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
  • Get to the point
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: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor