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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Friday, October 27, 2006


One of the highlights of the Ubud Writers Festival was meeting the charming Anita Desai. The sessions with her were such a revelation (more posts on that later) but I never imagined being quoted in the same article. Now, I can truly die happy.

Here's the link and the full piece:

INDONESIA: The rise of Asian Literature Cultural globalisation often seems like a one way street; American-driven Western culture dominates, while ancient arts slowly disappear. But renowned Asian authors who met in Bali this week for the Ubud Writers Festival, argue that times are 'a-changing'. Nury Vittachi, a writer based in Hong Kong who produces the Asian Literature Review, is predicting that by 2030 the diverse cultures of Asia will dominate the world. Rebecca Hencshke reports from Bali.

"Culture from basically two small areas of the world, North American and Europe, has dominated for so long International culture, books, movies and music and this is now all changing. The bulk of the population is Asian and we are seeing the rise on the global stage of Asian movies, Asian literature and Asian music. It will take some time before it becomes significant but it is happening. The world's children now know Walt Disney but they also know Pokemon. Asian culture is influencing Western culture and it's about time!" Nury says it is about re-claiming what was rightfully Asian; a highly diverse region that has a long history of cultural expression. "Cinderella is one of my pet hates. I find it so annoying that most of the world's children, including those in China , think Walt Disney invented Cinderella. When in reality Cinderella is an ancient, classic Asian story that was written in China in the 16th century. The domination of Western Culture is very annoying and I am pleased to be part of a movement to set it right!"

In the international literature world it's the writers of the Asian Diaspora who are leading the charge. By writing in English they can become players on a global stage. Here at this year's Ubud Writers Festival, held in Bali, an island that has preserved its unique culture in the face of waves of Western cultural invasions, writers of Indian heritage dominated the line up.

Kashmir-born Deepika Shetty is a journalist who is closely watching the changes taking place in her television program, 'Off the Shelf'. "I think we are at a totally fascinating time as far as Asian writing on a global stage goes. We are not just talking about Indian Writers in English but you also have Tash Aw who has got Malaysia on to a global stage. They are reclaiming the so called lost land. In addition what is happening is that readers across Asia are re-defining what they want to read. In book stores across India you find whole shelves of Indian writing not just in English, but in their own languages as well, we want to read this kind of literature."

Deepika also points to the growing number of New Writers Festivals in the region, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and more recently Sri Lanka.

Also here at the festival, Anita Desai, the grand dame of Indian English literature says it excites her to see what's taking place. "Frankly I thought that my generation would be the last one that would write in English, we were always told that English would die, that it would not survive in India, how could it. I really believed it and I did not foresee what would happen, that a whole new generation of Indians would not see it as a foreign language but would write in it with totally confidence that gives their work energy and vigor," Anita Desai believes writing in English remains a huge advantage to being a successful international writer. The quality of translations remains too poor, she laments.

However, Asian Literature Review editor Nury Vittachi predicates that English language too has competitors. "I mean there have been calculations that China will be the dominant language of the Internet by 2008. There are more than 15,000 blogs in Chinese appearing every day. Then there is also a new form of English that is incredibly popular across parts of Asia . English words but Chinese grammar, like 'Can or Not' instead of 'can you do it or not'. This is going to be the world's biggest language tomorrow!"

However while the world is witnessing the rising economic and cultural power of China and India, elsewhere cultures are dying. The only writer from the province of Papua at the Festival, poet John Waromi ,adds a solemn voice to the debate. He says what's happening in Papua is equal to a library on fire. Oral stories are being lost as each generation dies; ancient cultures becoming extinct with no one interested in saving them.