The story of the Indian English novel is really the story of a changing India. There was a time when education was a rare opportunity and speaking English was unnecessary. The stories were already there- in the myths, in the folklore and the umpteen languages and cultures that gossiped, conversed, laughed and cried all over the subcontinent. India has always been a land of stories, the demarcation between ritual and reality being very narrow.
The Indian English novel erupted in the fiery talks of Henry Derozio, the spiritual prose of Tagore and the pacifist dictums preached by Gandhi. With the coming of Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K.Narayan, the Indian English novel had begun its journey. In “Coolie” by Mulk Raj Anand, the social disparity in India is laid bare. In R.K.Narayan’s imaginary village Malgudi, the invisible men and women of our teeming population come to life and act out life with all its perversities and whimsicalities. In ‘Kanthapura’ by Raja Rao, Gandhism awakes in a sleepy village down south. India no longer needed to be depicted by outsiders. The perspectives from within ensured more clarity and served a social documentative purpose as well.
The early novels in India were not just patriotic depictions of Indianness. There were the cynics. Niradh C Chaudhuri viewed India without the crown skeptically. He discarded the fiery patriotism and spiritualism that were ‘Brand India’ and mourned the absence of colonial rule. As India grew out of her obsession with freedom and viewed her own streak of imperialism during the Emergency, the Indian idiom began to change. Now with the Indian Diaspora being a reckoning force in the publishing world, Indian English speaks a global tongue, unconfined to any particular culture or heritage- the language of the displaced intellectual.
The Indian Diaspora raised the curtain on the fantastic mythical realities that were part of...