Trace the various phases of the development of the Indian English Novel The story of the Indian English novel is really the story of a changing India. There was a time when education was a rare opportunity and speaking English was unnecessary. The stories were already there- in the myths, in the folklore and the umpteen languages and cultures that gossiped, conversed, laughed and cried all over the subcontinent. India has always been a land of stories, the demarcation between ritual and reality being very narrow.
The Indian English novel erupted in the fiery talks of Henry Derozio, the spiritual prose of Tagore and the pacifist dictums preached by Gandhi. With the coming of Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R. K. Narayan, the Indian English novel had begun its journey. In “Coolie” by Mulk Raj Anand, the social disparity in India is laid bare. In R. K. Narayan’s imaginary village Malgudi, the invisible men and women of our teeming population come to life and act out life with all its perversities and whimsicalities. In ‘Kanthapura’ by Raja Rao, Gandhism awakes in a sleepy village down south.
India no longer needed to be depicted by outsiders. The perspectives from within ensured more clarity and served a social documentative purpose as well. The early novels in India were not just patriotic depictions of Indianness. There were the cynics. Niradh C Chaudhuri viewed India without the crown skeptically. He discarded the fiery patriotism and spiritualism that were ‘Brand India’ and mourned the absence of colonial rule. As India grew out of her obsession with freedom and viewed her own streak of imperialism during the Emergency, the Indian idiom began to change.
Now with the Indian Diaspora being a reckoning force in the publishing world, Indian English speaks a global tongue, unconfined to any particular culture or heritage- the language of the displaced intellectual. The Indian Diaspora raised the curtain on the fantastic mythical realities that were part of domestic conversations in the villages. Salman Rushdie fascinates critics with his ‘chutnification’ of history and language as well. He opened the doors to a plethora of writers. Amitav Ghosh dabbles in postcolonial realities and Vikram Seth fuses poetry and prose with an air of Victorian grandeur.
While Rohinton Mistry tries to decipher the Parsi world, Pico Iyer effortlessly walks the map in his writings. Women writers explored old wives’ tales, condemn exploitation and tried to make sense of the fast changing pace of the new world. Kamala Das explored women’s plight in India and the world and others like Shashi Deshpande painted characters who blame their own complacence for their sorry condition. Arundhathi Roy began her story without a beginning and does not really end it while Jhumpa Lahiri’s well-crafted tales moved at a perfect pace.
Very few Indian English writers in India have made it with their English writing and this bought in problem with contemporary Indian English writing. They inevitably had the odd degree from Oxford and Cambridge and their foundations were laid abroad. It seemed to be a prerequisite to have a global perspective if one is to be successful in writing in English. The real need in India was more publishing houses that were willing to give aspiring writers in India a chance. Writers in India needed more avenues to make them heard and as readers the Indian audience should not get too mesmerized by foreign publications.
Indian English began with a bang when Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and by the time V. S. Naipal bagged the same, the Indian English novel had a far flung reach. Now Indian English novels are sparking off debates about huge advances, plagiarism and film rights. Hinglish masala and a dose of spiritual realism are only the tip of the iceberg. The Indian audience and the rest of the world have a lot to look forward to when they get an Indian English novel in their hands.