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INDIAN LITERATURE

|| Prominent Indian writers in English||

 

Though foreign in its origin, English has been adopted in India as a language of education and literary expression besides being an important medium of communication amongst the people of various regions. The beginning of Indian literature in English is traced to the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, by which time English education was more or less firmly established in the three major centers of British power in India - Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833), a social reformist from Bengal who fought for widow remarriage and voting rights for women, was the pioneer of Indian writing in English.  Roy insisted that for India to be included among the world's nations, education in English was essential. He, therefore, campaigned for introduction of scientific education in India through the English medium.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was followed in the early 19th century in Bengal by the poets Henry Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Dutt started out writing epic verse in English, but returned to his native Bengali later in life. The poems of Toru Dutt (1855-1876), who died at a tender age of 21, and the novel Rajmohan's Wife by Bankimchandra Chatterjee have received academic acceptance as the earliest examples of Indian literature written in English. Toru Dutt not composed poetry in English, but more interestingly, translated French poetry as well. Her best works include Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan. However, the most famous literary figure of this era was Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his book Gitanjali, which is a free rendering of his poems in Bengali.

Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was a great poetess whose romanticism charmed readers in India and Europe. Her Golden Threshold (1905) and The Broken Wing (1917) are works of great literary merit. Aurobindo Gosh (1872-1950) was a poet philosopher and sage, for whom poetry was akin to a form of mediation. His epic, Savitri and Life Divine (2 vols.) are outstanding works in English literature. It may be mentioned that most Indian writers in English from the early period hailed from Calcutta, the first stronghold of the British, than other places in the country.

The freedom struggle resulted in a revolutionary brand of writing that voiced sentiments against the British Empire. Several political leaders from different parts of the country emerged as literary figures such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpath Rai, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar and T. Prakasham. The English language became a sharp and strong instrument in the hands of Gandhiji, who edited and wrote for papers like 'Young India' and 'Harijan'. He also wrote his autobiography, 'My Experiments With Truth', which is known for its literary flair. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) stands out as another prominent leader who excelled in writing prose. He is particularly remembered for his Glimpses of World History, Discovery of India and An Autobiography (1936).

Mulk Raj Anand, R K Narayan and Raja Rao were among the earliest Indian novelist writing in English, who began to write in the early thirties.  Mulk Raj Anand (b.1905), best known for his short story 'The Lost Child', has written numerous works of prose, poetry and drama. His novels Coolie (1933), Untouchable (1935) and The Woman and the Cow (1960) reveal his concern for the downtrodden and underprivileged in India. R.K. Narayan is another prolific figure in Indian English writing. Most of his work, starting from his first novel Swami and Friends (1935) is set in the fictional town of Malgudi, which captures the Indian ethos in its entirety while having a unique identity of its own. Malgudi is perhaps the single most endearing "character" R.K.Narayan has ever created. Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Financial Expert (1952) The Guide (1959) and Waiting for the Mahatma (1955) are his other popular novels. The last of the harbingers of Indian English literature is Raja Rao (b.1909), whose novel Kanthapura (1938), set in rural India, established him as a major figure on the Indian literary scene. Raja Rao's other three novels are The Serpent and the Rope (1960) and The Cat and Shakespeare (1965).  Nirad Choudhuri (1897-1999) was another internationally renowned Indian writer whose autobiography An Unknown Indian (1951) catapulted him into a celebrated international author. 

Later novelists like Kamala Markandaya (Nectar in a Sieve, Some Inner Fury, A Silence of Desire, Two Virgins), Manohar Malgaonkar (Distant Drum, Combat of Shadows, The Princes, A Bend in the Ganges and The Devil's Wind), Anita Desai (Clear Light of Day, The Accompanist, Fire on the Mountain, Games at Twilight), and Nayantara Sehgal captured the spirit of an independent India, struggling to break away from the British and traditional Indian cultures and establish a distinct identity.

In the 1980's and 90's, India emerged as a major literary nation. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children became a rage around the world, even winning the Booker Prize. The worldwide success of Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate made him the first writer of the Indian Diaspora to enter the sphere of international writers and leave an indelible mark on the global literary scene. Other novelists of repute of the contemporary times include Shobha De (Selective Memory), G.V. Desani, M Ananthanarayanan, Bhadani Bhattacharya, Arun Joshi, Khushwant Singh, O.V. Vijayan, Allan Sealy (The Trotternama), Sashi Tharoor (Show Business, The Great Indian Novel), Amitav Ghosh (Circle of Reason, Shadow Lines), Upamanyu Chatterjee (English August, The Mammaries of the Welfare State), Raj Kamal Jha (The Blue Bedspread), Amit Chaudhuri (A New World), Pankaj Mishra (Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, The Romantics) and Vikram Chandra (Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Love and Longing in Bombay). The latest Indian writer who took the world with a storm was Arundhati Roy, whose The God of Small Things won the 1997 Booker Prize and became an international best-seller. Rohinton Mistry, Firdaus Kanga, Kiran Desai (Strange Happenings in the Guava Orchard), Sudhir Kakar (The Ascetic of Desire), Ardeshir Vakil (Beach Boy) and Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies) are some other renowned writers of Indian origin. 

Former Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao's The Insider; Satish Gujral's A Brush with Life; R.K.Laxman's The Tunnel of Time, Prof. Bipin Chandra's India After Independence, Sunil Khilnani's The Idea of India, J.N.Dixit's Fifty Years of India's Foreign Policy, Yogesh Chadha's Rediscovering Gandhi and Pavan K.Varma's The Great Indian Middle Class are notable works of the recent times.

The mid-20th century saw the emergence of poets such as Nissim Ezekiel (The Unfurnished Man), P Lal, A K Ramanujan (The Striders, Relations, Second Sight, Selected Poems), Dom Moraes (A Beginning), Keki Daruwalla, Geive Patel, Eunice de Souza, Adil Jussawala, Kamala Das, Arun Kolatkar and R. Parthasarathy, who were heavily influenced by literary movements taking place in the West such as Symbolism, Surrealism, Existentialism, Absurdism and Confessional Poetry. These authors used Indian phrases alongside English words and tried to reflect a blend of the Indian and the Western cultures.

 

 

 


 

 

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