Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Teaching South Asian Literature

A few months ago, I designed a course on South Asian Literature. It would focus on India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, the location of one of the world's oldest civilizations, whose contributions to the world include Hinduism, the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, and literary works in many languages. I am teaching the course this Spring.

Over the years, I have taught literary works from this part of the world, such as Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore; Untouchable, by Mulk Raj Anand; Kanthapura, by Raja Rao; The Vendor of Sweets, The Painter of Signs, and The Guide, by R. K. Narayan; Nectar in a Sieve, by Kamala Markandaya; Fire on the Mountain, Baumgartner's Bombay, and Fasting, Feasting, by Anita Desai; Cracking India and The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa.

I did not, however, teach all these works at one time or in one course. I included two or three such texts in my courses on Post-colonial Literature or Introduction to Literature. I always include a work by R.K. Narayan in my Hero and Trickster course.

The South Asian literature course is an opportunity to focus on one part of the world, exploring the dialectical and dynamic relationship between literature, history, culture, religion, and politics. I look forward to guiding my students through an exploration of not only the unique artistic contribution of each writer, but also how these writers appropriate indigenous traditions such as folklore, as well as "Western" and other foreign traditions.

Here are the works I am teaching: Untouchable, by Mulk Raj Anand; Twilight in Delhi, by Ahmed Ali; Train to Pakistan, by Khushwant Singh; Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidhwa; Anil's Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje; Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera, and The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.

I have neither read nor taught most of these works, but I like exploring new areas of literature. One might ask: where is Kalidasa? Where are Tagore, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Amitav Ghosh, Meena Alexander and so many other writers? How can you teach South Asian Literature without including Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children? Where are the playwrights and the poets? All these would be valid questions, but there is only so much one can do in one semester.


Absolutely Awesome Things (AAT) said...

Great job Prof. as always.That is one course I would wish to attend!We read Untouchable, by Mulk Raj Anand when I was in college in India, it was very interesting. I am sure your students will enjoy it as well as the whole course.I personally find culture,history,politics of Asia to be quite rich,unique and very interesting. I really liked that book I guess now that you mentioned it I will have to look for it and re-read it and the others as well. Namaste

Mbele said...

Thanks for your comment, AAT. I am delighted to hear you studied in India. I spent a month in Hyderabad, early 1991, and I am grateful I did, because I find it is easy to explain certain things we read about in the literary works. Also, frankly, I miss India.

Indeed, "Untouchable" is a powerful novel, in many ways, bound to have a lasting impact on whoever reads it. Thanks for sharing you views. Namaste.