I’m heading to the Jaipur Literature Festival this week and am immensely excited and a little scared that it will be totally overwhelming—like a completely disorganized AWP with elephants and people literally trampling you in order to get their book signed by JK Rowling. (Okay, good, reports say that she is no longer coming—Indians are crazy for their Harry Potter.)

There’s been a debate flaring after political writer Hartosh Singh Bal of Open Magazine said that British writer William Dalrymple’s prominent role in Indian letters reeks of a colonial hangover. Bal’s controversial thesis is basically this: “How did a White man, young, irreverent and likeable in his first and by far most readable India book, The City of Djinns, become the pompous arbiter of literary merit in India?” Dalrymple responded with a fiery letter to Open addressed to Bal, accusing the writer of blatant racism and making comparisons to Indian writers living in the West.

If anyone was to suggest that Amit Chaudhuri shouldn’t judge the Booker Prize, or direct Britain’s leading creative writing course, because he was too Bengali, or that Salman Rushdie should not be president of PEN as he was of Kashmiri Muslim origin, it would be regarded as blatantly racist.

Open also ran a response by Bal saying that Dalrymple missed his point and obviously didn’t understand the concept of racism.

The equivalent of what I said would be the claim that ‘the fact that Amit Chaudhuri, a Bengali, judges the Booker Prize’ says something about the British literary scene. Of course, it does: it says something positive about a literary arena that had long been marked by exclusion. In the same way, I have claimed that William’s centrality (whether in Jaipur or otherwise), especially considering how he defines himself, says something about the Indian literary scene, except here it says something negative because the Indian and British literary scenes are not equivalent. The Indian literary scene is marked by a clear sense of inferiority to the British scene, and continues to be beholden to it. For this very reason William becomes a symbol of what is wrong with our literary life. This shouldn’t be difficult to understand. A Black man of Kenyan parentage as President of the US is not the symbolic equivalent of a White man of American parentage (one whose CV focuses only on his achievements in the US) becoming President of Kenya.

I thought Bal’s article was pretty accurate, especially because I’ve had the same wary feeling about Dalrymple for many years, even though I very much admire his writing and as an outsider to India myself, understand the urge to try to digest and process the country. I have also very much noticed “the constant need for British approval,” that Bal writes about, when it comes to literature here in India.

Mostly I’ve noticed it as a lack of interest in most American writing, save a few popular writers and Indian American writers. It seems like literary fiction by non-South Asian American women is almost non-existent in India, with Candace Bushnell being a big draw at the Jaipur Festival, but otherwise almost no American women writers. Checking the speakers list, I found three non-South Asian American women, the most exciting of which is Suheir Hammad. Though I’m excited about the focus on desi writers, I think the lack of other American women writers of color means that their voices are very much discounted in the literary pantheon here. Meanwhile, Junot Diaz, Jay McInerney and Richard Ford are on a panel discussing “The Crisis of American Fiction” with Martin Amis. I’m getting a clear message that American writing isn’t getting any respect here.

We’ll see how the “colonial hangover” debate affects the festival, and I’ll definitely do some investigation into the invisibility of American women writers.