I Don’t Want To Fight: A Conversation with Amitava Kumar and V.V. Ganeshananthan

Fiction110109 In Guernica Magazine:

Amitava Kumar: Here’s a question: is war more a fact of life for South Asians? Is it a consistent theme in fiction written in the South Asian diaspora?

V.V. Ganeshananthan: It’s hard for me to answer that with complete confidence when I still struggle with the question of how race and ethnicity relate to literary genres and classifications. How do you think it does? People often talk to me of South Asian literature, and I’m not sure what they mean—writing by South Asians? About South Asians?

Certainly, writers in the South Asian diaspora deploy a great variety of styles—but some common themes. All fiction is political in some way, and it’s interesting to see fiction play out in some South Asian spheres in which talking about politics has become dirty, something polite people don’t do. And of course fiction does all sorts of things, goes all sorts of places, that polite people don’t go. So I was fascinated to ask some terrific fiction writers about politics and war and see what would rise to the surface, what would bubble up, and what would stay in the background.

And some things also stay in the background because in parts of South Asia and its diasporas, war and a kind of unstable politics have been normalized. I am always fascinated to watch characters dealing with their personal lives without explicitly acknowledging the hold politics has on them, even as it affects everything they do. Have they become desensitized? And how does one write about violence without fetishizing it?