chapter  5
Between Men: Conrad in the Fiction of Two Contemporary Indian Writers
WithPADMINI MONGIA
Pages 16

Contemporary Indian literature in English1-itself a troubling category in a world ever more porous-also appears to be enjoying great success in both India and metropolitan centers the world over. While Indians have been writing in English since the early nineteenth century and producing novels in English since shortly after, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1980) signaled the advent of a new kind of novel in English. Earlier Indian writers were selfconsciously aware of using the colonizer’s language, a language considered inherently limited for the rendering of an Indian reality. Such were considered the divisive tensions between the opposing claims of Indian-English, that Meenakshi Mukherjee called this literature “twice-born” (5). Rushdie, on the other hand, and many other writers during the last two decades, use English as one of the Indian languages. Their success, in both India and elsewhere, stems in part from this ease with the English language and also from affinities

between their works and sophisticated prose fiction. The new cosmopolitan novel is visible everywhere; just a quick glance at recent awardees of the prestigious Booker prize is instructive. In two of the most successful novels of the recent “boom” in Indian fiction-Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines (1988) and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997)—Conrad’s works provide a familiar vocabulary within a tradition of the novel that might more fruitfully be considered the novel in English rather than British or Indian. Like other contemporary writers who choose to write in English, Roy and Ghosh do so for a global audience and accept the legacy of English literature of which they are also a part. Both writers are at once inheritors of an Indian and a wider cosmopolitan prose tradition, and their works have found niches with audiences worldwide, not just Indian and British. Ghosh and Roy echo Conrad-sometimes explicitly, sometimes less so-as they use Conradian elements in their own fictions. Below, I address how these two writers work with what appears at first an almost insignificant feature of Conrad’s tales-male homosocial desire. Before doing so, I locate Conrad’s colonial novel within the broader history of the novel and place Roy and Ghosh in the context of what has been understood as “writing back” to Conrad.