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The latest issue of Granta (Issue 130) is yet another India special titled ‘India

02 Feb, 2015 17:07:35

The venerable Granta magazine from the UK first did a special number on ‘India’ back in 1997. It was part of the 50th anniversary of India’s independence. Issue 57 (Spring 1997) titled ‘India: The Golden Jubilee’ was edited by its then editor, Ian Jack.

Two photographs — one of rural Indian women in colourful attire looking out to the sea, and another sepia-tinged one of a packed suburban railway platform in Mumbai — dominated the cover. The main typeface for ‘India’ was a fusion between Devanagari and Roman scripts. On the cover too, it boasted of names such as Anita Desai, V S Naipaul, RK Narayan, Nirad Chaudhuri, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple, (even a Sri Lankan, Michael Ondaatje), and others — authors that were to be found inside along with British writers who specialised on India. It also, curiously announced, “introducing Arundhati Roy”. In nearly 20 years since that special issue, so much has changed — some of the newer names in that issue have strengthened their reputation and are now firmly established. Some have changed tracks. And yet others have diminished their output.

The latest issue of Granta (Issue 130) is yet another India special titled ‘India: Another Way of Seeing’. The magazine’s logo and masthead have changed. The new cover design bears a modern minimalistic feel with a purposely-distorted image called ‘Virtually Extinct IV’. The roster of writers in this issue is relatively younger than in the earlier one. However, Ian Jack returns here as its guest editor. The back jacket of the current issue announces: “For a long time — too long — the mirror that India held to its face was made elsewhere. ‘What writer about the country would you recommend I read?’ first-time travellers to India would ask, and in the later twentieth century the answer was still Forster or Naipaul or even the longdead Kipling. In fiction, that changed with Rushdie. Now it has changed in all kinds of non-fiction. Narrative history, reportage, memoir, biography, the travel account: all have their gifted exponents in a country perfecting its own frank gaze.”
As one would expect with a newer generation of writers, the contents and the issues discussed in the pieces are contemporary, localized, urgent and crisp. Aman Sethi writes, in a bracingly sharp style, on ‘Love Jihad’. Amitava Kumar mourns for his mother in ‘Pyre’ in a moving piece of prose. Hari Kunzru “imagines an Indian future” in his beautifully articulated piece, ‘Drone’. As in her recent debut novel, A Bad Character, Deepti Kapoor’s story ‘A DoubleIncome Family’ reflects her spunky writing style as she portrays an unsettling urban India story with brio. I especially enjoyed Upamanyu Chatterjee’s ‘Othello Sucks’, Amit Chaudhuri’s ‘English Summer’, and Neel Mukherjee’s ‘The Wrong Square.’