In recent years, it seems that every major publishing house in the West has "discovered" the near East in terms of authors. While the braver might be tempted to publish the occasional Arab or Muslim voice, the real flavour of the hour has become Indian authors. It would be a disservice to these fine men and women to call them tokens, as the majority of them are fine authors deserving of the recognition they receive, so I hope that no one thinks that's what I'm implying.
But there is a troubling pattern emerging concerning the themes of the books that are being published for Western consumption. Almost without fail, stories revolve around the sectarian violence in the streets of the big cities. In some the religious hatred between Muslim and Hindu may only be the backdrop against which the characters play out their lives, but even that only serves to reinforce the picture of a society on the verge of a civil war along the lines of the tribal violence in Rwanda and Bosnia.
Prior to this most people, when asked about India, would have thought about poverty, probably known who Gandhi was, and maybe said something about sacred cows. In the sixties, there was minor interest among the drug-addled in various forms of meditation as they looked for other ways to alter their senses of perception. This served to perpetuate the old mysterious East stereotype and made every Indian a guru.
How many books published in North America, or the English-speaking world beyond the borders of the Indian sub-continent, by Indian authors can you name that have dealt with topics unrelated to Indian's version of the "troubles"? How many have even brought it to our attention that India is one of the oldest living civilizations in the whole world? How many of these "Indian" novels mention that India has a tradition of epic literature that is as old if not older then Homer?
At first glance David Davidar's newest book The Solitude Of Emperors, published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Random House Canada, has all the appearances of being cut from the same cloth as other recently published books. While there is no denying that Hindu nationalism does feature prominently, there are elements about this book that distinguish it from the pack.