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Now, four years later, a young, critically praised generation of Indian writers -- some of whom are now New Yorkers -- are following in Ms. Roy's footsteps in their chosen language, English. And although their voices are being heard much more loudly in the West than in India, they are ushering in a new era for Indian literature in English. They are often called Midnight's Grandchildren in homage to another seminal Indian novel, Salman Rushdie's ''Midnight's Children,'' the dark parable of Indian history since independence that won the Booker Prize in and in won a special Booker Prize as the best British novel of the previous quarter century.

Now the new generation of writers have in many ways broken away from the magic realism that characterizes much of Mr. Rushdie's work.


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The phenomenon, publishers and writers say, is also a product of a renewed interest in things Indian that began in with the mammoth publicity for the 50th anniversary of the country's independence and that has been enhanced by the growth of computers and the Internet, which have increased contact between Indian writers and Western influences. In addition to Mr. Jha, the writers include Mr. Rushdie as ''languorous, elliptical, beautiful''; and Kiran Desai daughter of the renowned Indian fiction writer Anita Desai , 28, who won praise two years ago for her first novel, ''Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard.


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  • They also include Jhumpa Lahiri, a year-old New Yorker, the daughter of Bengali immigrants, who won the Pulitzer Prize in April for her first book, a collection of short stories titled ''Interpreter of Maladies. It is about corruption, decay and greed in the Indian government and about an Indian family. Jha, who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi with a degree in mechanical engineering, went on to get a master's degree in journalism at the University of Southern California.

    Richard Bernstein said in The New York Times that ''The Blue Bedspread,'' published in the United States by Random House, is ''a brilliant beginning for a writer whose voice already shows a maturity well beyond his years. In the novel, an unnamed narrator is told that his sister has died in childbirth and that he must care for her daughter for one night, until the baby can be placed for adoption.

    As he watches the infant in his home, he writes for her the stories he believes will help her understand her place in the world. Jha said. When I was young, I had a very severe speech impediment. And when you sit down with pen and paper, you don't visibly stutter. And the other is my feelings about family life in India, what I call the silence of the family. It is very difficult to express feelings, one's true emotions, in an Indian family. My book is about the need to break that silence. Jha, like Ms. Roy, was discovered by Mr. I think it is because of the inherent unsatisfactoriness of the form, the way in which its formulas further confuse and complicate an already confused and complicated reality.

    Rushdie, of course, still has many defenders. Michael Wood, a professor of English at Princeton who has written about Mr. Rushdie, said that Mr.

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    Rushdie ''is interested in reimagining reality itself, not in just imagining alternatives to reality. Rushdie, through his agent, declined to comment on the critique. Mishra said that it was notable that Mr. Jha's work broke from the magic realism -- the presentation of magical characters or events in realistic settings -- that pervades much of Mr. Mishra's writing, in fact, bears a resemblance to Mr. The book is about Samar, a young intellectual who visits Varanasi and the banks of the Ganges and meets a politically active student, a group of bohemian Westerners and a Frenchwoman with whom he has an affair.

    Samar is both attracted to and mystified by the Westerners -- feelings that Mr. Mishra says mirror in some ways the relationship of Indian writers to the West. View all New York Times newsletters.

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    Jha said that the key fact in talking about Indians who write in English ''is that 95 percent of Indians cannot read and write comfortably in English and have no access to the works. For Ms. Lahiri, readership is not a problem. What is more difficult, the year-old Ms. Lahiri says, is her sense of identity. Lahiri was born in London and grew up in Rhode Island with her parents, immigrants from Calcutta.

    She graduated from Barnard College and holds three master's degrees -- in English, comparative literature and creative writing -- and a Ph. It has been a cause of bewilderment and sometimes strife and frustration within me. It's a messy thing. But it's been a blessing for me and my writing.

    For people luxuriating at a high level of abstraction, and accustomed to dealing during the cold war with nation-states organised simply into blocs and superblocs, it was always too inconvenient to examine whether the freshly imagined communities of Asia and Africa were innately strong and cohesive enough to withhold the strains and divisions of state-building and economic growth. If they had indeed risked engaging with complexity and contradiction, they would have found that the urge to be a wealthy and powerful nation-state along western lines initially ordered and then disordered first Russia, Germany and Japan, and then, in our own time, plunged a vast swath of the postcolonial world into bloody conflict.

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    The temptation to imitate the evidently triumphant western model, as Herzen feared, was always greater than the urge to reject it. In the century after the Napoleonic wars, European societies gradually learned how to deploy effectively a modern military, technology, railways, roads, judicial and educational systems and create a feeling of belonging and solidarity, most often by identifying dangerous enemies within and without. As Eugen Weber showed in his classic book Peasants into Frenchmen , this was a uniformly brutal process in France itself. Much of Europe then went on to suffer widespread dispossession, the destruction of regional languages and cultures, and the institutionalisation of hoary prejudices like antisemitism.

    By the s, competitive nationalisms in Europe stood implicated in the most vicious wars and crimes against religious and ethnic minorities witnessed in human history. After the second world war, European countries — under American auspices and the pressures of the cold war — were forced to imagine less antagonistic political and economic relations, which eventually resulted in the European Union. But the new nation-states in Asia and Africa had already started on their own fraught journey to modernity, riding roughshod over ethnic and religious diversity and older ways of life.

    Asians and Africans educated in western-style institutions despaired of their traditionalist elites as much as they resented European dominance over their societies. As it turns out, the latecomers to modernity, dumping protectionist socialism for global capitalism, have got their timing wrong again.

    In the 21st century that old spell of universal progress through western ideologies — socialism and capitalism — has been decisively broken. If we are appalled and dumbfounded by a world in flames it is because we have been living — in the east and south as well as west and north — with vanities and illusions: that Asian and African societies would become, like Europe, more secular and instrumentally rational as economic growth accelerated; that with socialism dead and buried, free markets would guarantee rapid economic growth and worldwide prosperity.

    What may have been the right fit for 19th-century colonialists in countries with endless resources cannot secure a stable future for India, China, and other late arrivals to the modern world, which can only colonise their own territories and uproot their own indigenous peoples in the search for valuable commodities and resources. The result is endless insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, wars and massacres, the rise of such bizarre anachronisms and novelties as Maoist guerrillas in India and self-immolating monks in Tibet, the increased attraction of unemployed and unemployable youth to extremist organisations, and the endless misery that provokes thousands of desperate Asians and Africans to make the risky journey to what they see as the centre of successful modernity.

    It should be no surprise that religion in the non-western world has failed to disappear under the juggernaut of industrial capitalism, or that liberal democracy finds its most dedicated saboteurs among the new middle classes. The political and economic institutions and ideologies of western Europe and the United States had been forged by specific events — revolts against clerical authority, industrial innovations, capitalist consolidation through colonial conquest — that did not occur elsewhere.

    So formal religion — not only Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and the Russian Orthodox Church, but also such quietist religions as Buddhism — is actually now increasingly allied with rather than detached from state power. The middle classes, whether in India, Thailand, Turkey or Egypt, betray a greater liking for authoritarian leaders and even uniformed despots than for the rule of law and social justice.

    The long struggle against communism, which claimed superior moral virtue, required many expedient feints. And so the centuries of civil war, imperial conquest, brutal exploitation, and genocide were suppressed in accounts that showed how westerners made the modern world, and became with their liberal democracies the superior people everyone else ought to catch up with. Thus the editors of the Economist elide in The Fourth Revolution the history of mass slaughter in the west itself that led to the modern nation-state: the religious wars of the 17th century, the terror of French revolutions, the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian war and the wars of Italian unification, among others.

    Evasions, suppressions and downright falsehoods have resulted, over time, in a massive store of defective knowledge — an ignorance that Herzen correctly feared to be pernicious — about the west and the non-west alike. Simple-minded and misleading ideas and assumptions, drawn from this blinkered history, today shape the speeches of western statesmen, thinktank reports and newspaper editorials, while supplying fuel to countless log-rolling columnists, TV pundits and terrorism experts.

    Aron believed the west made the modern world with its political and economic innovations and material goals, but did not flinch from examining what this fact really augured about the modern world. As he saw it, the conflicts and contradictions thrown up by the pursuit of modernity had been hard enough to manage for western societies for much of the last century.

    Pankaj Mishra | Revolvy

    Industrial societies alone had seemed able to improve material conditions, and bring about a measure of social and economic equality; but the promise of equality, which staved off social unrest, was increasingly difficult to fulfill because specialisation kept producing fresh hierarchies. Some parts of the west had achieved some reduction in material inequalities, due to a market economy which produced both desirable goods and the means to acquire them; organised labour, which made it possible for workers to demand higher wages; and political liberty, which made the rulers accountable to the ruled.

    And some western countries had also, however brutally, got the sequencing broadly right: they had managed to build resilient states before trying to turn peasants into citizens. The most successful European states had also accomplished a measure of economic growth before gradually extending democratic rights to a majority of the population. Countries outside the west, however, faced simultaneously the arduous tasks of establishing strong nation-states and viable economies, and satisfying the demands for dignity and equality of freshly politicised peoples.

    Travelling through Asia and Africa in the s, Aron discerned the potential for authoritarianism as well as dark chaos. There were not many political choices before societies that had lost their old traditional sources of authority while embarking on the adventure of building new nation-states and industrial economies in a secular and materialist ethos.

    Failure would plunge them into violent anarchy. Aron was no vulgar can-doist. Indeed, long before the rise of European totalitarianisms, urgent state-building and the search for rapid and high economic growth had doomed individual liberties to a precarious existence in Japan. Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea went on to show, after , that a flourishing capitalist economy always was compatible with the denial of democratic rights.

    China has more recently achieved a form of capitalist modernity without embracing liberal democracy. Turkey now enjoys economic growth as well as regular elections; but these have not made the country break with long decades of authoritarian rule. Turkey, however, may have been relatively fortunate in being able to build a modern state out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Disorder was the fate of many new nations that had been insufficiently or too fervidly imagined, such as Myanmar and Pakistan; their weak state structures and fragmented civil society have condemned them to oscillate perennially between civilian and military despots while warding off challenges from disaffected minorities and religious fanatics.

    Until the Arab spring, ruthless despots kept a lid on sectarian animosities in the nation-states carved out of the Ottoman empire. Today, as the shattering of Iraq, Libya and Syria reveals, despotism, far from being a bulwark against militant disaffection, is an effective furnace for it. Countries that managed to rebuild commanding state structures after popular nationalist revolutions — such as China, Vietnam, and Iran — look stable and cohesive when compared with a traditional monarchy such as Thailand or wholly artificial nation-states like Iraq and Syria. The bloody regimes inaugurated by Khomeini and Mao survived some terrible internal and external conflicts — the Korean and Iran-Iraq wars, the Cultural Revolution and much fratricidal bloodletting — partly because their core nationalist ideologies secured consent from many of their subjects.

    Since , however, this strenuously achieved national consensus in many countries has been under siege from a fresh quarter: an ideology of endless economic expansion and private wealth-creation that had been tamed in the midth century.