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Adolescents as Instruments of Change: The English-language Novel Set in Post-independence India by Meena Khorana The colonial tradition glamorized by the novels of Rudyard Kipling and Dhan Mukerjee is perpetuated by both contemporary Western and Indian authors writing in English. The realities of post-independence India determine the content of the adolescent novel set In India. Soon after Independence from the British in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru's cabinet laid out elaborate Five Year Plans to ensure a government-controlled industrial development. The attempts of Tagore and Gandhi to re-discover the roots of Indian culture could not withstand the Western orientation of the English-speaking elite. Since only two percent of the literate population uses English as Its first language (Singh 112), authors woo Western readers who are still fascinated by "exotic" India. "Some Indian writers, fully aware of this appeal, exploit it, piling on local colour, explaining and expatiating upon Indian customs, detailing recipes of Indian dishes, describing sarees and outlining the colourful rituals of an Indian wedding" (Williams xvi). These divergent trends make social and national progress a compelling theme in children's novels by both Western and Indian writers. The adolescent protagonists, mainly boys, become the vehicles through which this Inherited colonial legacy is reflected. The novel thus becomes didactic and highly stereotypical. Each novel has a definite agenda; whether it is to promote education, technology, medicine, or a more modem outlook, it is the young hero who is burdened with fulfilling It. The setting of most of these novels is rural. When a book does have an unban locale, it is set in the poverty-stricken areas. The novels are hence a sociological Investigation Into viiage attitudes. Reporter-like, authors catalog the features of village life—child marriages, drought, dependence on the monsoons, and superstitions against technology. Despite these deplorable conditions, there Is a strong opposition to progress by the older generation. Passive acceptance and a reluctance to change their traditional ways make viagers unfit to survive in modern times. "What can I do if God is angry with us? Man cannot change His will" (Ufe of Keshav 9) Is the typical attitude. In each novel the young hero overcomes opposition and finds a successful means of bringing prosperity to his family and becomes a symbol of hope to his community. A major theme In these novels Is the education of village youth. With a literate population of only 245 million, or 36 percent of the total population, the lack of educational facilities in villages Is a prime hindrance to progress. As in her earlier novel, Ramu, the Storv of India. Indian scholar and author Rama Mehta narrates a village boy's quest for education in The Ufe of Keshav. Education comes to the vRiage of Bedla when a school teacher gives night classes In Hindi. Keshav, the hero, Is an avid student and he realizes the possibilities of learning. His dream of going to a proper school is fuffiled when a rich benefactor sponsors him to go to a school in the city of Udaipur. At first there is opposition from his mother because acquiring an education Imposes a rather long period of economic dependence. Keshav doesnt get enough time from his household chores to do his schoorwork and burning oil to study at night is expensive. "School, school, that Is all you think about. What good Is your learning to us if you cant share the responsibilities of the household? Throw those books aside', said Ganga reaching out to snatch them from his hands" (74). Once Ganga sees the future Job possibilities for Keshav, she makes untold sacrifices to fulfill his dream. To Keshav himself, education has been at best a mixed blessing. He Is teased cruelly by the rich city boys for his village attire and because he is married at the age of fourteen. His education alienates his village friends and, but for Ajay, the son of his benefactor, the vast social and economic gap prevents him from making friends at school. With hard work he comes first when he graduates from high school. When the novel ends, the author hints that Keshav might go to engineering school. Twelve...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
pp. 67-70
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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