Regarding G.V. Desani
Date of Publication: 2000-12-00
When G.V. Desani, the pioneering Indian writer died in November, Amitav was asked to comment on his passing for Tehelka.com, a literary site based in New Delhi. Below is what he sent. More on Desani at Indiawrites.com
G.V. Desani was a true literary pioneer and I am deeply saddened to hear of his death.
I first encountered G.V.Desani's "All About H. Hatterr" in the seventies, when I was in college in Delhi. It was then the only novel by an Indian to feature in the Penguin Modern Classics list - and it was published moreover, with an approbatory quote from T.S.Eliot. This made the book something of a cult object for me, even before I'd read it.
The packaging made the contents of the novel all the more surprising. For "Hatterr" is, in fact, a sustained and complex interrogation of modernism; by the same token it is also a profoundly resourceful defence of certain non-Western spiritual and metaphysical ideas.
The novel's form, in all its abstruseness, is perfectly articulated to this project. The so-called "magical" elements of Hatterr do not derive from an attempt to represent an "Indian" reality: they are actually a technique of evasion,through which Desani questions and undermines the presuppositions of a certain kind of totalising modernity.
In this sense, despite superficial resemblances, Desani's fiction was utterly unlike the work of contemporary magical realists.The opaqueness of Hatterr is actually a reflection of the calculated evasiveness that Indians, Africans and other colonised people once had to employ when they attempted to make themselves heard in an idiom that barely acknowledged their right to its use.
Desani was, I think, haunted by the incommensurability of what he wanted to say with the language he was saying it in. This is of course, an awareness that haunts many of us who write in English. But Desani was unique in that he alone had the courage to follow his perceptions to their natural conclusion - into the unreachable otherness of silence.
The voicelessness of his later years was to my mind, an astounding, almost unthinkable, gesture - a sacrifice through which he honoured the integrity of his own, hard-won vision.
Desani was not just a literary genius: he was also, in the purest sense, a hero.