Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English and coordinator of South Asian Studies, second from left, spoke on a panel at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest about the way in which outsiders write about India. Pictured, from left, are fellow panelists: memoirist Carlo Pizzati, writer Scott Carney, and renowned Indian publisher Karthika VK.
Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English and coordinator of South Asian Studies, recently participated in Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest. The ninth annual event was held Nov. 15–18 in Mumbai and was attended by more than 100 participants from around the world.
At the festival, Sawhney participated in a panel discussion about the way in which outsiders write about India, and how outside perspectives have shaped both Euro-American and South Asian perspectives on India.
“A lot of this conversation focused on the undying legacy of empire, and we had a nuanced conversation about issues of representation and authenticity, a discussion that seemed very relevant to parallel conversations occurring here at Wes,” he said. “The conversations were obviously focused on books and writers, and there were some big writers there, such as Allan Hollinghurst. But there were also provocative conversations about contemporary political issues, such as the rise of right-wing extremist policy and rhetoric in both Indian and North American politics.”
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Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English, is the author of a recent work of fiction titled The Diary of Rehan Malhotra, published as an e-book by Juggernaut Books (2017).
In this timely story, Rehan, the son of a Muslim mother and Hindu father, is a middle-aged high school teacher in New Haven, Conn., who struggles with his growing estrangement from his wife and the affluent, white community in which he lives. A charged encounter with a neighbor causes him to look back on his troubled teenage years, when he used and sold drugs, and when he forged a problematic friendship with a young black man named Ink. The Diary of Rehan Malhotra casts a spotlight on the invisible walls that divide city from suburb, which keep some people safe and others confined. It is a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of literature as a cure for social ills.
The story costs 10 rupees, or 15 cents, and is being published as a part of Juggernaut’s efforts to get inexpensive, quality literature to as diverse a readership as possible.
Sawhney is also the author of South Haven and the editor of Delhi Noir. He also collaborated with Amy Bloom ’75 on New Haven Noir, Hirsh has lived in Delhi, London and New York City.
A novel written by Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English, was named to the longlist for the 2017 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The DSC Prize, which carries an award of $25,000, celebrates the rich and varied world of literature of the South Asian region.
In Sawhney’s South Haven (Akashic Books, 2016), grief, violence and history collide to offer a radical look at childhood and migration in suburban New England. South Haven is one of 13 books on the list. The shortlist will be announced on Sept. 27 in London.
The prize brings South Asian writing to a new global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and aims to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.
In addition, Sawhney’s novel was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award, which recognizes South Asian writing. The winner for 2017 will be announced in November.
Sawhney has lived in Delhi, India; London, U.K. and New York City. He currently lives in New Haven, Conn.
Writing in The Times Literary Supplement, Assistant Professor of English Hirsh Sawhney muses on the recent election of Donald Trump and the cultural divide in America while nursing “the second cheapest single malt Scotch” on the menu at a New Haven bar. He contemplates whiskey’s particular place in contemporary American culture, talks politics with others at the bar, draws from literature, and recalls the personal struggles of his family and friends. At the conclusion, while discussing the election with a neighbor (referred to, in jest, as “Professor Pesci”), Sawhney argues:
My point is that we teach our students to be wary of “othering” people who are different from us, the way Americans and Europeans have done to Asians or Muslims throughout the modern era. We write about the need to empathize with people who are driven to violent ideologies and actions as a consequence of their disenfranchisement. Should we not extend a similar empathy to white Americans who, we think, have committed a reckless and egregious act in voting for Trump? Professor Pesci says, “I just can’t see what end that would serve”. An end is quite clear to me as I sign my credit card receipt. If we don’t begin to understand and empathize with these people – not their mendacious leaders – their anger will grow, and they will do more irrational things that advance an agenda of hate and incompetence. And, in turn, our fear, desperation and anger will grow. Our politics will become further bifurcated, and our country will lie in ruin more quickly than is inevitable. And if this election has taught us liberals anything, it is that we care deeply for our country, despite our intellectual reservations about its ethical and historical record.