In Our Own Words: Indian Writing in English: Milestones of ‘Homegrown’ Writing
Unlike the local literature of the English-speaking countries other than Great Britain, the original writing in English produced in India, though has a long and gloried history, has failed to present itself as a cohesive field of studies in the context of the ‘English Literature’ being discussed in Indian Academia. Till a few years ago, there were even confusions about naming these vast and varied writings. There were various names – Anglophile Literature, Anglo-Indian Literature, Indian English Literature, and so on. However, following the publication of S K Shrinivas Iyengar’s seminal history on the subject, the term Indian Writing in English (IWE) has more or less been accepted as the defining nomenclature. There are, however, confusions about what and who forms the part of the IWE.
In the recent years, literature produced by Indian authors in English, fundamentally about Indian characters and Indian setting, has divided itself into two distinct branches, not only in terms of themes but also how and where the works are published and marketed. The first privileged group comprises of expatriate writers whose target audience is mostly western and who are published by prestigious foreign presses.
The second less-privileged group comprises of writers who are based in India and who are published by Indian publications, and whose target audience is primarily upper and upper middle class Indian readers. Even these writers can again be divided into two distinct groups: Writers who are settled in the four metros, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, and others who reside in smaller cities. Again, there’s another distinction – between those who are in academia and those who are not.
Though they form part of the so-called IWE (or at times refuse to label themselves such), the expatriate writers follow an aesthetics which is unique and alien to the so-called Indian experience. These expatriate writers, who may be a second generation Indian, or a student or a professional who has settled there, mostly in Great Britain and America, acquire a taste and vision which is essentially Western. Therefore, when they look at India, it’s always from the outside and always tinged with exotica. Their India is not what the country is but what their Western audience want the country to be, still a mythical land, where everything is possible. In the bargain, these writers, despite their talent and skills, fail to address the ‘real’ issues concerning the ‘real’ India.
Ironically, however, these expatriate writers, who may or may not be part of the Indian Diaspora, remain to be the stalwarts of IWE. Since they are embraced by the west, they are aggressively marketed in India and following the west, we too read them extensively. In the bargain, we ignore the local writers who write and publish in India.
The main objective of this course is to find these homegrown writers and argue for them in the context that they too represent the IWE and play an important role in shaping the literature of the country.
The course intends to focus exclusively on the writings from India as a geographical entity. The writers we intend to study are/were based in the country and the texts published in India. Therefore, the course wouldn’t include such big names as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh or Jhumpa Lahiri. Through IWE has a tendency to including writings from the neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, we are going to avoid it.
Instead, we intend to chart a road map of the evolution of the Indian Writing in English from the fabled minutes on education by infamous Mr Thomas Babington Macaulay to Mr Chetan Bhagat’s publishing sensation Five Point Someone.
The course will have two distinct halves – selected texts and the historic and social significance of the time when the text/s was produced, and its relevance today. The students would be required to study a selection of the following texts, which would be followed by classroom seminars, discussions and debate.
Rabindranath Tagore: Gitanjali
R K Narayan: The Guide
Mulk Raj Anand: Untouchable
Raja Rao: The Serpent and the Rope
Kamala Markandaya: Nectar in a Sieve
Sashi Deshpande: That Long Silence
Arun Joshi: The Foreigner
Anita Desai: Fire in the Mountain
G V Dasani: All About H Hatter
Sobha De: Socialite Evenings
I Ian Seally: Trotter-Nama
Ruskin Bond: Delhi Is Not Far
Raj Kama Jha: The Blue Bedspread
A K Ramanujan: Relations
Adil Jasawalla: Missing Person
Kamala Das: My Story
Arun Kolatkar: Jejuri
Suketu Mehta: Maximum City
Kiran Nagarkar: Cuckold
Chetan Bhagat: Five Point Someone
Dhruba Hazarika: Luck
Hoshang Merchant: From Fire to Flame
Kaveri Nambisan: The Story That Must Not Be Told
Bhabhani Bhattacharya: A Dream in Hawaii
Upamanyu Chatterjee: English, August
Rama Mehta: Inside the Haveli
Khushwant Singh: Train to Pakistan
Shashi Tharoor: The Great Indian Novel
Module One: The first module would include a history of the arrival of English in India, and how it spread, its influence and significance (“from Bible education to the making of Indian clerks to the post-colonialism to the empire writing back”)
Module Two: Study of selected texts and the historic time when they were produced.
Module Three: The milestones in Indian Writing in English; the writers, texts, ideas, theories, and where do we stand today (“celebrating diversity and trying to make sense of it”)
Tentatively, the course should be completed in not more than 32 teaching hours.
Apart from the classroom discussions, the students will be asked to prepare a presentation at the end of each module. They will also have to submit a paper at the end of the term, for which the students will choose their topics in consultation with the instructor.