Dr S P Dhanavel
Professor of English
Anna University, Chennai-600 025
---------------------------------------------------------------- The 21st century has proved to the world that English literature is no longer the sole province of the imperial England. Although English literature started and flourished in England, it has gone on to sow the seeds of creativity in English in other parts of the world. Interestingly, the English people themselves paved the way for the unexpected developments that we witness today. When the English colonizers went to America, they began to write their own literature of the Americas. Similarly, those English men and women who went to Australia began the process of a new literature called Australian literature. And so is the case with Canada, India, and Africa. With colonization in some parts of the world, especially, Africa and Asia, there emerged a new literature which later came to be known as the Commonwealth literature, New Literature in English, postcolonial literature and so on. Not to be left out, even those countries which were not colonized by the English like Bhutan, China, Iran, Japan, Thailand, and Nepal started their own literature in English. Gradually all these literatures in English have come to announce that here is a different kind of literature but in English. The pinnacle of such a literature is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children winning the status of the double Booker Prize novel. These trends were expected and started growing in a similar fashion.
A few distinct trends are dominant in the late twentieth century and the early 21st century. A major trend is the original creative writing in English in the Indian subcontinent, among others. After the trio of Raja Rao, R K Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand in the middle of the twentieth century, we have a multitude of writers both men and women from different walks of life on various themes. While economic and social development was a priority for political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the psychological and sociological consequences of development became a major preoccupation for writers like R K Narayan and Kamala Markandaya as in The Painter of Signs and A Handful of Rice, respectively. They dealt with a less complicated and largely rural life in a leisurely fashion. Their overtly political and social themes required a slow space for introspection at every stage.
If the pre-independent authors dealt with nationalism and patriotism, the post independent writers faced the challenge of handling the new-found political freedom. Notable among them in the post-Independent India are Salman Rushdie Arundhathi Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor, Shashi Deshpande, Manju Kapur, Aravind Adiga and Chetan Baghat. But the post-modern writers like Rushdie and Ghosh had to delve deep into the impact of freedom on the Indians. A novel like The Hungry Tide by Ghosh clearly shows how the hard won freedom has not liberated the tribal people from the local oppressors. For another example, Manju Kapoor’s A Married Woman articulates a different of freedom within the family. In fact, another kind of environmental and social freedom struggle continues in our country even today as represented by a number of writers, including Arundhathi Roy and Chetan Baghat. Roy and Bhagat have attracted a large following among the Indian youth. They have a clarion call for value clarification, which is the need of the hour.
Another trend is the translation of regional literatures into English. For example, almost the entire works of Premchand or Rabibndranath Tagore or Subramania Bharathi or Vijay Tendulkar or Vasudevan Nair are available in English not only for the English people but also for the people of the world who have some knowledge of English as a second or foreign language. Takazhi Sivasankarapillai’s Chemmeen, Kesava Reddy’s He Conquered the Jungle, Sundara Ramasamy’s Tale of a Tamarind Tree, U R Anantha Murthy’s Samsara and so on are great contributions to literature in English translation. Of these translated texts, we have a unique trend of women writers emerging on the national scene. A case in point is Mahasweta Devi of West Bengal. She is an activist-writer who has championed the cause of the marginalized tribal people in West Bengal in such works as “Draupati”. An interesting aspect of this creative translation is the work of Girish Karnad, for he wrote most of his plays in English but translated them into English himself. His plays from Tughlaq to Wedding Album point to the historical and social problems facing our country.
Yet another trend is the emergence of writers from the Dalit and other marginalized sections of the society. A remarkable work of international standing is Bama’s Karukku. Yet another work in this category is Ompuri Valmiki’s Joothan. These writings erase the distinction between fact and fiction. Some autobiographies of these writers are presented so vividly that they claim the status of great fiction. Further, the shocking plays of Mahesh Dattani and Manjula Padmanabhan belong to a different strand of margin, away from the mainstream literature.
A dominant trend is the motivational and autobiographical work of prominent personalities like Dr Abdul Kalam. Wings of Fire and Turning Points are both scientific and political in their overtones, but do not lose sight out on guiding the Indian youth for a better India. Associated with this trend is the biographical writing of well-known political, industrial, social, sports, spiritual and media leaders. Every president and prime minister of our country has at least one biography on him or her. Industrialists like J R D Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani and Aditya Birla also have found a place among biographers. Actors like Rajinikanth too have popular biographies on them.
Although diasporic writers like Bahrathi Mukherjee, Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Kiran Desai have different windows on the world of their lives in India and abroad, they too share the common concerns of Indian writers in terms of cultural bondings and bindings that help and also hinder us from evolving into a higher level of life, especially a higher standard of peaceful life for all Indians all over the world. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreters of Maladies has smacks of disease. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss is a poignant story of an Indian unable to live here or there or anywhere, for the social and political forces are against him.
A discordant note that we observe is the lack of support for poetry and poets. Initially it was poetry that was the chief medium of writing for the educated Indians. But today poetry does not sell like short story collections or novels. Somehow, drama continues to manage the show on the stage and in printed texts too. Whether this state of affairs is due to the capitalistic and consumerist society that we live in now or due to erosion of poetic sensibilities, time alone will reveal.
In addition to the Indian English literature from our own country, we have a large body of writing from our neighboring South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations and also African nations, among others. The recent blockbuster I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai from Afghanistan points to the future of promising great young writers. The future of “English literature,” as we have expanded, is very bright with more creative outputs are to come out from a large population from the downtrodden sections of the society. Especially China has a lot of scope to produce a vibrant literature in English in the years to come as the Chinese are learning English in a big way now.
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