Indian English Fiction from 1930 to 1980

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       The period spanning the 1930 and 1980 was momentous both in the history of Indian nationalism and the Indian novel in English. Until this period Indian English fiction had not produced a single novelist with substantial output. During this phase there is a sudden flowering of Indian English fiction. So, this period is considered as the 'second coming' for the Indian English fiction. So it demands discussion of sources or bases that led to the flowering the Indian English fiction. The important event is the national movement for freedom struggle and entry of great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. Mahatma Gandhi took the leadership of the national movement and gave call for the non-cooperation with the British Government.


The three name usually mentioned in literary circles in this context are Mulk Raj Anand, Narayan and Raja Rao. They are known as "The Big Three" an epithet coined by the noted English critic William Walsh.
Indian Novelist

      As he was the embodiment of self sacrifice and preached what he practiced attracted the mass across the country. Forgetting their religious, caste, regional, cultural diversities people followed Mahatma Gandhiji and involved in the national movement not only for gaining freedom to the county but also for the amelioration of the village economy, backward class people, untouchables, and women. Mahatma Gandhi propagated and communicated his ideas and vision through his writings. So, his works influenced many writers.


      Anand showed the script of his Untouchable to Mahatma and it reflects 7 his influence. Rao's writing implicitly reflects the influence of Gandhi's autobiography. Several of his contemporaries directly acknowledged their debt to this text. For instance, Bhabani Bhattacharya's Gandhi the Writer (1919) celebrates. "My Experiments with Truth as an indispensable model for the novel forms and praises Gandhi as a 'writer of writers' and claims that the best writing in the subcontinent bears his counter signature" (quoted in Mehrotra 172). In a sense the 1930s and 1940s were also Nehru's decades.


      During this period Nehru entered into the most radical and Marxist phase of his political career, as early as 1933, he articulated "that the true civic idea is the socialist ideal". Nehru characterized himself as "a queer-mixture of the East and West, out of place everywhere at home nowhere". Thus, there was a consequent rift between Nehru and Gandhi ideals and it had provided the source for contemporary fiction. In Europe things were not so good. Inflected by the events of two World Wars, these decades sounded, the pessimistic note of civilization crisis and intellectual cosmopolitanism. So, many European intellectuals and writers being dissatisfied with the main stream Europe and its cultural baggage began to seek their creative resources both within popular culture as also in the wider non-western world. Native and foreign influences achieved a productive synthesis.


      For instance, Yeats and Eliot under took the study of Upanishads and Forster unearthed an enormous narrative resource in India. In this milieu, the expatriate Indian novelists were guided by the prevailing European fashion to 'return to Indian culture and scriptures'. At this juncture, modernism reached the peak point. It proved to be an ambiguous inheritance. It was increasingly under attack for its elitism and self serving engagement with other cultures. Several Marxist critics and writers raised cry against the 8 abstruse verbosity and solipsism of modern writing and began a campaign for a more simple and accessible prose style.


      Faced with this new and curious bridge between East and West several expatriate Indian writers submitted to a gradual process of disengagement with the modernist creed. As a result of this, Anand rejected the intellectualism of Bloomsbury writers and Aubrey Menen likewise, found the beautiful people of Bloomsbury sadly lacking in human kindness. A society compelled into self awareness like this provided a fertile soil for fiction and the time was ripe for the emergence of a few talented writers who could lift the Indo-English fiction form to an international status and universal recognition.


      The three name usually mentioned in literary circles in this context are Mulk Raj Anand, Narayan and Raja Rao. They are known as "The Big Three" an epithet coined by the noted English critic William Walsh. These three have laid the strong foundation for Indian Fiction in English. Against this background these writers have responded differently to the above mentioned situations. There is also a galaxy of writers like Bhahani Bhattacharya, Kamala Markandaya, Kushwant Singh, G.V. Desani, Nayantara Sahgal, Anita Desai, Arun Joshi, Chaman Nahal and others who nurtured the Indian English fiction. As literature reflects the life of its time many of the writers wrote about nation. The theme of Mahatma got its birth, got deep-rooted, and became pervasive and strong impacting. Ghandhian economy - self reliant village based economy, giving up prestigious positions to devote to the greater cause of nationalism, amplifying the creed of Ahimsa, denunciation of modern and western civilization, preferring spiritual growth, anti colonial matters, programmes of national reform like amelioration of women, workers, untouchable, and peasants became the major themes of the fiction of this phase. "Nation and national identity 9 has characterized both the period of anti colonial struggle and of post independent India."


      The writers of this period depicted the society realistically. A group of writers depicted the social, economic and political oppression of individuals. Anand's Untouchable depicts the plight of the untouchables, Coolie, depicts the exploitation of landless peasant; Two Leaves and a Bud depicts the exploitation of the tea garden workers; The Big Heart deals with industrial labour problems. K.S. Venkataraman's Murugan the Tiller depicts how an ideal rural colony is founded on Gandhian principles. And Baladitya throws light on the evils of the caste system pseudo religiosity etc.


      Most of the novels of Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao's Kanthapura, and Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve and A Handful of Rice, Bhabani Bhattacharya's So Many Hungers, and Manohar Malgonkar's The Prince belong to this category. There is another group of works which concentrates on an individual's search for identity.


      This is to be seen in Anand's Lalu Trilogy, Markandays's Some Inner Furry, B. Rajan's The Dark Dancer and Too Long in the West and most of the novels by Anita Desai and Arun Joshi. In G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, Markandaya's obsession, Raja Rao's The Serpent and the Rope, and ushawant Singh's Train to Pakistan, a slight variation of this theme is discovered. Another group of writers deal with the theme of East-West and attempt to bridge the gulf between India and the West. They have attempted to present the manifold difficulties of cross-cultural understanding and to explore the possibilities of mutual tolerance. K. Nagarjuna Chronicles of Kedaram and Bhattacharya's Shadow from Ladakh and Markandaya's The Coffer Dams and Pleasure City deal with this East-West theme. 10 Apart from these categories of novels, there is altogether a separate category of works which subtly portray human nature in a psychological fashion. In those category, the protagonist is a victim of his own inner tension and struggles; such are The Dark Dancer by B Rajan, A Silence of Desire by Markandaya, the novels of Anita Desai and Arun Joshi. 'Indianness' formed part of major thematic concern of the novels of this period and they served the purpose of social as well as political reform. Strong didactic tone is characteristic of much of Indian fiction, influenced on the one hand by Victorian moralistic works and on the other by the authors critical assessment of Indian customs and traditions. It is a combination of a nationalistic view point and an acute awareness of Western social ideals and customs.


      The novels of this period display an emerging national consciousness in India and at the same time a manifestation of the hybrid consciousness of the intellectual elite of the country Hence, these authors are certainly not typical of the Indian population but represent a particular social segment. Therefore, Harrex feels that Indian fiction in English "manifests the mixed sensibility".


      Regarding the growth and authenticity of Indian English fiction Mukherjee says: "Novels must be rooted in the concept of history... few novels which have succeeded are usually the ones firmly rooted in time and place. Yet, most of Indo-Anglian novelists are constantly aiming at an Indianness bereft of temporal and spatial values". Regarding this, V.K. Gokak remarks "Indo-Anglian writers come from a microscopic minority group and have merely succeeded in creating a hothouse plant rather than one that has sprung from the soil and sprouted and burgeoned in the open air".


      A critical assessment of any work of art requires a study of its 'matter' and 'manner', or of its what' and 'how' both. The discussion of the major thematic concerns would be incomplete without exploring the major technical devices used by the novelists to project their vision. By narrative technique we mean the pattern, coherence, and sense of perspective imposed by the novelists selection and explanation. It is a means of expression of their total understanding of man, of Nature, of God. Such understanding and totality of the vision is communicated to us through appropriate means - language, form and technique. Novel as a literary genre was new to India. So, the concern with the technique has been slow to evolve in the Indian English fiction. T.D. Brunton remarks Indian novel is "embedded in the tradition of Indianness' rather than that of the genre".


      Regarding this Spencer holds that "Indianness appears to have prevented the development of the novel before the arrival of the British". As the Indian English fiction attained maturity in the thirties the writers began to make new experiments in the technique of novel by assimilating the innovations of modern European novelists and adapting them to suit the treatment of Indian traditions and ethos. The novelists writing after independence appear to be attracted to new techniques in plotting, narration and characterization. The modern "stream of consciousness" method of narration is tried by a few of them like Raja Rao, G.V. Desani, and Anita Desai. However, most significant experiments were made in the sphere of technique.

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