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Reviewed by:
  • The Oppressive Present: Literature and Social Consciousness in India, and: The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India
  • Asha Sen
Sudhir Chandra. The Oppressive Present: Literature and Social Consciousness in India. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1992. 192 pp. $19.95.
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, ed. The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1992. 308 pp. $11.95.

It was not uncommon for parents to withdraw their children immediately from Duff's school whenever they sensed what they saw as the "tyranny of the Bible." Some parents negotiated their needs in a more sanguine manner. Duff's biographer and former student, Lal Behari Day, records the plan his father had worked out: he would wait for the moment when his son had learned enough English to obtain a decent situation outside but was not yet intellectually advanced to understand lectures on Christianity—as soon as that moment arrived, he would instantly be withdrawn from school and placed in an office. "Let Duff Saheb do what he can," was the father's defiant challenge to the threat of proselytism.

But Duff Saheb was a little more devious than even Day's father imagined . . . .

-Gauri Vishwanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (58)

The desire to reap the benefits of instruction in English without being contaminated by the ideology behind such instruction is representative of the central paradox that characterized the reactions of most nineteenth-century Indians to cultural domination. As the defeat of Lal Behari Day's father at the hands of missionary Alexander Duff indicates, this desire could never be completely fulfilled.1 The problem of negotiating colonial influence from historical positions which are, of necessity, implicated in the discursive systems they resist became the recurrent theme of most nineteenth-century texts and continues to manifest itself in the intense self-consciousness that informs much postcolonial scholarship today.

In her introduction to Masks of Conquest, Gauri Vishwanathan defends herself against charges of non-representation of native resistances to colonization on the grounds that these resistances were removed from the representational system employed by the British that is the focus of her critique. She states that no matter what form a resistance took it was always translated into the static "conceptual category" of "the native Indian." However, she also writes that native resistances are part of another history which "can, and perhaps must, be told separately for its immensely rich and complex quality to be fully revealed" (12). [End Page 215]

Two recent Oxford University Press publications—Sudhir Chandra's The Oppressive Present: Literature and Social Consciousness in Colonial India and a volume of essays edited by Rajeswari Sunder Rajan entitled The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India —present aspects of this "other" history in their representations of native resistances to colonization in nineteenth- and twentieth-century India. Although the projects undertaken by both studies are inherently dissimilar—Chandra attempts to recover certain vernacular texts from nineteenth-century India, while The Lie of the Land problematizes the study of English in contemporary India—both texts seek to create an alternate space from which to represent literary studies in India.2 By focusing on the ways in which western discourse is resisted, appropriated, and subverted by the specificity of local conditions in India, they target both western and indigenous intelligentsia. Both studies also share a fear of dismissal on the grounds of being belated imitations of the dominant concerns of the Anglo-American academy, and both are characterized by a degree of self-consciousness on the part of their creators. Chandra defines himself as an "English educated, Indian scholar," while Rajeswari Sunder Rajan calls the contributors to The Lie of the Land "alienated insiders."

Sudhir Chandra positions himself as part of a generation which is the product of imperialist modernist discourse and describes his project as one which seeks to understand the discourse of his ancestors on their terms (15). He points out that the mixture of acceptance and rejection which characterized their response to colonization made the West's privileging of a tradition/modernity binary, in which tradition meant "bad" and modernity "good," redundant. In support of...


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