In a wonderful short story called 'Haha Huhu', written in Telugu in the early 1930s, Vishvanatha Satyanarayana (1893-1976) describes an accidental traveller to England: a gandharva, a flying half-man half-horse from classical India, who loses his wings and crash-lands in Trafalgar Square. His encounter with English society as he lies captive in his cage and waits for his wings to grow back is an occasion for Satyanarayana to comment wryly on many things: among them, cultural difference, the nature of scientific progress, and the resources that Indian culture may still possess even though under colonial rule. It is not a romantic text, nor is it a militant call for the revival of old Hindu values. But Satyanarayana, who had a distinctly modern literary sensibility while still being wholly immersed in the long literary tradition of Telugu and Sanskrit, is not much read today outside Andhra Pradesh. His gandharva ends the story by soaring off into the sky, destination unknown, calling out to his perplexed English captors that he'd never seen a 'more childish race'. It's a subtle piece of work, but Satyanarayana's version of the encounter between the West and the non-West has nearly been lost to us.
LRB 1 November 2007 | PDF Download