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English Literature

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Study Notes for BA and MA students of English Literature.

  • 1
    Meenakshi Mukheriee's 'The Anxiety of Indianness' First published as 'The Anxiety of Indianness: Our Novels in English' in the Economic and Political Weekly (Vol. 28, No.48; Nov. 27, 1993) and then included in the book, The Perishable Empire: Essays on Indian Writing in English (2000), the essay aptly sums up an important and intriguing question related to cultural identity and post-colonial make- over. It forms a logical and deeply analyzed answer relating to the argument as to should Indian writers come of age and get rid of their colonial hangover to write in their own vernacular languages or should they continue to write in the Queen's Language and thereby forge a new identity in the international platform or should they form a new kind of English language that would be identifiable with the culture and ethnicity of India. These arguments are essential in the formulation of a national identity of the country's own. Divided into six sections, the writer begins the essay with a reference to Raja Rao's Foreword in Kanthapura that was written in 1938, when he was in Paris. In the Foreword, Rao addresses the problem of the conflict between language and culture in the Indian context for the first time. The conflict is due to the difficulty of conveying the myths, legends and cultural practices of a country in a language that is acquired by us but not inherited. The English language suits our intellect but not our emotions; therefore writing a regional novel in that language and then finding an international audience for it is a difficult task. In the next section of the essay, Meenakshi Mukherjee attempts to show how Indian English literature is different from the regional literature of India. When a writer is writes in any of the regional languages like Bengali, Hindi, Marathi or others, that writer does not carry the burden of 'culture, tradition & ethos' as a writer of Indian English does. This is because, in the former case, the writer addresses an audience which is not only linguistically but culturally unified; but in the case of an Indian English writer, the larger context comes into play because of the country's cultural and linguistic diversity. For such a writer, it becomes a daunting task to refer to a unified culture although he or she might hail from one particular region of the country. Moreover, there is also the nagging question as to why it is at all necessary to write in the language of those people who had been our colonial masters for almost two centuries. Does it mean that for some people loyalty to England and her language supersede one's patriotic feelings? Or, does it imply that these writers are more interested in earning fame and money from an international audience? All these questions refer to some 'undefinable cultural values'. However, Meenakshi Mukherjee counter-argues that Indian English writers write in English not because of any counter-nationalistic feelings nor because they intend to gain fame and popularity in the international platform — in fact, the audience for regional writers is larger compared to the audience for Indian English writers — but, because they have their literary competence in English, irrespective of what their mother-tongue might be. Moreover, Mukherjee points out that this trend was not at all a new phenomenon in India because, Mulk Raj Anand, Bhabani Bhattacharya, Kamala Markandaya and others have also used English as a mode of writing. By doing so, these writers were able to pint out the cultural deficiencies prevalent in India which have been responsible for its disunity — class and caste inequalities in a hierarchical Hindu society, religious charlatanism and unending suffering of the Indian woman suffering from a lack of identity in a patriarchal society. Thus, Indian English writers have, for long, been trying to unify the country into a linguistic homogeneity so that they can represent a collective identity instead of giving rise to factionalism. In section three of the essay, Mukherjee delves upon the reasons why English writing in India was destined to remain in a nascent stage for a long time and how, ultimately, such writers have to depend upon the 'Indianness' of their writings to make a mark in the international arena. The main reasons for this prolonged infancy or nascent stage are, the lack of 'of proper ground conditions of literary production, where a culture and its variations, a language and its dialects, centuries of oral tradition and written literature' which go in the making of a new text. This is because, English in India, from the days of colonial rule, has remained a language of power and officialdom. Only a miniscule percentage of the country's population use it as a primary language of communication in their personal lives. Even those who write in English, use their vernacular languages to converse with friends, relatives, neighbours, fellow-passengers et al. in their daily interactions. The emergence of globalisation and the 'MNC culture' has led to continuous use of the language in the work-place for the greater part of the day, but still not replaced the cultural burden of the mother-tongue completely. Consequently, those younger writers who have been fed with European and American literary styles through their course-readings, library borrowings and foreign trips, have to rely upon their linkage with the nation's grater cultural issues for recognition. This feature is evident in the writings of all such writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Anita Desai, V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and the rest of the brigade.
  • 2
    Section four of the essay commences with Mukherjee's attempt to trace the growth in popularity of the Indian English novel. It was Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children which showed the profuse liveliness of this genre of literature. This novel broke many post-modernist tenets by not only changing the literary map of the world in dealing with a non-western cultural issue but also showing that the English language is not only for the English and the Americans to change. Rushdie provided a playful and imaginative representation of India's recent history and globalised the scenario. The novel explores the fragile structure of Indian society and the numerous binary oppositions that it represents. Thus, Salman Rushdie, for the first time was able to place an Indian literary piece in the discursive context of the literary canon that had been so long reserved for the elitists of the western world. Timothy Brennan's 1989 categorisation of a new 'third world cosmopolitans' forms the point of discussion in Section V of the essay, Anxiety of Indianness. These are writers who have emerged from a non-western culture and have made their mark in the international arena and comprise of major African, Asian and Latin American novelists. These cosmopolitans, also known as post-colonials, highlight the experience of colonialism as theme or metaphor. Such a theme proves useful in tracing the roots of modernity in these non-western cultures. Consequently, it also gives rise to a cultural hybridity because of the successful manipulation of western forms of fabulist narratives and a post-modernist mode of mythicising local legends with contemporary reality. Thus, these writings are replete with the idea of rootlessness and displacement. However, there is also the emergence of a new and distinctive difference between non- western writers, specially, those who write, being rooted to their soil and those who have become 'global citizens'. For the latter, the problems of culture and colonisation are metaphorical, while for the former, it is real and extant. The last section of the essay discusses how the concept of the 'anxiety of Indianness' differs from the older generation of Anand, Raja Rao and Narayan with that of the younger crop of writers like Upamanyu Chatterjee, Sashi Tharoor, Amitava Ghosh and Vikram Seth. While the former attempted to come out of their rooted Indianness and place the country's culture on a global platform, having a new identity that was completely different from the colonialist impositions, the latter have tried more and more to be rooted to our Indianness and owing to the pressures of the international market. Consequently, it has given rise to a notion that English is the only language in India which is used for literary activities and intellectual discussions and the other languages seem to have taken a backseat or have totally lost their importance. This is because of the changing social dimensions. The cosmopolitan youth in a globalised atmosphere find it difficult to relate with the 'bhasha' writers because their own lifestyles either adhere to the privileged upbringing of the Indian English novelists or they aspire to such privilege and elitism. Thus, the changing social dynamics form an integral part in the shaping of our new literary ideals and approaches. However, citing Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy as an example, the essayist also argues that there are writers who have an individuality of their own and who can stand out of the crowd to make a mark. Unlike that of the works of the other novelists, who are guided by the publishing corporations keeping in mind the profitability of the venture, Seth has ensured that his novel does not become a mere commercial entity. Meenakshi Mukherjee concludes the essay by discussing Amitava Gosh's Shadow Lines. She observes that this is a novel that does not intend to prove anything and therefore displays no anxiety. The issues of 'marginalisation', 'hybridity' and others are all irrelevant in the context of this novel. Its categorisation into 'first' or 'third' world proves to be an absurd task. Here, Ghosh has represented a 'total' India, bereft of any metaphorisation. References: 1. Das, Bijay Kumar. Post-Modern Indian English Literature. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2006. 2. Gupta, Balaram, G.S. Ed. Studies in Indian Fiction in English. Gulbarga: JIWE Publications, 1987. 3. Anderson, Walter Truett, ed. The Fontana Postmodernism Reader. London: Fontana P, 1996. Print. [Cited as WTA] 4. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. "The Anxiety of Indianness." The Perishable Empire. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. pp 166-86. [Cited as MM] ---------The Perishable Empire. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. 5. Rao, Raja. Kanthapura. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. [Cited as RR] 6. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New Delhi: Penguin, 2001. [Cited as ES] 7. Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society, 1780-1950. London: Chatto & Windus, 1958. [Cited as RW]


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