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Colonial hangovers

  • Published at 12:44 pm November 21st, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:29 pm December 11th, 2017
Colonial hangovers
Unnikrishnan and Arudpragasam started with discussing their novels and how their personal contexts, especially the languages they are surrounded by, influenced their work. Both writers acknowledged the very common 'colonial hangover' in previously colonised nations – the prestige and power that is still attached to the English language. “As a young writer who has written a novel in English, I have been invited to the Dhaka Literary Festival. If I happened to be a skilled writer of Tamil, I don't think I would be invited to Dhaka,” stated Anuk flatly. He was also passionately dismissive of Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and “Western recognitions” - “Why should we care? In all societies there are masters and slaves, and we had that relationship with our colonisers, so the day we cease to care for these recognitions is the day we rise up from being slaves.” Matthews tried to speak a bit more favourably of English as “part of a global culture where people can use their native tongue but also communicate through a global language.” Unnikrishnan also stressed on the use of not just native language, but ways of using that language. Explaining the language used by the many voices in his book Temporary People, he said “I want you to know what the city sounds like when you read me.” He also spoke at length regarding the impact of a history of colonisation, not just on language and how it is perceived, but the structures of power that impact non-English and non-white writers in their professions. However, he was less dismissive of the English language and stressed on reading anything and everything - “I grew up on Enid Blyton, and I even read Danielle Steele and Sidney Sheldon when I was a kid. I'm not ashamed, they taught me how to read!” On the topic of native tongues, Arudpragasam added, “we speak to communicate but also not to, and in your own language, there is a sense of belonging and of speaking within your community. When I am in the US, I write in Tamil – and there is this perfect solitude in using a language that isn't being spoken around you.”