Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna;
An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English
Orient Blackswan, 2003, 406 pages
ISBN 8178240319, 9788178240312
topics: | fiction | india | english | history | critic
The book makes an important point in it's title: It is a literature that is "Indian", but it happens to be written in English. The emphasis thus, is on the degree to which authors reflect the Indian experience. Expatriates also count, but only in the sense of Sujata Bhatt: I am the one who always goes away, But I never left home... I carried it away with me ("The one who goes away", from The Stinking Rose 1993) All languages are formed and re-formed by imitating socially desirable modes of speech. For all of us, what we speak today was, for some ancestor of ours, an oppressor's tongue. Hindi is the language of Aryan interlopers (perhaps superimposed on some ancestral pre-Dravidian), mixed with the language of the descendants of Genghis Khan. Bengali has a surprisingly high percentage of Portuguese words. English was the language of Celtic steppe tribed who invaded England, Viking marauders, and Norman invaders. English today is undergoing the same transformation in India. This book, written as a set of commissioned essays by people handpicked by Mehrotra, describes an important stage in that process. If you did not know that English was to be an official language of India only till 1965, or if, like me, you haven't read much by Verrier Elwin; or if you are confused as to whether Derozio was Indian or European (he wrote some of India's first nationalist verse), do read this!
The book is brilliantly illustrated; it's worth having for the illustrations alone. The cover sleeve is a collage of the principal figures of Indian literature in English.
Indians who had mastered the coloniser's language, by the 1820s, [started producing] pioneering works of poetry, fiction, drama, travel... they were, by the mere fact of being in English, audacious acts of mimicry and self-assertion. p.6
Here is an 1824 prize essay written by Indian students at Hindu College (later Presidency, founded 1817) on the topic: Has Europe or Asia benefitted most by the discovery of the passage around the Cape of Good Hope to India? quoted in Ranajit Guha, An Indian Historiography of India (1988) p.43: Of all the nations of Europe... the English have derived the greatest advantage by this passage... On the other hand it must be acknowledged, that it has also, in some measure, contributed to the good of Asia, particularly in the countries under the British sway, for in the time of the Mahomedan tyrants, nothing but luxury and oppressions prevailed among the nobles: they had properly speaking, no fixed laws for the administration of justice. In fact, the Natives suffered the most mortifying proofs of their curelties, until Providence, to avert the evil, brought them under the illustrious sway of the English, who not only freed this country from their hands, but have adopted all possible measures for its amelioration, introducing arts, sciences, schools, academies and colleges for the dissemination of knowledge. [This is before Macaulay's 1835 minute, at a college set up at the instance of the Indian gentry, (and largely funded by them). ]
[In the hamlets and villages, this is still how English is learned! I can relate to this personally, but certainly this narrative is redolent of my father's narrative of how he learnt English in Faridpur (now Bangladesh).]
Lal Behari Day 1824-1892: became a Christian missionary. Author of Folk tales of Bengal. Lal Behari Day has left a moving account [of how English was learned in the hamlets and villages of Bengal]. In the chapter on "English Education in Calcutta before 1834" in his Recollections of My School-days, serialized in Bengal Magazine between 1872 and 1876, Day writes (p.6): When I was a little boy I had a sight of one of these Vocabularies, which used to be studied by a cousin of mine in my native village of Talpur. The English words were written in the Bengali character, and the volume, agreeably to the custom of the Hindus, began with the word 'God'. As a curiosity, I put down below the first words of my cousin's Vocabulary, retaining the spelling of the English word as they were represented in the Bengali character: Gad : Isvar গড : ঈশ্বর Lad : Isvar লড : ঈশ্বর A'i : A'mi আই : আমি Lu : Tumi লু : তুমি Akto : Karmma এক্টো: কর্ম Bail : Jamin বেল : জামিন [even today, children attending many "english-medium" schools "are learning English by methods not too different from those by which Lal Behari Day's cousin learnt his years ago p.17] [gradually, some] East Indian gentlemen lent their services to the cause of Native education. They went to the houses of the wealthy Babus and gave regular instructions to their sons. They received pupils into their own houses, which were turned into schools. ... the curriculum was enlarged... To the Spelling Book and the Schoolmaster were added the Tootinamah or the Tales of a Parrot, the Elements of English grammar and the _Arabian nights' entertainments_. The man who could read and understand the last mentioned book was reckoned in those days, a prodigy of learning. p.8
Krishna Mohan Banerjea's _The Persecuted (1831) - might not be good theatre, but the subject of Hindu orthodoxies and the individual's loss of faith in his religion had not been taken up by any Indian play before it. Kylas Chunder Dutt: "A journal of forty-eight hours of the year 1945" (1835) - imaginary armed uprising against the British. Insurrection seems a commonplace idea, until we realize that this idea is expressed for the first time in Indian literature, and would next find expression only in folk songs inspired by the events of 1857. It is uncanny that the year of dutt's imagination (1945) is within two years of India's actual year of independence; uncanny, too, the coincidence that the work should have been published in the same year as Macaulay delivered his 'Minute'. In a double irony, the insurgents are all urbanised middle-class Indians with the best education colonialism could offer, the very class Macaulay had intended as "interpreters between us and the millions we govern". A fable like 'A journal of forty-eight hours', where the langauge of command' is stood on its head and turned into the language of subversion, suggests itself as the imaginative beginnings of a nation. p.7
influence of English on Indian lit - 1840s decade - spread of journalism - Digdarsan and Prabhakar in Marathi, Vartaman Tarangini in Telugu, Tatvabodhini patrika in Bengali, andf Khair Khwah-e-Hind in Urdu. p. 7 Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the inventor of blank verse in Bengali, ... 'I am writing for that portion of my countrymen', Dutt said, 'who think as I think, ...
In 1969, P.C. Lal, stung by comments by Buddhadev Bose that "Indo-Anglian poetry was a blind alley, lined with curio shops, leading nowhere.", sent the Bose article to seventy-five poets and asked for their views on writing in English. The responses were included in his 600 page anthology, Modern Indian poetry in English: An anthology and Credo (1969): AK Ramanujan: I don't quite know how to reply to your questions because I have really no strong opinions on Indians writing in English. Bose has strong opinions on why they should not ; you are persuaded that they should. I think the real question is whether they can. And if they can, they will. Srinivas Rayaprol: I do believe that the tradition back of me is not Rabindranath Tagore or Aurobindo. I would rather say that my background is Auden and MacNeice, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. Sarojini Naidu and Toru Dutt never excited me in the sense that The Waste Land and The glass menagerie did. GV Desani: Bose might be irrelevant: English is there and a work of erudition or art is acceptable or not acceptable on merit. Lawrence Bantleman: The circumstances that led me to write in English are simple -- I belong to that unfortunate minority, anglomaniacs all, who even puked in English when three weeks old. My umbilical cord was anglicized.
The animosity towards Indian lit in E stems in large measure from the animosity towards the social class Eng has come to be identified with: a narrow, well-entrenched, metropolitan-based ruling elite that has dominated Indian life for the past fifty and more years. But literature as a category is inclusive rather than exclusive. It is more complex, less homogeneous, than a social group, and cannot always be made coextensive with it. While it is true that many who write in English in India belong to the metropolitan elite, it is also true that many who write at all, irresp of lg, belong to a privileged stratum. 20 [Translation] for an insider's view of what negotiating a text in two lgs involves, and to know the pleasures and pitfalls of 'dual citizenship in the world of letters' we have to go to Vilas Sarang. In 'Confessions of a Marathi Writer (World Lit Today, Spring 1994) Sarang says that the first full-length book in Eng he read was Corbett's _The man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag_ (1947), at age 16. Before this, he read books only in Marathi. Sarang's 'first mature story' was written soon after, in 1963, when he was an MA student at Bombay U. 'As it happens', he confesses, 'I wrote this story in Engl'. When the Marathi magaz _Abhiruchi wanted the story, he offered to make 'a hasty crib, to my mind unsatisfactory and lacking the style of the original.' It was thus publ first in Marathi in 1965. The Indian version of the story, "Flies", had to wait till 1981, when it appeared in London Magazine. 'As by then', Sarang write, 'my other, later storeis written in Marathi had appeared in Engl translations, I allowed this story to appear in LM as "translated from the Marathi", and that is how it stands in my 1990 collection, "Fair tree of Void" (Penguin India). Well, there's a Marathi writer for you.' p.21
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-31), was an Eurasian of Portuguese origin, widely read on topics from the French revolution to Robert Burns. He became a lecturer at the Hindu College (now Presidency college), where he was able to attract a talented group of students by the force of his free thinking ways, and the brilliance of his closely-reasoned lectures. The group would often meet at Derozio's house, defying their hindu upper-caste backgrounds by eating pork and beef, and drinking 'tumblers of beer'. He edited several magazines where apothegms like this would appear: He who will not reason is a bigot, he who cannot reason is a fool, and he who does not reason is a slave. Cast off your prejudices, be free in your thought and actions. Break down everything old and rear in its stead what is new. The Indian management group at Hindu college eventually took offense to his iconoclastic ways, and he was compelled to resign in 1831. The same year he contracted cholera, and despite the loving care by his proteges, he was to die at the meager age of 22, which became part of his mystique. Among Eurasians, he argued for closer integration with the interests of native Indians. His poem The Harp of India, may be one of the first nationalist poems in English: Oh! when our country writhes in galling chains When her proud masters scourge her like a dog; If her wild cry be borne upon the gale, Our bosoms to the melancholy sound Should swell, and we should rush to her relief, Like some, at an unhappy parent's wail! And when we know the flash of patriot swords Is unto spirits longing to be free ... The Moslem is come down to spoil the land Which every god hath blest. For such a soil, So rich, so clad with beauty, who would not Unlock his veins, and pour their treasure forth? The Hindoo hath marched forward to repel The lawless plunderer of his holy shrines, The savage rude disturber of his peace... reads like something of a fundamentalist Hindu manifesto... p.47-48
Amit Chaudhuri (p.103- 115) writes eloquently on the Calcutta ethos of the time, and how Tagore developed in this rich cultural milieu. several pages in My reminiscences (Jiban Smriti) are devoted to the most thorough descriptions in Indian literature of the boyhood pleasures of daydreaming, of staring out of windows, or into little-used rooms, and constructing fantasies about them. the idea of daydreaming and leisure (not in the sense of bourgeois recreation) but in the feminine sense of a break from domestic routine, or a schoolboy's holiday from a pvt tutorial) - would run through his conception of creativity itself as a release from work... many of his songs and poems begin "No more work for today!" or "It's a holiday today, friend, it's a holiday today."
Tagore's own autobiographical writings evoke beautifully the atmosphere of the Tagore household. In this sketch of the Tagore household by Nandalal Bose, Ananda Coomaraswamy (on the couch) is discussing a sketch with Nandalal Bose (foreground) while Abanindranath is dozing and Gaganendranath and Satyendranath are reading.
[Being taught English at Normal school,] a song they learnt in class, was transformed into the childhood pidgin of a Bengali boy. Capturing all the bafflement, agony, and energy of cultural confusion and intermingling, Tagore transcribes the verse that inhabited the boy's consciousness thus: Kallokee Pullokee singill mellaling mellaling mellaling After much thought I have been able to guess at the original of a part of it. Of what words kallokee is the transformation still baffles me. The rest I think was: ... full of glee, singing merrily, merrily, merrily! the trepidation with which the cousins waited, in rainy weather, to see if the English tutor Aghore Babu's black umbrella would appear, as it invariably did: How well do I remember the day our tutor tried to impress on us the attractiveness of the English language. With this object he recited to us with great unction some lines -- prose or poetry we could not tell - out of an English book. It had a most unlooked for effect on us. We laughed so immoderately that he dismissed us for the evening. about McCulloch's "Course of Reading": No sooner than our English lessons begin than our heads began to nod. Tagore had completed Jiban Smriti, in which he made those cutting and jocular remarks, in 1911; the following year he translated the Gitanjali into the language he had once found tedious and ridiculous; in 1913, amazed by the success of the poems, he wrote to his niece Indira Devi: You have alluded to the English translation of the Gitanjali. I cannot imagine to this day how people came to like it so much. That I cannot write English is such a patent fact that I never had even the vanity to feel ashamed of it. If anybody wrote an English note asking me for tea, I did not feel equal to answering it. Perhaps you think that by now I have got over that delusion. By no means. That I have written in English seems to be the dulusion. ... But believe me, I did not undertake this task in a spirit of reckless bravado. I simply felt an urge to recapture through the medium of another language the feelings and sentiments which had created such a feast of joy within me in the days gone by.
[The Gitanjali in English has always struck me as a rather ludicrous construct, unlike the fine elegance of the originals. Here Chaudhuri is also surprised at the emotional response it invoked in the West:] it seems puzzling now that they were ever read or enjoyed for their message or philosophy, mystical or otherwise... in marked contrast to the finished and individual nature of the 'originals', these prose-poems, confusingly, flow into each other ... the propagation of any 'message' is deflected by the creation, within the English Gitanjali, of a dreamscape of repeated words and symbols, 'flute', 'instrument', 'lamp, 'song', 'singer', 'garland', 'Lord', 'guest', 'leisure'; what remains with the reader afterwards is neither content, nor message, observation, nor conceit, but this unresolved network, the dreamscape. [Chaudhuri refers to poems 3 and 37 in the English (22 and 55 in the Bengali G, for lyrics where he is struggling to find the right language] p.107-8 [Tagore's fall in lit standing in the West, esp the translations of his short stories] '... the associations of Indian life are so foreign to them that these are likely to tax their imagination too much for a perfectly comfortable reading.' According to Edward Thompson, 'More and more he toned down or omitted whatever seemed to him characteristically Indian, which was very often what was gripping and powerful.' Tagore's free verse poems ... admirably translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson Races ethnologically different have in this country come into close contact. This fact has been and still continues to be the most important one in our own history. It is our mission to face it and prove our humanity by dealing with it in the fullest truth.' [Nationalism] "Religion of Man" (1931) - title refers to a famous, and rather strange conversation Tagore had with Albert Einstein that year - Tagore: realisation and perception of truth and beauty depend upon man; Einstein: truth has an independent existence.
[Gandhi] did not begin to learn English until his last three years of high school at Rajkot. He floundered: "English became the medium of instruction in most subjects from the fourth standcard. I found myself completely at sea." From age 16, prescribed reading included 200 pages of Addison's Spectator, 750 lines of Paradise lost (last 200 to be learned by heart), and _Pride and Prejudice. Learning the language, "I was fast becoming a stranger in my own home." In 1894 in SA Gandhi was propagating the ideas of a sect: "No breakfast society" - 138
Satyagraha: None of us knew what name to give to our movement... I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase 'passive resistance' gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name' Gandhi also gave words like swaraj, khadi, swadeshi, ahimsa
The great trial: arrested for sedition in 1922 after writing in _Young India: the fight that was commenced in 1920 is a fight to the finish. I am therefore here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest penalty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not ask for an extenuating act of clemency. I am here to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of the citizen." ... the law, supposedly a neutral form of language, objective, non-contextual, Gandhi showed it to be biased in favour of British interests. The dramatisation of his own life, its transformation into a permanent performance, was Gandhi's greatest literary achievement. Nehru: Glimpses of World History If there was an underlying historical moral to Nehru's tale, it was to claim that the center of gravity of world history was shifting away to Europe and towards Asia and Africa. 149
In the decade and a half after 1947, demands for new states defined by linguistic contours [vs] pressure from the Hindi speakers to privilege their language over all others, esp English. In response... Nehru arrived at a sophisticated, perceptive view of lg. ... One year before his death, in 1964, in a speech to the LS during a debate over the extension of the 15 year constitutional recognition of English as an official lg, N noted... that the entry of English in the 19th c. - while hardly driven by benign reasons - nevertheless had positive effects upon Indian lgs - conduit for scientific ideas - introduced new literary forms. The combined impact was to shatter the 'self-centered' and hermetic aspects of Indian culture: 'Our lgs became static because our lives were static. The changes that came with the British invasion administered a shock and had its effect on lgs also. It made them more dynamic - brought new forms, the novel, short stories, a new kind of drama, science and technology.' ... State policy had to recognize India's multilingual character, allowing lgs to flourish and adapt but not through legislation or policy. "No clerks and no govt departments have ever made a language grow." The regional lgs were geting reinvigorated... hence English would if anything become even more nec as a potential link lg. This led him to "think English would be more widely known in India in the future than now: though it will not be known for better quality." 155 On why efforts to propagate Hindi had so far had little success. Drawing on a contrast between Hindi on the one hand, and English and esp Urdu on the other, he argued that successful lgs were those which were adaptable and responsive, not those which insisted on their purity. He valued Urdu exactly because it is "an amalagam, a synthesis of various lgs", and it showed that when two lgs come together, they strengthen each other." Nehru's argument was a rebuttal of narrow linguistic chauvinists, who wished to purge and purify lgs, and to substitute current speech with dead coin. For N the greatness of English was 'that it has kept its doors and windows open for all types of words and it easily incorporatess a new word from foreign lgs... I think there are at least one thousand Hindi words incorporated into the English lg." A century earlier, Ghalib had noted similar capacities in Urdu: "Urdu was formerly compounded of Arabic, Percian, Hindi, and Turkish -- these four lgs. Now a fifth lg, English, has entered into it. See the capacity of Urdu. How sweetly this fifth language extends its influence over it! It has assimilated these lgs so well that none of them seems an excrescence upon it."
Ramachandra Guha has written a powerful biography of this leading anthropologist. Verrier Elwin lived among the Gonds for 20 years, became Indian citizen in 1954, was awarded a Padma Bhushan. He writes of tribal culture, that the tribal has a real message for our sophisticated modern world which is threatened with disintegration as a result of its passion for possessions and its lack of love." - Leaves from the Jungle [perhaps the most readable of Elwin's works The Agaria (1942) told of the decline of a community of charcoal iron-smelters ruined by taxation, factory iron, and official apathy. The Muria and the Ghotul (1947): Muria tribe - dormitory - where boys and girls first learned about sex. Sex was fun: the "best of ghotul games... the dance of the genitals ... an ecstatic swinging in the arm of the beloved." But it was not, among the Muria, disfigured by lust, or degraded by possessiveness, or defiled by jealousy. More strikingly, the sexual freedom of the ghotul was followed by a stable, secure, serenely happy married life. In the process of growing up, the "life of pre-nuptial freedom" ended in a "longing for security and permanence." In any married couple, neither was a virgin absolutely, but both were virgins to each other. "Muria domestic life might well be a model and example for the whole world." [similar practices in Papua NG - Jared D]
[ Amitav Ghosh ] is taken by some critics to be a champion of post-modern cultural weightlessness... The most impressive of Ghosh's novels remains his second book, The Shadow Lines (1988), which deals with relations between the different arms of a prospering bhadralok family, the Datta-Chaudhuris, displaced from Dhaka to Calcutta by the Partition. At the centre of the novel is the figure of Tridib who teaches the nameless narrator that all communities, indeed all identities, are imagined or narrated... "Everyone lives in a story... they all lived in stories, because stories are all there are to live in, it was just a question of which story.' (SL p.182) Nevertheless, it would be misleading to suggest that Ghosh's novel is uninterested in the particularities of specific cultural location. If the nation is a fiction, whose boundaries are aapable of being reimagined and redrawn, it nevertheless remains a powerful determining presence, as too are the histories of colonialism and racism which haunt the relationships between the Datta-Chaudhuris and the Prices, English friends-of-the-family across two generations. The SL is a novel filled with the specifities of names, dates and places, a novel in love with some kinds of cultural difference even while it seeks to imagine a way beyond others. Moreover it shows that different narratives of the self and the nation can collide with devastating effects. Part of its brilliant sense of the complications of cultural identity is its perception that even where cultural difference is radically asserted, when Tridib is killed in a communal riot while visiting his family's old home in Dhaka, it can be shadowed by lines of connection ... with Kashmir ... 'locked into an irreversible symmetry by the line that was to set us free -- our looking-golass border.' - Jon Mee, p.325
I. Allan Sealy - stephanian : doctoral thesis in Canada on Wilson Harris ==> Trotter Nama (1988), Hero (1991), From Yukon to Yucatan (1994) travelogue, Everst Hotel (1998)==> epic chronicle of a family of Anglo-Indians - 328 Mukul Kesavan - academic historian by profession - Looking through glass 1995 Gita Hariharan - A thousand faces of Nights 1992: positioning of Indian women in relation to the orientalist idea of tradition Ghosts of Vasu master 1994 Raja Rao: Kanthapura 1938 - best known for its classic foreword, like a manifesto for the practice of Indian writing in English. "One has to convey in a language that is not one's own the spirit that is one's own." This dichotomy, Rao claims, can only be resolved through a systematic indigenisation of English -- by infusing it with the breathless and unpunctuated "tempo of Indian life". Cow of the barricades and other stories 1947 Serpent and the Rope 1960 - spread across Europe and India
GV Desani: Govendas Vishnoodas Desani 1909-2000 b. Nairobi, reputedly ran away from home at 18 and spent next 25 years in Enlgand, lectured as speaker sponsored by Brit Min of Information - on the shared English and Indian commitment to the power of the spoken word. His performances won praise: "he promises to be an outstanding representative between East and West, not nec in the political sense, but that of general interpretation." Play _Hali (1950) - long prose-poem in the style of Tagore All about H. Hatterr (1948) - arranged around a set of 7 episodes - involving H's attempt to find a higher truth. loyal friend Banerrji helps - but in the end, world-weary H discovers that the only meaning of Life is Life itself: "I have no opinions, I am beaten, and I just accept all this phenomena, this diamond-cut-diamond game, this human horse-play, all this topsy-turvy-ism, as _Life." LANGUAGE: Shakespeare combines with Indian legalese, cockney with babuisms, Anglo-India rubs up against the pompous drone of Colonial Club talk, and grievously unpunctuated sentences find a temporary hiatus in random and arbitrary capitalizations.
[read this essay at the NY Review of Books RKN (1906-2001) first encountered English at a rather severe missionary school in Madras, at the age of 5, and was immediately bewildered. Tamil and Sanskrit were a badge of inferiority and occasion for jokes at school, along with everything else that belonged to the old Hindu world. Narayan, as the only Brahmin boy in the class, came in for special mockery by the Christian teachers. The 'first' language at school was English, taught from a textbook imported all the way from England and looking much more sturdy and glossy than the textbooks printed in India. Its glamour also came from the mysteries it contained. first engl lesson: "A was an Apple pie. B bit it. C cut it." N could see what B and C had been up to, but the identity of A eluded him. The teacher, who also had never seen an apple, not to mention a pie, wondered if it wasn't like idli... 193 the limitations of Narayan's characters are the limitations of the still raw and shapeless society in which they have their being: limitations that are not overcome, but merely avoided, by leaps into fantasy and myth that such ready-made forms as magic realism facilitate. 205 Narayan, writing from deep within his small and shrinking world, came to acquire a special intimacy which is sometimes capable of taking the novelist, if not the essayist, to truths deeper and subtler than those yielded by analytic intelligence. It is the unmediated fidelity of his novels have to his constricted experience which makes them seem so organic both in their conception and execution, and which also make him now, remarkably, a more accurate guide to the inner life of modern India than such later self-conscious makers of historical narratives as Salman Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry. The early novels with their energetic young men (Swami, Chandran, Krishna), the middle novels w the restless drifters (Srinivas, Sriram) and the later novels with the men wounded and exiled by the modern world (Jagan, Rajan) map out an emptional and intellectual journey that many middole-class people in formerly colonial societies have made: the faint consciousness of individuality and nationality through colonial education: confused anti-colonial assertion; post-colonial sense of inadequacy and failure; and, finally, in middle or old age, the search for cultural authenticity and renewal in a negelected, once-great past. 205-6 Painter of Signs: Raman falls for Daisy, family planning, who is spreading "Hum do hamare do" 203 The last novels: misconceived A tiger for malgudi 1980, where the soul of a human takes up residence in a tiger, and the lazily repetitive Talkative man (1985) and The world of Nagaraj (1990) illustrate the dangers inherent in a style and vision that cease to renew themselves. 201 ANANTANARAYANAN: The Silver Pilgrimage 1961 ASIF CURRIMBHOY: Doldrummers 1960 Dumb dancer 61 Goa 64 Hungry Ones 65 - won praise in the US also
[Patke is at NUS. He's the author of Postcolonial Poetry in English, 2006 OUP] By the 1940s, "faded meretriciousness of a borrowed romanticism" was still present. But the first 5 vols of Ezekiel corresponded to the mood reflected concurrently by poets like Larkin overtaking the neo-romanticism of Dylan Thomas et al. Ezekiel's work is free of all historical and mythopoeic baggage. Keki Daruwalla conceded in 1980, that Indian poetry has not been able to shrug off the handicap or writing in what an Australian poet called 'a sort of Blanket English -- it comes through like the wrong side of a perfectly woven carpet.' Gieve Patel: doctor Keki N Daruwalla: Police officer Jayanta Mahapatra: Physics teacher Nissim Ezekiel / Dom Moraes: knew only English
'Bleddy Macaulay's minutemen! Don't you get it? Bunch of English-medium misfits, the lot of you.' Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh How could they have let a man who knew nothing about geography divide a country? [Sujata Bhatt, (Partition) 2000:p.34] Lakdasa Wikkramasinha: To write in English is a form of cultural treason. (Goonetilleke 1991: xiv). In 1982, R. Parthasarathy b.1941, confessed that he had been 'whoring after English gods.' Yasmin Gooneratne, in "This Language, This woman" So do not call her slut, and alien names born of envy and your own misuse that whisper how desire in secret runs (D. Goonetilleke ed. Modern Sri Lankan poetry, Delhi Satguru Publications 1987 p.5-6)
Of what concern to me is a vanished Empire? Or the conquest of my ancestors’ timeless ennui? Jayanta Mahapatra, "The Abandoned British Cemetery at Balasore' English is everyone's language in India; and it is no one's language. Because it is the former, everyone can read the Roman alphabet and knows the meanings of words; because it is also the latter, they can completely miss the tone and emotional charge the words carry, as in poetry words must, always. Arvind Mehrotra, A legend Springs, HT Oct 2004 Buddhadev Bose: As late as 1937, Yeats reminded Indian writers that "no man can think or write with music and vigour except in his mother tongue"... "Indo-Anglian" poetry is a blind alley, lined with curio shops, leading nowhere. [in S. Spender and D. Hall, Concise Encyc of Engl & Am poets 1965] Tagore's English poetry: like "Matthew Arnold in a sari" (Australian critic S.C. Harrex) Bhalchandra Nemade, 1985: Culture consciousness precedes linguistic consciousness and the latter depends upon the former. By encouraging a foreign language system to be a fit medium for creative writing we bring our already low-value culture still lower. It is doubtful whether this writing will add any "Indian-ness" to World writing in English. [p.60, Patke PPE] Wong Phui Nam (Malaysia, b.1935) "The non-English writer who writes in English is... in a very deep sense a miscegenated being" (1993)
The Mistress Keki Daruwalla No one believes me when I say my mistress is a half-caste. ... her consonants bludgeon you; her argot is rococo, her latest 'slang' is available in classical dictionaries. She sounds like a dry sob stuck in the throat of darkness... 1982:22 [The Bangladeshi poet/critic Kaiser Haq, in his review of Daruwalla: [his] poetic career is a love affair with a 'half-caste' mistress, whose 'genealogical tree' features 'a Muslim midwife and a Goan cook' and, happily mixing metaphors, 'Down the genetic lane, babus/and professors of English' who have 'made their one-night contributions'. His 'love for her survives from night to night'/even though each time/I have to wrestle with her in bed/....She is Indian English, the language that I use.' ('The Mistress') (2006) from Kamala Das, An Introduction (1986): I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar, I speak three languages, write in Two, dream in one. Don’t write in English, they said, English is Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins, Every one of you? Why not let me speak in Any language I like? The language I speak, Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses All mine, mine alone.
Editor's Preface 0 Introduction: A. K. Mehrotra 1 1 The English Writings of Raja Rammohan Ray: Bruce Carlisle Robertson 27 2 The Hindu College: Henry Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt: Sajni Kripalini Mukherji 41 3 The Dutt Family Album: And Toru Dutt: Rosinka Chaudhuri 53 4 Rudyard Kipling: Maria Couto 70 5 Two Faces of Prose: Behramji Malabari and Govardhanram Tripathi: Sudhir Chandra 82 6 The Beginnings of the Indian Novel: Meenakshi Mukherjee 92 7 The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore: Amit Chaudhuri 103 8 Sri Aurobindo: Peter Heehs 116 9 Two Early-Twentieth-Century Women Writers: Cornelia Sorabji and Sarojini Naidu: Ranjana Sidhanta Ash 126 10 Gandhi and Nehru: The Uses of English: Sunil Khilnani 135 11 Verrier Elwin: Ramachandra Guha 157 12 Novelists of the 1930s and 1940s: Leela Gandhi 168 13 R. K. Narayan: Pankaj Mishra 193 14 Nirad C. Chaudhuri: Eunice Desouza 209 15 Novelists of the 1950s and 1960s: Shyamala A. Narayan & Jon Mee 219 16 On V.S. Naipaul on India: S. Kaul 232 17 Poetry Since Independence: R. S. Patke 243 18 From Sugar to Masala: Writing by the Indian Diaspora: S. Mishra 276 19 Looking for A. K. Ramanujan: A. K. Mehrotra 295 20 Salman Rushdie: Anuradha Dingwaney 308 21 After Midnight: The Novel in the 1980s and 1990s: Jon Mee 318 22 The Dramatists: Shanta Gokhale 337 23 Five Nature Writers: Jim Corbett, Kenneth Anderson, Salim Ali, Kailash Sankhala, and M. Krishnan: Mahesh Rangarajan 351 24 Translations into English: Arshia Sattar 366 Note on Contributors Further Reading Index.
How the Indian literati made the English language their very own] Dipli Saikia, The Times (London) English is not the only language that Indians live and work with, or produce literature in. English is just one of the 15 official languages of India, not to mention the countless dialects. ... regional Indian literatures thrive. In coming to the story of Indian literature in English, one perceives how the colonial project in India came full circle: the arrival of the colonisers resulted in English education for the colonised, the repercussions of which led to the departure of the colonisers. If English made the British empire, it also unmade it. It led, too, to the start of a literary tradition that is brilliantly mapped by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and his co-contributors in A History of Indian Literature in English . For while some colonies attempted to do away with English after the departure of the British - such as Sri Lanka, which passed legislation in 1956 leading to its own isolation and, even worse, the civil strife that continues to this day - it was not so with India. If anything, Gandhi and Nehru, India's first prime minister, are regarded as the most prolific contributors to the English literary tradition in India: combined, their published work exceeds 150 volumes. As Sunil Khilnani says in his exceptional essay on these two: The erratic rhythms of politics, not writing, defined their lives. Yet no two Indians exemplified so vividly the extent to which politics is words - a way of structuring human relations through the fragile architecture of language... Gandhi and Nehru gave their countrymen the possibility of an equal conversation with their conquerors. When Gandhi was asked by Mulk Raj Anand, one of the pioneering novelists in English, if it was acceptable to write in English, he replied: "The purpose of writing is to communicate, isn't it? If so, say your say in any language that comes to hand." So they did. Such 20th-century literary achievements grew out of a rich 19th-century literature. Some of the early writers in English were remarkable not merely for their self-assertion in a new language, but for their achievements in several. The first Indian writer in English, the scholar and reformer Raja Rammohan Ray, also wrote in Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic. India's first modern poet in English, Toru Dutt, had published an anthology of 173 French poems in English translation by the time of her death aged 21, besides leaving behind a complete French novel. Rudyard Kipling, who was born in India and of whom it has been said that he not only wrote about India but belonged to it, dreamed in Hindustani and had to be reminded to speak to his parents in English. Continuing, the Parsi reformer and writer Behramji Malabari was sustained in his reforms for women by the enduring image of his dying mother, a victim of poverty and early widowhood. His greatest achievement was the Age of Consent Act, which he compelled a reluctant bureaucracy to pass. The mystical philosopher Sri Aurobindo was the first Indian to produce a major corpus of work almost entirely in English - not surprising, given that he was educated at St Paul's School, London, and King's College, Cambridge, and was not permitted to learn his mother tongue until much later in life. And, soon after arriving in London, one early Indian poet lost his attaché case bearing his manuscripts, on the Underground. The case appeared at the left luggage office the next day. He showed his poems to the painter William Rothenstein who, overwhelmed by their quality, passed them on to Yeats. The poet was Tagore, who soon afterwards won the Nobel prize for his English translation of his Gitanjali . Contrary to an early verdict, Indo-Anglian literature was more than "Matthew Arnold in a sari". Mehrotra's book brings the subject up to the present post-Rushdie generation. There are essays devoted to a single author (Tagore and R. K. Narayan, among others), to a group of authors (the writers of the Indian diaspora), and to a genre ("The beginnings of the Indian novel", "Poetry since independence"). With the editor stipulating that critical jargon be kept to a minimum, we get lucid accounts that translate the knowledge and involvement of the specialist into something interesting and valuable to the non-specialist. The book thereby answers what K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, a pioneer in the field, called for in the preface to the second edition of his Indian Writing in English : "In a desultory and intermittent activity spread over forty years, I have been engaged in this... garnering of Indian writing in English. I hope some day a team of dedicated scholars, sustained for a long enough period by adequate grants, would be able to produce a truly authoritative history of this literature... mine has been almost exclusively an individualist adventure, with all the incidental drawbacks... but perhaps also with the advantages of a single sensibility (however imperfect) covering the entire field." Iyengar was right that there are certain advantages to any study that is shaped by one sensibility. A strength of Mehrotra's History is that each contributor reveals a certain a sense of individual involvement, but this also contains a minor drawback: it leads to the repetition at the start of many chapters of the British agenda for English education in India, as well as the repetition of certain anecdotes. Also, the essay on translations fails to mention the leading publisher in the field - Katha. However, these defects might easily be overcome in further editions. For this book is one of the most engaging histories of the field, with its accessibility in no way impaired by its attention to detail. Almost 50 years ago, an article in The Times Literary Supplement entitled "England is abroad" pointed out that "the centre of gravity" of English literature had shifted and, "while we are busy consolidating", a brand-new English literature would appear "in Johannesburg or Sydney or Vancouver or Madras". A History of Indian Literature in English captures a moment within that shift, marked by linguistic multiplicity and miscegenation, resulting in a literary culture that allows a Bangalore-based playwright in English, Mahesh Dattani, when asked by a journalist why he does not write in his own language, to reply: "I do."