Why are we lauding Kiran Desai's Booker win as an Indian victory, a friend of mine asked the other day? "She is not even an Indian citizen," he added, as a wry smirk of disapproval settled on his face. First things first. Desai is very much an Indian citizen. She continues to hold her Indian passport, but that's beside the point. I must say I agree with my friend on his basic premise.
Writing, such is the profession, cannot be straitjacketed by defining its wizards in nationalistic terms. Can Sai's sense of loss in Inheritance be termed Indian? Isn't all writing meant to bridge the gap between nations and boundaries to connect the writer and reader in a bond of shared experience? Do I, in any way, lose out on the niggling pathos of Disgrace because its writer is South African?
I can understand the relevance of place in defining the milieu that the writer sets his novel in, but beyond that, it's immaterial. Experience is universal; we might be surprised by the similaity of reactions evoked by a murder in Boston and a robbery in Delhi; by grief in Slovakia and solitude in China. Joy and desperation know not the colour of the skin they seep out of.
So, please withhold calling this year's Booker and Nobel recepients as Oriental winners. They are Oriental, sure, but they are not oriental writers.