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CHEL VA KANAGANA YAKAM Indian Writing in English: Counterrealism as Alternative Literary History This essay is at least partially a belated response to a significant, polemical, and neglected monograph entitled Indian Writing in English: Is There Any Worth in It? written by Subha Rao and published in 1976. The monograph is a reworking and elaboration of a paper presented, appropriately, at the University of Mysore, then the centre of Indo-Anglian and postcolonial studies in India. Had this trenchant critique of Indo-Anglian writing been written from the perspective ofwhathas been dubbed the'colonial cringe,' namely, an uncritical defence of a canonical, largely British, tradition, a response would be an unprofitable exercise in that it would seek to resolve on a literary plane what is clearly an expression of cultural bias. Rao's work, admittedly, does not exclude references to British literature - in fact, an instance of comparison, one that is used to judge the only Indo-Anglian text that the author refers to, namely, B. Rajan's The Dark Dancer (1958), is Middlemarch. But the core of the argument is derived from socia-cultural prelnises that have a specific and local significance for India, and by extension for countries and regions where alternative linguistic traclitions have been revived and foregrounded as an auxiliary to decolonization and nationalism. The failure ofIndianwritingin English, according to this viewJ is seen to be a consequence of factors more complex than that of a duality based on' authenticity versus imitation. Subha Rao is not merely dismissive of certain authors or texts: rather, he questions the validity of the entire corpus of Indo-Anglian writing on the grounds of relevance to an Indian audience, importance in relation to social realities and the absence of formal sophistication. He identifies the project of writing in the English language as the cuItural voice of a particular class, its power in postcolonial India, and its capitulation to the hegemonic effects of colonialism in the country. Says Rao: 'OUf writing in English is "the language" of the urban rich and the educated classes, in association with a kind of life I call the unindian life, to which all of us aspire by the nature of our present ambitions and hopes' (12). English writing, from this perspective, reflects the voice of the colonizer, the vision of Prospero . masquerading as the story of Caliban. I would like to thank Dr Clara Joseph for her insightful comments. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 2000 ,INDIAN WRITING IN ENGLISH 671 The liminality of the English language in relation to the vernacular languages, its valorization by the postcolonial elite, the associations that underlie the use of the language, the audience for whom the texts are intended, the distance that the works demonstrate from a vital indigenous culture, the temptation for authors to exoticize and present the local in a flattering or self-deprecating manner - all these form part of the critique: IWhen the mina fails in the language in which it is counted a great value to be successful, we will have false standards of success - and also false standards of mental development- because itis not OUf language, in which we may never be successful' (Rao, 14). The hegemOnic status of the language, its historical role in the process of colonization, and its declining popularity as a language of everyday speech are thus crucial factors in his evaluation.1 Against the ambiguity associated with English is posited the use of indigenous languages which, in addition to having a rich and continuous tradition, have evolved with the growth of nationalism and whose role has been more significant than that of English. This point hardly needs stressing, for both at national and regional levels the socia-cultural forces unleashed concurrently with decolonization found in Indian fiction and poetry a powerful medium of dissemination. Literature altered, questioned, reflected, and was in turn nourished by centrifugal tendencies in the national imaginary. While Rao's argument is cogent, it finally rests on a simple binary system: namely, the preservation and celebration of an indigenous, authentic culture in a vernacular language versus mimicry, complicity, and subservience to an alien culture through a continued use of English. In this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 670-688
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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