book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

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

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.

Introduction: Arvind Krishna Mehrotra p.1-27

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

Indian view of the superiority of English

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). ]

English as a Second Language

[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

Earliest writings by Indians

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 exposure on Indian vernacular literature

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,

Should Indians write in English?

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

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.

Animosity towards English as signature of a social class

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

2. Hindu College and Derozio

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

7: The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Amit Chaudhuri Ch.7

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.

Learning English

[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
     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 english Gitanjali as failed poetry

[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.

10: Gandhi and Nehru: Sunil Khilnani, 135-156

[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

Words coined by Gandhi

     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

Gandhi also gave words like swaraj, khadi, swadeshi, ahimsa

Trial at Ahmedabad, 1922

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

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

Linguistic reorganization of states after Independence

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

11 Verrier Elwin: Ramachandra Guha

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

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]
	  random and arbitrary capitalizations.

13: RK Narayan: Pankaj Mishra p.193

      	 [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

17 Poetry since independence: Rajeev Patke p.243-274

			[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

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

Gieve Patel: doctor
Keki N Daruwalla: Police officer
Jayanta Mahapatra: Physics teacher

Nissim Ezekiel / Dom Moraes: knew only English

anti-English animosity

'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)

Matthew Arnold in a sari

   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)

English as the Half-caste mistress- Daruwalla

	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.

21 After Midnight (The modern novel): Jon Mee p.318-336

[ 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

Sealy, Kesavan, Raja Rao

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

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

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


      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

Other reviews

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

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

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."

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2013 May 20