Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

New Indian English Writing: Post-Colonialism or

R. K. Singh


Has Indian English poetry died with the creative and critical contributions of a couple of Nissim Ezekiels, A.K. Ramanujans, and R. Parthasarathys? Or, for, that matter, with the few noted poets of the 60s and 70s— Moraes, Mahapatra, Mehrotra, Daruwalla, or Shiv K. Kumar —who have been occupying the centre and throttling others from emerging? Niranjan Mohanty in his reflections on the current scenario has raised certain vital issues that must be debated before it is too late. I agree with his view: “At times I feel that the colonial, deconstructionist and postcolonial discourses have elusively alluded to the construction of a passion for empire-building, for erecting boundaries, for perpetuating the dialectical, often subversive relationship between the centre and the periphery, between the privileged and the marginalized.

I do not intend to reflect here on the new postcolonial writing of the Indian or South Asian Diaspora despite its veritable quality in terms of the cross-cultural aspects of migration, or the identity crisis in terms of home, language, nation, race, religion, power, politics etc, or the reshaping of self, values and norms. I also do not question the expatriate authors negotiation of the physical, emotional, psychological and intellectual tensions in terms of native/non-native, difference/sameness, known/unknown, us/them, home/unhome- like, or the Freudian heimlich/unheimlich contexts that characterize post modernity and postcolonialism. The postcolonial migrants, irrespective of their origin have been receiving good media and academia attention in India. They are settled in the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere in Europe. Most of them do not like to be called Indians but the colonial mindset of the academia where drives critics and reviewers to identify Indian English Writing with foreign nationals of Indian/Pakistani origin (who are published abroad), shunning the Indian nationals who keep publishing in India and abroad without being noticed.

No doubt in the last two decades fiction has drawn more attention than poetry. So much so, M. K. Naik and Shyamala A. Narayan’s book “Indian English Literature:1980-2000” (2001) devotes 122 pages (covering about fifty new authors) to it and only 60 pages to poetry, showing displeasure at the deteriorating quality of verses today. How long the so called established scholars, critics, reviewers, and university dons at home will continue to ignore the poets appearing in small journals or publishing their books spending their own hard-earned money. Thanks to the designs of media barons and their agents in the academic, cultural and bureaucratic set up, most of the good poets of the last 25 years, writing and publishing for the Indian a audience, have been reduced to a position of “internal exile”, as M. Prabha points out in her path-breaking socio-bio-literary criticism book, “The Waffle of the Toffs (2000)”.

Even if the urge to communicate is common to both the poets in the centre and on the periphery, the latter suffer marginalization for want of media coverage and publicity that makes one great or a celebrity. The resourceful publishers at home have the necessary means to ‘buy’ media persons, including influential reviewers, readers, and academics but they evince a different sensitivity. Creative writing at a profitable level is now something market-driven, something attached to awards, prizes, honours, membership of various bodies/ committees, and right connections, just as the organized networks of vested interests, controlling the centre, are too strong to allow someone active from the margin o periphery make a dent; they resist every new entrant who does not belong. And, all those who suffer exclusion naturally wonder if they can ever survive with legitimate identity vis-a-vis their privileged compatriots.

The growth of Indian English prose and poetry has been marred by lack of recognition by the local/native audience with taste, pride, and professionalism. The well-known postcolonial authors of the 1960s and 1970s have simply shut out the new voices and isolated them, just as there has been a vulgar search for, or currency of, fame abroad. No Ezekiel, Moraes, Parthasarathy, Mahapatra, or Naik has cared to promote an O.P.Bhatnagar, I.K. Sharma, R.K. Singh, or P. Raja, nor a publishing house like OUP or Longman, or institutions like Bharat Bhavan and Sahitya Akademi, care to discover and support new poets like Angelee Deodhar, K. Ramesh, or Mujeeb Yar Jung. Most of the main stream English departments would not know even six new poets and writers of the last two decades they could explore for an M. Phil or Ph.D. study; they know only the few names propped up by Bombay poets.

While the “Metro” poets evince a colonialist mentality in not tolerating the- “mofussil” poets who are often better than them, the established poets, critics, and professors do not like to look beyond their narrow vision, centred round a few voices of the 60s and 70s. If they pretend ignorance about new voices, or do not write about or reflect on them, it simply means they have no commitment, and their complaint about lack of quality in Indian English writing is superficial. When they say glibly that there are no significant poets in the last two decades, they sound an alert.

There has been virtually no evaluative study of new poets or non-canonical writers of the period 1980-2000 despite their artistic and aesthetic excellence. Most of them have been victims of obscurantism and sadistic stances of critics and academics that have been presenting a totally negative picture of Indian English creativity today. For example, M.K.Naik and Shyamala A. Narayan say: “...there is that huge crop of verse (to call it. “poetry” would be the mis-statement of the millennium) which seems to be growing all the time, like wild grass in the narrow field of Indian English literature”. They lament the “weed-like growth of verse” in recent years and brush aside all new poetry as “the incorrigible in. full pseudo-poetic pursuit of the inconsequential. This is alarming. I suspect they did not have access to poetry of several current poets who are in their 50s 60s, or 70s.  Naik and Narayan have not realized that there is more openness to artistic innovation today than in the previous generation and that the strength of Indian English Writing has always been sustained by new talents. Though looking for the peaks yet is premature (as most of new poets of the last 25 years are still active), it is powerful critics and academics job to prove the worth of new/contemporary poets and authors and relate their works to their predecessors’ without critical pampering or mindless over praise.

However, the canon continues to repudiate most of the poets of the last two decades even as journals like Creative Forum, Poetcrit, Canopy, Bridge-in-Making, Trivenim Poet, Cyber Literature,. Littcrit, Points of View, Indian Book Chronicle, Language Forum, The Journal of Indian Writing in English etc. have been Publishing critical articles on some of the marginalized poets.

These native Indian English poets have been confronting colonialist treatment in a postcolonial environment even after the maturity of Indian English Writing. They are not exile, emigrant, expatriate, or diasporic, and yet they suffer identity crisis. They live and work in India and yet find themselves ‘outsiders’: or not belonging to the larger native community. They feel deprived despite genius; they rot in anonymity, which is not a matter of mere attitude or personal failure to negotiate identity formation or politics of belonging.

I think it makes sense to talk in terms of revival of colonialism after post- colonialism. And, this is what we face in the first three years of the 21st century: the totalitarian morality of Information Technology, the manipulated fear of war/disaster/doom through, say, globalization, multi-national capitalism, corporate economy, WTO, environmental Concerns, various rights, \-Tar on terrorism, and all that; through political orthodoxy in the name of democracy, religious fanaticism, ethnic dominance, and repression of the liberals and the simple, and through the new processes of fossilization of the pre-colonial/colonial/postcolonial that may render many of  irrelevant. I wonder if we are not terribly dislocated in our world divided into North/South and First/Third world today, just. as many postcolonial writers, settled abroad, have been communicating with a colonized mind/subjectivity and getting media recognition.

A new colonialism of the right wing, the American and the British, is continuing in developing countries which are now become a playground for long term exploitation by the newly empowered colonialists within. A process of re-colonization is going on in the name of decolonization, as evident from post-September, 11 developments, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Against such a perspective, new writers and poets, be it India or any other country need a positive mediation on the basis of equality rather than ‘us vs. them’ treatment which is geared to separate or ignore talents that await discovery and recognition. With empathy, recognition, and responsiveness, the literary scholastic orthodoxies of the earlier decades can be replaced with fresh contexts, unaffected by monopolistic approaches. In. stead of pronouncing the demise of Indian English Writing or lamenting over its poor quality, if academic’ critics could demonstrate professional dedication and commitment, they would be able to locate promising good poets, fictioneers and playwrights besides fostering the art, harnessing the taste, and developing the talent.

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