Introduction

Tickell, Alex (2016). Introduction. In: Tickell, Alex ed. South-Asian Fiction in English: Contemporary Transformations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–18.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-40354-4_1

Abstract

The Indian author Anita Desai clearly had contemporary literary history in mind when, in the closing days of the year 2000, she reviewed the first novel by a then barely-known Pakistani writer, Mohsin Hamid. The novel was Moth Smoke (2000), completed by Hamid during occasional breaks from his job at a New York management consultancy firm, and for Desai it was a debut that signalled a new era in the fictional representation of the subcontinent. In her review, she used the Urdu term zamana, meaning ‘the times, the age’, to express the sense of an era as a shared temporality specific to the Urdu and Hindi-speaking cultures of north India and Pakistan: ‘trying to explain “our zamana”’, she stated, ‘is to hear a world of comment on our day, our history, the passage of years and of human experience’. Desai went on to contrast the slower, more contained human environments documented by an earlier generation of South-Asian authors with the edgy, urbane, drug-dealing netherworld of the Lahore elite represented in Moth Smoke:Ironically, a ‘terrible explosion’, which would have lasting consequences for Pakistan, happened elsewhere, outside South Asia, 9 months later, and subsequently provided the backdrop of Hamid’s more successful second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007). However, Desai’s review of Hamid’s debut work is still prescient. Although she could have named any of a number of fictions from the late 1990s to the turn of the millennium as representative of a shift, her point was that a new kind of social experience, born out of South Asia’s accelerated economic and demographic growth, its global reach and its complex internal and regional politics, now demanded fictional representation, and in Hamid’s novel, this new world resolved, sharply and shockingly, into focus.

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