In his book, The Vintage Book of Indian Writing, Salman Rushdie wrote, “the ironic proposition that India's best writing since independence may have been done in the language of the departed imperialists is simply too much for some folks to bear.” And Amit Chaudhury replied to that statement in his book Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, “Can it be true that Indian writing, that endlessly rich, complex and problematic entity, is to be represented by a handful of writers who write in English, who live in England or America and whom one might have met at a party?”
I choose this debate as a core theme for this essay and will try to analyze the past and future of Indian Writing in English (IWE) with all its pros and cons. I will not only try to compare the writings of past and contemporary writers of IWE but I will also compare their writings with the regional writers of their time and will try to find out the status of IWE and whether it could be able to represent Indian writings abroad. Some of my thoughts may create debate and some readers who are scholars might disagree with my views, but what I have found and realised in my heart will be penned down. And my motto is not to hurt or disfigure anyone’s sentiment.
In The Beginning...
The first English writing by any Indian as it has been appeared so far is Sake Dean Mahomet’s travelogue Travels of Dean Mahomet. This book was published in 1793 from England. Sake Dean Mahomet (Shaikh Din Muhammad) was an Indian soldier from Bihar in the British Army and was carried to Britain by his chief Captain Godfrey Evan Baker after his retirement, as Din Mohammad was a good cook. Dean later learnt English academically and wrote his memoirs in Britain.
But it is exceptional Indian writing as the British colonial rulers were not interested in English education rather they were stressing importance to educate natives in their native ’vernacular’ language. It was actually Raja Ram Mohan Ray (1774-1833) and other social activists of that time who made British colonial Rulers introduce English into the schools as a medium of learning with vernaculars.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee were two prominent writers of that time who started to write in English. Dutt wrote epic verse in English while Chatterjee wrote his debut novel Rajmohan’s Wife.The novel was started in serialized form in a magazine from 1864 but did not appear as a book until 1935. It is interesting to note that neither Dutt nor Chatterjee returned back to English writing again and they established themselves as prominent personalities in native Bengali literature.
Toru Dutt, another good example of that time, was a very young (teen) girl when she wrote her poems and novels in French and English. She died at the age of 22 and at the time of her death, she left behind two unpublished novels— Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers (thought to be the first novel in French by an Indian writer) and Bianca, or the Young Spanish Maiden (thought to be the first novel in English by an Indian woman writer)In addition, she had also written two unfinished volumes of original poems in English entitled Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan.
English writing became more popular with the rise of Nationalism in the later period of the nineteenth century into the early period of twentieth century. The English Language became a sharp and strong instrument with which to express intimate feelings to British rulers. Dada Bhai Naroji wrotePoverty and Un-British Rule in India where he brought attention to the draining of India's wealth into Britain and Surendra Nath Banerjee started to publish an English newspaper called the Bengali through which he spread liberal ideas and nationalistic messages to the people. Later the freedom struggle resulted in a revolutionary brand of writing by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Ray, Mahatma Gandhi , Aurobindo Ghose, Kasturi Rnaga Iyer, T....
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