Literary Histories and Literary Futures: The Indian Novel in English
Abstract: The debate between authors who write in English and those who write in the South Asian vernaculars – or bhashas – is well known in South Asian literary studies. The debate is not only about language, but about a writer’s desired audience and her commitment (or lack thereof) to cosmopolitanism on one hand and nationalism on the other. This paper traces some of the key moments in this debate in order to suggest that in contemporary Indian literature we are witnessing the beginnings of a new relationship between English and the bhashas that requires a complication of the cosmopolitanism/nationalism framework. For one, English is no longer the language of the West but has become an Indian language – such that for the first time in India’s history, literature written in English does not rely on an international readership. But the kinds of English writings we see in Indian literature today reflect a thematic shift as well; for instance, new commercial English writings by authors such as Chetan Bhagat and Anuja Chauhan paradoxically reflect a turn inwards – inventing what I call new literary provincialisms: a move away from the diasporic cosmopolitanism of the 1980s and 1990s, and towards India’s regional cultures – but paradoxically, through rather than despite the use of English. These writings are often set in Tier II cities such as Varanasi and Ahmedabad rather than Mumbai or Kolkata, and represent a world not of cosmopolitan elites but lower middle-class protagonists struggling to learn English. These works represent aspiration as the new sensibility of English literature in India.
View Full Text
Published in December 2015