December 2, 2023


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Bookmarked Musings: Indian Writing in English- An Affectation? by Ramlal Agarwal

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In this literary essay, Ramlal Agarwal traces the roots of Indian Writing in English and explores its journey till now.

During my undergraduate and postgraduate days in the early 60 s, Indian writing in English was not a subject of academic discussions and seminars as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Individual writers like R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, and Raja Rao were discussed but the eggheads in the department of English showed utter disregard and distrust towards them. In fact, Indian Writing in English has been plagued with disregard and distrust ever since it began to take root in this country. Indians started writing in English around 1857. This coincided with the setting up of three Indian Universities in the country. 1857 was also the year of Indian Mutiny and revival of interest in Indian languages. A minuscule section of Indian society was getting more and more Anglicized, whereas the overwhelming majority was getting fired with patriotic feelings. Madhusudan Dutt, Rameshchandra Dutt, and his poet cousins Tom and Bankimchandra were among the first Indians to start using English for creative purposes.

Madhusudan Dutt dreamt of being an English poet and came out with The Captive Laclie in 1849 and Visions of the Past in 1848, Bankimchandra also wrote poems but eventually came out with Rajmohan’s Wife, the first Indian novel in English in 1864. The British response to the first endeavour of an Indian to write a novel in English is not known. But the Indian response to the poems and the novel was far from being favourable. On the contrary, the attempts were construed as ‘false start’. Later on, Bankim Chandra turned against using English for creative expression and advised his contemporaries to do so. A general opinion in favour of using the mother tongue for creative expression began to settle. Aurobindo Ghosh held that ‘to be original in an acquired language is hardly feasible. An Indian enterprise of writing in English had something unnatural and spurious about it-like speaking with a stone in the mouth or walking with stilts, Yet English continued to fascinate creative talents and a few creative talents persisted in their endeavours to write in English. 

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