Dodging Pitfalls in Dodgy Autorickshaws with Amitava Kumar

Hans-Georg Erney


This article analyzes the depiction of India, Bihar, and Patna in several books by the novelist, poet, critic, and filmmaker Amitava Kumar. While Kumar often criticizes and ridicules other writers’ representations, he frequently struggles to overcome the same kinds of clichés in his own work. Nevertheless, I argue that Kumar’s texts, such as his literary memoir Bombay—London—New York, his novel Home Products, and his history A Matter of Rats, offer an alternative approach to writing about India that deserves more critical attention. Whereas other diasporic South Asian writers tend to favor the omnibus novel, often about big families in big cities and popular with awards committees and book clubs, Kumar’s short, quickly written books, may in fact be the superior medium for depicting the messiness and complexity of contemporary Indian reality, a counter-model which I call the autorickshaw book. While his works are full of contradictions, I argue that it is this very quality that makes them such a compelling vehicles for readers who seek an alternative to novels focused on megacities such as Bombay and Delhi and wish to experience the literary equivalent of the unglamorous hinterland.


Amitava Kumar, India, Bihar, representation, autorickshaw, books


  • There are currently no refbacks.

The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

Follow ARIEL on Facebook