(Last Updated on : 04/06/2010)
Theme of Realism in modern Indian literature is an outcome of the creation of a reading public which was trying to construct an identity in the context of the anti-colonial struggles and nation-building. This attempt combined liberal-reformist ideology with an affirmation of an 'Indian' cultural specificity. This concept of Indian was however middle-class and Hindu. The realist novel's focus on growth and individual freedom is transformed in the Indian context with the economic conditions of uneven capitalism. Thus the economic, political as well as the social conditions served to provide the basis for Realism in modern Indian literature.
Emergence of Realism as a Theme in Modern Indian Literature
In the field of economics there was seen the existence of capitalist exploitation. There was seen the simultaneous co-existence of the postcolonial state apparatuses with an ideology which was liberal and humanist. This was a markedly seen in the areas of public life, for instance the academic scene. Officially, secularism was seen co-existing with the persistence and reconstituting of mythological symbolics (as in "new" goddesses like Jai Santoshi Ma or the furore over god Lord Rama
's birthplace). Modernizing forces such as women's education and employment go along with reactionary practices like dowry or sati. It was the existence of these kinds of dual realities which produced a variety of subjects for the Realist novel. All these themes were sought to be represented by the Realist novel.
Various regional crises such as famine (Bengal), peasant and popular uprisings (Tebhaga, Telengana), drought (Tamil Nadu
), student and tribal uprisings, and partition constitute traumatic events represented in fiction from many regions.
Writers Dealing With the Theme of Realism
Veena Deo deals with the problems of realist representation for the hitherto excluded groups, such as the Dalits, in her book. Dalit writing becomes significant, for it is an attempt at self-representation of groups that were always considered outside representation.
One of the important dimensions of regional realisms is closely connected with the emergence of women within new constructions of domesticity. The typical nineteenth-century regional novel depicting women seem to represent a kind of conflict between the restrictive social norms and the half-articulated yearnings to achieve selfhood, according to some literary analysts. In general, the scope of this literature was insular and local, mediating a colonial form - realism - with local issues such as child-widowhood in Maharashtra
or courtesanship in Lucknow
Novels of the national movement give women a larger arena for action. In Tamil novelist Kalki's Thyagabhoomi, (1939-40), for instance, woman's situation is seen within both the local regional space of Chennai
(set in the context of the Congress's campaign for prohibition) and the larger national space.
The temporary solutions posed by the nationalist era and its attendant euphoria may be read in the happy endings of some early twentieth-century plots: in Thyagabhoomi, for instance, the nationalist movement supplies a (false) resolution to gender conflict. On the one hand, the work uncompromisingly attacks male dominance. The abused wife leaves her husband and earns some autonomy as a leading social figure; yet, in the end, the couple comes together in the prison van, imprisoned as nationalists. Realism in the twentieth century would, among other things, covers greater interregional mobility of both men and women, bringing with it new perceptions of the city and consequent alienations.
Interregional mobility also meant a large reading public for diasporic publications. The pulp periodical magazines, like Kalki, Ananda Vikatan, and Kumudam in Tamil, or organizations like the Tamil Sangam sought to bring regional arts to diasporic populations and catered to the large clerical and professional sectors living outside their regions of origin. In the main, realist narrative also supplied usable raw material for popular film. From Rabindranath Tagore
, to Kalki, to Mahasweta Devi
(the award-winning film Rudali), realism both humanist and progressive, has contributed to the consolidation of print and film communities.
It could be argued that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social reform was structurally connected to literary realism just as Gandhian anti-industrialism expressed an Indian version of Romanticism. As activist sections of the middle classes let go of liberal positions for more socially conscious positions in the wake of widespread peasant and communal unrest, liberal realism gave way to more progressive realisms. The manifesto of the progressive writers' association, formed all over India during the 1930s, outlines this commitment.