Indian English Literature

Annika Hohenthal, Department of English, University of Turku, Finland

India is the third largest English book-producing country after the United States and the United Kingdom, and the largest number of books are published in English. Creative writing in English is considered an integral part of the literary traditions in South Asia. Indeed, according to the words of an Indian critic Iyengar three decades ago, quoted by Kachru, there seems to be an acceptance of Indian English literature as "one of the voices in which India is a new voice, no doubt, but it is as much Indian as the others" (Kachru 1994:528-529). Sanyal claims, too, that Indian writing represents a new form of Indian culture. It has become assimilated and is today a dynamic element of the culture (Sanyal 1987: 7).

It can be said to be a challenge for the Indian novelist to write about his experiences in a language which has developed in a very different cultural setting; in a "foreign" language; how to create sense of reality and intensity of Indian life in the medium of English language (Sanyal 1987: 7). The integrity of the writers writing in English is often suspect in their own country, and in other English-speaking countries they are treated as marginal to the mainstream of English literature (Kachru 1986b:19). Indian English writers are sometimes accused of abandoning the national or regional language and writing in a western, "foreign", language; their commitment to the nation is considered suspect. Indian writing in English dates back to the 1830s, to Kashiprasad Ghosh, who is considered the first Indian poet writing in English. Sochee Chunder Dutt was the first writer of fiction. In the beginning, however, political writing was dominant (Kachru 1994: 530-531) (e.g. Rammohan Roy wrote about social reform and religion in the medium of English (Sanyal 1987:19).

Stylistic influence from the local languages seems to be a particular feature of much Indian literature in English; the local language structure is reflected as e.g. the literal translation of local idioms (Platt et. al: 1984: 181). According to Kachru, however, South Asian novelists have not only nativized the language in terms of stylistic features; they have also acculturated English in terms of the South Asian context (Kachru 1994: 530).

A view of the mother tongue being the primary medium of literary creativity is still generally held across cultures. Creativity in another tongue is often considered as a deviation from the norm. The native language is considered pure, it is treated as a norm. This causes difficulties for non-native writers of English: it is not rarely that they have to defend themselves writing in English (Kachru 1997:66-87). CUP.

The thematic range of literatures has been extended in India: in fact, Kachru points out that English has functioned "as the main agent for releasing the South Asian languages from the rigorous constraints of the classical literary traditions". English has created new experimentation in the field of Indian writing (Kachru 1994: 535-536). Kachru points out that the linguistic centre of English has shifted. This means that English no longer only represents the Judeo-Christian traditions and Western concepts of literary creativity. The ranges of English have expanded, as the varieties within a variety have been formed (Kachru 1986a: 130-131).

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