Nowadays one hears of novelists writing in India, in English, nineteen to the dozen. This could mean one or two serious things. One is that there is no dearth of talent in writing fiction, and in English. The other is that fiction in English has captured the market, or the market has captured it, since leading publishers are churning out novelists and short story writers, with a monotonous regularity.
That is not to demean the obvious talent in the country, but are all of them going to make the mark? They may make the buck, but the mark is something else, it also refers to the international arena, not just the country, on the English speaking and reading elite. Now even popular fiction is consumed with rapacity, fictional styles in English in India is largely not experimental, with the exception of the Vikram Seths and The Amitav Ghoshes. They fall back upon the straightforward narrative with an eye for detail.
But where are the plumbing of depths, or the multiple layered complexity of an R.K. Narayan? The complexity of human relationships and characters, the grand history of human civilization and culture largely seem missing. One sees it though in novelists such as Rana Dasgupta, who in his novel 'Solo' conjures epic proportions of myth and history.
Comparatively Indian poetry in English is low lying. The reason: it does not sell, and publishers avoid it like a plague. However the fact is that a considerable amount of very good poetry is being written in English, in India today apart from the ones by the celebrated names of Jayanta Mahapatra and Keki Daruwalla. There is the diaspora as well: Meena Alexander, Sujata Bhatt and Shanta Acharya. In North East India there is an overflowing of talent: Robin Ngangom, Desmond Kharmawphlang, Janice Pariat, Kynpham Nonkynrih, Nabina Das, Nitoo Das, Aruni Kashyap, Nabanita Kanungo etc. There is a cultural matrix and earthy immediacy in their poems, making for lyrical and effective reading.
In fact North East India in poetry written in English, is bursting at the seams, and a cauldron of both festering wounds and sensible elation. In mentioning the above I have missed out names such as Uddipana Goswami who write in both acerbic and humorous tones. A great service has been rendered in a recently published book: 'Harper Collins Anthology of English Poetry' edited by the well known poet and translator Sudeep Sen. Sen articulates an imagination in this book, reconstructing Indian poetry in English, with the strength of over forty writers from the Indian diaspora. In fact some of them are hardly Indian, and are considered writers of their 'adopted' countries, or rather adopted by their parents! This is a definitive book for its range, perplexity, cultural ambience, demolishing the myth of only the existence of the pre 1950 born poets. The poems are exploratory and experimental. But Indian poets in English unlike their novelist counterparts do not spring like mushrooms. They have to search the market, to get books published, so they prefer to write in their little societies and dominions.