Re-thinking Indian English Criticism by Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi SignUp
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Re-thinking Indian English Criticism
by Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi Bookmark and Share
 

Unless art (as literature) is grounded in the native soil and links, it is bound to be condemned to both superficiality and artificiality from various interpretative perspectives. Indian writers experience a double burden on the shoulders, the Alps and the Thames of the European tradition and the Himalaya and Ganges of the Indian heritage. James H. Cousins in 1918 says, “…in if they (Indians) are compelled to an alternative to waiting in their own mother tongue, let it be not Anglo-Indian, but Indo-Anglian, Indian in spirit, Indian in thought, Indian in emotion, Indian in imagery and English only in words ... let their ideals be the expression of themselves, but they must be quite sure that it is their self.” (Paul Verghese, Problems of the Indian Creative writer in English, Bombay, Somaiya Pab 1971, PP 178-179.)

David McCutchion subjects the concept of ‘Indianness’ to a dispassionate and in-depth analysis. He tries to work out the theory of lacuna and loop hope, if any. For him, it is the well-established tradition handed down from several generations:

“Now time have changed. The professor of English
Today receives British Council and USIS invitations
to lecture or research in British or American Universities.
But it is still inevitable that Indian poems writing
In English should be largely conditioned by English
Sensibility, to a tradition of daffodils rather than
…And in fact modern Bengali poetry has
Been strikingly influenced by such European
Poets as Bandelaire, Valery, Eliot, Rilke.”
(David McCutchion Indian Writing in English, Calcutta, writers workshop, 1969, PP 45-56)

According to McCutchion, unless Indian poetry in English tries, seriously to fill up the lacuna of a tradition and indeed creates its own tradition and ideas; it is band to be imitative and unimpressive. David McCutchion in The New Poetry (P 97, Ibid) criticizes modern Indian English Poetry as “Nothing very typically Indians.” In this review of modern Indo-Anglian Poetry McCutchion says -

“There is little that is specifically Indian in the background and imagery ; the rivers and mountains are all generalized, and the ‘internationalized flowers.” are preferred.

V.S. Naipaul in his An Area of Darkness declares that

“Shiva has created to dance.”

Whether we go with Naipant’s observation or not is a matter of belief and disbelief in the field of professionalism; professional criticism. In India, Indian English criticism has not been canonized even after sixty years of Indian Independence. It is not taught or learnt as prominent mode of genre that has a ‘corrective’ measure of literacy corpus; the method formation is still an enigma. The anxiety of criticism often becomes bias and falls as an imitative practice to please an author by investing adjectives by themselves. This is the genesis of the various relation of the symptoms and the cause of the psycho-literacy disease what professor Meenakshi Mukherjee calls “anxiety of Indianness”, a disease that endemically injects the Indian critics in English. It is, however, difficult to wholly subscribe to professor Mukherjee’s contention at the beginning of the section, “The Anxiety of Indianness”, The Perishable Empire (New Delhi, OUP, 2000 PP 166-86) that “the anxiety of indianness in Raja Rao, Anand and Narayan came out of their own desire to be rooted.” They certainly wanted to be and were, ‘rooted’ because they were committed to their demand of their textual milieu. This is clearly expressed by Raja Rao in his confessional declaration in the ‘Forward’ to his novel Kantapura. ‘The Anxiety of linguistic performance’ concerns the Indian English poets. Kamala Das in her poem, ‘An Introduction’ expresses her anxiety of linguistic selection. She asserts that whatever language she was; becomes her own – that the language of her real-self. Niranjan Mohanty in Prayers to Lord Jagannatha says,

“I know that my English is not English
The music I seek in the words
Or in their premeditated silence is not English.”
For him, it is ‘half-Orissan, half-Indian.’

If poetry makes people more conscious of the complexity and meaning of our experience, it may have an eventual effect upon all action. It appears true that when poetry speaks of the elementary and profound concern of man – and mystery and tragedy of this vital process, this act of living, loving, becoming and dying – it becomes like a pool that gives back our image on the threshold of an experience, like a bright shell in the sea resonant with the accumulated echoes of its past history, which troubling beauty after death. (Jayanta Mahapatra. Door of Papers : Essays and Memories, Delhi : Authorspress, 2007. p. 71.) Poetry moves hearts!

Modern Indian English poetry has set a significant tradition for new literature in postcolonial period. Poets skate over their experiences those are either socially rooted or floating. They perceive the incongruous situation of life and experience. Hence they ventilate a kind of ironical expression in their verbal expressions. Indian English Poetry after Independence has no relationship with poetry written earlier. He categorized the pre-Independence Indian English Poetry as “greasy, weak spinned and purple adjectived”. Saleem Peeradina, a Bombay-born Professor of English at Siena Heights University in Adrain (USA) in the “Introduction” to Contemporary Indian Poetry in English : An Assessment and Selection (1972 : ix) makes a blunt observation, “Nissim Ezekiel can be said to be the first important Indian poet.” What is the reality for Indian English Poets? They express themselves in an alien language (global code), which in spite of all sociolinguistic forces for broad-based Indianization fails to transmute or authenticate a local space as effectively as any Indian language. It creates room for a certain cultural, historical and linguistic distancing from the colonizer’s code. In the sociolinguistic domain, in the hands of Indian English poets, the Queen (the global code) is wearing a bindi. (local colour). Indian English poets are after all the members of the communities comprising the Indian population spread over a continuum. It’s a tough ask for the poets to restrict their individual regional impulses suffering to their own community to become intelligible by the other communities written the geo-national space of India.

Bibhu Padhi’s poetry is different from the mainstream of Indian English verse that contrast the existing canon of taste, mostly it sustains the personals tradition setting up of own flesh and home, a structure often contradictory unresolved but holds wide appreciation. The poems of this volume have a sublime inward impulse the outer sphere overlaps the outer on the speculative stand. The poet appears more simulating in the mental state than mere appreciating or refuting the physical world. All that poetic events happen in a limited geography. They are not only powerful in poetic description but also potential in a greater extent of psychic form. Padhi handles phantasmagoria with a deep vision of inner world where he really lives. His outer world is limited but initiates the charming thoughts in a recurrent simulation.

Critical response to Kamala Das’s poetry has been intimately connected to critical perception of her personality and her involvement in politics; her provocative lines of poetry has seldom produced lukewarm reactions. While reviewers of Das’s early poetry have praised its fierce originality, bold images, exploration of female sexuality, and intensely personal voice, they lamented that it lacked attention to structure and craftsmanship. Scholars such as Devindra Kohli, Eunice de Souza and Sunil Kumar have found powerful feminist images in Das’s poetry, focusing on critiques of marriage, motherhood, women’s relationships to their bodies and power over their sexuality, and the roles women are offered in traditional Indian society. Many critics have analyzed Das as a “confessional” poet, writing in the tradition of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Denise Levertov. Some scholars, such as Vimala Rao, Iqbar Kaur and Vrinda Naur, have deemed Das’s poetry, autobiography, and essays frustratingly inconsistent, self-indulgent, and equivocal, although they, too, have praised her compelling images and original voice. Such commentators have suggested that Das is both overexposed and overrated. Other scholars, such as P.P. Raveendran, have connected the emphasis on the self in Das’s work to larger historical and cultural contexts and complicated, shifting postcolonial identities. Indian critics have disagreed about the significance of Das’s choice to write of her experiences as an Indian woman in English ; some scholars suggest that, in her shunning of traditional aesthetic form, she has created a new language for the expression of colonial contradictions. Despite disagreement over the aesthetic qualities and consistency of Das’s body of poetry, scholars agree that Das is an iconoclastic figure whose blunt, bold and honest voice has reenergized Indian writing in English.

A master poet in Niranjan Mohanty who, though entered the poetical arena with Silencing the Words in 1977, has now become a poetic cultural ambassador by virtue of his Indian ethos that reflects its various facets which make him a postcolonial poet. In his poetic spacecraft well-equipped with the poetic telescopes namely: Silencing the Words (1977), Oh This Bloody Game! (1988), Prayer to Lord Jagannatha (1994), On Touching You and Others Poems (1999), Life Lines (1999), Krishna (2003), Tigers and Other Poems (2008) and A House of Rains (2008), the poet in Mohanty explores the postcolonial space, establishes his identity, articulates his silences, interrogates to eradicate his doubts, reveals his concerns for contemporariness, becomes angry with God on some certain issues and finally seeks solace in Indian spiritualism that opens the ways to ‘Love’ for him.

“Don’t take away my tongue
whenever I shall be born, I shall
taste the fruit and interrogate you, Oh Lord.” (Prayers : 53)

“I hunted words ; wounded them and tamed them
to my basic need of articulating my silences.” (Game : 63)

“Grant me an eye to see things
as they are.” (Prayers : 99)

“One has to agree with Sarangi’s agonizing observations on the “(Re)-Placing the canon in a Post-colonial Space.” It is a regrettable fact that some important writers of Indian Diaspora are neglected willfully in Indian writing in English by many universities in India. Delhi University’s current BA (Hons) English syllabus is the best example. I wonder if the designers of eh syllabus are aware of then or they don’t want to acknowledged the sterling efforts of the India Diaspora. It is a strange fact that some of our famous writers of Indian Diaspora are included for study in some of the South Asian universities.” (Review : Jaydeep Sarangi Explorations in Indian English Poetry, New Delhi : Authorspress,–P.J. Paul Dhanasekharan)

Asking about Indianness, Rizio Raj Yahanon, a bilingual signal poetess from Kerala replies:

“Jaydeep: Do you view writing in English as an obstacle to the expression of Indianness?

Rizio: As one’s writing is culturally conditioned, especially in a pluralistic space like India, there are certain things that one cannot quite express in a language that stays outside the cultural realm that you represent/reflect/belong to. For instance, my understanding of many of the Indian myths / beliefs are etched in Malayalam, because I heard them first in Malayalam. I now know that these terms that evoke for me an Indian experience are common to many other Indian languages, but are not present in a language like English. So, when I am writing about those in English, I condition the English language to accommodate my cultural needs, which may not be digestible to many a grammarian. But, my reader is no grammarian. Grammarians have to let go of their rigid structures before poetry speaks to them. I remember Eliot: “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender/which an age of prudence can never retract…” So, I change the English language when I interact with it, and it in turn offers me solutions to my problems of expression. I accept them, for, as long as I choose to write in this language, I refuse to think of English as a foreign language. It is mine. “

I asked Basavraj Naikar, the famous Indian English writer:

Sarangi – Who is your mentor?

Naikar – My mentors or models are Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and Chaman Nahal and Khushwant Singh.

Sarangi – Who are the Indian short story writers you rate high?

Naikar – Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, Bhabani Bhattacharya are important short story writers according to me. Among the younger writers, Rohinton Mistry is an important short story writer. I have great admiration for them.

Sarangi – Do you consider your bilingualism as a virtue?

Naikar – Definitely yes. All the Indian English writers should be bilingual so that they may give an authentic picture of Indian life and culture. The Anglicized writers of India cannot give an authentic picture of native Indian culture although they may write good English. A bilingual writer of India is able to absorb the essence of Indian culture available in Sanskrit or his regional language like Kannada and Marathi and so on and express it in his English writings. But an anglicized writer or a writer who has had his education in English medium from his childhood or the one, who is educated in foreign universities, cannot write authentically about India, although some of them may be lucky to enjoy the media-hype. Better to be grounded in our sour-sweet locale than to be odd man out in an Italian restaurant where menu are unfamiliar.

I believe that Indian English writers should write in their own brand of English, redolent of Indian culture i.e. mythological references, folklore, imagery, proverbs and idioms drawn from their local age-old ethnic culture. The commonwealth writers, especially the African writers are the right models for the Indian English writers at this juncture of time. Since Indians are said to be a rooted philosophical people they inculcate mysticism ingrained in their mental make-up. That is what Mulk Raj Anand has suggested long back. Nowadays there is a mushroom growth of Indian women writers. Most of their writing is focused on the family matters like finding a husband, elopement, divorce, abortion, remarriage and widowhood, but they never go beyond the borders of the family life. Their writings appear to be goody-goody and sleek; and fail to elevate our minds. They do not display the honestly of their experience, which is to be seen in the writers like Margaret Laurence and others. They try to highlight only the male exploitation of women but never their own cunning, hypocrisy, secrets, crimes and sins that subvert the patriarchal system of Indian society. No woman writer has produced any historical novel so far. I asked Sarojini Sahoo, a famous Indian writer “Why do you write?”

Sahoo replies, “To express myself. I am not a good speaker. I feel myself very introverted and uncomfortable when communicating in a verbal medium. I can write and I find fiction as the most suitable mode to express my feelings.”

I farther asked her: Did you read Taslima Nasrin and Kamala Das? How do you rate them?

She replies, “Taslima seems to be more of a conventional feminist to me and she has a similar mindset of the Western Second Wave feminists have. She is more anti-heterosexual in her beliefs.

But Kamala Das is unique with her feminine ideas. Actually, I feel Kamala Das did not belong to any school of feminists. What her soul needed was the love. Despite her lesbian experiences, she was for heterosexual love and I don’t find such hatred in her feelings for heterosexual relationships as Taslima has.

They write what they feel is right. If anyone has any differences with them, nobody bars him to write of his own. But to make it a point of controversy and I think, to make the administration to punish the writer, is a most wild and uncivilized democratization process. Who I am to rate them? Let the readers rate them.”

I think if Taslima were born in India, she would not have to face such controversies.
For me, I find Kamala’s feelings nearer than that of Taslima. But it is my very, very personal and individual opinion and you shouldn’t generalize it.

Even when Rama Mehta writes, she concentrates only on the family relationships, but not on wider socio-political issues. Hence many of these women writers are disappointing to the serious readers.

Compared to Indian English writers, the regional writers are better in that they give an authentic picture of Indian culture. I do not accept G.N. Devy’s description of regional literature as “bhasha” literature. The regional writers like Sivasankara Pillai, Mahasweata Devi, Gurjada Apparao, Mohan Rakesh, Vijaya Tendulkar, Badal Sircar, Kartar Singh Duggal, Jhaverchand Meghani, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Premchand are really very great writers of India. Indian English writers should try to come to their level in spite of their English medium of writing. This is possible only if the Indian English writers have a bilingual awareness and not if they are anglicized totally.

There is a paucity of drama in Indian writing in English. Compared to other literary genres its output is scanty. There are many reasons for this; but the most important that English is not the mother tongue in India. It is a ‘learnt language’. Natural conversation is the most important aspect of drama; conversation is an idiom that has all the vigor and vitality of a spoken language on the stage. If English is second language the conversation is bound to be artificial, and the impact on the stage is feeble, often comic. English in India is a microcosmic minority; plays in English, if they are written well, are meant to be read, and in this situation a writer fails to understand the demands of a living theatre. We cannot deny that the study of drama is half literary and half sociological, because drama comes in direct contact with the people, literate as well as illiterate, through stage production. The role of the audience is an important factor. Indian audience is a mixed set.

Drama in Indian languages has had a very rich past. . Indian English Drama, will all these limitations, emerges against the backdrop of a rich heritage of classical Sanskrit drama and about two centuries’ culture of Shakespeare for a people who have always been interested in the dramatics of a ‘Ramleela’ a ‘Nautanki’, ‘Yatra’, or a ‘Tamasa’ in remote corners, miles away from the center of amenity and modernity. It begins its journey with the Sanskrit plays during the Vedic period. The surviving Sanskrit dramas are numerous and varied, ranging from short one playlets to very long ten-act plays. The chief dramatists of the Sanskrit tradition were Asvaghosa, Bhasa, Kalidas, Sudrak and Bhavabhuti. Tragedies like Urubhanga, romances like Abhijnanas – Sakuntalam and historical plays like Mudrarakhs from an imperishable part of our literary legacy. Historically, Indian English drama came as a reality with Krishna Mohan Banerjee’s The Persecuted (1831). According to Prema Nandakumar (‘Bharati Sarabhai’s Exp. Plays’ pub in Critical Essays on India writing in Exp ed. M.K Naik et al MacMillan, Madras, 1977, pp 191) : “In the field of Indo-Anglian literature drama is but sparsely cultivated. We have had very few dramatists, and one can easily count the number of good dramas.” Pertinent to note that Indian English drama begins with Micheal Madhusudan Dutt’s Is this Called Civilization ? (1871)

Even in the Post-Independence period Indian English drama does not make a noteworthy presence like poetry and fiction. A great number of playwrights like Asif Currinbhoy, Gurucharan Das and Pratap Sharma staged in England and U.S.A.

Indian English drama has registered a remarkable growth and continuity through English translations of Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Kannada plays during 1980s and 1990s. A study of Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sircar and Girish Karnad reveals that they have added the substance significantly. The Yatrik Group in Delhi has been remarkable for service by staging plays in English.

Theatre is possibly one of the fields that nakedly makes the dichotomy between city and village life in India. The city theatre today is not a natural development of the traditional folk root. It is rather a new –look theatre with its base in western theatre. The treatment of themes, the characterization, the stage, lighting, the auditorium, the acting – almost every aspect of the Indian city theatre has its roots in the Western pretext. On the contrary, the traditional village theatre in India has retained most of its indigenous characteristics.


In contemporary India, both theatres of city and village exist. Badal Sircar, in order to resolve this dichotomy formed a theatre group called ‘Satabdi’ (1967) he wanted this group to be the nucleus of a workshop that would endeavor to develop the ‘Theatre of Synthesis’ – a ‘third theatre’ It was at this point he was awarded with the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fellowship for his project entitled, Workshop for a theatre of synthesis as a “Rural-Urban link”. It is still struggling for its pan-Indian authenticity and identity. Under all such diverse ideas, are we to think that the crucial corpus of Indian English Drama has made a compromise between rejection and acceptance which shows the failure of a genre towards international acclaim and profound recognition?

13-Nov-2012
More by :  Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi
 
Views: 2887
Article Comment Beautiful write up sir.wonderful job your are doing sir...really i liked the article
santanuhalder
02/25/2013
Article Comment
I will also comment that in your article you find a conflict between English and Indian English, which, as stated, depends on some pristine state of national English which Indian English has to break away from using Indian imagery and settings. This is to misunderstand the nature of modern day English which has little to do with national character - the old colonial language - but has become identified as a universal lingua franca, spoken as the main language in America, Australia, and more countries, and as the language of universal communication, utilised in television broadcasting in Russia (RT), Qatar (Al Jazeera English), but in any case the language of communication in the population of the world.

English has a character that is related to analytic capability and precision of statement, in which its command is achieved; it is the language of science as well as poetry, and is endowed with the character of style and trendiness: it is the universal language of modernity, an aesthetic consideration you omit. A good speaker and writer of English doesn't fall into some trap of colonial splendour, and sound elitist, because the days of its association with class and racial snobbery are long past. English today is within everyone's capacity, whatever nationality, to express his ideas with. Indian English is a myth, which is justified in using an Indian setting: Indian English is just English. In fact, the case for Indian English is only in extenuation of an inability to properly use what is a universal language - the English of today. In your article, Rizio expresses this equal possession of English: 'I refuse to think of English as a foreign language. It is mine.' Well said, and well distinguished.
rdashby
11/16/2012
Article Comment Your comprehensive (in aim) article yet omits mention of hybridisation of the Hindi language, especially noticeable in Indian films, where the Hindi dialogue is generously interspersed with English words. Hybridisation, the adoption of foreign words, is what English is characterised by, explaining its accretion of a vast vocabulary of words over the years. Hindi too appears to be expanding by hybridisation absorbing English words and phrases. For example, I am often taken aback - incidentally, I am able to read and write Hindi - to find English words and titles spelt out in Hindi. One noticeable example is 'the Bank of India' sign in London which is spelt out in Hindi exactly as it sounds in English. An Indian reading it will thenceforward use 'bank of India' as a hybrid phrase in normal Hindi exchange. It is clear that hybridisation of the Hindi language is a powerful means for its expansion and modernisation, as the use of English words and phrases renders the language distinctly more trendy.
rdashby
11/16/2012
 
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