Alpana Sharma Knippling. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Editor: Nalini Natarajan, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Introduction: The Evolution of Indian Literature in English
Not surprisingly, Indian literature in English evolved alongside the consolidation of British imperialism in India. There is a variety of opinion about the first definitive Indian text in English, although critics agree that Indian literature in English dates back to at least the early nineteenth century. Its beginnings receive their impetus from three sources: the British government’s educational reforms, the work of missionaries, and the reception of English language and literature by upper-class Indians. First, there are the educational reforms called for by both the 1813 Charter Act and the 1835 English Education Act of William Bentinck. In an effort to redress some of the avaricious, hence compromising, practices of the East India Company servants, the English Parliament approved the Charter Act, which made England responsible for the educational improvement of the natives. The subsequent English Education Act, prompted by Thomas Babington Macaulay’s (in)famous minute on Indian education, made English the medium of Indian education and English literature a disciplinary subject in Indian educational institutions.
In her study of the history of English in colonial India, Gauri Viswanathan usefully points out that even before Bentinck’s 1835 English Education Act, instruction in English certainly existed in Indian colleges (Viswanathan 1989, 45). In the early 1800s, English was taught side by side with Oriental studies, its teaching marked by the sort of classical approach taken to Latin and Greek in British colleges. However, with the withdrawal of funds to Oriental studies, the secular character of such instruction was to give way to an increasingly Christian inflection. Hence, what makes the act so decisive is not the introduction of English in Indian colleges but, rather, the new charge, religious and moral, that English was allowed to bear in the classroom. Missionary activity, a second aspect contributing to the genesis of Indian literature in English, profited directly from this shift in emphasis. The 1813 Charter Act had opened India to the missionaries, but it posed no serious threat to the Orientalists; with the passing of the 1835 English Education Act, Orientalism received its most severe blow, and, most satisfyingly to the missionaries, English emerged as the sole bearer of morality and normativeness.
But neither these educational reforms nor the ensuing missionary activity in Christian schools alone could have ensured the hegemony of English in India. There needed to be a vested concern on the part of upwardly mobile Indians to receive the benefits of English, for without this Indian reception of English, the language simply would not have held the sort of sway that it did. Hence, the third impetus to the beginnings of Indian writing in English would have to engage this reception. The postcolonial critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak theorizes such a reception as a kind of “negotiation with the structures of violence” (Spivak 1990, 101). This would imply a space in which imperialism did not work its power absolutely or uniformly upon Indians for the exclusive benefit of the British. Rather, given the violence that imperialism wrought as it disrupted Indian history, it makes sense to elaborate how aspects of British power were appropriated and rearranged by Indians. An example of such a “negotiation” or appropriation is the subject of Homi K. Bhabha’s essay “Signs Taken for Wonders,” in which Bhabha looks at the reception of the English Book (i.e., the Bible) by a group of Indian natives (Bhabha 1985). Upon the Indian catechist Anund Messeh’s introduction of the Bible to them, the Indians fail to recognize, automatically, the authority of this text, thereby producing an ambivalent, “hybrid” space that may productively resist colonial power.
All of this is to suggest that the reception of English in India, or the third impetus to early Indian writing in English, needs to be understood as radical and history-changing, yet subject to ambivalence, negotiation, and subversive appropriation on the part of Indians themselves. Thus, we have to acknowledge a nascent space in which British and Indian social codes and value systems began to intersect and mutually determine one another in nineteenth-century India; but, having done so, we also have to leave room for a reception of English that was necessarily reinventive and improvisational, not merely imitative.
Early writing in English: “Negotiating With the Structures of Violence”
The first literary texts in English emerge from Bengal. Raja Rammohun Roy (1774-1833), the progressive advocate of English civilization and culture, wrote numerous essays and treatises, which were collected in a complete volume in 1906. But it seems that poetry was the genre that first took flight in the Indian imagination, the best-known nineteenth-century poets being Henry Derozio (1809-31), Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1827-73), Toru Dutt (1856-77), her cousin Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848-1909), and Manmohun Ghose (?-1924). To a greater or lesser degree, all these poets were influenced by the idealistic strain of romanticism, their poetry alternately recording lyrical and Christian sentiments. (David McCutchion points out that the first volume of poetry in English came out even before these poets made their mark, citing Shair and Other Poems  by Kasiprasad Ghose [McCutchion 1969].) By the turn of the century and into the early twentieth century, three more poets were to join their ranks, outdoing them with a far greater success and fame. These were Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), and Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949).
Tagore, by and large a lyrical poet, was brought to the attention of the West by his 1912 English translation of his Bengali poems; entitled Gitanjali (SongOffering), the volume secured him international recognition. Some critics argue that W. B. Yeats’s celebratory interpretation of Tagore’s poetry as purely mystical has misled readers and obscured Tagore’s actual innovation in Gitanjali: the use of prose poetry instead of strict meter and rhyme (see, e.g., Williams 1977, 26-28). Though he went on to translate more of his poetry, Macmillan publishing the Collected Poems and Plays in 1936, Tagore is still best known for his first collection of poems and the creation of his experimental school, Santiniketan, in Bolpur. Unlike Tagore, Sri Aurobindo wrote originally in English, more justly deserving the title of mystic and visionary with such well-known works as Savitri (1936) and The Life Divine (1939-40). Initially, Sri Aurobindo embarked on a career in the Indian civil service with a degree in the classics from King’s College, Cambridge. The years of Anglicization came to an end when he rediscovered Indian religion and philosophy; after a period of nationalist activity, he established an ashram in Pondicherry, where he began to write his epicstyle philosophical works and acquire a large religious following. Like Sri Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu went to King’s College in England, returning eventually to India on the advice of Edmund Gosse, who found her early poems “too English” (Williams 1977, 33). Her three volumes of poetry, The Golden Threshold (1905), The Bird of Time (1912), and The Broken Wing (1917), earned her much fame and popularity in England; at home, she became a well-known public figure.
What seems most remarkable about these early poets is that most of them saw no contradiction between their Indian and Anglicized identifications. Henry Derozio, for instance, was a fervent nationalist; yet, his love of the romantics found him riding an Arab horse through the streets of Calcutta. Similarly, Toru Dutt went to Indian myth and legend for her themes in Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan, freshly reinterpreting some of these; yet, she remained attached to France and French literature, even writing a novel in French and translating French poems into English. Macaulay’s “Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” (Macaulay 1952, 719-30), these early writers were mediators between East and West. But, “negotiating with the structures of violence,” they did not merely reproduce the axioms of imperialism and mindlessly imitate Western literature. Perhaps an exception to this seemingly noncontradictory, almost arbitrary comingling of Indian and Anglo-European influences, both cultural and literary, may lie in Manmohan Ghose, who remained acutely alienated from Indians and supported British imperialism right through World War I.
The Status of the English Language in Indian Literature in English: Indo-Anglians Versus Regionalists
In contrast to poetry, Indian novels in English did not come fully to light until organized movements of civil disobedience against British imperialism had begun, and Indian nationalism had become the rallying cry of the day. This may be why, to this day, novel writing in English bears the brunt of criticism by writers in regional languages, who maintain that writing in English is a disloyal, Anglophilic activity. This damaging charge is hardly surprising or unexpected. The history of English in India is such that the language cannot be read outside its determining ideological and political functions. If, on one hand, English worked to secure a common medium of communication across the diverse states of India, it also, on the other hand, achieved a bitter splintering among Indians. There are, for instance, regional writers who have opposed the very use of English as an artistic medium. According to them, the use of English is traitorous; it has, both literally and figuratively, “sold” an exoticized India to the West and alienated the writer in English from his or her “native” country. Using the term “Indo-Anglian” to describe themselves, writers and literary critics in English have frequently resorted to a defensive tone, insisting on their nationalistic and patriotic identifications even as they write in the master language of English.
Interestingly, both parties have cast their arguments in the terms of nationalism: regional writers claim that they are more thoroughly nationalistic than Indo-Anglian writers, while Indo-Anglian writers argue that their access to nationalism is as unmediated as the regionalists’. Further, many Indo-Anglian writers and literary critics see their use of English as itself participating in a nationalistic effort to Indianize English. The classic example of such an Indianizing effort would have to be Raja Rao’s Kanthapura. In the well-known Author’s Foreword to the novel, Rao professes the nature of his experimental nativization of English with a certain ambivalence, insisting that the English language is a part of Indians’ “intellectual make-up” but not of their “emotional make-up”; in this way, English is and isn’t an “alien language” (Rao 1938, vii). Locating himself at the tenuous juncture where English and Indian influences conjoin and conflict (“We cannot write like the English. … We cannot write only as Indians”), he undertakes a project that is both modernist and nationalist: Kanthapura relates, in the speech of a pious old Brahmin woman’s “native” cadence and rhythm, the story of a small village’s growing involvement in Gandhi’s Quit-India campaign against the British.
But the project initiated by Rao in 1938 was to become more and more embattled and beleagured by the postcolonial 1960s. During the 1960s, such Indo-Anglian writers as P. Lal, teacher at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, and early leader of the Calcutta-based group of writers called the Writers’ Workshop, was rehearsing heated and impassioned debates with regional writers (see McCutchion 1969, 20-22). Since that time, debates between the two opposed positions have become part and parcel of the history of literary production in English.
Briefly summarized, the regionalist position maintains that writers can be “true” to India only if they write in languages other than English; the Indo-Anglian position maintains that writers can be “true” to India in spite of the language they use and, sometimes, because of the language they use (as in the case of Indianizing English). Because both groups have articulated their positions in terms of truth—truthfulness, authenticity, “true” nationalism, even “true” patriotism—they have polarized debate over the singular question, Which group is “true” to India? It is less interesting to range ourselves either on one side of this debate over English or on the other. To do so means to devalue the history attached equally to both sides. In fact, both sides have had to elaborate their relation to English, one through vehement denial, the other through creative incorporation. Also, as I have tried to show, Indian writing in English has opened up a space that is not purely imitative of English in an empty kind of way but, instead, subject to productive innovation and reinvention.
Given the historical “impurity” of both sides, it seems more instructive to study the process by which both the Indo-Anglian and the regionalist sides equally and convincingly articulate certain “truths” about Indian national identity. We must keep in mind, however, that these “truths” are contestatory discursive effects; they are not true in and of themselves. Michel Foucault’s genealogical work shows that the subject of “truth” is not something that lies outside, or transcends, discourse. It is, instead, an effect of discourse, which in itself is neither true nor false: “Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its own regime of truth, its ‘general politics‘ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true (Foucault 1980, 131).” In a country that historically has both accepted and tenuously managed regional and cultural differences, what is at stake for the Indo-Anglian and regionalist production of “truth” is nothing less than the whole subject of Indian nationalism.
Indian Literature in English from 1935 to 1970
While poetry took precedence over novels, novel writing did go on in the nineteenth century. Pyaricharan Mitra’s Alaler Gharer (The Spoilt Child, 1858) seems to be the first Indian novel. The first Indian novel in English, however, may be Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Rajmohun’s Wife (1864); ironically, this was also to be his last novel, for after its appearance, Chatterjee wrote in Bengali for his remaining writing career. To this novel may be added Sorabji’s Love and Life behind the Purdah (1901) and S. B. Banerjea’s Tales of Bengal (1910). But in the turbulent 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s Indian novel writing in English became a viable industry.
The decades of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s witnessed cataclysmic changes, as discourses of nationalism and colonialism collided, even as India was thrust into modern conditions of living and thinking. These years produced three Indian novelists, often referred to as the three “greats” of Indian literature in English: Mulk Raj Anand (1905), R. K. Narayan (1906), and Raja Rao (1909). At the crossroads where discourses of colonialism, nationalism, and modernity intersected and began to mutually inform one another, Anand, Narayan, and Rao tackled the issues of the time in strikingly different ways: Anand through the social idealist’s vision of Marx; Narayan through the comic-satirist’s recording of everyday life in the fictitious town, Malgudi; and Rao through the Brahmin philosopher’s caste-inflected ruminations on Indian culture.
Anand is best known for the novels Untouchable (1935), Coolie (1936), and Two Leaves and a Bud (1937); the trilogy The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940), and The Sword and the Sickle (1942); and The Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953). What characterizes most of these novels is the repeated depiction of a beleagured, working-class protagonist, whose oppression marks the oppression of rural India by the twin systems of empire and capital. In Untouchable, for instance, Anand depicts a day in the life of a sweeper and latrine cleaner, Bakha, in whose tortured and split consciousness Anand shows the debilitating effects of the Hindu caste system. In doing so, he also puts the colonial language of English and all of its elite associations at the service of an ideological necessity to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. This literary attempt at subaltern representation may be productively read in relation to the current historiographical project of the Subaltern Studies historians, who are engaged in recuperating the marginalized perspectives of the subaltern classes through Indian colonial and neocolonial history.
Narayan’s oeuvre is enormous, but most worthy of note are Swami and Friends (1935), The English Teacher (1945), The Financial Expert (1952), Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), The Guide (1958), The Man Eater of Malgudi (1962), My Days: Memoirs (1974), and The Painter of Signs (1976); most recently, Narayan has published A Storyteller’s World (1989, 1990) and The World of Nagaraj (1990). Perhaps to a larger extent than Anand, Narayan established the global stakes for Indian literature in English. With the ingenious invention of a fictitious small town, Malgudi—where all his novels are set—Narayan was able to convey the cultural nuances of India itself to both Indians and Western readers. His international popularity is readily evident in the many reprints of his novels by the University of Chicago Press and Penguin in the 1980s and 1990s. But, unlike Anand, Narayan does not revise English itself for a new political purpose. His prose is lucid yet predictable in pattern, its chief characteristic being an understated, modest, tongue-in-cheek irony, which works excellently at deflecting any ultimate seriousness of theme and purpose that we may attribute to his text.
Like Anand, Raja Rao deliberately set out to rewrite English for Indian ends. However, Rao’s first novel, Kanthapura (1938), which marks a fascinating experiment to Indianize the English language, was later disavowed by Rao when he found his guru, Shri Atmananda, and his faith in the Sanskritic philosophy of Vedanta. His next novel, The Serpent and the Rope (1960), explores his religious faith, as does The Cat and Shakespeare (1965). Rao’s Comrade Kirillov (1976) shows his interest in Marxism, but it was conceived in the early 1950s, before Rao came to believe that Vedantism transcended Marxism. As a writer who has “rediscovered” his Vedantic origins, Rao has exchanged one brand of nationalism—anticolonialism in the British Raj—for another—pro-Hinduism in postindependence India. His writing seems to have begun the move from the public, communal scene inclusive of all castes and class, to the introspective, private musings of a Brahminical life.
Anand and Rao have traveled extensively abroad; but all three writers demonstrate a comfortable ease with English. In the postcolonial period, such an ease ceases to be unusual or unexpected. Instead, it bears the mark of an everyday sort of casualness, almost obscuring the fact that systematic access to English is still limited to the upper and middle classes. Indian diasporic literature in the Anglo-United States, the most Western(ized) example of Indian literature in English, perhaps bears out this point most convincingly. But Anand, Narayan, and Rao secured the future of Indian writing in English by turning writing in English into a solidified material project that had assumed international proportions by the 1940s. In the process of producing and participating in this project, they also show the discontinuous historical trajectory in which competing and contradictory discourses of colonialism, nationalism, and modernity collide.
Literature of this period must, however, also include the novels of Bhabani Bhattacharya, G. V. Desani, and Sudhindra Nath Ghose. Of these, one must especially note G. V. Desani, whose satiric comedy All about H. Hatterr (1948) broke new ground in its subversive treatment of British-Indian relations and the English language. In the period of decolonization that followed Indian independence, a new set of novelists emerged, the leading ones quickly identifying themselves as Anita Desai, Manohar Malgonkar, Kamala Markandaya, Balachandra Rajan, Nayantara Sahgal, and Khushwant Singh. Inheritors of India’s postindependence history, these authors seem quite aware of writing in the wake of the literary successes of Anand, Narayan, and Rao. Singh and Malgonkar chose among their early subjects the communal violence unleashed by the horrific specter of independence and partition, the former in Train to Pakistan (1956) and the latter in Distant Drum (1960) and A Bend in the Ganges (1964).
In dramatic contrast, Desai, Markandaya, and Rajan articulated an interest in the psychosocial space in which their characters struggled toward a privatized and individualistic self-awareness informed by essentially Western (but now seen as fairly universal) ideals. In particular, the early fiction of Desai (1937)—Cry the Peacock (1963) and Voices in the City (1965)—depicts intensely privatized lives of middle-class women and men, as does the fiction of Markandaya (1924). In the novels, Nectar in a Sieve (1954), Some Inner Fury (1955), A Silence of Desire (1960), Possession (1963), A Handful of Rice (1966), and The Coffer Dams (1969), Markandaya weaves the lives of women, often of subaltern classes, into the sociopolitical backdrop of rural India. Both Desai and Markandaya have diasporic identifications, Desai teaching creative writing for one semester at Mount Holyoke College and spending the remainder of her time in India and Markandaya, living in England since 1948. Both women also have European affiliations, the former with half-German parentage and the latter with an English husband. This bicultural background may be understood as productive of some tension, as these writers locate their domicile elsewhere, yet continue to use India as their primary setting. (While Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is regarded by some critics as an Indo-Anglian writer, her own admission that she is “not [Indian], and less so every year” and her recent relocation to the United States prevent discussion of her writing in these pages.
The impingement of discourses of nationalism, colonialism, and modernity on the literature produced by Indian novelists in this period shows a script that was making a transition from the public to the private in an increasingly global way. If Anand, Narayan, and Rao were preternaturally aware of the public arena in which their fiction would participate, Desai and Markandaya seem interested in staging the private world of individualism for a global audience. What is evident in the fiction of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s seems to be paralleled in the poetry. In this period, Indian poetry in English attempted to break away from the sentimentality commonly associated with Tagore, Aurobindo, and Naidu. In keeping with the new, modernist poetics sought by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound abroad, Indian poets in English similarly strove for a symbolic yet realistic style. Leading poets of the 1950s and 1960s include Kamala Das, Nissim Ezekiel, P. Lal, Dom Moraes, and A. K. Ramanujan. Of these, Kamala Das deserves special mention; her poetic innovation consisted in creating a bold and passionate medium in which to explore the range of female anxiety and sexuality. These poets were joined, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Jayanta Mahapatra, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and Pritish Nandy, among others. Their poetry demonstrates a vivid grasp of world literature, not limited to Eliot and Pound but extending, instead, to French experimental poetry from Rimbaud to dadaism and surrealism; as well, Chitre, Kolatkar, and Ramanujan are interested in incorporating regional influences (King 1992, 5).
One key participant in this process of globalization has been the Western critic of Indian literature in English. If “truth” of Indian national identity is what preoccupies Indian writers and critics, one may ask what the stakes are for all those Western critics who have played such a key role in the history of the production of Indian literature in English. As far back as 1882, when Edmund Gosse’s critical introduction to Toru Dutt’s Ancient Ballads and Legends established Toru Dutt as a leading lyrical poet, the mediating role of the Anglo-American critic emerged. This mediation’s power cannot be underestimated, as the careers of many indigenous Indian writers in English have depended on the work of patronage, promotion, and representation by Western critics. The following are just a few examples of Western mediation: Edmund Gosse’s “discovery” of Toru and Aru Dutt’s English translation of French poems, “a shabby little book … A hopeless volume it seemed with its queer type,” which, when Gosse read it, elicited his great “rapture” (see Narasimhaiah 1987, 24); Gosse’s acquaintance, in London and Cambridge, with Sarojini Naidu, whom he urged to go home for “some revelations of the heart of India” (Williams 1977, 33); E. M. Forster’s introduction to Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, which had been turned down by 19 publishers before Wishart Books agreed to publish it, provided Forster wrote the introduction; and Graham Greene’s rave review of the young Narayan’s first work, Swami and Friends, which helped put Narayan on the global map.
As facilitators or participants in the global circuit of literary production and reception, Western critics have taken sides in the debate between Indo-Anglians and regionalists, and, thanks to the covering over of their own ideological stakes in the debate, they have given it a strange and different twist. In dramatic contrast to the Indo-Anglian writers and critics who have repeatedly expressed their stakes and insisted on issues to do with truth, self-representation, authenticity, and Indian national identity, such Western critics as David McCutchion and William Walsh have not found it necessary to account for their own vested interest in Indian literature in English. Nor, significantly, do they discuss their own ideological and geopolitical positioning, as Western, vis-à-vis their analyses of Indian texts in English. Seemingly disinterested and neutral bystanders, these readers, in fact, reveal their cultural biases in numerous ways, as when they customarily situate Anglo-American literature as normative, thus (out)casting Indian literature in English in the dubious light either of an embarrassing aberration or of a poor imitation. In both cases, the literature seems to emerge as second-best. Indeed, Walsh’s essay, “Sweet Mangoes and Malt Vinegar: The Novels of R. K. Narayan,” published in a collection of critical essays edited by K. K. Sharma, seems to imply that Narayan achieved literary greatness, not because of, but in spite of, being Indian (Walsh 1977, 121-40).
Indian Literature in English At the Brink of the Twenty-First Century
In The Indo-English Novel: The Impact of the West in a Developing Country, Klaus Steinvorth argues that Indian literature in English is written primarily for Western readers. He demonstrates this thesis on the basis of such evidence as the detailed explanation of Indian cultural and sociohistorical heteroglossia in many of the texts: why would an Indian writer need to include such obvious and, hence, redundant explanations of Indian customs to Indian readers? Steinvorth also calls attention to all those book jackets that bear photographs of sari-clad women writers and wonders what these exoticized representations do to the market sales of the books in the West. In the current period, Steinvorth’s 1975 critique of Indian literature in English reminds us that visual textual signifiers— reproductions of Mughal-style paintings of princesses, handmaidens, and elephants on book covers, for instance—are in the service of global commodity production and circulation. In the case of Indian literature in English, such visual textual signifiers may serve only to reproduce, for readers, the kinds of Orientalizing gestures that Edward Said criticized in Orientalism. In other words, the literature stands to be appropriated as an exoticized Other that consolidates the neoimperialist self of the Anglo-United States. In some senses, since its inception in British colonialism in the mid-nineteenth century, the literature has always run the risk of appropriation as an exoticized Other. However, with the insertion of modernity, the difference that the twentieth century brings is, first, a kind of solidification of a project of writing that has begun to render national boundaries irrelevant. Such is the determining function of multinational publishing corporations that national boundaries almost cease to matter.
Related to this is the second different twist that the (late) twentieth century has performed: it is becoming more difficult to make critical distinctions between indigenous Indian writers and writers of the Indian diaspora. Although this point may be argued, surely it is symptomatic that Viney Kirpal’s 1990 collection of critical essays, The New Indian Novel in English: A Study of the 1980s, published in India by Allied Publishers, makes no distinction between indigenous and diasporic writers. Indeed, its express aim is to show that, in “the New Indian novel, the world itself is regarded as one big home … The awareness of the world as a larger place is in” (Kirpal 1990, xxii). When a critical distinction is made, it falls between the “Old Masters” (Narayan and Anand) and subsequent generations, while the indigenous novels of Upmanyu Chatterjee, Shashi Deshpande, Namita Gokhale, Arun Joshi, Chaman Nahal, Ranga Rao, Nayantara Sahgal, and Pratap Sharma are treated alongside those of the diasporic writers Anita Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Kamala Markandaya, Salman Rushdie, and Vikram Seth (Rushdie securing the attention of no less than 6 of the 27 essays).
A similar global awareness is at work in current English-language poetry. According to Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, poet and editor of Twelve Modern Indian Poets, no significant distinction obtains between the indigenous poetry of Dilip Chitre, Keki N. Daruwalla, Eunice de Souza, Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Jayanta Mahapatra, and Manohar Shetty and the diasporic poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, Dom Moraes—who, Mehrotra points out, has lived in Bombay for the past decade—A. K. Ramanujan, and Vikram Seth. In fact, it proves difficult even to typify writers of the second group as diasporic: they continue to work on Indian material and, according to Mehrotra, all, excepting Moraes, Seth, and the early Jussawalla, incorporate their “native” regional tongues into English. In the introduction to his critical study, Modern Indian Poetry in English, Bruce King similarly argues that the poetry demonstrates a global awareness, with many poets indebted to North and South American and early Indian regional verse (see King 1992, 1-10).
All of this goes to show that the yielding of national boundaries to the uncanny spaces of the diaspora does not lead us to presume the irrelevance of the nation. On the contrary, the diaspora recasts nationalism, or, as Arjun Appadurai puts it, “the nationalist genie, never perfectly contained in the bottle of the territorial state, is now itself diasporic,” (Appadurai 1993, 411-29). But one area that still draws meaningful distinctions between indigenous and diasporic agendas in literature is that of women’s writing. Indeed, one significant gain in the entry of Indian literature in English in the public and global realms has been the possibility of a space opened up to women’s writing in India. Such feminist publishers as Kali for Women have brought out significant anthologies of stories by Indian women, both originally in English and translated into English from the regional languages: for example, In Other Words: New Writing by Indian Women and The Slate of Life: An Anthology of Stories by Indian Women. In addition, Kali for Women has brought out collections of critical essays on issues to do with feminism, colonialism, and nationalism: Kumari Jayawardena’s Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World and Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid’s edited volume, Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History. Most worthy of mention is the groundbreaking, comprehensive collection of writing by women, Women Writing in India: 600 B. C. to the Present, two volumes, edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita. With the single exception of the New York City-based writer and teacher Meena Alexander (whose short story is featured in The Slate of Life), all the writers represented in these anthologies are, or, in their lifetime, were, residents of India. In fact, Tharu and Lalita pointedly exclude diasporic women writers like Anita Desai, Meena Alexander, and Suniti Namjoshi from their Volume Two: The Twentieth Century. In their general introduction, they also very carefully separate their feminist agenda from that of Anglo-U.S. feminists, reading the scene of Indian women’s writing against and through issues to do with literacy, class, and caste.