Book Reviews

The Journey of the Indian Novel

Hussain, Md. Equebal. The Journey of the Indian Novel.
New Delhi: Future Prints Private Ltd., 2012.
ISBN: 978-81-923989-0-7. (HB) pp. 167. Price: Rs. 300. 

The Journey of Indian Novel written by Dr. Md. Equebal Hussain is an extensive book on the Indian English novel. The book deals with the works of all major contemporary Indian English novelists. It has been divided into eight chapters with the names of the representative novelists respectively along with the conclusion. The chapterisation, made artistically, denotes all about the contents of the book. The long preface of the book provides a good introduction of the journey of the Indian English novel.

The author calls the 1980s and 90s the ‘second renaissance’ of Indian Fiction in English and the novelists like Amitav Ghosh, Upamanyu Chatterjee. Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra, Githa Hariharan, Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy, Amitabh Chaudhary, Raj Kamal Jha, Pankaj Mishra, Kiran Desai, Arvind Adiga, Jhumpa Lahiri as harbingers of that ‘renaissance’. These writers, though inspired by their masters, believed to present the new and unexplored issues to the forefront. “The contemporary authors have taken up all kinds of subject of essential human concern- gender issues, power politics, communalism, fundamentalism, terrorism, secessionism, multiculturalism, marginalization, nuclear issue, environmental issues, search for identity, spiritual sterility of modern man, problems of youth, homosexuality, incest and so on.” (pp. 10-11) The ‘post colonial aura’ imbued with myth and history is dominant feature in the novels of this group. This note is also prevalent in the novels of Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Manju Kapoor and Tabish Khair. The author illustrates the emergence of feminism in the novels of Indian women novelists- Kamala Markandaya, Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Bharti Mukharjee, Manju Kapoor, Gita Hariharan and Arundhati Roy. The diasporic writers- Gita Mehta, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Amitav Chaudhary, Bharti Mukharjee, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri also get mention in the preface with “their penetrating insight into the expatriate experience or looking at India from afar.” (pp. 11-12)

The first chapter of the book entitled ‘The Early Masters: Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao’ deals with the major novels of the two fiction writers. The author describes Anand’s Untouchable and Coolie as the epics of misery. “The third novel Two Leaves and a Bud is also packed with Anand’s deep concern for the evils that plague the Indian society.” (p. 26) Raja Rao’s novels- Kanthapura (1938), The Serpent and the Rope (1960), The Cat and Shakespeare (1965), Comrade Kirrillov (1976), The Chess Master and his Moves (1988); his famous three collections of short stories- The Cow of the Barricades and Other Stories (1947), The Policeman and the Rose (1978) and On the Ganga Ghat (1989); and some of his fictional works are discussed thematically.

The second chapter ‘The Magic of Malgudi: RK Narayan’ begins with the note of Narayan’s view of writing. The author writes that “He is at heart an artist and his sole aim is to give aesthetic satisfaction.” (p. 35) The author also notes that “The dominant theme in the novels of RK Narayan is the comic clash between the two powerful social forces of tradition and modernity, and the matrix of human relationships. He is deeply rooted in the traditional culture of India and portrays Indian middle class life amidst various kinds of pressures. He depicts the Indian tradition and sensibility in all its hues in his novels.” (pp. 35-36)

The novels discussed in the book include Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938), The English Teacher (1945), The Financial Expert (1952), Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), The Guide (1958), The Man Eater of Malgudi (1961) and The World of Nagaraj (1990). The author writes that “with the arrival of RK Narayan the thematic range of the Indian novel in English sharply increased.” (p.50)

Anita Desai’s all major works- Cry, the Peacock (1963), Voices in the City (1965), Bye Bye Blackbird (1971), Where Shall We Go This Summer (1975), Fire on the Mountain (1977), Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), Baumgartner’s Bombay (1989), Journey to Ithaca (1996), Fasting, Feasting (1999) have been dealt including the collections of short stories- Games at Twilight and Other Stories (1978), Village by the Sea (1982), Diamond Dust (2001) and The Zigzag Way (2004). The author has divided Desai’s fictional works into three phases. The first phase is represented by Cry, the Peacock (1963), Voices in the City (1965) and Bye Bye Blackbird (1971). “The major characters of these three novels- Maya, Monisha, Norode, Adit and Dev are all very sensitive, psychological and neurotic characters struggling with their metaphysical, spiritual and existential experiences in an uncaring, materialistic and matter-of-fact universe.” (p. 60) The second phase of Desai’s literary career reflects her maturity comprising the novels - Where Shall We Go This Summer (1975), Fire on the Mountain (1977) and Clear Light of Day (1980). The third phase shows more maturity and it was this phase of writing which earned great prestige to Desai and added her in the list of great fiction writers of the world. This was the last phase represented by Journey to Ithaca (1996), Fasting, Feasting (1999) and The Zigzag Way (2004).  
The author proves Anita Desai as the Virginia Woolf of India with vivid illustrations. He describes all issues of Desai’s novels including “familial relation, male attitude, clash between tradition and modernity, Hindu-Muslim relation, spiritualism, hybridity, shifting identity, immigration issues, anti-semitism, etc.” (pp. 69-70) He tries to establish the fact that “Anita Desai is one of the most distinguished Indian novelists in English and has added a new dimension to the contemporary Indian English fiction…” (p. 69).

The fourth chapter of the book is dedicated to Vikram Seth. He is termed as the “master of several literary genres – poetry, fiction, travelogues, poetic novel, opera and the translations” (p. 73).  The author compares Vikram Seth with Mulk Raj Anand and RK Narayan and concludes that Seth has “made in-depth exploration of the issues which concern the whole of humanity beyond the frontiers of national boundaries.” (p. 73)

Seth’s famous novels- The Golden Gate (1986), A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (1999) have been taken by the author for analysis. He has also mentioned Seth’s other works - Mappings (1981), The Humble Administrator’s Garden (1985), All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990), Beastly Tales from Here and There (1992), a travel book, From Heaven Lake (1983), a translation work, Three Chinese Poets (1992), and an opera text, Arion and the Dolphin (1994). The main thrust of this chapter (‘Vikram Seth: The Novelist with a Global Vision’) is to explore Seth’s ‘global vision’.

Arundhati Roy’s contribution to the Indian English Literature has been dealt in the fifth chapter, ‘Making Capital out of Small: Arundhati Roy’. The author begins the chapter with Roy’s titles showered by the jury of the coveted Booker Prize when she received it in 2007 for The God of Small Things. She was titled ‘the new deity of prose’ and ‘the princess of prose’. Roy’s ‘unorthodox’ views and “effort for drawing attention to the plight of the voiceless people of this economically imbalanced world” (p. 97) are the hallmark of her writings. The author has tried to investigate Roy’s ‘complex’ and ‘significant’ style of presentation along with “aesthetically satisfying mosaic of life.” (p. 98)

Kiran Desai’s ‘Probing Globalisation and its Discontent’ forms the sixth chapter of the book. The author describes her debut novel - Hullabaloo in Guava Orchard (1998) and Booker Prize winning novel The Inheritance of Loss (2006). The author goes through Kiran Desai’s academic and cultural background while depicting the hilarious pictures of Hullabaloo in Guava Orchard. He quotes about The Inheritance of Loss that it contains “her insightful and often humorous commentary on multiculturalism, cross-cultural and cross-class understanding, globalisation and immigrant experience” (qtd. 120). Imbued with varied subjects this novel was described as “globalised novel for a globalised world.” (qtd. 123)

The seventh chapter, ‘The Charles Dickens of Call Centre Generation: Arvind Adiga’ adds a new dimension to the book. The author discusses Adiga’s three works- The White Tiger (2008), Between the Assassinations (2008) and Last Man in Tower (2011). The Booker Prize winning novel, The White Tiger has the note of “vast economic inequality between the poor and the wealthy elite” (qtd. 139). The journey from ‘Bakha to Velutha’ and from ‘Velutha to Balram Halwai’ brings out the real pictures of “the injustices and discrimination against the downtrodden.” (p. 141)

The eighth and last chapter of the book forms conclusion. The author goes through the works of some contemporary writers and opines that “this genre of literature has made tremendous progress thematically as well stylistically.” (p. 145)

The book is truly a depiction of the journey of the Indian English novel. It is the thematic progression of Indian English novel that has given it an identity in the World Literature. The book written on the lines of historical development makes it a must for all who are interested in exploring Indian English Literature.  


More by :  Dr. Vijay Kumar Roy

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