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

tagoreWhat is Indian English Literature?

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.

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A community of 5,000 Afghans has found a home in the city for over a century: Scroll.in

One of the lasting images of Afghans in India comes from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous bittersweet story of a Kabuliwala, a dried fruit seller from Kabul, who strikes up a touching friendship with a  little girl in Calcutta.

But the story of real Kabuliwalas does not begin(or end) with Tagore. Afghans had been coming as salesmen to India for decades before and after the 1892 story. A closely knit community of around 5,000 Afghans lives in Kolkata even today, though they might no longer be vendors of odds and ends.

Stolen by Amrita Narayanan

ClutchParvathi, squat, generous-hipped, sweaty, is scraping seeds from the flesh of a papaya. She is working slowly, attentively, her brow furrowed in concentration, as she strokes and probes with her curled brown fingers, her hands tracing slow ellipses to pull the glittering seeds from their sticky embrace with the sometimes red, sometimes orange flesh. At its wet centre, the fruit is exactly the colour of her santra-red sari and blouse.

Sitting across from her, Meenakshi, equally full of figure, still dusted with talcum powder and carrying the Mysore-sandal scent of her morning bath, is speaking. She is talking about papayas: how this year’s bumper crop has dropped the prices and rendered accessible to everyone the exotic fruit that is usually the preserve of the wealthy; how, if plucked early, the hard, sour fruit makes for good pickling. It is mostly a monologue.

Parvathi keeps working as she listens, but doesn’t say much; all through her chatter Meenakshi’s eyes are riveted on her companion. Though she is silent, Parvathi speaks with her body. Her thighs flex and twitch under the tightly wound cotton sari; a roll of flesh slick with sweat trembles just below the edge of her blouse. And now her feet flatten and dig into the tiled kitchen floor as she begins to juice the pile of lemon-halves she has sliced earlier. She twists and grinds the hard yellow rinds on the mound of the ancient glass juicer, until the pulp yields its tart juice into the waiting saucer. As she works, her breasts move within the enclave of her blouse, the cotton alternately caressing and chafing her nipples.

From an an interview with Amit Chaudhuri on Rabindranath Tagore by Prithvi Varatharajan in Asymptote

  1. Rabindranath Tagore was India’s most famous modern poet and is one of its greatest cultural icons. Born in 1861, Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, which brought him international fame. tagore
  2. Tagore was very precocious and began to write early on. He produced a very interesting work by the time he was fifteen, pretending to be a poet from medieval times. And by the time he was seventeen or eighteen he was quite acknowledged within Bengal as a poet to watch, and was in fact singled out for praise by the first great Indian novelist in Bengal, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
  3. The painter William Rothenstein was actually a friend of the Tagore family and ran into Rabindranath in 1910. He was speaking to Abanindranath Tagore [Rabindranath’s nephew] when he noticed this person in the room who wasn’t saying very much, and he asked Abanindranath who this very quiet man was and found out it was Rabindranath, who had this high reputation as a poet. Tagore gave Rothenstein his translations of his own songs—translations that would comprise the Gitanjali—when he travelled to London in 1912.For whatever reason, Rothenstein was completely won over by Tagore’s poems, and introduced Tagore to people like Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats.
  4. At Pound’s insistence Harriet Monroe published some of the poems in Poetry (Chicago). And there we see Tagore’s transition to international fame and celebrity.
  5. Tagore then received the Nobel Prize in 1913 and soon after that Pound and Yeats began to look at the poems and Tagore in a different way.

GitanjaliBeing one of Singapore’s most prominent authors, The Necessary Stage’s (TNS) resident playwright Haresh Sharma is no stranger to breaking new ground and creating works which question the notion of an ideal Singaporean. In plays such as Off Centre and Good People, his protagonists were mental patients and drug addicts. In the recently staged Poor Thing, he featured the immensely ugly side of Singaporeans.

Although Sharma’s latest work-Gitanjali [I feel the earth move]-deviates in that the focal point shifts from Singaporean to more universal themes, the play still represents a pushing of boundaries. As an interdisplinary and intercultural production, the challenge is to merge different artistic forms such as classical Indian dance, drama and music.

tagoreThe Iranian Artists Forum hosted the meeting “Indian Contemporary Literature” attended by the scholar Safdar Taqizadeh, as well as Ehsan Abbaslou, Behnaz Ali-Pour and Elham Baqeri on Thursday, June 26.

Speaking to IBNA correspondent, Elham Baqeri, research secretary of India’s Cultural Centre in Iran described the event: “The subject of the lecture by master Taqizadeh, the Iranian writer, translator and critic was “Rabindranath Tagore from the View of William Butler Yeats, the Great Poet of the West.”

tagoreRabindranath Tagore’s creative output has left an ineffaceable impact on Urdu literature and his creativity still seems to be a perennial source of inspiration for writers, says a new book on Urdu literature and journalism. 

“Urdu Literature and Journalism: Critical Perspectives” by bilingual critic Shafey Kidwai comprises well-focused and cogently-argued essays and works out a new perspective on Urdu literature. Some of the essays in the collection have been previously published while some were delivered as lectures in seminars and conferences. 

Ahmed Rafiq is not only recognised for playing a central part in our language movement, he is also known as a distinguished writer and a prominent researcher on Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore and his literature. In 1995 he received the most prestigious award of our nation– the “Ekushe Podok”– for his outstanding contribution to Bengali literature, and the “Swadesh e Rabindra” from the Tagore research institute in Kolakata, in 2011. When it comes to dependable information on Tagore’s literature, he is one of the few people one can rely on.