Joanna Balla's Final Work for WRPR102

       During my sophomore year at Middlebury, I was enrolled in a World Literature class offered by the Comparative Lit. department. I was excited to read literature beyond the Chocolate Milkshake of Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare (although the authors of the Western canon are among my favorites). However, when it came to literature from South Africa we read J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians as our one story from the African continent. More troubling for me as a South-Asian Indian myself, was reading E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India for our dose of Indian literature. While this book dealt well with the painful nuances of the relationship between the Indians and the British, it was written from the perspective of a British expat living in India. I was not uncomfortable with the decision to read Forster because he was a “old white man”. I can never believe that that is sufficient reason to discount anybody’s thoughts or ideas. Rather, the fact that we read him disappointed me because there is such a prolific genre of South Asian literature that we could have tapped into, books written by South Asians living in India, Pakistan, Britain, and even Ethiopia. I was sad that my syllabus would not give me the chance to explore these rich and beautiful novels through an academic lens.

The writing project on this website was born out of my yet unmet desire to read South Asian literature, not just in my free time between Shakespeare and Joyce, but rather in an academic context and for an academic purpose. Here I chronicle my own complicated relationship to South Asian literature. Why could I almost not stomach Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake ? What unique expectations do I bring to a book written by Arundhati Roy as opposed to a work by Dostoyevsky, another favorite? What does South Asian literature tell me about myself and what do I wish it told me? These are questions that I have never given myself the time or space to ask and reflect on. This project is an important introspective exercise to unpack what has been both a frustrating and delightful relationship with Roy, Mistry, Rushdie, Lahiri, Narayan, and Bhagat.

This work comprises my final project for Professor Shawna Shapiro’s class, “English Language in the Global Context” (WRPR/EDST0101, Spring 2017). Our assignment was to write beyond the classroom, for fresh audiences and about unexplored topics. I am grateful for the chance to write down these ideas that have nagged at my brain for some time now.


Here is how to navigate this website.

Read the “Body” post first. Here I discuss my journey with the genre of South Asian literature. This post contains links to other sections of the website where I discuss certain thoughts further, offer some favorite quotes, or tell you more about my experience reading a work. You can click on them as you come to them, or use the Header Menu to look at them all together at the end. You can read about my writing process in the Writer’s Memo section.


Lastly, I invite you to think on your own interactions with South Asian literature. What has confused you? What has compelled you to keep reading? Do you have a favorite Indian, Pakistani or other South Asian author? Drop me a line in the comment sections of the various posts. I am still sorting out my own friendship with this multi-layered body of writing and I welcome your thoughts.


§33 · By · May 13, 2017 ·

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