C.D. Narasimhaiah's Contribution
to Post-Colonial Literary Criticsm
Ananda coomaraswamy asks, “What has India contributed to human welfare?” He himself answers “Indianness.”
C.D.Narasimhaiah sucessfully blends the best of East-West poetics. Born to a semi-literate shopkeeper, he grew up listening to the folk tales and songs from his mother and folk version of Ramayana sung sonorously by his father. W.G.Eagleton, his teacher at Maharaja’s college, Mysore arranged scholarship for his study at Cambridge University and young Narasimhaiah was assigned to F.R. Leavis as supervisor of his studies. He visited America on Rockefeller scholarship. At Princeton he used to meet Einstein, the scientist who inspired him to recover wisdom of ancients. He also perceived the spiritual streak in American Literature, though the nation is known to be interested in materialistic pursuits.
C.D.Narasimhaiah’s visits to Australia were illuminating, kindling interest in commonwealth literature. He was able to comprehend the common features of aborigine philosophical ponderings and Indian perspective. As he himself states in his address on being conferred D.Litt by Bangalore University in 2005, “Aurobindo in my own country taught me to reject Aristotle’s kindergarden theory of Catharsis and look for the rasa, dhvani, auchitya vichara to realize through them the purusharthas of dharma, artha, kama, moksha…”
Global exposure, keenness to focus on the best in east and west theories enabled C.D. Narasimhaiah carve a niche for himself and emerge as a pioneer holding the torch of literary appreciation aloft, shaping a new class of literary critics. While K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar wrote to justify the existing order to substantiate his own stand, Narasimhaiah dismantled that order to offer strength to his way of criticism. The former was sincere and transparent, while the latter was a passionate critic, maintaining remarkable consistency.
Narasimhaiah had functioned with a purpose, of acquiring respectability and reputation due to Indian writing in English. He understood the significance of humanism and adopts scientific humanism of Nehru in his works. “The function of criticism for Narasimhaiah is elucidation and evolution” [Narasimhaiah, The Function, p-87]. His humanism turns him anti-colonial. His opposition to imperialists is on account of his being a humanist and a great patriot. His passionate plea for according due regard to Indian aesthetics is purely due to a conviction that culture and criticism go together. Culture for him incorporates one’s spiritual experience. “It is almost axiomatic that literature is primarily a cultural pursuit…Literature and cultures have been interchangeable terms…” [Narasimhaiah, Indian Critical Scene, p-201].
Hence, his regard for Shakespeare, T.S.Eliot and Raja Rao. His approach encourages comparative study of writers, texts and literatures. He details the manner in which a British writer’s text may be viewed and appreciated in the light of rasa and purusharthas. He goes on to elaborate how rasa, dhvani theory can be extended to include salient features of western aesthetic theories.
He analyses Blake’s famous poem The Tiger. It is of interest to note that Blake was an engraver, like our own goldsmiths who give a shape and life to ornaments. The Tiger has been created in the foundry where the anvil and the hammer have been effectively employed to give it a shape infusing life. C.D.Narasimhaiah convincingly asserts that ‘The Tiger’ is an udbhavamurthi and not a mere artifact utsavamurthi .
The chinmaya ananda of the creator of such a wonder is presented in the line: “Did He smile his work to see?” The critic declares that wonder vismaya deepens fusion of emotions rasaikya, culminating in adbhuta (explicit wonder) intensifying the insightful mystery: “Did He who made the lamb make thee?” Narasimhaiah delineates how Wordsworth fails to create ahlaaada [pleasantness] in Daffodils. Unlike Blake who is totally involved in depiction of the process and impact of creation of Tiger, Wordsworth drifts away in gay abandon like the dancing daffodils and pretends to present a pleasant poem.
T.S. Eliot and Coleridge were justified in their criticism of the poem. Karunarasa marks Lucy poems and the lines haunt a reader endlessly. “The song in my heart I bore Until it was heard no more.”
Narasimhaiah’s emphasis on native critic is not based on narrow parochial view or misplaced regard for the nation. For him culture is a source of identity, personal and natural, which are inalienable. He rightly observes, “What one has in mind is a shared tradition, a community of interest, a set of values people live by , all of which gives a sense of identity to individuals and nations.”
Narasimhaiah’s love for Indian philosophy stems from his idea of a literature that would be purely Indian in sensibility. “A zest that springs from a sense of purpose and strength of conviction , vibrates through Narasimhaiah’s criticism.One may disagree with him, but his ideas are infectious because they are sincere.” [Bandana Sharma & L.R.Sharma, 1998, p-86].
A discerning reader will find that C.D.Narasimhaiah is at his best as a critic of Indian English fiction. His autobiography ‘N’ for Nobody’ reflects his abiding love for English studies in this country. It is not a book of confessions. He pulls a joke at himself at times. His lecture delivered as a part of Sahitya Akademi’s Samvatsara lectures series brings out his innermost thoughts about Indian-ness of Indian English literature. He gives an exquisite account of Nehru’s contribution to this country in this regard. “To a bare intellectual understanding of India, he added an emotional appreciation”. [Narasimhaiah, 2003, p-19]. He showers encomiums on the first prime minister of India.
As the lecture progresses he himself says, “From the lofty heights of Vivekananda, Tagore and Nehru let me come down to the plains, to see how our novelists function.” [Narasimhaiah, 2003, p-25]. He wonders what makes a writer choose a language to exhibit his creativity. It should come naturally. A writer should endeavour to enrich his grasp of the idiom.
Narsimhaiah’s assessment of Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan and Raja Rao is apt and unbiased. He sumps up admirably Anand’s art, “Mulk Raj Anand is a novelist who is not interested in portraying the beauty or ugliness of life and poverty and suffering, but the heartlessness of the few which thwarts the promising life of the helpless young.” [Narasimhaiah, 2003, p-29].
About R.K.Narayan he states, “ His world was South Indian middle class which he knew how to handle in fiction, not for an audience 6,000 mils away as his jealous detractors accused him but for his own English knowing countrymen….Himself a product of the Hindu middleclass, sharing their beliefs and superstitions in a small town, he had qualified himself to be a writer of that class and the provincial town.” [Narasimhaiah, 2003, p-29].
We admire Narasimhaiah’s astuteness when he declares, “Narayan’s sense of the comic is sustained, not by the Dickensonian kind of exaggeration, but rather some thing home-spun and close to what one may find in the Tenali stories in Telugu.” [Narasimhaiah, 2003, p- 31]. As he says, Raja Rao’s three well known novels sum up his main contribution to Indian English novel. The language in Kanthapura makes one feel quite at home, because most of us speak that way in our own mother tongues. People in the west and India come to know what India is really through The Serpent and The Rope. “Raja Rao has demonstrated in convincing terms, in terms of fiction that is, that human relationships, no less than man’s union with the Absolute; are not the result of bridges on rivers or bridge parties but temporary suspension over gurgling space” and , alone with silence. The enactment of this truth is the lasting contribution of Raja Rao.” [Narasimhaiah, 2003, p-35-36].
Narasimhaiah dismisses the works of all prize winning writers for their artificiality, lack of Indian sensibility and unabashed liberties taken with English language. He praises the creative imagination of Toru Dutt. The Lotus is a simple poem with abundance of feminine charm and delicate idiom. Aurobindo’s overhead poetry witnessed in Savitri is explained with illuminating examples from the epic. Narasimhaiah advises an Indian critic to go back to his own tradition and make literature yield benefits like kamadhenu or kalpavriksha - the more one knows how to seek, the more one gets.
He goes on to apply the rich concept of rasa, dhvani and purushartha, the Indian value system and evaluate Shakespeare’s Tempest and Blake’s The Tiger. Thus, C.D. Narasimhaiah has initiated a new mode of literary criticism as regards Indianness in Indian English literature.
Any attempt to understand the contribution of C.D.N, as he is affectionately and reverentially called, as a literary critic will be incomplete without a reference to Dhvanyaloka, a Saraswati Kshetra, conceived and nurtured by him painstakingly, with loving care for the benefit of visitors, scholars in search of material and guidance, and well-wishers who felt sanctified in the balmy presence of the Acharya. Located in the midst of pristine beauty of nature, this hallowed place is an ashram where learning and dissemination of knowledge goes on eternally, silently, soothingly. Sharing food and information collectively under the cool shades of pleasant trees is an unforgettable experience. Dhvanyaloka is a spiritual fountain slaking the thirst of the seeker and student alike. The Acharya’s blessings radiate from a leaf on a tree, fragrance of flowers and lyrical ripples in the pond there.
C.D.Narasimhaiah has given a shape and conferred recognition and reputation on Indian English literature, which was earlier known as Ango-Indian Literature, through decades of selfless service rendered with peerless patriotic fervour. He inculcated a sense of adventure to explore, examine and evaluate Indian English Literature by blending the best of east- and west theories. His modesty, novel approach and work heralded a new era in post –colonial literary criticism. May he continue to inspire the new generation of literary critics.
Narasimhaiah, C.D (ed) Shakespeare’s Last Plays, in Shakespeare Came To India. Bombay,1954 .
Jawaharlal Nehru. Mysore, Rao&Raghavan, 1960.
Fiction and the Reading Public in India. Mysore,University of Mysore, 1967.
The Human Idiom: Three Lectures on Jawaharlal Nehru. Bombay, Blackie & Sons,1967.
The Writer’s Gandhi. Patiala, Punjabi University,1967. (ed)
Indian Literature of the Past Fifty years Mysore, University of Mysore,1970.
Raja Rao. New Delhi, Arnold-Heinnemann,1973.
The Swan and the Eagle. (Shimla,1977)
Moving Frontiers of English Studies In India. (New Delhi,1977)
The Function of Crticism in India (1986)
Indian Critical Scene (1990)
‘N‘ for Nobody: Autobiography of an English Teacher. (Delhi,1991).
More by :
Dr. T. S. Chandra Mouli
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||I am overwhelmed by going through this article which itself is a rich tribute to Prof. CDN.||
||wonderful content. It shows the proficiency of writer in ythe relevant area.||
||Thanks for your kind words, Parvathi Devi,ji.Regards.||
||Thanks for your guidance and appreciation,Lakshminarayan ji.Regards.||
||Indeed an exceptional article. glad to read.||
||article on prof.c.d.n is very nice,and i am also his nephew.pl spell dhwanyaloka as dhvanyaloka in your article.||
||Thank you,Shaleen ji.||
||a lovely article!!! ||