Although it is mainly diasporic writers who have made Indian English writing global, and have translated works into many other languages, there are many others ignored by the media, the government and other establishments.
by Aju Mukhopadhyay
Indian English Literature is the work of Indian-origin poets and writers writing in English, and living anywhere around the globe. They usually have similar mindsets, especially when writing about, or referring to India. Meenakshi Mukherjee has said that it is born out of Indian and English parentage–thus twice- born1. Another writer, Maria Tymoczko, thinks that it is born out of one culture and expressed in another2. Their opinions carry the idea of translation, but it may be said that there is exactly no question of translation as such, because when the creation is one’s own and not an independent version or expression of another’s creative production, albeit in a language not one’s own, the creative product is a trans-lingual/cultural endeavor. When an Indian writes his Indian experience in a foreign language it can be said to be a trans-cultural creative process. The history of this expanding literature has covered more than 200 years.
The Birth and Growth of Indian English Literature
Cavelly Venkata Boriah’s Accounts of the Jains (1809) was the first Indian book written in English. Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) was the first bilingual Indian writer to use English in translating Katha, Kena and other Upanishads. Some of his works date to 1816. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), a Eurasian of the Hindu College, Calcutta, first published his poetry book titled Poems in 1827. Michael Madhusudan Dutt first published two books of poems in English in 1849. Taru Dutt (1856-77), a young female genius, living only till the age of 21, wrote poems and prose. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) wrote volumes of poetry and prose including the epic Savitri, the largest in the English language. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949), the freedom fighter was a fine poet in English.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s (1838-94) Rajmohan’s Wife was the first Indian novel in English (1864). Indian English novels began to be regularly published from the 1930s, beginning with the trio; Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan and Raja Rao. Manjeri Isvaran (1910-66) published the first collection of short stories in 1944.
Famous books were written in English to reach larger audiences that included the English rulers, by freedom fighters like Sri Aurobindo, Dadabhai Naoroji, Mohan or Mahadev Govind Ranade, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, C.S.Ranga Iyer, Surendranath Banerjee, Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawaharlal Nehru, M. N. Roy, Subhas Chandra Bose, M.K.Gandhi and B.R.Ambedkar. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, settled in England, became a great English writer. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore profusely translated his own works and wrote directly in English too.
Status of English in India
In spite of the development of regional literature, Indians have adopted English as a needed lingua franca and acquired a love for its literature. It is not mother tongue to any, but it integrates Indians through regional literature translated and written in English. In competitive examinations it is the only common language. Number of people speaking English in India outnumber those in the whole of Western Europe except U.K. In 2006, English as a medium of education ranked fourth but by 2007 it went to second place and is rising further. In three states and four union territories of India, English is the official language.
Indians write for a number of international journals. Large numbers of such journals are being published in India. There are groups of Indian origin writers who thrive in foreign lands. Some Indian magazines, e-zines and publications shine abroad.
Although it is mainly diasporic writers who have made Indian English writing global, and have translated works into many other languages, there are many others ignored by the media, the government and other establishments. Diasporic writers have mostly been awarded internationally as they are “The mirror images that make the liberal West feel comfortable with itself, because it feels that in gazing on them . . . is reading and championing the Other”, as Tabish Khaire3 has opined. Politics of the publishing world have perhaps influenced many writers to write on select topics and develop certain perspectives.
Indian Regional Literature
The age-old cultural language of India was Sanskrit and Persian during the Mughal rule. Though Sanskrit is present in most Indian languages, the regional languages have spread far in 29 states and seven union territories. Regional languages are rich in producing great literature, beginning with creators like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Munshi Premchand, Subramanian Bharati, Saadat Hasan Manto, and others. Indian literature in Indian regional languages like Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and others have ever been progressing. Translations between languages continue to be carried in magazines and books, in Indian literature published by Sahitya Akademi, Pratibha India and other periodicals, and in books published by National Book Trust. Regional writers’ conferences and meetings help development of such literature. The government and other bodies regularly encourage such works through awards.
Everyone has opined that the mother tongue is the best medium of expression in literature. In that sense, and out of love and patriotism, the survival and growth of Indian regional literature seems sure. The prosperity of Indian English literature too seems assured by choice and adaptation, surviving in the international field with many of its practitioners living scattered in the globe.
- Mukherjee Meenakshi. The Twice Born Fiction: Themes and Techniques of the Indian Novel in English. New Delhi: Heinemann Educational. 1971. Print. Preface.
- “Post-Colonial Writing and Literary Translation” in PostColonial Translation: Theory and Practice. Ed. Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi. London: Routledge. 1999. Print. 24
- The Hindu dated 6.9.09