Dalrymple caught up in spat over 'Raj' and 'racism'

The award-winning historian William Dalrymple has found himself at the centre of a high-profile spat over claims that British authors writing about India are inheritors of "a Raj that still lingers".

A pointed article in an Indian news magazine, Open, accused the Indian elite of remaining beholden to British literary culture and to events such as this week's Jaipur Literature Festival, which Dalrymple organises in the desert state of Rajasthan each year.

Questioning Dalrymple's purported position as arbiter of Indian literary quality, the article said: "The festival works not because it is a literary enterprise, but because it ties us to the British literary establishment. Getting that literary establishment to take note of India requires making use of a certain romantic association that stretches back to the Raj."

Dalrymple, who for more than a quarter of a centuryhas divided his time between India and the UK and is the author of such books as City of Djinns and The Last Mughal, has hit back angrily at the allegations. In a letter to the magazine, he said the article was "blatantly racist" and that the festival hosted writers working in a dozen of India's 22 official languages. A full two-thirds of the literary celebrities invited every year were from South Asia, he said.

"My adopted country is in general pretty tolerant of people who choose to come and live here, and I have only once before had to write a letter like this, defending my existence as a writer in the country I love," he wrote. "But I do think there is an important principle at stake here, and to me at least, that piece felt little more than the literary equivalent of pouring shit through an immigrant's letterbox."

The festival at Jaipur, the pink-coloured capital of Rajasthan, began in 2006 and over the years has attracted guests such as Vikram Seth, Fatima Bhutto, Rana Dasgupta, Tina Brown, Salman Rushdie, Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif. The article in Open, written by political editor Hartosh Singh Bal – himself a novelist – takes several swipes at foreign writers based in India, particularly those from Britain, who he says report a specific vision of the country. And yet, he says, such people are fawned upon by the Indian literary establishment.

"Our ability to fawn extends well beyond the foreign correspondent. Our publishers need the stamp of British approval. All you need to do is compare the advances paid out to books submitted locally with books that first got accepted in the UK," he continued. "This constant need for British approval allows writers from the UK to produce and sell books that should be junked in India."

For now, the argument appears to be cooling. Dalrymple said yesterday that he regretted making the allegation of racism. He said he had invited Mr Bal to attend the festival and to meet him for a drink.

By no small irony, one of the writers appearing at the festival on January 25 is Manu Joseph, whose debut novel, Serious Men, last year won The Hindu newspaper's award for best fiction. He is also editor of Open magazine.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003