(Last Updated on : 31/10/2012)
The history of Indian English novel can be very much aligned to the advent and supreme reign of the British Raj upon India, resting for a good 200 years. Such a prolonged and momentous Raj establishment by an 'alien' Empire, did have its both adverse and beneficial factors. Leaving out the ruthless colonisation, Britishers did leave their share of wondrous virtues in the literary, architectural and political sides. However, the literary and artistic sides perhaps had overshadowed all the other routined existence, with Indian literature and English education never remaining the same again. English as a basic and fundamental language was very much introduced in the dozens, with the class and then the mass joining in to be amalgamated with the erudite and good-hearted British populace. It was also precisely during this time that the illustrious Indian litterateurs, in a zealous attempt to show their vengeance against such English oppression, had penned out series of English works of art, only to be accepted forever by the global literary scenario, in the years to come. With many regional geniuses joining hands in such an endeavour, the history of English novel in India, presents itself as a solemn enterprise, surpassing all other literary genres.
The history of the Indian English novel can thus honestly be dubbed as the story of a 'metamorphosing India'. There did exist a time when education was an infrequent opportunity and speaking English was really not necessary by natives out crying against British. The stories however were already in the location, hidden - in the myths, in the folklore and the umpteen languages and cultures that chaffered, conversed, laughed and cried all over the subcontinent. India has, since time immemorial, always served as a land of stories, the strict segregation between ritual and reality being quite a thin line.
The history of the Indian English novel had though begun to emerge from these benevolent English gentlemen themselves, precisely in the fiery talks of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. This very timeless strand was held strongly soon after by the spiritual prose of Rabindranath Tagore and the anti-violence declarations preached by Mahatma Gandhi. With the bursting in of 'colonialism' genre in Indian literature, novel writing never did remain the same. Under men like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K. Narayan, the historical journey of the Indian English novel had begun to take its gigantic strides into the world of post-colonialism and a concept of the daring Indian novelists had emerged. In "Coolie" by Mulk Raj Anand, the social discrepancy and gross inequality in India is very much laid down stripped from any social constraints. In R.K. Narayan's much-admired visionary village Malgudi, the invisible men and women of the country's ever-multiplying population, come to life and in a heart-rending manner, re-enact life with all its contrarinesses and arbitrarinesses. In 'Kanthapura' by Raja Rao, Gandhism truly comes alive in a quaint laid-back village down south. The Indian ness of novel writing in English, which was once viewed as a taboo and things of scorn due to English stronghold, was no longer needed to be depicted by outsiders; par excellence writers had come to light and with what consequences! People like Tagore or R.K. Narayan have proved this in shining glory time and again. The perspectives from within ensured more clarity and served a social documentative purpose as well.
The early history of English novels in India was not just patriotic depictions of Indian ness, but also a rather fanatical and the cynical attempts at being unequalled. Niradh C. Chaudhuri, one of the most stellar instances belonging to this genre, had viewed India without the Crown in a dubious and incredulous manner. He had in fact tossed away the 'fiery patriotism' and spiritualism that were 'Brand India' and grieved the absence of colonial rule. As Indian Independence drew near and the country grew out from her obsession with freedom and re-examined her own vein of imperialism during the Emergency, the Indian language of expression began to alter in a rapid manner. Presently, however with the Indian diaspora being a much depending force in the publishing world, history of Indian English novel speaks a different global tongue, unrestrained to any particular culture or heritage - the perfect language of the 'displaced intellectual'.
This displaced intellectual class, explicated as the 'Indian Diaspora' had become victorious enough to raise the curtain on the unlikely mythical realities that were integral part of domestic conversations in the villages. The history of the Indian English novel was once more standing at the crossroads in the line of post-colonialism, with literature in India awaiting its second best metamorphosis. Men like Salman Rushdie have enamoured critics with his mottled amalgamation of history and language as well. He had indeed served as that mouthpiece, who had opened the doors to an overabundance of writers. Amitav Ghosh plays brilliantly in postcolonial realities and Vikram Seth coalesces poetry and prose with an aura of Victorian magnificence. While Rohinton Mistry tries to painstakingly decode the Parsi world, Pico Iyer fluently and naturally charts the map in his writings.
Women novelists have loved to explore the world of the much trodden lore again and again, condemning exploitation and trying to make sense of the rapidly changing pace of the 'new India'. History of Indian English novels however, does not only end here, with Kamala Das scouting women's quandary in India and the world and others like Shashi Deshpande portraying characters who blame their self-satisfaction for their pitiable state of affairs. Arundhati Roy begins her story without actually a beginning and does not really end it also, whereas Jhumpa Lahiri's well-crafted tales trudge at a perfect pace.
Indian English novel and its eventful historical journey had begun with a bang when Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and by the time V.S. Naipaul had earned the same, the Indian English novel owned a far flung reach. Now more than ever, English novels in India are triggering off debates concerning colossal advances, plagiarisation and film rights. 'Hinglish masala' (a lingo of Hindi and English in the current Indian scenario) and a dash of spiritual pragmatism are only the tip of the iceberg.