In the early 20th century, when the British conquest of India was achieved to a fullest manner, a fresh breed of writers started to emerge on the block. These writers were however essentially British, who were born or brought up or both in India, thus to some extent deviating from the Britain-born Englishmen. Such an unusual genre of Indian English literature during British India had indeed arrested much attention, owing to the sheer distinguishing and diverging merits. Their writing consisted of Indian themes and views and feelings of ethos, but the way of storytelling was primarily Occidental. This breed of writers possessed no reservation in utilising 'native' words, though, only to connote the context. This group consisted the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Jim Corbett and George Orwell amongst others. Books such as Kim, The Jungle Book, 1984, Animal Farm and The man-eaters of Kumaon etc. were well admired and read all over the English-speaking world, with British Indian English literature being noticed as a unique and individual genre, the first ever prestigious traces being outlined for the next decades to come. In fact, some of those pieces of that era are still deemed to be the masterpieces of English Literature. During those periods, the native bunch was represented by the likes of Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu. In fact, Geetanjali, a compilation of priceless poems, had helped Tagore earn the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1913.
There was noticed a 'stillness' for more than 3 decades when India was passing through the phase of 'aspirational silence' and 'reconstruction'. This was truly also a period of Indian English literature during British India, when some infrequent and periodic works such as 'A Passage to India' by E. M. Foster, 'The Wonder that was India' by E L. Basham and 'Autobiography of an Unknown Indian' by Nirad C. Chaudhuri though had set the backdrop on fire. However massive, honest and solemn were the attempts, nevertheless, they were unsuccessful in catalysing or creating any explosion.
Rabindranath Tagore who penned fluently and effortlessly with ease in both Bengali and English and translated his own works into English, is perhaps the most stellar and prestigious an instance when concerned with Indian English literature during British India. Nirad C. Chaudhari's The Autobiography Of An Unknown Indian recounts his mental and intellectual maturation in the metamorphosing Indian scenario, where the British rule was about to come to an end. A self professed Anglophile, his book does indeed make for an enjoyable and pleasing read. R.K. Narayan is another prolific illustration in British Indian English writing. He had possessed the charming capability to enthrall his readers with his portrayal of contemporary society in a language that was lucid and simple, yet not loosing the refinement for once. Like Hardy's Wessex, Narayan had also gave birth to the fictitious town of Malgudi, where most of his novels are set.
Most of R.K. Narayan's work, starting from his first novel Swami and Friends (1935) is based in the fictional town of Malgudi, which captures the Indian ethos in its totality, while possessing an individualistic identity of its own. Malgudi is perhaps the single most charming and engaging "character" R.K Narayan had ever rendered life. Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Financial Expert (1952), The Guide (1959) and Waiting for the Mahatma (1955) are his other popular novels. R.K. Narayan's descriptions of small town life through the eyes and experiences of the child protagonist Swaminathan in Swami and Friends, depicts the Indian cultural identity and philosophy to the world, with an ease and charm that mesmerises readers each time till today. Indeed, Indian English literature during British Indian times had taken gigantic strides, to very much stand in difference from its much erstwhile counterparts.
The trends in Indian English literature during British India and written by Indians, had undergone vast changes over the years. Earlier it was more influenced by colonial and western philosophy. The genres of novel and short stories had also begun to become hugely popular and writers thus started to scout themes within this genre. The advent of the printing press had secured a vast readership and also boosted writers to explore and search their talent from within. The newspaper publishing in India from the late 18th century, had also turned to educate the masses on current topics and increased their scope of socio-political awareness and encouraging the genre of penning in the newspaper sections.
Authors and poets alike were being influenced by the western system of education; hence, poets like Michael Madhusudhan Dutt, who penned in blank verse in the manner of Lord Byron and experimented successfully with the sonnet form as well, was also appreciated hugely by the global readership, especially in England. Rabindranath Tagore had showed the world that Indian writers were capable of expressing their literary aspirations in a foreign language with accomplished effortlessness. The western influence in Indian literature was just undeniable; so much so that, Indian English literature during British India had acquired its generic name under such stalwarts, at times also exceeding the Englishmen themselves. Such stylistic approach had inspired the writers to think beyond their own 'little' world of vernacular language and imbibe ideas that were revolutionising the western world. British Indian English literature and its native authors also forced the mass to question the orthodox society norms in their works. The literary world was instrumental and demonstrated in effecting a social emancipation in India, for example, the abolishment of sati pratha, education of women, ban against child marriage and the ushering in of widow re-marriage etc.
The poets Henry Derozio followed Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the early 19th century in Bengal and Michael Madhusudan Dutt followed him in the early 19th century in Bengal. Madhusudan Dutt started out by composing epic verse in English, but returned to his native Bengali later in life. The poems of Toru Dutt (1855-1876), who died at a tender age of 21, and the novel Rajmohan's Wife by Bankimchandra Chattopadhay, have received academic admiration and acceptance as the earliest examples of Indian literature written in English, during British Indian domination. Toru Dutt not only composed poetry in English, but more fascinatingly, translated French poetry as well. Her best works include Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan. However, the most famous and respected literary figure of this era of British Indian English literature was undoubtedly Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his book Gitanjali, which is a free rendering of his poems in Bengali.
Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was a profound poetess, whose romanticism had beguiled readers in India and Europe alike. Her Golden Threshold (1905) and The Broken Wing (1917) are works of immense literary merit. Rishi Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) was a poet philosopher and sage, for whom poetry was most likened to a form of mediation. His epic, Savitri and Life Divine (2 volumes) are outstanding works in Indian English literature of British Indian era. It may be significantly mentioned here that most Indian writers in English from the early period hailed from Calcutta, the first stronghold of the British, than any other places in the country.
The freedom struggle had ensued in a revolutionary brand of writing that vocalised native sentiments against the British Empire. Several political leaders from different parts of the country emerged as literary figures such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpath Rai, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar and T. Prakasham. The English language became an incisive and strong instrument in the hands of Mahatma Gandhi, who edited and wrote for papers like 'Young India' and 'Harijan'. He also had penned his autobiography, 'My Experiments With Truth', which is known for its literary flair. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) stands out as another prominent leader, who had excelled in writing prose, all of them taking the budding Indian English literature of British India, to heights of excellence and merit. Nehru is however particularly remembered for his Glimpses of World History, Discovery of India and An Autobiography (1936).
Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao were among the earliest Indian novel writers in English, who began to write in the early nineteen thirties. Indeed, Indian English literature during British India had gracefully captured the essence of poetry, prose, drama, short story and novel to its fullest, if stated rather daringly, also surpassing its British English cousin. Mulk Raj Anand (b.1905), best known for his short story 'The Lost Child', possesses numerous written works comprising prose, poetry and drama. His novels Coolie (1933), Untouchable (1935) and The Woman and the Cow (1960), uncover his vexation for the downtrodden and underprivileged in India. Even Nissim Ezekiel was a poet and was dissimilar from the 'nationalistic' Indian literature writers of that time. Most of his poetry was that of the relation of urban India, matters of alienation, love, marriage and sexuality.
The last of the harbingers of Indian English literature of British India is Raja Rao (b.1909), whose novel Kanthapura (1938), set in rural India, grounded him as a major figure on the Indian literary scene. Raja Rao's other three novels comprise The Serpent and the Rope (1960) and, The Cat and Shakespeare (1965). Nirad Chaudhuri (1897-1999) was another internationally acclaimed Indian writer, whose autobiography An Unknown Indian (1951) catapulted him into a celebrated international status.