Exclusive: Peace breaks out in ‘Raj and racism’ literary battle
It’s been a couple of months now since the drawing rooms of Delhi and beyond were set chattering by a juicy literary spat involving the writer and historian William Dalrymple and an Indian journalist, Hartosh Bal Singh, essentially over the ages-old question of who was qualified to write about India. In a pointed article in Open magazine, Singh accused Dalrymple of being a “pompous arbiter of literary merit” and said he represented a “Raj that still lingered”.
Singh’s article made some fair and valid points though some believed they were somewhat undermined by the piece’s unncessary rudeness. Yet Dalrymple quickly hit back, elegantly accusing Singh of racism and saying that his article was the “literary equivalent of pouring shit through an immigrant’s letterbox.”
Singh then responded in turn with another hard-hitting put-down and before you knew it there was a flurry of similar battles. Patrick French was warring with Pankaj Mishra, Anand Giridharadas had it out with anyone who didn’t like his new book on India, and social media was atwitter with heated argument and purported insight. Only a cynic would have pointed out that the row did no harm at all to either the sales of Open magazine or else the number of book lovers cramming into the Jaipur literary festival, of which Dalrymple is one of the organisers.
As it was, Dalrymple and Singh agreed they would have a drink, a Scot and a Sikh sharing a round and talking through their differences of opinion. Sadly, though Singh did take the time to travel to Jaipur and visit the festival for the first time, the two did not have the chance to meet up. The question of whether or not the two men really planned to agree to disagree hung in the air.
And so it was no small occasion this weekend when, at the leaving party of a dear mutual friend who is leaving Delhi after three and a half years in the city, the two feuding writers finally came face to face, shook hands and raised a glass. From what could be seen, the two men actually rather appeared to hit it off, which is all very nice even if it doesn’t make for as good a tale as a raging feud.asia
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