Friday, 6 April 2012

Writing as an Indian or not?

Writing as an Indian or not?
Shamala S. Palaniappan grapples with how her heritage rears its head in her writing and reading.

"Are you Indian?"

Living in Germany, it must have be one of the most common questions I have been affronted with.  My answer has always depended on the situation, the person asking, and my mood for the day.

That is usually followed very quickly by, " I looooove Bollywood." At which point, I put an end to the conversation. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the industry, nor the movies, I am simply not a fan, and just simply because I am brown and have a name with 13 syllables, does not make me an instant expert!

I never see myself, which probably always been one of my virtues and problems in the same breadth. I have no sense of my height, colour, girth. I can stand amidst six-foot tall blondes and not know that I am the odd one out.

Because I really believe our outer shells can never do us any justice. As a writer, it is my inner self,  what I hear, see, feel, taste, suffer that appear on paper as words, in the hope that the reader will join my journey for the short while that they remain on the page.

But a question that presents itself every now and then and I know that I have to address is my Indian heritage as a writer. I stand in the wake of giants. Names such as Tagore, Rushdie, Roy, Narayanan, Andal, Adiga, Divakaruni, Mistry, Desai, the list is endless. Google search Indian authors and the list reels for miles.

When I read anything by any Indian author, I feel as if I have come home. It is really peculiar, as I have never lived in India. But perhaps, I carry the essence of a 5000-odd year soul in me.  I hear the characters speaking directly to me, relating tales that I understand, and showing me emotions that I immediately comprehend.

Perhaps, there will always be an umbilical cord that connects me to the mother nation, and as an individual I do not need to address my ties since there will always be a connection at a very subliminal level.

I applaud the written words that India has birthed. I have learnt, lived, and loved every bit of the country I know only as a tourist through the books. I have read and reread stories to visualize what life must have been like during different political eras, through the labyrinth of history.

The voices of Indian authors that have given life to characters who have traversed the sub continent from north to south, east to west, coast to coast. I could wax lyrical on each individual writer, but will save that for another post.

I want to whisper into the air, the story that wants to be told, the story of an Indian soul from a migrant family, who cannot stop – migrating. Where does the soul root itself? Where does the soul find its home?

It is the story that I am writing. It is the story of searching for answers.

Because for now, my answer is: I am not sure.

Bio: A Malaysian of Indian descent, she prefers to look at her homeland with affection and horror from afar. A geneticist by training, she now writes to appease the macrocosms and microcosms. A child of the world, and unsure of where to call home, she resides in Germany, where the wintry summers continue to inspire her. She has just published her collection of short stories, Elephant's Breath, and can be contacted at Also, follow her misadventures at

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