Indian Writing in English and Neocolonial Viagra

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Indian Writing in English began taking ascendant steps after the British departed from
India. This is an opinion that is very often expressed and I have come across at least three people who say this: Vilas Sarang in his anthology published in 1989; Jayant Mahapatra in an article in WLT in 1994; and Sumanyu Satpathy in an article in Many
Indias, Many Literatures
(1999). I am sure it is noted by many more readers of IWE. This view receives support by the thinness of the literature produced prior to independence both in quantity and as some say, quality. But historians of fiction may object to this view being generalized to all genres as mid 1930s saw the first offerings of three novelists who have dominated the field of Indian English fiction until the flush post-Midnightera. Apart from these three it is perhaps true that there wasn’t much happening in the IWE scene as compared to the 70s or 90s.

But the question to ask is: why is it so? Commentators are content to note the irony in this situation. More than the irony, one may notice solid sociological and political reasons for this which are many surely and I wish to mention a few. One is that with independence we moved with life and the burden of English as the oppressor’s language began to wan. The nationalist force that saw English as the weapon of the colonizer was becoming relaxed as the post-independent
India’s dependence on English continued. Add to this the Nehruvian bureaucratic system that was in the mold of its master, Nehru, which was truly a band of ‘gentlemen’. But more importantly the spread of education created local readership tiny though it may have been and a larger number of potential writers. Universities grew and that gave further impetus.

But, there is another important reason. This becomes noteworthy if we keep in mind the poetics that began to be developed by the 70s and after by writers like Kolhatkar, Mahapatra, Ramanujan, Mehrotra etc. This has to do with the influence of
America. In other words, with America as the new power, with Russia on the other end, English in
India began to get greater acceptability than rejection. It has a lot to do with the development model, which despite socialist pretensions, was basically in the capitalist mold.
Americasignaled the goal ahead for Indians. Thus neocolonialism has its share in making Indian Writings in English acquire a new vitality in the post-independence period. The greater the American prominence in the neocolonial world order, the more vigorous IWE became. Good that IWE started to produce some notable works though we would regret neocolonialism’s role in engendering it. With the American academy’s search for specializations and its interest in ‘the other’ in the 80s and 90s making ‘postcolonialism’ a darling of cultural studies programs, IWE received another boost and increased visibility and a vast market. Such is the success story of IWE. These reasons are nothing to thank for; the number of books published and the number of truly good works have increased a lot and that is good news. But the wagon is driven by devil, as it is the case with most other phenomena. So as my friend Anand Thakur says, should we simply say, ‘god is in hell, all is well’?        

3 responses »

  1. IWE stands for indian writers in english? took a while to figure that out. you must give a lot of latitude for people like me whose head is filled with the stuff that pots are made of🙂

    what is this fellow traveller jargon about neo-colonialism, post colonialism and anti colonialism and what not? simply use the year number of the common era .. would that be 60s, 70s & 80s. the u.s. is an easy target to bash. it would be more of a challenge to put a positive spin to this post, re the widespread benevolence of the u.s. publishing houses and the instant millionaire authors it has made of arundhathi or amitav🙂 cheers🙂

  2. phantom363, thanx for the comments. Re IWE, my first sentence should have given the cue. It usually stands for Indian Writing in English, not I writers in E. My apologies for jargon. Do note that I am happy about the visibility that IWE has got. I am only trying to understand the factors contributing to it. That in itself doesnot discount the validity, authenticity (a dirty word), significance of the field, is true. But losing sight of the factors leads us to illusions such as the one Rushdie indulges in, in his essay in that book he edited in 1997.

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