An Introduction to Indian Writing in English
The seed of Indian Writing in English was sown during the period of the British rule in India. Now the seed has blossomed into an ever green tree, fragrant flowers and ripe fruits. The fruits are being tasted not only by the native people, but they are also being ‘chewed and digested’ by the foreigners. It happened only after the constant caring, pruning and feeding. Gardeners’ like Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, R.K.Narayan, Raja Rao – to name only a few, looked after the tender plant night and day. In modern time, it is guarded by a number of writers who are getting awards and accolades all over the world.
Indian English Literature is an honest enterprise to demonstrate the ever rare gems of Indian Writing in English. From being a singular and exceptional, rather gradual native flare – up of geniuses, Indian Writing has turned out to be a new form of Indian culture and voice in which India converses regularly. Indian Writers – poets, novelists, essayists, and dramatists have been making momentous and considerable contributions to world literature since pre – Independence era, the past few years have witnessed a gigantic prospering and thriving of Indian English Writing in the global market.
Indian English Literature has attained an independent status in the realm of world Literature. Wide ranges of themes are dealt within Indian Writing in English. While this literature continues to reflect Indian culture, tradition, social values and even Indian history through the depiction of life in India and Indians living elsewhere, recent Indian English fiction has been trying to give expression to the Indian experience of the modern predicaments. There are critics and commentators in England and America who appreciate Indian English novels. Prof. M. K. Naik remarks “â€¦one of the most notable gifts of English education to India is prose fiction for though India was probably a fountain head of story-telling, the novel as we know today was an importation from the west”.
India’s substantial contribution to world literature is largely due to the profusely creative literary works generated by Indian novelists in English. Their works contemplated and deliberated on multifarious range of issues like nationalism, freedom struggle, social realism, individual consciousness and the like. This literary movement being fortified by the overwhelming output by novelists and distinguished itself as a remarkable force in world fiction. This has been achieved by novelists who sought to prove their inner creative urges in English language, which is indeed an alien tongue for them. It is to the credit of these novelists that they have overcome the hurdles of writing in a foreign language and have been evolved a distinctive style for themselves by mastering the intricacies of the language and assimilating in it the hues and flavors of the Indian – sub continent. Raja Rao famously argued in 1938, in the preface to his novel Kanthapura, for using English, but English adapted to Indian conditions:
English is not an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual make-up – like Sanskrit or Persian was before – but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We can only write as Indians. Our method of expression will someday prove to be as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. (14)
The struggle for independence was a mighty and momentous movement sweeping the entire nation and exerting tremendous impact on the sense of national consciousness among the literary fraternity. Thus the lucid description of the freedom struggle showcased images of the awakened Indians who sought to regain their freedom from the grueling and torturous regime of the Britishers. Apart from these reflections, the writers were able to propagate their point of view, which ultimately helped to motivate and guide the masses. Thus the fixation on religious aestheticism was replaced by concerns on socio – political issues. The joy of accomplishing the grandiose feat of obtaining Independence was abruptly marred by the horrendous and traumatic partition of 1947. The horrors, tragic consequences and partition like the large scale migration, reckless looting and merciless massacres were portrayed by the writers in their works which captured the interest, and imagination of the reader, the Indian English novels began to prove its mark in the global literary scenario. East – West conflict, multi – culturalism, social realism, gender issues, comic aspect of human nature, ecological concerns, magic realism, diasporic writings and the like became the themes of the post – Independent writers.
English has acquired a rare privilege and popularity in India especially among the elite and the middle classes. It is increasingly being used by writers to give shape to the conflicting dilemmas and issues that confront the human psyche. It has definitely become a convenient medium to express the intrinsic talents of the writers. Moreover the Indian English writers use it with enviable ease and gaining mastery of a foreign tongue to articulate the vagaries and vicissitudes of an individual’s consciousness in a realm of its own aptly substantiate the expansiveness and verve of the Indian English writer.
Indian writing in English has commended unstinted admiration in both home and abroad, is now in its full swing. It has carved out a new track, a new vision – a vision that is replete with an un answering faith and hope, myths and traditions, customs and rites etc. If we dive deep into the works of the Indian stalwarts of English fictions, it is revealed that their works are not an imitation of English literary pattern but highly original and intensely Indian in both theme and spirit. They have given a new shape and color to English literature in the same way as the Australians and Americans have evolved their own literature in their respective countries.
Indian English literature is two hundred years old. Sri Aurobindo stands like a huge oak spreading its branches over these two centuries. The contribution of Sri Aurobindo as a perfect writer and craftsman is undoubtedly great. He is the first poet in Indian English writing who has given the re – interpretation of myths. Sri Aurobindo envisages spiritual humanism. What Sri Aurobindo points out to the philosophers of today is that human life, body and mind are the evolved forms of super mind. Aurobindo’s famous works “The Human Cycle and The Ideal of Human Society” taken together to give a complete picture of Aurobindo’s version of the future possibilities of man and shows the humanistic trend in his thought. In the Human cycle, the poet – philosopher offers us a social philosophy of history illuminated by a splendid spiritual vision of future. It is self-evident that Indian English drama could not secure a firm foothold and build s tradition of its own about which M.K. Naik says:
“Owing to the lack of a firm dramatic tradition nourished on actual performance in a live theatre, early Indian English drama in Bengal, as elsewhere in India, grew sporadically as mostly closet drama; and even later, only Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya produced a substantial corpus of dramatic writing.”
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is a celebrated name in the sphere of English literature. His creative genius is so much accounting and his literary output is so much rich and varied that the phrase ‘myriad – minded’, which Mathew Arnold had used for Shakespeare, can aptly be used for him also. He won Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, for his immortal poetic work Gitanjali(1913). Besides being a great universal poet, the genius Tagore is also a novelist, dramatist, Short – Story writer, musician, philosopher, painter, educationalist, reformer and critic in every field and had earned a niche for himself. The setting of his novel is representative and reflective, their characters are natural, realistic, full – blooded and life – like. The socio – religious culture of Bengal is brilliantly portrayed in his novels. Through his novels he brings out some of the problems of the woman of his age. Different kinds of human relations are portrayed and analysed through the different social settings. Some of his novels deal with the modern problems of our society and the interest in them centers round the psychological development of characters under the compelling stress of circumstances. To his credit, there is a long list of poems and plays, both in Bengali and English which had made his place among the world’s greatest writers. In Iyengar’s words;
As the years passed, he became more and more a legendary figure; in his flowing bead and immaculate white robes he was truly in the line of the great Rishi of Upnishadic times, and indeed he was truly in the line of the great bearing witness to the triune Reality, seeing the way showing it to others.
Tagore neither does nor adheres to the conventional narrative method, nor does he use the principles of organic, consequential plot – structure. He also tries through his novels, to focus the attention on some of the bitter truths and cruel customs of the lives and society as well. His novels amuse, perplex and bring out the real literary pleasures. Tagore has written thirteen novels of which nine are translated into English. The translated works are Gora, The Home and The World (1910), The wreck (1921), Binodini (1964) and many more. Tagore wrote his first original dramatic piece when he was twenty – Valmiki Pratibha (1881) and stated that his works sought to articulate “the play of feeling and not of action.” Tagore’s dramas used more philosophical and allegorical themes. Tagore’s plays also are important to Bengali literature. All of his plays have been repeatedly staged and re-interpreted over the years. His most famous play, perhaps, is Raktakaravi (1926) (“Red Oleanders”) – the name of a red flower. It tells of a king who lives behind an iron curtain while his subjects have cruelty and death delivered upon them at the slightest pretext. People are forced to work in the mines so that the kleptocratic king and his cronies may render themselves even wealthier. The play follows the heroine Nandini, who leads the people and finally the king himself towards the destruction of this artifact of subjugation. However, this ultimate victory is preceded by numerous deaths, most importantly that of Ranjan, Nandini’s lover, and Kishore a young boy devoted to her. Tagore devoted much effort to Raktakaravi (1926), with (at least) eleven extant revisions. Tagore’s Chandalika (1938) was modeled on an ancient legend describing how Gautama Buddha’s discipline asks water of a tribal girl.
K.S.Venkataramani (1892-1952) is an Indo – Anglian writer of the pre – Independence era brilliantly focuses on the stupendous impact of Mahatma Gandhi in general. He is a novelist and Short – Story writer. He interweaves the centrality of the novel keeping in view the Gandhian ideology of a self – sufficient, morally and economically integrated village community as the elemental unit of the superstructure of the Indian society. He wrote two novels Murugan, The Tiller (1927), Kandan, The Patriot (1934) and his collection of short stories are Jatadharan and other stories (1937).
Bhabani Bhattacharya (1906-1988) is one of the novelists of the older generation of Indo – Anglian writers. He is endowed with a transparently positive vision of life, explored and expressed artistically in his novels. He throws that the novel must have a social purpose, his stories abound in social and historical realities, quite often bitter and gruesome, such as the Bengal Famine of 1943, the tragedies of freedom struggle and partition, and the evils of poverty, corruption, ignorance, superstition, exploitation, greed etc. Bhattacharya affirms that an artist should inevitably be concerned with truths and social reality. In his first six novels, Bhattacharya has treated culture with different angles. His first five novels are set against Indian social sense in the perspectives of world shaking historical events, whereas the sixth one has its setting both in India and America’s Hawaii Island and deals with the theme of spiritual quest. His novels are So Many Hungers (1947), Music for Mohini (1952), He Who Rides Tiger (1955), The Goddess Named Gold (1960), and Shadow From Ladakh (1966), A Dream of Hawaai (1978).
Post – Independent India has been making quick strides in the field of science and technology. There has been an admirable economic growth in India in recent times. So, the novel proved to be an effective medium for the reflection of the spirit of the age, encompassing the bitter and sweet realities of the period. The great proliferation of the Indian English novel also owes its credit to the sudden increase of interest in the new literature of post colonial nations by the west.
The Indian English fiction has had a meteoritic growth during the dawn of the millennium year and the writing in all genres of literature has gained momentum, particularly the Indian novel, the doyens of the Indian writing like R.K.Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, and their ilk promoted the conventional mode of writing. The crusaders of the contemporary and modern era include Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and many more. They elucidate and substantiate strength of the emerging modern voice of India, which has the vibrancy and energy of a gushing artesian along with an unmatched resolve to experiment and explore new avenues of writing novels. A host of contemporary post – colonial writers like Rushdie, Arundati Roy, Meena Alexander, Anita Nair and Jhumpa Lahiri have initiated the process of decolonizing the ‘Colonial English’ and using it as a medium to express Indian thoughts and sensibilities with a distinctive Indian style.
The freedom movement spearheaded by Gandhi inspired a flurry of activity in the literary world. The need for an autonomous, independent country lead to an explosion of creativity, which sought to appeal to the masses to take up the cudgels and oust the Britishers from the Indian soil. Therefore, there was a flourish of novels in both regional and as well as in the national stream. This burst of energy in regional literature, laid the ground work of fine – tuning and enhancing the vibrancy and the scope of the Indian English Fiction.
The dual combination of independent movement and nationalist consciousness gave much impetus and spur to the outflow of novels in which affection for motherland was the crux and this served to invoke the patriotic sentiments of the masses. Raja Rao’s Kanthapura(1938), K.S.Venkataramani’s Kandan, The Patriot (1934 ) and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable(1935), Coolie (1936), The Sword and the Sickle(1942 ), revolved around the varying themes of the independence struggle. Post – Independent India also produced number of novels involving the causes and aftermaths of the freedom movement. The novels that belong to this category include Nayantara Saghal’s A Time to be Happy(1952), Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’ Inquilab(1955), R.K.Narayan’s Waiting for the Mahatma(1955) etc.
The triumvirs Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K.Narayan were the novelists who stabilized and fortified the Indian English Fiction with their ample works and unique literary style. Thus, it was aptly noted by William Walsh regarding the afore mentioned writers:
Distinguished not only for their own work but as the inaugurators of the form itself since it was they who defined the area in which the Indian novel in English was to operate, drew the first models of its characters and themes and elaborated its particular logic. Each used its own version of an English freed from the foggy taste of Britain. (walsh, 62)
The majority of Mulk Raj Anand’s (1905 – 2004) novels brings to the limelight the inequalities of society and trials and tribulations of the less fortunate. Untouchable(1935), Coolie(1936 ), The Village(1939 ), and The Private Life of an Indian Prince(1953) addresses the evils existing in the society in the Marxist terms. His novels also give a graphic description of the daily existence of his characters, their tale of woe, sweat and misery. Untouchable(1935) targets the evil of casteism and brings to the surface the issue of segregation of people on the basis of their profession. In Coolie(1936 ), he presents a poverty-stricken protagonist, Munoo who portrays the hollowness of the society and the curse faced by the proletariat. He was instrumental in bringing about an awareness of the inequality that existed in India. He also advocated solutions for the issues. Both novels are: “a plea for downtrodden, the poor and the outcast, who face economic hardship and emotional humiliation in a rigid social structure”.
R.K.Narayan (1906-2001) is another celebrity author who enjoys a unique position in the crowded literary scene of Indian Fiction. He is undoubtedly the master of portraying the socio-comic aspects of the ordinary Indian’s family and idiosyncrasies of human which form the crux of his novels. The greatest merit of his language and style lives in its simplicity. His subtle use of ironic humor explores the oddities of human nature and juxtaposing it with a dose of harmless humor. His fiction revolves around the imaginary sleepy South Indian town of Malgudi but expresses an outlook which has universal appeal. His famous novels are The Bachelor of Arts and The Painter of signs (1933). Swami and Friends (1935), The English Teacher (1945), Waiting for Mahatma (1955), The Guide (1958), The Sweet Vendor (1967. The vividness in character portrayal is balanced by ironic humor, which is his characteristic style. His writing has stretched across seven decades and occupies a remarkable position in the history of Indian English Fiction. Narayan has gained mastery of the art of portraying characters and nuances of the English language.
Raja Rao’s (1908-2006) reputation as a novelist of metaphysics and philosophy is amply justified by his substantial contribution in upholding these themes in his novels. Women in Raja Rao’s novels suffer from domestic injustice and tyrannical tradition, but the writer suggests no way out of their dilemma. His women characters, who are a little ambitious, end up playing the devoted role of a wife like Savitri in The Serpent and the Rope(1960). Indian culture being rooted into his consciousness fails him to offer any concrete solution to the besetting women’s issue. He analysis modern India from a different perspective and elevates Hindu orthodoxy to a grand metaphysic. His work The Serpent and the Rope(1960) abounds with various themes. It is the story of an intellectual Rama who is in quest of personal enlightment and seeks inspiration and revelation from eastern and western metaphysics. He has a French wife and his association with Savithri brings to the forefront the contemplation of the Feminine Principle and endeavors to correlate the eastern and western views. The later works by Raja Rao includes The Cat and The Shakespeare (1956) and Comrade Kirillov (1976). Kanthapura (1938) by Raja Rao emphasizes the influence of the Gandhian movement by highlighting the 1920’s and the Gandhi – Irwin Pact of 1931. He focuses a small village through which he explores the impact of the freedom movement on the villagers and also captures their roles in the struggle for Independence. Rao uses his novels to spread the Gandhian message and as propaganda against social evils.
Mulk Raj Anand (1905-), R.K.Narayan (1906-2000) and Raja Rao (1909-) became the trinity of Indian writing in English. Speaking of The Big Three, Walsh said:
“It is these three writers who defined the area in which the Indian novel was to operate. They established its assumptions; they sketched its main themes, freed the first models of its characters and elaborated its particular logic. Each of them used an easy, natural idiom which was unaffected by the opacity of a British inheritance. Their language has been freed of the foggy taste of Britain and transferred to a wholly new setting of brutal heat and brilliant light.”
The sudden spirit of creative writing in the eighties reflects the sense of awareness of the plurality of the nation. It transcends the east – west conflict and portrays the new Post Colonial India with its evolving outlook, which is essentially a blend of tradition and modernism. It reveals the cosmopolitan outlook of the new generation who strives to strike a balance between the inherited traditional values and imbibed foreign culture. The treatment and technique of the novel is Trans-national and Trans – continental. Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Upamanya chatterjee are the writers who reigned supreme with their momentous work. Their works delve into the hurdles faced by newly independence nation, which at times a harsh depiction of reality. These writers have made bold attempts to recapture the altered perceptions of Post – colonial India and the use of revolutionary narrative technique has elevated their position among the writers of Indian Fiction in English.
Salman Rushdie (1947) was born and brought up in Bombay and later went to England for higher education. Thus, his roots and early education in India combined with the exposure to higher education in a foreign country, has played a stupendous role in shaping the mind of this writer. His novels abounds with myths, symbols and motifs. The arrival of his best novel Midnight Children(1981) shook the very foundation of the complacency of the Indian English Fiction. The language, style theme and narrative technique employed by Rushdie is entirely novel and highly innovative. He initiated a trend which cared very less about the continental method of writing novels. Incredible imagination, amazing comic sense and absolute word – play are the hallmarks of Rushdie’s works. Midnight’s Children(1981), the novel has three parts and based on the crucial role by history in the narrative, it can be categorized as the growth of the characters during pre – Independence, partition and post – Independence. His works abounds with the lavish use of symbols and fantasy. Rushdie will always be remembered for his dare devil techniques, narrative spanning generations, depiction of characters with eccentricities, experimentation with style, abundant usage of allegory, symbols and thinly veiled disguise of real life people and political overtones.
A Suitable Boy(1993), by Vikram seth was the cynosure of all eyes on its publication. Seth delves in detail on the social milieu of post – Independent India. The novel portrays the concerns of the middle aged lady, Mrs.Rupa Mehra, who embarks on a mission suitable groom for her daughter Lata and succeeds when she meets the young Haresh Kanna. Though match making is the novel’s theme, the major attraction of the novel is the depiction of social panorama of India which encompasses cultural arena, politics in academics circles and the like also form an integral part of the novel. Inexhaustible. It is also remarkable that the theme and technique of novels in Indian literature during this period found based on social upset, poverty, untouchability, exploitation, social movement, political movement etc. Iyengar observes,
Some of the best studies of social life are, naturally enough, in the regional languages; and it is not easy to translate the racy idioms of every day speech into English. This is particularly true of life in the country side, the seaside, the hillside where life has, perhaps, changed very little indeed during the last two thousand years. Urban life in India attracts the novelists by its excitement, perversions, sophistications and violent alternations between affluence and poverty, splendor and squalor; but the interior, the areas of obscurity and inaccessibility have their attractions too, and sometimes bring out the best in the creative novelist.(165)
Women novelists have played a crucial and momentous role in enhancing the quality and quantity of the Indian English Fiction. They have further added the woman’s perspective and feministic dimensions to the novels. These rich contributions have widened the spectrum of issues deliberated in the novel. In the past, the work by the Indian women authors has always been undervalued because of some patriarchal assumptions. Indian societies gave priorities to the work of male experiences. In those days, women used to write about a women’s perception and experiences within the enclosed domestic arena. On the other hand, male authors used to deal with heavy themes. Thus, it was assumed that their work would get more priority and acceptance in the society. During the eighteenth century, these factors led towards the decline of Indian women writing. And with all these factors, production of women’s literature declined further. In the nineteenth century, more and more women actively participated in India’s reformist movement against the British rule. It again led to the women’s literature. At that time, their write – ups mainly concentrated on the country’s freedom struggle. Over the years, the world of feminist ideologies began to influence the English literature of India.
The contributions by women writers cannot go unnoticed. In fact the works by women writers constitute a major segment of the contemporary Indian writing in English. Today women are seen establishing their identity in almost all walks of life and they have heralded a new consciousness in the realm of literature too. Anees Jung in her book Unveiling India states her ideology in the following words:
In the complex pantheon of diversities, the Indian woman remains the point of unity unveiling through each single experience a collective unconscious prized by a society that is looked in mortal combat with the power and weakness of age and time. She remains the still centre, like the centre the potter’s wheel, circling to create new forms, unfolding the continuity of a racial life, which in turn has encircled and helped her acquire a quality of concentration. (48)
Among the women writers Sarojini Naidu, the great poetess charmed the readers with her writings. Feminism themes have also been used by authors like Nayantara Sahgal and Rama Mehta. Regional fiction theme has been aptly used by Kamala Das, Anita Nair and Susan Viswanathan. Novelists like Kamala Markandaya and Anita Desai captured the spirit of Indian cultures and its traditional values. During 1990’s India became a popular literary nation as a number of women authors made their debut in this era. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Suniti Namjoshi and Anuradha Marwah Roy used realism as main theme of their novels. The novels of authors like Namita Gokhale or Shobha De are really out – spoken. Most of these female novelists are known for their bold views that are reflected in their novels. Basically, these are the novels of protest and an outburst of reservations and contaminations. Unlike the past, where the works of women novelists were given less priority and were actually undervalued, classification of feministic or male writings hardly makes any sense today.
In the twentieth century, women’s writing was considered as a powerful medium of modernism and feminist statements. The last two decades have witnessed phenomenal success in feminist writings of Indian English literature. Today is the generation of those women writers who have money and are mostly western education. Their novels consist of the latest burning issues related with women as well as those issues that exist in the society since long. The publishers feel that the literature actually survives because of these types of bold topics and commercials used by the women novelists. They describe the whole world of women with simply stunning frankness. Their write – ups give a glimpse of the unexplored female psyche, which has no accessibility. The majority of these novels depict the psychological suffering of the frustrated housewife. At this pint of time, it is essential to quote Virginia Woolf,
It is probable, however, that both in life and in art, the values of women are not the values of man. Thus, when a woman comes to write a novel, she will find that she is perpetually wishing to alter the established values – to make serious what appears insignificant to a man, and trivial what is to him important. (75-81)
Since long, feminism has been used by the women novelists. Their novels reflect that the present age women have realized that she is not helpless and is not dependent. They feel that a woman is an equal competent just like a man. Today a woman has also become a direct money earner and she is not only confined to household works. The women of modern era think on different lines and that is what is depicted in the novels of the Indian women authors. These facts are incorporated by the women writers. Indian women writers explore the feminine subjectivity and apply the theme that ranges from childhood to complete womanhood. These women writers say that feminism means putting an end to the silent sufferings of women.
Women writers in India are moving forward with their strong and sure strides, matching the pace of the world. We see them bursting out in full bloom spreading their own individual fragrances. They are recognized for their originality, versatility and the indigenous flavor of the soil that they bring to their work. Indian women writers like Kamala Markandaya, Bharathi Mukherjee ,Anita Desai, Nayantara saghal and many more have played a pioneering role in conveying the readers a wild range of indigenous Indian issues, punctuated by a strong feministic outlook. It is amazing to note that these writers have climbed the ladder of success in a slow and painful way. Thus, this new voice of emerging modern India succeeded in drawing the attention of the public towards the pressing problems of gender inequality, social evils, and encroachment of land by foreign nationals and exploitation of women in a patriarchal society.
Kamala Markandaya (1924-2004) was brought up in South India, but her works do not confine to provincial characters and themes. Kamala’s oeuvre explores a multitude of issues and the choices of themes exhibit her potential to approach the subject with appreciable maturity and good organisation. Her works are a realistic delineation of the double pulls that the Indian women is subjected to, between her desire to assert herself as an individual and her duty in the capacity of a daughter, wife and mother. She also points out how the socio-economic conditions affect the women most. Nectar in the Sieve (1954) is her first novel, which delineates the tragic outcomes of penury, natural calamities and intruding modernization with its horrendous aftermaths. It is a well constructed novel on the classical mode on the theme of hunger and starvation. Some Inner Fury (1955) and Possession (1963) and The Golden Honey Comb (1977) are her popular novels, wherein she gives a clear and economical account of the life style of the peasants, the middle classes and the aristocracy and also focuses on the conflicting East – West relations. Kamala’s ability to depict her social observations comes to the force in A Handful of Rice (1966). In Pleasure City (1982), Kamala concentrates on the intrusion of modernity in a traditional world and its consequences. The routine life of the fisher folk with its simplicity and awareness of the complexity of unknown dangers in the sea and the like are portrayed vividly by Kamala. The characterization in the novel is a testimony to Kamala’s caliber to etch characters realistically and humorously.