen Z writers are very diverse,” says Davidar
How did you identify the 40 stories?
This selection focuses on the work of writers under the age of 40, not the best short fiction published by all Indian writers of the late 20th and early 21st century. The selection process was simple. I was aware of the work of about half of the writers represented in this anthology because they had won major awards or published well-known books – writers like Kanishk Tharoor, Meena Kandasamy, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Madhuri Vijay, Karan Madhok and Avinuo Kire, to name a few. Others have been pointed out to me by various observers of the literary scene or drawn from collections of short stories; still others have been put on the long list by my editorial colleagues. I then whittled it down to the final 40. It frustrated me that I couldn’t unearth more writers from languages other than English; but that aside, I think it’s a great selection of next-gen stars.
You point out that only half of those 40 writers have yet published books. Is it possible to deduce that there are more and more platforms allowing them to publish their news?
Yes, without a doubt, in the digital age, writers can publish on many more platforms than ever before. I don’t know if we need more platforms. What I think is needed is for the work that appears on these platforms to be better filtered to eliminate a lot of garbage. Additionally, many of these online journals and other platforms could be marketed more aggressively to readers so that the work of writers receives much greater visibility.
“This selection focuses on the work of writers under the age of 40, not the best short fiction published by all Indian writers of the late 20th and early 21st century,” says Davidar | Photo credit: RV Moorthy
While presenting a collection of short stories, Philip Hensher once wrote that he wanted to “suggest what the short story still does well”. How would you sum up what it does well based on your collection?
I think what short story in India continues to do well is reflect the reality of our country in original and insightful ways. There are a lot of things in our society that are dysfunctional, and it’s only getting worse, and I think a lot of stories [here] brilliantly capturing exterior decay and hidden rot – realistically or allusively.
You write: “The slow drip of sectarian hatred through the open veins of our society, and the all-out assault on liberal values and creative expression…will definitely reshape the country – and not for the better. How will our writers turn these dangerous and depressing times into art? Will this shape the collective production of literary fiction and non-fiction for a generation to come?
It is difficult to predict what form the literary works shaped by the present will take. Unlike journalism, it will probably be a while before we can see how the excesses of our times have seeped into the creative consciousness of the writers involved and emerged as fully formed novels. Great literature does not rush. However, I have no doubt that our melancholy time will be reborn in the literature of the future.
A case of Indian wonders
Edited by David Davidar
Aleph Book Company
Indian publishing, particularly in English, is now driven by non-fiction. Is this a concern?
Big, ambitious and eye-opening non-fiction is the most exciting thing in the Indian writing and publishing scene right now. It was long overdue because for a country with our complexity and history, there just wasn’t enough great non-fiction written. In the past, much of it was either academic and boring or too superficial to be of any value. Now the scene is different and every year you have two or three wonderful books. I’m not worried about the lack of amazing literary fiction; if ten years pass without major novels, it does not matter. Indian literary fiction will eventually be taken off the ventilator and restored to good health, and I expect many of the writers represented in this anthology to be responsible for the turnaround.
Do publishers and commissioning editors have a bigger role to play here?
I think it’s nearly impossible to order outstanding novels based on sample chapters or a published story or two; you have to wait for them to happen. A positive development that I hope will be irreversible is that we no longer wait for a book to be acclaimed abroad to decide whether it is good or not. In fact, over the past decade and a half, very few Indian novels have been major hits in the West, and the reaction to them here has been mixed, if not mixed.