Anand is best known for the novels The Untouchable (1935), Coolie (1936), and Two Leaves and a Bud (1937); the trilogy The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940), and The Sword and the Sickle (1942); and The Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953). What characterizes most of these novels is the repeated depiction of a stressed, working-class protagonist, whose oppression symbolises the oppression of rural India by the twin systems of empire and capital. In Untouchable, for instance, Anand depicts a day in the life of a sweeper and latrine cleaner, Bakha, in whose tortured consciousness Anand shows the weakening effects of the Hindu caste system in India. In doing so, he also puts the colonial language of English and all of its elite associations at the service of an ideological necessity to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Narayan's body of work is enormous, but most worthy of note are Swami and Friends (1935), The English Teacher (1945), The Financial Expert (1952), Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), The Guide (1958), The Man Eater of Malgudi (1962), My Days: Memoirs (1974), and The Painter of Signs (1976). His later works include A Storyteller's World (1989, 1990) and The World of Nagaraj (1990). Perhaps to a larger extent than Anand, Narayan established the global stakes for Indian literature in English. With the ingenious invention of a fictitious small town, Malgudi, where all his novels are set, Narayan was able to convey the cultural nuances of India itself to both Indians and Western readers. His international popularity is evident in the many reprints of his novels by the University of Chicago Press and Penguin in the 1980s and 1990s. But, unlike Anand, Narayan does not revise English itself for a new political purpose. His prose is lucid yet predictable in pattern, its chief characteristic being an understated, modest, tongue-in-cheek irony.
Raja Rao, like Anand, deliberately set out to rewrite English for Indian ends. Rao's first novel, Kanthapura (1938), marks a fascinating experiment to Indianize the English language. His next novel, The Serpent and the Rope (1960), explores his religious faith, as does The Cat and Shakespeare (1965). Rao's Comrade Kirilov (1976) shows his interest in Marxism, and it was conceived in the early 1950s. As a writer who has "rediscovered" his Vedantic origins, Rao has exchanged one brand of nationalism, anti-colonialism in the British Raj, for another, i.e., pro-Hinduism in post-independence India. His writing seems to have begun the move from the public, communal scene inclusive of all castes and class, to the introspective, private reflections of a Brahminical life.
Anand and Rao have traveled extensively abroad, but all three writers demonstrate a comfortable ease with English. Anand, Narayan, and Rao secured the future of Indian writing in English by turning writing in English into a solid material project that had assumed international proportions by the 1940s.
Apart from the three greats of Indian English Literature, there were a number of other novelists who contributed to the literary field. They include Bhabani Bhattacharya, G. V. Desani and Sudhindra Nath Ghose. G. V. Desani's satiric comedy All about H. Hatterr (1948) broke new ground in its dissident treatment of British-Indian relations and the English language. In the period of decolonization that followed Indian independence, a new set of novelists emerged, the leading ones quickly identifying themselves as Anita Desai, Manohar Malgonkar, Kamala Markandaya, Balachandra Rajan, Nayantara Sahgal, and Khushwant Singh. These authors seem quite aware of writing in the wake of the literary successes of Anand, Narayan, and Rao. Singh and Malgonkar chose among their early subjects the communal violence unleashed by the horrors of independence and partition, the former in Train to Pakistan (1956) and the latter in Distant Drum (1960) and A Bend in the Ganges (1964).
In contrast, Desai, Markandaya, and Rajan expressed an interest in the psychosocial space in which their characters towards a kind of individualistic self awareness created by western ideals. In particular, the early fiction of Desai (1937) - Cry, the Peacock (1963) and Voices in the City (1965) - depicts intensely privatized lives of middle-class women and men, as does the fiction of Markandaya (1924). In the novels, Nectar in a Sieve (1954), Some Inner Fury (1955), A Silence of Desire (1960), Possession (1963), A Handful of Rice (1966), and The Coffer Dams (1969), Markandaya touches upon the life of women in the sociopolitical backdrop of rural India.
The literature produced during this period shows a gradual transition from the public to the private. Anand, Narayan, and Rao were aware of the public sphere of which their fiction would be a part and on the other hand Desai and Markandaya seem interested in staging the private world of individualism for a global audience.
Even in poetry the same trends were being seen. In this period, Indian poetry in English attempted to break away from the sentimentality commonly associated with Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghose, and Sarojini Naidu. In keeping with the new, modernist poetics sought by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound abroad, Indian poets in English were also looking to portray a symbolic yet realistic style. Leading poets of the 1950s and 1960s include Kamala Das, Nissim Ezekiel, P. Lai, Dom Moraes, and Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan.
Kamala Das was one of the most progressive poets of her time. She had a strong and bold poetic style which dealt with such topics as female anxiety and desires. These poets were joined, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Jayanta Mahapatra, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and Pritish Nandy, among others. In their poetry can be seen a strong understanding of world literature which extended beyond Eliot and Pound to French experimental poetry from Rimbaud to Dadaism and surrealism. Chitre, Kolatkar, and Ramanujan have also been seen incorporating regional influences in their works.
Thus the works of the Indian English literary writers in the period till the 1970's comprised a number of different elements arising out of the turmoil and confusion of a changing society.
(Last Updated on : 29-07-2010)
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