This page last revised 3 June 1997
Indian literature in English which is accessible to us in the West, still has its roots in colonial literature and the tensions between East and West. A European naturalism is often present; a concern to posit India as an arena within which Western readers can identify realities is inherent within much of this writing. The following are three examples of the progression of post-Independence literature.
Twenty years after Independence, R.K.Narayan was still tackling issues of colonialism. The Vendor of Sweets (1967) takes us through the tensions integral to a family in which two generations belong to two different cultures. Ascetic Jagan belongs to an old India of family and history ;his son to an India increasingly subject to the foregrounding of the commodity and a dramatic industrialisation. Narayan explores the inevitable clash of what is, in many ways, both a colonial and a post-colonial encounter: Jagan, a follower of Gandhi and a veteran of the wars against British Imperialism, must attempt a negotiation of an ethos invasive to his own definitions of nationality; Mali, without this structure, must reconcile an American capitalism with India's own sense of what constitutes a modern nation.
This theme is continued in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust (1975). Again two generations, this time British, must come to terms with an alien culture. Whilst Olivia's adventures are romanticised, Jhabvala attempts to explore in a more sophisticated manner the social outlay of Anglo-Indian relations with the higher Muslim classes and Olivia's step-grand-daughter is confronted with an India that remains hidden in the works of Kipling, Forster or Narayan. Leelavati the beggar-woman's life, if not her behaviour, demonstrates an unusual social awareness of the lowest castes. It is to be noted that the East-West dichotomy within the later generation has become less strained: modern Britain is expected now to accept India on its own terms.
Salman Rushdie, whose work has been produced in the eighties and nineties, has removed himself from the sites of both nationality and naturalism but remains in an engagement with economic colonialism and its consequences. Midnight's Children (1982) critiques the post-Independence political strategies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi but to do so, conforms to intrinsically Western postmodernist narrative technique. Critique and critiqued demonstrate an India which has not yet fully resolved the dramatic industrialisation necessary to the creation of a modern nation: Rushdie's response is necessarily part of the same Western political agenda as Nehru's or Mrs Gandhi's. Details of this can be found in Independence: Building a New Nation 1947-1977.
This project was completed under the direction of Dr Leon Litvack as a requirement for the MA degree in Modern Literary Studies in the School of English at the Queen's University of Belfast. The site is evolving and will include contributions from future generations of MA students on other writers and themes.
This page was written by Tara Fallon.
The Imperial Archive Project is supervised by Leon Litvack. E-mail me with your suggestions.
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