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  • Writer's pictureKuzhali Manickavel

what is your native

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Phust, I want to send a big pongalo pongal! shoutout to my nativepeeps, wish you all good things and I wish people would stop saying ‘Pongal’ is ‘porridge’ because it’s not and this is not a festival celebrating porridge. 

This blog post title is what people in my corner of the world ask when they want to know where you come from. It would also be a great name for a game show. Anyway, I finished Moby Dick and so I would like to dedicate the song Hannah by Freelance Whales to myself and also to all the freelance whales out there, thank you for keeping it real homies.

In the last week or so, I seem to have read a lot of stuff about Indian writers in English. Manymany things have been said but I think the bottom line is that IWiE are basically fail. If this whole thing was a reality TV show, people would be saying that IWiE are like so fake because we aren’t for real. The question of realness with IWiE has been dealt with nicely elsewhere so I won’t go into that. But I would like to offer helpful pointers on how to be IWiE win. I am the first to admit that I have absolutely no cred, experience or right to speak about IWiE win. However. I do have massive experience and cred in being IWiE phail. I know this because Indians in the India have told me this, Indians not in the India have told me this and notIndians in the notIndia have told me this. So it must be true. So here it is. Wish you all success in your future endeavors.

1. Write like an Indian

Sometimes people will choose an Indian book of fiction because they want to learn about new cultures like that Slumdog movie. This fiction needs to primarily operate as a guidebook to Indian Exotica and not so much as fiction because if these peeps wanted fiction, they would have probs chosen something else to read. Anyway, ‘Indian Exotica’ is very different from ‘Indian’. Indian Exotica is what people THINK constitutes all things Indian. It is mainly there to satisfy that Indian Exotica Itch. In other words, it’s porn so it needs to be written like porn and that’s very different from writing literary fiction and other stuffs also. So your scifi story might simply be phail because it’s not Indian Exotica porn. So it’s not really your fault. Well it kinda is because you’re Indian and you’re not supposed to be writing scifi anyway.

Also, while you need to write like an Indian, it’s important not to be too Indian. Do not use too many non-English words that will make white people faint away in fright or get like distracted with the distracting (ie threatening, confusing nonEnglish) vibe you got going. Also remember that as an Indian, your story, no matter what it’s about, automatically runs the risk of slipping into magic realism territory if readers cannot latch onto some “realist” aspects like beer or Jesus. 

2. Do not write like an Indian

The biggest criticism that IWiE face from readers back in da hood is that it sounds Indian and it fails to be compelling because it doesn’t sound NotIndian. We’d all be extremely wealthy people if we got 50paisa for every time someone wailed about how there are no Indian Bukowskis or Franzens (btw, who dat? btw, never say ‘who dat?’ about any authors you feel may be famous in America (also kinda in the UK but mainly America) because people will kill your face if you do. You are, however, encouraged to be ignorant about other IWiE). So anyway, children’s stories are not Harry Potter. Fantasy stories are not Tolkein. It’s a fun game to play once you get started, no? For some reason no one plays this fun game the other way round because that’s just weird! I mean, all those people OWN English and we are just borrowing it or “aping” English like we “ape Western culture” (I for one would be in epic bling if I got 10paisa for every time someone said that to me). However, I heard that most IWiE are not too worried about this one because it’s mostly just Indians saying this and nobody really cares what Indians say anyway, especially other Indians.

3. Be Duly Penitent and Ashamed for Not Knowing Your ‘Mother Tongue’

English is the language of superduperprivilege in these here parts and that is a trickytricky thing. It manifests in different ways. In RaceFail and in many arguments about Othering, the privileged whine about how all the nonprivilaged folk are just so mean to privileged folk who are like so misunderstood even though they are so nice and stuff. Sometimes however, the privileged don’t say anything. Notice how this blog likes to go on and on about all sorts of nonprivilege issues but keeps a studied silence about its own privilege. For the IWiE, this Privileged Silence must always be coupled with the act of showing everyone the scar and shame of the absence of your Mother Tongue. This should be automatic. It should be so automatic that you should say ‘I feel terrible for not being able to speak/read/write in *insert any vernacular language here*’ for no reason whatsoever. This is like saying PROUD TO BE INDIAN for no reason whatsoever. 

It doesn’t matter if you really do feel terrible about this (because you SHOULD feel terrible about this, you terrible person) because no one is going to believe you anyway. You are writing in the language of the raping invaders which means everyone has the right to tell you how your writing is ‘inauthentic because it’s in English’ and ‘you are handicapped because you cannot write in your Mother Tongue’ and you’re basically just this big whoring writer slut-ho. You may feel the need to politely point out that maybe English IS your mother tongue, it’s the language you think in, it’s the language you are comfortable with, you revert to it when you are angry or in great pain. Do not do this because no one will believe you and also, you probably do not believe this yourself. It’s usually best to just stand there and nod and say ‘yes I am a motherfucker’ over and over again instead.

4. Be A Walking Encyclopedia Regarding All Things Indian

So as an IWiE you’re already inauthentic and people don’t believe what you say or they do when you say what they want you to say. Apart from all that, you also need to be a living resource on all things Indian because NotIndians need you for guidebook purposes and Indians need you to balance all that inauthenticity with rabid GK knowledge. When people say ‘what’s a caste system’, you better have a well-researched, 50 word answer, preferably with Euro-centric/American parallels ready at your fingertips. The same goes for issues like Indian royalty, communal violence, the British Raj, the anatomy of Bollywood, the decline of the Indian village, the use of spices (especially turmeric) in Indian cuisine, Satyajit Ray, the joint family system, role of women in Indian society, cows, child labour, the literary history of at least three regional languages, AIDS and Indian lorry drivers, the transgender community and Anglo Indians. You are not allowed to say ‘I don’t know’ to anything because that renders you both useless and more inauthentic than you already are and you may disappear completely off the face of this good Earth.

5. Do not have an unnecessarily complicated name like Kuzhali Manickavel

The English alphabet was not made for Indian names. So when people stumble over your name, in yours one number country and abroad, it’s all your fault and you should be so much ashamed. If your name has zs, xs, consonants all smashed together, inappropriate vowel combinations, hyphens or if it’s just really long, you are Ebil Name Terrorist. The best way to not be a terrorist is to have simple one or two syllable names. Arundhati Roy wins for her last name but screws it up entirely with her first name. Vikram Seth wins slightly more but would have won completely if his name was Seth Vikram, or better yet, Seth Victor. Names to avoid are anything that shows up as a mistake on spellcheck or anything that will make people nervous and angry and ask if there is some ‘easier’ alternative that they can call you. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid names like Swastika (especially if you’re hoping to hit it big overseas) and anything that runs any kind of risk of immediately conjuring up images of fecal matter, urine, reproductive organs, various stages and acts associated with coitus and also mammary glands. For example, avoid names like Peeya, Poorani, Dikshit (holla back at me white dude from New Zealand!), Mehboob, Fakhia and Christians leddies are encouraged not to shorten their name to Titty if their name is Elizabeth. 

7. Have No Sense of Humor 

Isn’t Indian Writing in English just the funniest thing evar? No it is not. Why it is not? Because, as someone once told me, ‘what is the need?’ And since I could not think of an answer to this, they must be right. Humor is one of those things that is like really awkward and upsetting when it comes from anyone in the third world. I think there is some rule that one should not look for humor here because we’re supposed to be really sad all the time and it’s bad manners to remind us how we are so third world we obvs can’t afford to have a sense of humor. I mean, all those times you see peeps smiling or laffing here? We’re actually crying. We so sad. We are not with smiling face.

Also, writing is a very serious bidness, especially if you’re Indian and especially if you’re writing in English because then it becomes runningrace and has almost nothing to do with writing at all. And like all runningraces, you have to be in it to win or really, what is the point in you being alive? It’s like getting phustrank. If you can’t get phustrank, why are you living? Anyway, this is why we are having so many people who believe they can win at writing in English because they have a passable knowledge of English and that’s really all you need in this particular runningrace. I myself like to believe I have a passable knowledge of Tamil, which means I win at writing in Tamil. Also apparently, Indians do not have a sense of humor anyway because, apart from many other reasons, stand up comedy is not part of our culture. Someone told me this so I’m just passing that along, so you can know it too. Anyway, what is the need? 

8. Do Not Write Blog Posts Like This 

Why because means, what is the need? This is what people here will tell you and people over there will tell you and people who don’t know what you’re talking about will tell you because ‘what is the need’ is one of those things that is all-purpose-multi-purpose. Also the English writing world is sad enough without your woe and your woe is not universal. You know what’s universal? Good writing. Good writing is universal like Universal Studios. Anyway, if you find that you are fail at being an Indian Writer in English, quietly you can label yourself something else. Say you’re a NotIndian Writer in English. Or UnIndian. Don’t say you’re Anti Indian tho because you might get thrown in jail.



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