INDIAN ENGLISH LITERATURE: IN
SEARCH OF A NAME
When one thinks of Indian English Literature, one cannot but think of the
complexity and difficulty in choosing a name for it. The following names been given
with different interpretations suggesting different nuances and shades of meaning.
1. Anglo-Indian Literature
2. Indo-Anglian Literature
3. Indo-English Literature
4. Indian writing in English
5. Indian-English writing
6. Indian English Literature
It’s true that the literary nomenclatures are never fully resolved to the best
satisfaction of all. To start with it was referred to as an Anglo-Indian Literature (to
think of Edward Farley Oaten’s prize-winning essay with that title) and it covered the
writings of Englishmen in Indian on Indian themes but the word Anglo-Indian also
refers to a race, a microscopic minority in India and it somehow acquired a
pejorative dimension. But the Indian creative writing in English needs to be referred
by a name. The phrase Indian Literature, on the analogy of American Literature or
Australian Literature is not suitable here, for in America and in Australia, English is
the only language (may be with different dialects or creolized English as it happens
to be in the case of Black-American Literature) and the spoken medium of people.
But in India the case is different. Indian Literature would mean, any literature in any
Indian language, hence the difficulty.
It’s said that J.H.Cousins coined the term Indo-Anglian literature in 1883 and
later it was given currency by Sreenivasa Iyengar, the pioneer in this field. But
Iyengar himself feels that the phrase ‘Indo-Anglian’ is not much too happy an
expression and this phrase was used by him as a title for his handbook on Indian
writing in English, brought out by PEN- (All India Centre).
In this book he makes a reference to the phrase ‘Indo-Anglian’ and how it
was misprinted as Indo-Anglican by mistake and how he had to send an answer
when he was chastised for this odd expression by ‘Autolycus’. He feels that people
prefer ‘Indo-English’ to ‘Indo-Anglian’, though ‘Indo-Anglian’ can be used both as an
adjective and substantive. Referring to this body of literature he recalls Bottemley’s
phrase ‘Matthew Arnold in Sari’ – not so an appalling apparition, perhaps after the
passage of 150 or more years. Iyengar likens this body of literature to legendary
Sakuntala who was disowned by her parents and feels that it is a tributory and an
off-shoot of English Literature which he refers to as a new mutation.
The more surprising thing is two distinct streams flow together
simultaneously; one, the other Indian language classical works getting translated
into English and the other creative works in English. V.K.Gokak prefers the phrase
Indo-English to refer to the former work and the latter is termed as Indo-Anglian.
Surjit Mukherjee in his essay ‘Indo-English Literature’ refers to works like
‘Geetanjalai’ (works translated by the authors themselves into English) not merely as
translations and like to call them as trans-creations. Referring to ‘Geetanjali’ he says,
“Its unique quality was the result of the author endeavouring to be his own
translator, in which process, he went beyond the bounds of translations and achieved
something which may be called ‘trans-creation’”. And he refuses to categorize
‘Geetanjali’ under either Indo-English or Indo-Anglian. For that matter any creative
work is a trans-creation, for, that in the sub-conscious is brought out as creation. It’s
a creative transformation.
It’s understandable that a distinction is kept between these two types of
translations;- one ,a work put into English by others, (other than the author) two, a
work translated into English by the author himself. The former is considered under
Indo-English writing and the latter is considered under Indo-Anglian or Indian English
Literature (a phrase coined by Dr.M.K.Naik for his critical survey of this body of
literature and accepted by Sahitya Akademi and \gained currency now for the simple
reason that it scores over other names, for it can widely cover the entire body of
Indian creative writing in English).
Amarjit Singh feels that “The appellation ‘Indo-English’ or even the less
felicitous ‘Indo-Anglian’ suggests only a part of the difficulty in trying to place the
literature produced by Indians in English within clear, national, regional or linguistic
Mulk Raj Anand – himself an established writer- prefers the phrase ‘Indian-
English writing’ and says,” I feel that Indian-English writing has come to stay as part
of world-literature”.  But somehow the phrase Indian-English has not yet coughed
off its pejorative colouring. Also Indian-English cannot be considered as pidgin-
English, for it is nothing short of degradation, for Indian-English is almost on par
with English barring a few irregularities in speech, nor can it be considered as
creolized English as seen in some parts of the world.
In this connection, the remarks of M.K.Naik are quite appropriate. Referring
to the origins he says “Indian English Literature began as an interesting by-product
of an eventful encounter in the eighteenth century between a vigorous and
enterprising Britain and a stagnant and chaotic India”. Later, almost coining a
phrase , he explains it thus: “The Sahitya Akademi has recently accepted ‘Indian
English Literature’ as the most suitable appellation for this body of writing. The term
emphasizes two significant ideas: first, that this literature constitutes one of the
many streams that join the great ocean called Indian Literature, which though
written in different languages, has an unmistakable unity; and secondly that it is an
inevitable product of the nativization of the English Literature appears to be more
acceptable than the other phrases discussed earlier.
Indian-English Literature has acquired a new identity as much identity as
American and Austrian literature have acquired which of course is quite distinct from
Indian English. The efforts by writers like Raja Rao in Indianizing English language
cannot be ignored though it is very difficult to express the Indian sensibility in
English. I am reminded of my own remarks in this connection: “to clothe the very
Indianness in English tongue – though it has gone into the very system of our life –
without making it appear bizarre is yet another difficulty for the cloth which
sometimes is either too long or too short which makes one prefer the naked majesty
itself. A rapprochement is somehow wrought between Indianness and the English
tongue and sometimes vice verse”.
People feel that Indian writing English at the moment is more an illusion
than of reality and more a promise and less an achievement. It’s too early to pass
such a judgment. While dealing with this mass of literature, the Carlylean approach
of dealing with the literary biography as a first-phase in tracing literary history is
needed but it is not all, for “Indian writing English produced over the last hundred
odd years does not reveal a homogenous continuity, but rather a critical cyclical
The role of a literary historian in tracing this great unwieldy mass of Indian
English Literature is a no mean task. The early writers and their immediate
demandings followed by the next successive phases and writers before and after
Independence present a much too complex picture to analyse. The pioneering efforts
of Sreenivasa Iyengar followed by the pursuing efforts of professors like M.K.Naik
and C.D. Narasimhaiah in this direction, deserve not only complaints but even
1. Surjit Mukherjee,”Indo-English Literature”- CRITICAL ESSAYS ON INDIAN
WRITING IN ENGLISH, (eds) M.K.Naik et. al, (Macmillan –Madras-1977),p.21.
2. Amarjit Singh, “Contemporary Indo English Literature – An approach”,
ASPECTS OF INDIAN WRITING ENGLISH (ed.) M.K.Naik,(Macmillan-1987)p.3
3. Mulk Raj Anand, “Pigeon-Indian- some notes on Indian-English writing”-
ASPECTS OF INDIAN WRITING IN ENGLISH, (ed) M.K.Naik (Macmillan –
4. M.K.Naik, A HISTORY OF INDIAN ENGLISH LITERATURE .(Sahitya Akademi
5. Ibid., p.5.
6. S.Subrahmanya Sarma, ”Foreword” ETERNAL CREATIONS (Amar publications,
Madras, 1982) p.v
7. D.V.K.Raghavacharyulu, “The Task Ahead”, CRITICAL ESSAYS ON INDIAN
WRITING IN ENGLISH (eds) M.K.Naik et.al (Macmillan-Madras 1977)-p.33.
Prof. Dr. Subrahmanyam S Sarma
Head – Department of English
Nizwa College of Technology, Nizwa
Sultanate of Oman
Post Box-No-358 – Postal Code-611
Yearly Archives: 2007
INDIAN ENGLISH LITERATURE: IN
INDIAN WRITING IN ENGLISH: SOME LANGUAGE ISSUES AND
Dr Christopher Rollason – firstname.lastname@example.org
Revised text of a paper given by the author at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) on 8
March 2006, as part of the event “Writers’ Meet”. It will be published in a forthcoming issue
of JNU’s journal JSL.
The theme of this paper requires that we establish the nature of the object of study: what
precisely is the thing that we are used to calling Indian Writing in English, or IWE? I shall
begin my discussion with some remarks from over three decades ago, by the late David
McCutchion, one of IWE’s earliest and still one of its most pertinent critics. In the
introduction to his eponymous book on the subject published in 1969, McCutchion writes:
“The fascination of Indian writing in English lies … in the phenomenon … of literary
creativity in a language other than the surrounding mother tongue”1, and goes on to pinpoint
some of the characteristics, both assets and drawbacks, of that phenomenon. Notably, he
highlights the particular technical difficulties posed by the use of dialogue in IWE works: “It
would require very exceptional gifts and total bilingualism to express directly in English the
lives of people who do not themselves speak English”2, while noting the very specific
positioning of the Indian intellectual writing in English, in terms which, though today they
require rephrasing for gender, remain perceptive and eloquent: “What the Indian poet or
novelist may present … is his own experience as a man educated to think and feel in Western
categories confronting the radically different culture all around him”3. McCutchion supposes a
surface-and-depth model: under the English-language surface lies a “radically different”
Recalling McCutchion’s still-valid comments, we may define Indian Writing in English as
original creative writing produced in English by Indian writers or writers of Indian origin,
resident or expatriate, for whom English will normally be a second language but who have in
all probability been educated, even within India, in English-medium schools and universities,
and are likely to write English more fluently than any native Indian language. This very
particular set of conditions, inherited from the Raj but carried on beyond Independence to the
present day, in no way makes these writers any less Indian: in most cases they are
representing the lives, conversations and thoughts of Indian characters who more often than
not are presumed to be speaking and thinking not in English at all, but in a plurality of Indian
languages. It has been said that IWE is already a case of translated literature, in the sense that
it is already the product of a transfer between, schematically, two cultural systems or
polysystems, even before anyone translates the text into a third language. Here we may
connect McCutchion’s surface-and-depth model with the analysis of the contemporary
translation scholar (and translator of IWE into Spanish), Dora Sales Salvador, who, writing in
2001, argues that “Indian narrative in English is a fictional echo of multilingualism and
interculturality”, further seeing such “literature written originally in English [as] a sort of
transcreation where [other] languages and cultural forms … survive, as a co-present
substratum” at the intersection between “diverse linguistic and literary systems”4. This model
constitutes the English-language surface as the visible stratum and the native Indian thoughtpatterns
as the substratum, thus making the IWE work a kind of “palimpsest, where one
“cultural text” is superimposed upon another that it does not completely conceal”5. Thus, as
Dora Sales sees it, Indians writing in English aim to make that language “contain and express
what they feel, carrying the memento of other tongues’ worldview, that somehow survives and
beats, in that translational passage”6. This is no easy task, for, as she reminds us, “to maintain
the cultural references when moving from one linguistic system to another is extremely
difficult, because we cannot forget that language is the repository of inherited values, belief
systems, and modes of experience and sensibility”7. It will most certainly be useful, when we
examine the translation problems thrown up by IWE texts, to recall that very similar problems
have more than likely already come up for the author in the composition of the original.
As we have seen, Dora Sales invokes the concept of “transcreation”, implying a substantially
transformative form of translation carried out with a high degree of cultural empathy. This
notion is associated above all with the distinguished Kolkata-based scholar and founder of the
Writers Workshop publishing house, P. Lal – whose long-term achievement, indeed, in a
certain sense forms a bridge between the ideas of David McCutchion, with whom he worked
closely, and those of Dora Sales some three decades later. P. Lal’s work is, as he has stated,
based on the credo that “English is a member of the Indian family of languages” and, indeed,
“an intimate part of the Indian cultural psyche”,8 having “proved its ability as a language toplay a creative role in Indian literature”9. Close homage to Lal’s work is paid by both Western
critics. McCutchion, echoing Lal’s own words, declared in his book: “Whenever the ability of
the Indian writer in English to “play a creative role” is called in question, P. Lal is ready with
a manifesto”10; while Dora Sales, in an essay on Lal published in 2005, similarly stresses howthe great scholar “has always shown that his great passion is creativity”11, and praises his
concept of transcreation as implying that “the essence is to keep and transfer the cultural
ethos, through the alchemy of a global language, English in this case”, adding that in her view
IWE itself “is also a sort of transcreation”.12 For these two non-Indian scholars, then, the
endogenous positions of P. Lal help point up both the Indianness and the creativity of Indian
writing, even when the language medium chosen is English.
Some Indian scholars, attentive to the nuts and bolts of textual detail, have proposed a
sociolinguistic approach to literary analysis in general or the study of IWE in particular.
Prakash Chandra Pradhan, in an essay of 2002, proposes a general model of literary study that
would prioritise as tools stylistics, sociolinguistics and the use of extra-linguistic contextual
information. He writes: “A good piece of fictional text is rich in meaning and it has a range of
interesting stylistic / sociolinguistic features … The creativity of fiction is based on the
author’s critical consciousness of the resources of discourse and the practical skill to
manipulate the resources of language to certain aesthetic effect”13, while adding: “nonlinguistic
knowledge about the world is highly important for comprehending the complicated
processes of creation which have been produced by the interaction of language and
knowledge about the world”14. With specific regard to IWE, Jaydeep Sarangi, writing in 2005,
proposes deploying a wide range of sociolinguistic tools with a view to the close textual
analysis of IWE works, paying particular attention to bilingualism or multilingualism as a key
given in multiple language situations in India, including the creation of literary works.
Sarangi marshals a number of basic sociolinguistic concepts, including code-switching
(moving from one language to another), code-mixing (including elements of more than one
language in the same utterance), role-relationships (the structuring of dialogue according tothe speakers’ different roles in society) and
turn-taking (the social conventions governing who
speaks when). He applies these concepts to a series of IWE works by such authors as Raja
Rao, R.K. Narayan, Khushwant Singh, Anita Desai, Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy15.
With specific regard to Indian English and its literary manifestation in IWE, Sarangi offers a
number of important observations from the inside, which we may place alongside those made,
a shade more from the outside, by the non-Indian scholars David McCutchion and Dora Sales:
In the linguistically and culturally pluralistic Indian subcontinent English is used as the
Second Language (L2), which is acquired after one has learnt the First Language (L1).
This co-existence … results in interference from one’s First Language in the Second
Language. Through a large-scale socio-cultural interaction with regional contexts
English becomes Indianised. A variety of English albeit non-native, lexically,
morphologically, syntactically, stylistically and sociolinguistically different from the
Standard British form has come to be known as Indian Variety of English …16.
English, as a link language in India, carries the weight of different experiences in
different contexts / surroundings. English is essentially malleable in nature, adapting
its form to suit cultural contexts …17. In the case of literary Indian English, loantranslations or word borrowings from the regional languages of the subcontinent are
embedded in the English text, as markers pointing out a cultural distinctiveness. The
writers of Indian writings in English often refuse to gloss untranslated words /
expressions to be true to their respective roots. Lexical openness is a trademark ofIndian English canon18.
My own analysis will be concerned, bearing in mind the insights of Pradhan and Sarangi, with
the concrete understanding of the words on the page, especially from the viewpoint of
potential translation difficulties. I shall adopt an essentially descriptive and lexical approach,
taking into account the characteristics of Indian English as divisible into a number of lexical
strands, considering both who uses a given word, expression or acronym, and when and why
(the sociolinguistic perspective), and the origin and connotations of the terms (thinking of
both Pradhan’s “knowledge about the world” and Sarangi’s “cultural distinctiveness”).
Considering standard Indian English as a variant of standard International English, we may,
provisionally, identify nine lexical strands specific to Indian English, which we shall now
describe in turn: a) pan-Indian terms, or words from Indian languages absorbed into Indian
English as lexical items and understood throughout India – e.g. lakh; crore; dhoti; dhobi; mali;
b) Indian “localisms”, pertaining to a specific language or cultural area, e.g. to take two south
Indian culinary items: idli; dosa; c) native Indian words that have been absorbed beyond Indiainto general International English – e.g. karma; dharma; swami; sari; d) native Indian words
that have been absorbed, more specifically into British English, either via the Raj or more
recently, e.g. through Indian restaurants or musical styles – e.g. (first type) wallah; pukka;
dekko; (second type) chapati; biryani; bhangra. e) transplanted Britishisms (words, idioms,
acronyms) still used in the UK and recognisable as such to a reader from that country – e.g.
GP (general practitioner); snazzy; culture-vulture; f) “old” Britishisms, that is, terms that now
seem dated or anachronistic to a British reader but are still current coin in India – e.g. GPO
(General Post Office); thrice (for three times); doing bird (= being in jail); chip off the old
block (= like father, like son); g) American or other neologisms pertaining to InternationalEnglish and often associated with globalisation or the journalistic register – e.g.
h) coinages or acronyms formed from within the usual rules of English but unique to India
- e.g. scheduled castes; shirtings; in-charge; NRI (Non-Resident Indian); i) cases of suchcoinages that have passed into International English, e.g. Bollywood; Goa trance. In its very
richness and creativity, Indian English emerges from this descriptive analysis as a specific
form of English that may legitimately be considered as important a variant of the international
language as British or American English. It will, therefore, inevitably generate a number of
specific translation problems, whatever the language translated into.
I shall now examine one extract each from four different IWE novels, with a view to
identifying some of the persistent language problems associated with Indian English that are
liable to produce translation difficulties. For present purposes I shall not have any particular
target language in mind; I shall, however, be assuming a Western language, while of course
being fully aware that IWE works are also, and indeed frequently, translated into Indian
languages. I have chosen four novels, two by men and two by women and three of them by
living authors, that are set entirely in India, and whose characters are entirely or mostly
Indian. They are: The Painter of Signs (1967) by the late R.K. Narayan; In Custody (1984) byAnita Desai; Ladies Coupé (1999) by Anita Nair; and The Hungry Tide (2004) by Amitav
Ghosh. Of the four authors, Narayan and Nair lived or live in India, while Ghosh and Desai
are non-resident (Anita Desai is, in addition, half-German, from her mother’s side). The
characters in Narayan and Desai are Indians one and all; Nair’s are Indian apart from
foreigners in brief cameo roles; and Ghosh’s are Indian other than that one is a Bengali-
American. The location of Desai’s narrative is in and around Delhi; of Narayan’s and Nair’s, in
south India; of Ghosh’s, in Bengal. The dominant Indian language or languages in the social
environments described are, variously, Hindi and Urdu (Desai), Tamil (Narayan and Nair),
and Bengali (Ghosh). In each case and with the hope of at least approximately comparing like
with like, I shall, while briefly explaining the plot, confine my analysis to the opening
sequence of the book. It is obviously not my purpose in the present context to offer a literarycritical
analysis of the novels concerned19, and the analyses suggested will therefore be
essentially linguistic in nature, stressing the lexical, sociolinguistic and sociocultural aspects,
and with a specific orientation towards translation. As we journey through these texts, I shall
from time to time be invoking Hobson-Jobson, the epic Raj-era dictionary from 1885 which,
as Salman Rushdie has said, bears “eloquent testimony to the unparalleled intermingling that
took place between English and the languages of India”20, and remains unsurpassed for wealth
of information even to this day.
Our first analysis will concern R.K. Narayan’s novel The Painter of Signs. This novel,
published in 1967, sets its fictional events in 1962, in, as always with Narayan, the imaginary
south Indian town of Malgudi. Raman, the painter of signs, is a bachelor of a certain age who
falls in love with Daisy, a militant social reformer who works at a family planning centre and
is the embodiment of a new type of emancipated, feminist post-Independence Indian woman.
The projected marriage does not happen; Daisy departs Malgudi to take her message to ever
more remote parts of south India, and Raman is left with even less than he had before. Raman
is a native speaker of Tamil, but is college-educated (presumably in English), and is a keen
reader in both English and Tamil: “For browsing in the afternoon Raman hardly cared what
book he chose; it might be Gibbon’s Decline and Fall or [Thiruvalluvar's] Kural - that tenthcenturyTamil classic21“. The signs he paints for a living appear to be variously in either
language, with occasional ventures into others such as Sanskrit. The novel’s cultural codes
thus shift continuously between India and the West, in what might be called a form of
“cultural code-switching”, so that it can, on one and the same page, cite Shakespeare’s
Hamlet22 and go on to recall Krishna’s injunctions from the Bhagavad Gita23.The book’s opening pages, eight in number24, introduce not Daisy but Raman’s daily routine.
This first episode centres on a not entirely successful transaction between the painter of signs
and a client, a just-graduated lawyer who wants his nameboard up outside his family’s house.
The dialogue between Raman and the lawyer presumably takes place in Tamil; the sign,
however, is in English, for when Raman arrives at the lawyer’s house he has to warn the man’s
entourage: “‘still not dry. The letter “A” with all that amount of shading on its side will take
time to dry. Don”t touch “A” whatever you may do””25; and later, Raman warns the lawyer
himself: “”Careful! Four “A’s are still wet. (…) Thank God you are not a barrister-at-law,
otherwise there would have been three more “A’s””26.
We shall now consider what words or expressions in these pages of Narayan’s might throw up
translation problems in this hybrid linguistic context. The opening sentence reads: “Raman’s
was the last house in Ellaman Street; a little door on the back wall opened, beyond a stretch of
sand, to the river”: the lexicon here is, the street-name apart, deadpan International English.
We then learn that “Raman had been button-holed by the lawyer”, who wanted his nameboard
“delivered on a certain auspicious day”27, and may note the idiomatic English use of “buttonholed”,
but, at the same time, a use of “auspicious” that derives from very Indian notions of
astrology, a theme stressed several times which serves to highlight the clash between Raman’s
rationalism and the traditional beliefs of his entourage.
The two go to a cheap restaurant to thrash out the deal. Here again, Narayan’s English is
distinctively idiomatic, using a colloquial register that will certainly be familiar to a British
reader – “The lawyer beckoned to a boy who was darting about the tables, and bawled his
order over the din of clattering cups and film music”28 - but encompassing a specifically
Indian reference to “film music”, which could be either pan-Indian from Bollywood or, in a
nod to regional sentiment, the Tamil film industry in Madras29, and is therefore not quite as
straightforward a reference as the non-Indian reader might think.
On the second page, the book’s first specifically Indian lexical item comes up, though proving
to be nothing more difficult than “rupees”: further down, we find an Indian use of an English
word in the form of (as in American English) “kerosene” rather than the British usage
“paraffin”; and, later, “oil-monger”, an Indian coinage, though based on general English
morphology, on the analogy of “fishmonger”30. Colloquial Britishisms, taken over into Indian
English, dot the text too, as in Raman’s “That sounds pretty convincing” and “If a chap wants
to steal …”31. Indeed, no real Indian localism appears until Raman has entered the kitchen of
the lawyer’s family house, with the precious sign in his bag. Now, “the lawyer and his two
cousins became suddenly very active and effusive, and propelled Raman towards the kitchen,
saying, ‘Coffee and idli for this man’”; following which: “Out of the smoke-filled kitchen, a
woman emerged blowing her nose and wiping her eyes, bearing on a little banana leaf two
white idlis, tinted with red chilli-powder and oil”32. South Indianness, a key theme inNarayan, is here connoted not only by the obviously exotic term idlis33, embedded in the
English-language text, plus the localism of the banana leaf, but also, and less obviously to an
outsider, by the apparently neutral reference to coffee as opposed to tea.
Over what remains of this episode, if much of the subject-matter – e.g. the priest’s blessing of
the new lawyer – is eminently Indian, the language is for the most part idiomatically English.
The lawyer’s father shouts at the children: “Get out of the way, brats!”34 The lawyer turns
round on Raman and complains that there are sand particles on the sign, challenging him: “Do
you want me to start my career with dirt on my name?”, which elicits an aside from Raman:
“You are bound to have it sooner or later, why not now?”35 - thus activating a notable feature
of Indian English, its comfortableness with such sophisticated elements as figurative language
and double meanings within the adopted tongue. Raman departs in dudgeon, unpaid and
concluding – ruefully but, again, in most idiomatic English: “He would be throwing good
money after bad money if he tried to do another board for the lawyer”.36 He goes on to reflect
on the general sad state of business ethics in Malgudi, while wondering if he too is not in a
way a willing part of the system he disapproves: “he felt abashed when he realized that he was
perhaps picking his own loot in the general scramble of a money-mad world!”37. Here, “loot”
points up the historical and cultural complexities of Indian English: this word, which
Anglophone readers will recognise as an informal term for plunder or ill-gotten gains, in fact
came into British English through the Raj and derives, according to the Concise Oxford
Dictionary, from the Hindi word lut; while Hobson-Jobson traces it back further to Sanskrit
lotra, locating its first use in English in 1788 and commenting that it “has long been a familiaritem in the Anglo-Indian colloquial”.38 Narayan’s text here shows Indian English
reappropriating a native term and bringing it back home – a nuance that a translator may find
it hard to convey.
All in all, we may note from these pages of The Painter of Signs two facets of an IWE text
that are likely to complicate the task of the translator: firstly, specifically Indian, and often
local, cultural themes (south Indian identity; rationality versus tradition), whose proper
communication calls for substantial familiarity with things Indian on the translator’s part;
secondly and in a different direction, the strong textual presence of very English idioms,
pertaining either to British or to general International English, whose exact register may be
hard to reproduce in translation without over-naturalisation.
We shall now move from southern to northern India and examine the first chapter of In
Custody, Anita Desai’s Booker-shortlisted novel of 198439. This narrative, though written inEnglish, is about what Desai’s text explicitly calls “the politics of language”
40, focusing on the
rivalry between a dominant Hindi and an embattled Urdu, and, poised somewhere between
elegy and farce, charts the decline of the once-vibrant Urdu culture of Delhi. This is expressed
through the bittersweet encounter between Deven, a Hindu and hard-up teacher of Hindi and
part-time critic and poet, and a fading Muslim cultural icon, the vain, ageing but brilliant
Urdu poet, Nur. Deven lives in Mirpore, a small city – like Malgudi, fictional – located near
Delhi, where he teaches at a low-prestige college: his subject is Hindi literature, but he was
brought up bilingually in Hindi and Urdu. The book opens with Deven receiving a surprise
visit at his workplace from an old college friend, Murad, who edits an Urdu-language literary
journal: Murad asks him to go to Delhi and interview Nur for the journal, and Deven’s
acceptance of this task sets the story in motion.
In Custody‘s opening sentence is this: “His first feeling on turning around at the tap on his
shoulder while he was buying cigarettes at the college canteen and seeing his old friend
Murad was one of joy so that he gasped “Murad? You?” and the cigarettes fell from his hand
in amazement, but this rapidly turned to anxiety when Murad gave a laugh, showing the betelstained
teeth beneath the small bristling moustache he still wore on his upper lip”41. This
sentence raises four points, linguistic or cultural, which the non-Indian reader or translator
should be aware of. First, Murad’s name immediately identifies him to an Indian, but not
necessarily to an outsider, as a Muslim. Second, the apparently unproblematic word “college”
could raise translation problems into some languages, given the slipperiness of an educational
term found in British, American and Indian English with varying significations in each, that
does not necessarily mean the same thing in all contexts. In India, an institution called
“college” can be, variously, a secondary school, a subdivision of a university, or, as here, a
non-university higher education establishment, the imaginary, privately-endowed Lala Ram
Lal College. Third, the book’s first embedded Indianism appears in the shape of betel, definedby Hobson-Jobson as “the leaf of the Piper betel [plant], chewed with the dried areca-nut …
by the natives of India” and derived by that dictionary, not, interestingly, from a north Indian
source, but – highlighting India’s hybrid and heterogeneous cultural makeup – from the
Malayalam vettila, meaning ‘simple leaf”42. Finally and perhaps most important, the one word
“You?” raises the question as to what language – Hindi, Urdu or English – Deven and Murad
would be speaking in – a question which Desai’s text does not explicitly answer, and which I
shall attempt to resolve at the end of this discussion.
Further down the first page, Deven is named and thus identified, for the Indian if not the non-
Indian reader, as a Hindu. Deven keeps Murad waiting for lunch as he has to give a class: if
the attitude of the students seems, alas, universal enough and hardly requires cultural glossing
- “boredom, amusement, insolence, and defiance” – a specific cultural note is sounded when
Deven exhorts the class: “Last time I asked you to read as much as you could find of Sumitra
Nandan Pant’s poetry”43, thus identifying himself to the Indian reader as a teacher of Hindi44
but leaving a cultural trail which the translator may wish to explicate. The two friends then go
to lunch, at the cheapest restaurant the impecunious Deven can think of, and Murad’s gibes at
the food – “Raw radish – the food of cows, and pigs” – form a cultural marker, pointing up, via
the implied critique of vegetarianism, the Hindu-Muslim antagonism that is one of the book’s
themes. Deven reflects sadly that “he could not possibly afford a meal in Kwality or Gaylord,
the two best restaurants, both air-conditioned and exorbitant”, Kwality – a case of a standard
English word respelt to create an Indian brand-name – being a national chain of restaurants
which any Indian would recognise, while Gaylord too is an established home-grown chain
whose English name harks back to its two Indian founders45. We are dealing here with
cultural codes which the translator needs to be aware of.
As lunch progresses the two discuss Murad’s proposed deal, namely that Deven, who though a
Hindu learnt Urdu before he knew Hindi and is a lover, indeed a practitioner, of Urdu poetry,
should go to Delhi and interview Nur for Murad’s journal. Murad sharply denigrates the Hindi
language as “that vegetarian monster”, while praising Urdu as the “language of the court in
the days of royalty”: not all foreign readers will be aware of the parallel between
Hindu/Muslim and Hindi/Urdu identities, and here the translator will have done well to
explain these issues and their historical context in an introduction. An embedded Indianism,
“nawabs” – one likely to be familiar to outsiders – now occurs, but is balanced by an idiomatic
Britishism when Deven explains that he could never have made a living by writing at a time
when he had to support his young wife Sarla: “”I was married, Sarla was expecting, you
know””. Here, an unwary translator might fall into the trap of mistranslating “expecting” as
referring to what Sarla might want from her husband, but in fact this very British euphemism
means “pregnant”46. The conversation moves on to Nur, and, in the last Indianism to be found
in the chapter, Murad issues Deven the fateful command: “I want you to track him down in
his house in Chandni Chowk”47. The Hindi-derived term “chowk” is defined by Hobson-
Jobson as “an open place or market street in the middle of a city where the market is held, (asfor example, the
Chandni Chauk of Delhi)”48; and this word, appearing as it does in so many
Indian addresses, already plunges the reader into the Delhi back-street atmosphere that will
dominate Deven’s strange encounter with the poet.
The language in which the two converse in this extract is not specifically indicated, but it may
be the conveniently neutral English rather than either Hindi or Urdu: Murad speaks so
pejoratively of Hindi that he can hardly be using it, while Urdu seems to be the respectfullytreated
object of the discourse rather than its medium (it is also possible, given the objective
closeness of the two rival tongues, that Deven is speaking Hindi and Murad Urdu). At all
events, both Murad and Deven are Hindi-Urdu bilingual (indeed trilingual if one adds on
English), and the apparently monolingual text thus self-reflexively inscribes itself as a
instance of Indian multilingualism. It is the translator’s task to be attentive to the complex
interweaving of cultural codes from three cultures – British/international English, north Indian
Hindu and north Indian Muslim – that creates the dense texture of Anita Desai’s unsettling
With Ladies Coupé, Anita Nair’s novel of 1999, we return to south India, and to an
environment where, as in Narayan, the two main languages are Tamil and English. Nair tells
the tale of a train journey through Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the intertwining
life-histories of six women who meet in the ladies’ section of a second-class compartment and
tell each other their stories. They are represented as telling these tales in English, except for
one who uses Tamil. The successive stories are framed by the larger narrative of the main
character, Akhila, whose departure from Bangalore and arrival at Kanyakumari on the Tamil
Nadu coast mark the book’s beginning and end. Akhila, aged 45, a tax-office employee and
still single, is getting away alone, for the first time in her life, from her constrictive, traditional
brahmin family. Her late father was a bookish clerk whose favourite newspaper was an
English-language publication, The Hindu49; Akhila, educated in English and Tamil, is at easein both languages and is an avid reader of women’s magazines in Tamil50, though her teacher
of that language had scolded her for knowing the poetry of Wordsworth better than the works
of Thiruvalluvar51, the classical Tamil writer whom we have already encountered through
In the opening sequence of the novel52, we are with Akhila at the Bangalore Cantonment
station, waiting for her train. The terminology that sets the scene, from the topographical and
transport registers, is already distinctively Indian, despite the English words employed. The
title phrase (“coupé” is actually of French origin, pointing up the hybrid nature of English as
such) refers to a gender-segregated convention, apparently now disappearing, of Indian rail
travel; the Raj-inherited term “cantonment”, scarcely found outside India53, denotes an Indian
city’s onetime military quarter, today generally a residential district for the elite. Both terms
call out to the translator to be glossed. The first sentence itself, however, is in a round,
unvarnished International English, with Akhila’s name as the sole Indian indicator: “This is
the way it has always been: the smell of a railway platform at night fills Akhila with a sense
of escape”. As it unfolds, the description of the station identifies it as quintessentially Indian,
and the second paragraph throws up the book’s first lexical Indianism with an evocation of
“moist gunny bags”, next to “the raw green-tinged reek of bamboo baskets”54 (Hobson-Jobson
derives “gunny”, or coarse jute sacking, from the Sanskrit goni [sack], through Hindi andMarathi gon or goni55, pointing to commerce as a source of the Anglo-Indian lexicon).
Now, Anita Nair’s impressionistic prose focuses on Akhila’s inner life, deploying resources of
language and imagery that deftly fuse International with Indian English: ‘so this then is
Akhila. Forty-five years old. Sans rose-coloured spectacles. Sans husband, children, home and
family. Dreaming of escape and space. Hungry for life and experience. Aching to connect”56.
Here, despite the apparently simple incomplete sentences, Nair is in fact using highly
idiomatic International English. The “rose-coloured spectacles” image is an interrogatory
recasting of the cliché “seeing through rose-coloured glasses”; “sans”, a French-derived
alternative to “without”, is archaic and, in a nod to the canon of the former colonial power
such as we found earlier in Narayan, harks back to Shakespeare57; while in “aching to
connect”, the idiomatically intransitive “connect” raises another literary echo – “Only
connect”, the famous aphorism from a British writer to whom India was not unknown, E.M.
Forster58. In the next paragraph, attention shifts to Akhila’s clothes, with an obvious Indianismappearing in: “she took time over every decision …Even the saris she wore revealed this”59.
The translator can easily gloss “saris”, or may even not think it necessary to do so: the more
difficult challenge is the task of communicating the flavour of Anita Nair’s eloquent use of
International English, its clichés, cultural codes and idioms.
Attention shifts to Akhila’s family life, and we learn of her conversations (presumably in
Tamil) with Padma, her straitlaced younger sister: “Akhila felt her mouth draw into a line.
Padma called it the spinster mouth”60. Here, while “spinster” is an International English term,
if today decidedly old-fashioned in Britain, its connotations are clearly much harsher in the
south Indian Brahmin context. Anna and Padma are described having breakfast: “three idlies,
a small bowl of sambar, and a piping hot cup of coffee”61: here as in Narayan, idlis (here spelt
idlies) and coffee appear as south Indian markers, alongside the also very southern sambar62.
Once again, the regional dimension appears as a challenge for the translator.
Nair’s narrative now returns to the railway station, and we read of Akhila’s efforts the day
before to get her ticket to Kanyakumari: “Akhila read the board above the line. ‘Ladies, Senior
Citizens and Handicapped Persons’”. The notice would certainly be in English, but reflects an
Indian way of doing things: “there was a certain old-fashioned charm, a rare chivalry in this
gesture by the Railway Board”63. Her ticket had in fact been arranged by a colleague, taking
advantage of contacts to secure her a place on a crowded holiday train at short notice: “The
train is full. There are no second AC sleeper or first-class tickets. What she has got you is a
berth in a second-class compartment, but in the ladies coupé”64. The translator should here
note, not only the culturally specific notion of (some people) arranging tickets through
privileged contacts rather than queuing first-come first-served, but also, lexically, the Indian
term “AC [air-conditioned] sleeper”, a category of carriage unknown to British train
travellers. Her sister had asked Akhila how she would get to the station; her reply, “There are
plenty of autorickshaws”65, would no doubt require glossing, especially for non-Indian readerswho may have seen the film City of Joy and might, most erroneously, extrapolate the Kolkataspecific
hand-pulled rickshaw to all of India. The station reached, we learn how the eager
traveller ‘searched the noticeboard for the list of passengers”, this noticeboard being an Indian
railway custom with which, again, outsiders may not be familiar and which the translator will
need to get across accurately. Akhila studies the names of her fellow passengers in the coupé,
the women whose stories will make up most of the rest of the narrative: “The sight of her
name reassured her. Beneath her name were five others. Sheela Vasudevan, Prabha Devi,
Janaki Prabhakar, Margaret Paulraj and Marikolanthu”66. This list holds some cultural traps
for the unwary: the name “Marikolanthu” identifies its bearer as Tamil, while “Margaret”
might, to a non-Indian, suggest a foreign origin but is in fact legitimately Indian, since
Margaret and her husband will prove to be Tamil Christians living in Coimbatore.
We cannot follow Akhila further on her journey, but the pages we have examined are
indicative of the hybridity and complexity of Anita Nair’s apparently simple and direct
language. Highly specific regionalisms and “general Indian” cultural markers such as the
railway terms appear in her writing cheek-by-jowl with a skilful and idiomatic deployment of
the resources of International English. Nair’s tale introduces only a very few non-Indian
characters, preferring to tease out the multiple strands of Indian women’s lives through the
medium of English. With the next and last novel we shall examine, however, we shall be
dealing, via the English language, with contemporary India’s interaction with the wider world.
The Hungry Tide, Amitav Ghosh’s novel of 2004, homes in on the human and natural
ecosystems of a small, isolated and highly particular area of India, but at the same time
imports the wider world through cosmopolitan outsiders – albeit of Bengali origin – hailing
from Delhi and the American West Coast. Ghosh focuses a magnifying lens on what might be
called a micro-culture within Bengali culture – namely, the “tide country” made up by the
Sundarbans, the islets of the Ganges delta that lie south of Kolkata and just east of the West
The story centres on two visitors to the Sundarban community, Kanai Dutt and Piyali (or
Piya) Roy, and their interaction with that community and with each other. Kanai, a Bengalborn
Delhi resident in his forties, is paying a visit to an aunt, an NGO activist who runs a
hospital on one of the islands; Piya, a Bengali-American scientist from Seattle in her twenties,
irrupts into the Sundarban world as less a diasporic Indian than an outsider pure and simple,
“the American”: she was born in Kolkata, but her parents relocated to the US when she was
aged one. Kanai is there to pick up and read a journal left him by his late uncle, an intellectual
in the Bengal rationalist tradition, whose contents will oblige him to delve deep into his
family history; Piya’s journey to the tide country is part of her ongoing research on dolphins.
Piya knows no Bengali, and her ignorance of her own language heritage induces her to take
Kanai on board as interpreter between her and the people she encounters in the Sundarbans.
Ghosh’s novel takes as its task the exploration of a whole field of human communication,
testing possibilities and limits as the characters seek to cross the barriers of language, religion,
class and culture – as well as those between the “old” and “new” India, and between India and
the outside world. As it happens, a central metaphor for communication in a hybrid world is
provided in this text by no less a theme than translation. Kanai is a translator/interpreter by
profession: he knows six languages (his native Bengali plus Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, English and
French67), runs a translation and interpretation agency, and offers to act as interpreter for Piya
with the local Bengali speakers whose knowledge and lore are vital for her research. Further,
Ghosh’s text announces its linguistically hybrid nature to the reader, incorporating a large
number of Bengali terms, mostly italicised on first occurrence and in many, if not all, cases
glossed within the text.
We shall now examine the opening sequence of Ghosh’s narrative68. Like Ladies Coupe, TheHungry Tide begins at a railway terminus, in this case a ‘south Kolkata commuter station”.
Kanai, awaiting the train that will take him to Canning, the railhead for the Sundarbans, is
intrigued by the unusual figure of Piya, standing out among the crowd waiting for the same
train. The first sentence reads: “Kanai spotted her the moment he stepped onto the crowded
platform: he was deceived neither by her close-cropped black hair, nor by her clothes, which
were those of a teenage boy – loose cotton pants and an oversized white shirt”. Apart from
Kanai’s Bengali name, this opening sentence is in neutral International English, other than
“pants” for “trousers”, a term not found in this sense in British English but which American
and Indian English have in common – an appropriate enough lexical touch, given Piya’s
Bengali-American provenance. The second sentence offers details that unmistakably
identifies the station as Indian, even without any Indianisms: “Winding unerringly through the
snack-vendors and tea-sellers who were hawking their wares on the station’s platform, his
eyes settled on her slim, shapely figure”. Before the first paragraph is out we have the book’s
first lexical Indianism: “There was no bindi on her forehead”69 - Piya’s lack of a bindi (the
vermilion “holy dot” traditionally indicating a Hindu woman’s married status) pointing to her
in-between status as a “foreigner”, both Indian and not Indian.
Intrigued, Kanai wonders why this woman, if she is heading for the Sundarbans, is taking the
train, rather than the ferry as tourists do: “The train was mainly used by people who did dailypassengeri,
coming in from outlying villages to work in the city”. Here, in daily-passengeri
(commute), we have a striking example of code-mixing, with English lexical elements
modified by a non-English morphology to create a new Indian compound noun – which the
translator, rather than trying to formulate something similar in the target language, would do
best to retain and gloss. Kanai watches as Piya unsuccessfully tries to find out from a
bystander which is the train to Canning, and overhears her confess her ignorance of Bengali:
“she stopped the man with a raised hand and said, in apology, that she knew no Bengali: ami
Bangla jana nai. He could tell from the awkwardness of her pronunciation that this wasliterally true”
70 Despite Piya’s lack of language resources, Ghosh’s text here mutates from
code-shifting into fully-fledged code-mixing, thus pointing, even through its matricial
English, to the complexities of Indian multilingualism.
Code-switching returns as Kanai boards the train and – having lost sight of Piya – button-holes
a man reading a Bengali newspaper with a request to change places: “Aré moshai, can I justsay a word?” (the Bengali phrase means something like “Hey, sir”).71 Kanai is equally at ease
in Bengali and English, but given the man’s Bengali newspaper he would no doubt have
addressed him in that language, and Ghosh’s code-switching can be seen as a gesture within
the English text towards the goal of creating an authentic Bengali atmosphere. The move
succeeds – Kanai has done it because he wants to read himself – and for most of the train ride
he is absorbed in a description of the Sundarbans, “a few sheets of paper covered in closely
written Bengali script”. Ghosh’s text then “quotes”, as it were, a long section of this imaginary
article, but, necessarily, in what it offers to the reader as a translation – thus, incidentally,
comforting the position that a postcolonial text has already been translated (or
transcreated)72. The extract includes a number of Bengali terms, all glossed within the text,among them being
mohona (confluence) and bhatir desh (the tide country)73. Here, the
translator would be well advised to retain both the Bengali and the glosses, in order to
communicate the special hybrid quality of Ghosh’s writing.
English has thus far appeared in this narrative as above all a stand-in for a Bengali perceived
as the dominant language in the social and geographical context narrated. However, English
comes into its own when Piya unexpectedly changes seat and Kanai suddenly finds her sitting
opposite him. She has just bought herself a cup of “milky, overboiled tea”, a beverage for
which she has “developed an unexpected affinity” since her arrival in India ten days before.74
This conversion to tea Indian style might look like a sign of an acculturation or hybridation on
the way: but if that is going to happen, English is the only language she can live it in. As the
train jerks and jolts, Piya accidentally spill a trickle of tea on to the Bengali document Kanai
is reading. In the wake of the accident, they strike up a conversation: Kanai identifies Piya as
American, and introduces himself as a translator-interpreter who knows six languages – in
response to which discovery she has bashfully to admit her monolingualism in a multilingual
country: “I”m afraid English is my only language”. Kanai reacts in perplexity: “If you don”t
know any Bengali or Hindi, how are you going to find your way around over there?”75. They
separate at Canning, but their paths will cross and re-cross for the rest of the novel, and indeed
one of the major themes as Ghosh’s narrative unfolds will be, precisely, the communication
difficulties and cultural misunderstandings experienced in the Sundarbans by the monoglot
outsider Piya. After multiple vicissitudes – floods, storms, tigers and more – the novel ends
with Piya’s decision to return and learn Bengali, and at least the hint that she and Kanai may
have found a surprising future in their relationship. A madeover, Bengali-speaking Piya
would, indeed, enjoy far greater possibilities of communication and cross-cultural
understanding than the “American” whom the reader met at the beginning.
We have now examined, through the openings of these four novels, a cross-section of the
linguistic and sociolinguistic characteristics of Indian Writing in English and the translation
problems that may arise. Our corpus has of course been small, certainly too small to allow us
to extrapolate any generalisations about, say, the diachronic evolution of Indian English or
any inherent differences between men’s and women’s writing (important though such
perspectives of course are). What we have come some way towards establishing through this
work is the essential, indeed the defining hybridity of Indian English. If there are two
challenges that permanently face the translator of IWE works into any non-Indian language,
they are, on the one hand, the presence of lexical Indianisms, embedded in the text, and the
need to find appropriate translation strategies to communicate their sense and flavour; and, on
the other, the strong tendency of IWE texts to deploy to the full the idiomatic resources of
International English, with a marked continuing influence of British English, a characteristic
which forces the translator to decide how far each such idiom should or should not go into a
similar register in the target language. Today, translation of Indian Writing in English, for all
its challenges and difficulties, has a major role to play in communicating, to as wide an
audience as possible, the richness and complexity of Indian culture, in an ever-more
globalised world to which that culture will have a remarkable contribution to make as the
twenty-first century unfolds.
1 McCutchion, Indian Writing in English, 10.
2 McCutchion, Indian Writing in English, 15.
3 McCutchion, Indian Writing in English, 16.
4 Sales Salvador, “Translational Passages”, 1, 2.
5 Sales Salvador, “Translational Passages”, 6.
6 Sales Salvador, “Translational Passages”, 3.
7 Sales Salvador, “Translational Passages”, 7.
8 Lal, Writers Workshop, 1.
9 Lal, Writers Workshop, 101.
10 McCutchion, Indian Writing in English, 27.
11 Sales Salvador, “Beyond the Western Paradigm”, 12.
12 Sales Salvador, “Beyond the Western Paradigm”, 17, 16.
13 Pradhan, ‘stylistics of Fiction”, 93, 97.
14 Pradhan, ‘stylistics of Fiction”, 97.
15 The works which Sarangi discusses by Narayan (The Guide), Desai (Clear Light of Day and Fasting, Feasting) and Ghosh (The Shadow Lines and The Calcutta Chromosome) are different from those analysed in the
16 Sarangi, Indian Novels in English, 17.
17 Sarangi, Indian Novels in English, 18.
18 Sarangi, Indian Novels in English, 19.
19 I have written on Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide from a literary-critical viewpoint elsewhere: see Rollason,
“”In Our Translated World””.
20 Rushdie, “Hobson-Jobson“, 81.
21 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 18. The classic work by Valluvar (or Thiruvalluvar), Kural or Tirukkural
(‘sacred Couplets”), has, however, been translated into English: the Penguin Companion to Literature (which,
incidentally, dates it not in the tenth century but in the third or fourth century CE) mentions (4: 324) three such
translations as being in existence in 1962, the year in which Narayan set his novel. It is therefore at least possible
that Raman might be accessing his own cultural heritage through English.
22 “What’s he to Hecuba or Hecuba to him?” (Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 105). This is actually a slight
misquotation of Hamlet II.2, 561: “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?”
23 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 105.
24 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 7-15.
25 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 10.
26 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 12.
27 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 7.
28 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 7.
29 As Chennai was then called.
30 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 8, 9.
31 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 8, 9.
32 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 10.
33 For the non-Indian reader, idlis are typically south Indian rice cakes.
34 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 11.
35 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 12.
36 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 13.
37 Narayan, The Painter of Signs, 14-15.
38 Yule and Burrell, Hobson-Jobson, 519-520.
39 Desai, In Custody, 1-11.
40 Desai, In Custody, 53.
41 Desai, In Custody, 1.
42 Yule and Burrell, Hobson-Jobson, 89.
43 Desai, In Custody, 5. Later in the novel Pant, the (real) award-winning contemporary Hindi poet, is denigrated
by Nur (53).
44 This is made explicit on p. 8: “Hindi was what he taught at the college”.
45 See http://www.paloaltoonline.com/restaurants/cgi/food_long_fab.cgi?id=167: the name “comes from the names of
the New Delhi founders, Ghai and Lamba. The two started the Gaylord family of Northern Indian restaurants
under British rule in the “40s”.
46 Desai, In Custody, 8.
47 Desai, In Custody, 11.
48 Yule and Burrell, Hobson-Jobson, 214.
49 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 47.
50 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 53.
51 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 52.
52 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 1-10.
53 Hobson-Jobson: “This English word has become almost appropriated as Anglo-Indian, being so constantly
used in India, and as little used elsewhere. It is applied to military stations in India, built usually on a plan which
is originally that of a standing camp or “cantonment”” (158).
54 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 1.
55 Hobson-Jobson, 403.
56 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 2.
57 The reference is to the line ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, from Jaques’ famous speech on
the seven ages of man in As You Like It (II.7, 166).
58 “Only connect …” is the motto to Howards End, Forster’s novel of 1910.
59 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 2.
60 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 4.
61 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 5.
62 For the non-Indian reader, sambar is a spicy vegetarian preparation typical of south India.
63 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 6.
64 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 7.
65 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 8.
66 Nair, Ladies Coupé, 8.
67 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 199.
68 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 3-15.
69 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 3.
70 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 4.
71 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 5.
72 Cf. Sales Salvador, above.
73 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 7, 8.
74 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 9.
75 Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, 11.
Desai, Anita. In Custody. 1984. London: Vintage. 1999.
Dudley, D.R. and Lang, D.M., eds. The Penguin Companion to Literature 4: Classical andByzantine, Oriental and African Literature
. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1969.
Forster, E.M. Howards End. 1910. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1989.Ghosh, Amitav.
The Hungry Tide. London: Harper Collins. 2004.Lal, P. [Puroshottam]. Writers Workshop: Indian Creative Writing in English. Kolkata:
Writers Workshop. 2004.
McCutchion, David. Indian Writing in English: A Collection of Critical Essays. Calcutta
[Kolkata]: Writers Workshop. 1969. Repr. 1997.
Nair, Anita. Ladies Coupé. 2001. Rev. edn. London: Vintage. 2003.Narayan, R.K.
The Painter of Signs. 1976. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1982.
Pradhan, Prakash Chandra. “Towards an Inclusive, Multi-functional, Sociolinguistic Theory
of Stylistics of Fiction”. In Christopher Rollason and Rajeshwar Mittapalli (Eds.). ModernCriticism. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors. 2002. 93-103.
Rollason, Christopher. “”In Our Translated World”: Transcultural Communication in Amitav
Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide“. The Atlantic Literary Review, Vol. 6, No. 1-2, Jan-Mar and Apr-
Jun 2005. 86-107. On-line at: <www.seikilos.com.ar/ghosh.pdf>.
Rushdie, Salman. “Hobson-Jobson“. 1985. In Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism1981-1991
. London: Granta. 1992. 81-83.
Sales Salvador, Dora. “Translational Passages: Indian Fiction in English as Transcreation?”.
Conference paper. V Congreso Internacional de Traducción. Barcelona: Universitat
Autònoma de Barcelona. 2001. Publication forthcoming.
Sales Salvador, Dora. “Beyond the Western Paradigm: P. Lal’s Contribution to Literary and
Translation Studies”. Titas: An Annual Journal of Creative & Critical Writing in English
(Midnapore, India). Vol. 1, February 2005. 11-19.
Sarangi, Jaydeep. Indian Novels in English: A Sociolinguistic Study. Bareilly: Prakash Book
Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. Eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Oxford:
The Clarendon Press. 1998.
Yule, Henry and Burrell, A.C. Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-Indian Dictionary. 1886. Ware,England: Wordsworth Editions. 1996.
The Top Ten Indian Writers in English
chillibreeze writer — KAUSHIKI SANYAL
The 1980s and 90s saw a renaissance of Indian writing in English making the task of choosing the top ten authors of this genre especially challenging. The renaissance was spearheaded by Salman Rushdie with his path breaking novel Midnight’s Children in 1980. Ever since his success, there has been a glut of Indian authors writing in English. These contemporary writers are not confined to people living in India, but like Rushdie, a large number of them are part of the Indian diaspora. Earlier writers like Nirad C. Choudhuri, R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand or Raja Rao used English in its classical form. However, Rushdie, with his Pidgin English, signaled a new trend in writing as well as giving voice to multicultural concerns. Although his Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Fury, and Shalimar the Clown received critical acclaim for their themes as well as his use of magic realism, the book that generated the most controversy was The Satanic Verses. He was accused of blasphemy by many Muslims because of certain allegedly irreverent references to Islam’s Prophet Mohammad. A fatwa was issued by Iran’s Ayotollah Khomeini in 1989 calling for the execution of the author. Many countries banned the book including India. Rushdie had to go into hiding in U.K. Till date, Rushdie remains a hunted man with a price on his head.
Next on the list should be Vikram Seth who produced some magnificent works like The Golden Gate, A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music, and Two Lives. His first book is written in verse form and chronicles the lives of young professionals in San Francisco. But the work that propelled him into the limelight was his second book, A Suitable Boy, which was based in a post-independent India.
If Rushdie’s work liberated Indian writing from the colonial straitjacket, Arundhati’s Roy’s book, The God of Small Things, radically changed perceptions about Indian authors with her commercial success. She won the Booker prize and remained on the top of the New York Times bestseller list for a long time. With her also started the trend of large advances, hitherto unheard of among Indian writers.
The other authors who should be included in the list are: Rohinton Mistry, V.S. Naipaul, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shashi Tharoor, and Upamanyu Chatterjee. Mistry’s books shed light on the issues affecting the Parsi community in India. Although the novels are long and at times depressing, the beauty of the books lies in their lyrical prose. Some of his better known works include Such a Long Journey, Family Matters, and A Fine Balance.
One of the most enduring figures in the field and a nobel laureate, V.S. Naipaul, is of Indian origin although he was born in Trinidad. His prolific writing career includes works such as A House for Mr. Biswas, India: A Wounded Civilization, An Area of Darkness, India: A Million Mutinies Now, and A Bend in the River. Naipaul is another writer who has courted controversy for a long time. His often scathing commentaries on developing countries like India or the Caribbean and his critical assessment of Muslim fundamentalism on non-Arab countries have been subjected to harsh criticism.
Another respected name that should feature on a list of the top ten contemporary Indian writers is Amitav Ghosh, who has won many accolades including the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Prix Medicis Etrangere of France. Although less prone to controversy, he is responsible for producing some of the most lyrical and insightful works on the effect of colonialism on the native people. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Glass Palace, The Calcutta Chromosome, and The Hungry Tide.
Jhumpa Lahiri, a recent entrant into the world of Indian writers, tackles the much-debated topic of cultural identity of Indians in a far off land. Lahiri took the literary world by storm when her debut book, The Interpreter of Maladies, won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 2000. The Namesake, her first novel, is an ambitious attempt to chart the lives of a family of immigrants through the eyes of a young boy. Both her books have received brickbats as well as accolades but she deserves a mention for tackling a subject long ignored by other Indian writers.
The list would be incomplete without a mention of Shashi Tharoor’s satirical works like The Great Indian Novel and Show Business. His latest book, India: From Midnight to Millennium, is a non-fiction chronicle of India’s past and its projected future.
Lastly, Upamanyu Chatterjee deserves a mention as he was one of the first Indian authors who found success outside of India with his 1988 debut novel, English, August. His wry sense of humor and realistic portrayal of India has given us the witty and amusing, The Mammaries of the Welfare State. However, he hasn’t been able to replicate the success of his debut novel with his later works, especially in the West.
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Indian English Literature (IEL) refers to the body of work by writers in India who write in the English language and whose native or co-native language could be one of the numerous languages of India. It is also associated with the works of members of the Indian diaspora, especially people like Salman Rushdie who was born in India. It is frequently referred to as Indo-Anglian literature. (Indo-Anglian is a specific term in the sole context of writing that should not be confused with the term Anglo-Indian). As a category, this production comes under the broader realm of postcolonial literature- the production from previously colonised countries such as India.
IEL has a relatively recent history, it is only one and a half centuries old. The first book written by an Indian in English was by Sake Dean Mahomet, titled Travels of Dean Mahomet; Mahomet’s travel narrative was published in 1793 in England. In its early stages it was influenced by the Western art form of the novel. Early Indian writers used English unadulterated by Indian words to convey an experience which was essentially Indian. Raja Rao‘s Kanthapura is Indian in terms of its storytelling qualities. Rabindranath Tagore wrote in Bengali and English and was responsible for the translations of his own work into English. Dhan Gopal Mukerji was the first Indian author to win a literary award in the United States. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, a writer of non-fiction, is best known for his The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian where he relates his life experiences and influences. P. Lal, a poet, translator, publisher and essayist, founded a press in the 1950′s for Indian English writing, Writers Workshop.
R.K. Narayan is a writer who contributed over many decades and who continued to write till his death recently. He was discovered by Graham Greene in the sense that the latter helped him find a publisher in England. Graham Greene and Narayan remained close friends till the end. Similar to Thomas Hardy‘s Wessex, Narayan created the fictitious town of Malgudi where he set his novels. Some criticise Narayan for the parochial, detached and closed world that he created in the face of the changing conditions in India at the times in which the stories are set. Others, such as Graham Greene, however, feel that through Malgudi they could vividly understand the Indian experience. Narayan’s evocation of small town life and its experiences through the eyes of the endearing child protagonist Swaminathan in Swami and Friends is a good sample of his writing style. Simultaneous with Narayan’s pastoral idylls, a very different writer, Mulk Raj Anand, was similarly gaining recognition for his writing set in rural India; but his stories were harsher, and engaged, sometimes brutally, with divisions of caste, class and religion.
 Later history
Among the later writers, the most notable is Salman Rushdie, born in India, now living in the United Kingdom. Rushdie with his famous work Midnight’s Children (Booker Prize 1981, Booker of Bookers 1992) ushered in a new trend of writing. He used a hybrid language – English generously peppered with Indian terms – to convey a theme that could be seen as representing the vast canvas of India. He is usually categorised under the magic realism mode of writing most famously associated with Gabriel García Márquez.
Vikram Seth, author of A Suitable Boy (1994) is a writer who uses a purer English and more realistic themes. Being a self-confessed fan of Jane Austen, his attention is on the story, its details and its twists and turns.
Shashi Tharoor, in his The Great Indian Novel (1989), follows a story-telling (though in a satirical) mode as in the Mahabharata drawing his ideas by going back and forth in time. His work as UN official living outside India has given him a vantage point that helps construct an objective Indianness.
Other authors include Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Raj Kamal Jha, Jhumpa Lahiri, Bharti Kirchner, Khushwant Singh, Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, Vikas Swarup, Rohinton Mistry, Kiran Nagarkar and C R Krishnan.
It would be useful at this point to bring in the recent debates on Indian Writing in English (“IWE”).
One of the key issues raised in this context is the superiority/inferiority of IWE as opposed to the literary production in the various languages of India. Key polar concepts bandied in this context are superficial/authentic, imitative/creative, shallow/deep, critical/uncritical, elitist/parochial and so on.
Rushdie‘s statement in his book – “the ironic proposition that India’s best writing since independence may have been done in the language of the departed imperialists is simply too much for some folks to bear” – created a lot of resentment among many writers, including writers in English. In his book, Amit Chaudhuri questions – “Can it be true that Indian writing, that endlessly rich, complex and problematic entity, is to be represented by a handful of writers who write in English, who live in England or America and whom one might have met at a party?”
Chaudhuri feels that after Rushdie, IWE started employing magical realism, bagginess, non-linear narrative and hybrid language to sustain themes seen as microcosms of India and supposedly reflecting Indian conditions. He contrasts this with the works of earlier writers such as Narayan where the use of English is pure, but the deciphering of meaning needs cultural familiarity. He also feels that Indianness is a theme constructed only in IWE and does not articulate itself in the vernacular literatures. (It is probable that the level of Indianness constructed is directly proportional to the distance between the writer and India.) He further adds “the post-colonial novel, becomes a trope for an ideal hybridity by which the West celebrates not so much Indianness, whatever that infinitely complex thing is, but its own historical quest, its reinterpretation of itself”.
Some of these arguments form an integral part of what is called postcolonial theory. The very categorisation of IWE – as IWE or under post-colonial literature – is seen by some as limiting. Amitav Ghosh made his views on this very clear by refusing to accept the Eurasian Commonwealth Writers Prize for his book The Glass Palace in 2001 and withdrawing it from the subsequent stage.
The renowned writer V. S. Naipaul, a third generation Indian from Trinidad and Tobago and a Nobel prize laureate, is a person who belongs to the world and usually not classified under IWE. Naipaul evokes ideas of homeland, rootlessness and his own personal feelings towards India in many of his books.
Recent writers in India such as Arundhati Roy and David Davidar show a direction towards contextuality and rootedness in their works. Arundhati Roy, a trained architect and the 1997 Booker prize winner for her The God of Small Things, calls herself a “home grown” writer. Her award winning book is set in the immensely physical landscape of Kerala. Davidar sets his The House of Blue Mangoes in Southern Tamil Nadu. In both the books, geography and politics are integral to the narrative. In his novel Lament of Mohini  (2000), Shreekumar Varma  touches upon the unique matriarchal system and the sammandham system of marriage as he writes about the Namboodiris and the aristocrats of Kerala.
As the number of Indian writers in English keeps increasing, with everyone with a story to tell trying to tell a story, and as publishing houses in India vie among themselves to discover the next new whiz-kid who will land up with world fame, it could become increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Research, debates and seminars on IWE continue with increasing frequency. However,it might be too early a stage in the history of Indian writing in English to pass any final judgement.
A much over-looked category of Indian writing in English is poetry. As stated above, Rabindranath Tagore wrote in Bengali and English and was responsible for the translations of his own work into English. Other early notable poets in English include Derozio, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Joseph Furtado, Armando Menezes, Toru Dutt, Romesh Chandra Dutt, Sarojini Naidu and her brother Harendranath Chattopadhyaya.
In modern times, Indian poetry in English was typified by two very different poets. Dom Moraes, winner of the Hawthornden Prize at the precocious age of 19 for his first book of poems “A Beginning” went on to occupy a pre-eminent position among Indian poets writing in English. Nissim Ezekiel, who came from India’s tiny Bene Israel Jewish community, created a voice and place for Indian poets writing in English and championed their work.
Their contemporaries in English poetry in India were Arvind Mehrotra, Jayanta Mahapatra, Gieve Patel, A. K. Ramanujan, Rajagopal Parthasarathy, Keki Daruwala, Adil Jussawala, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, Eunice De Souza, Kersi Katrak, P. Lal and Kamala Das among several others.
The current generation of Indian poets writing in English includes Ranjit Hoskote, Smita Agarwal, Gopi Kottoor, Jeet Thayil, Tishani Doshi, Tabish Khair, Vijay Nambisan, H. Masud Taj, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, C.P. Surendran,Imtiaz Dharker, Vivek Narayanan, Samartha Vashishtha, Meena Kandasamy, Gavin Barrett, Anjum Hasan, Jerry Pinto, Shreekumar Varma, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Anand Thakore, Meena Alexander, Gayatri Majumdar, A J Thomas, Kumar Vikram and Thachom Poyil Rajeevan.
 Indo-Nostalgic writing
Indo-Nostalgic writing is a somewhat loosely defined term encompassing writings, in the English language, wherein nostalgia regarding the Indian subcontinent, typically regarding India, represent a dominant theme or strong undercurrent. The writings may be memoirs, or quasi-fictionalized memoirs, travelogues, or inspired in part by real-life experiences and in part by the writer’s imagination. This would include both mass-distributed “Indo-Anglian” literature put out by major publishing houses and also much shorter articles (e.g. feature pieces in mainstream or literary magazines) or poetry, including material published initially or solely in webzines.
Certainly, Indo-Nostalgic writings have much overlap with post-colonial literature but are generally not about ‘heavy’ topics such as cultural identity, conflicted identities, multilingualism or rootlessness. The writings are often less self-conscious and more light-hearted, perhaps dealing with impressionistic memories of places, people, cuisines, Only-in-India situations, or simply vignettes of “the way things were”. Of late, a few Indo-nostalgic writers are beginning to show signs of “long-distance nationalism”, concomitant with the rise of nationalism within India against the backdrop of a booming economy.
In addition to focusing on nationalism or any universal themes, many writers emerged out with innovative ideas and techniques in writing poetry. It is a pity that there are many writers whose writings still remain unnoticed either due to lack of source to get their works recoganised or less oppurtunities does not knock the doors of the right person. Writers like Krishna Srinivas, M.K.Gopinathan, etc have contributed enormous poetry collection to the growth of Indian English Literature. Krishna Srinivas concentrated on all sorts of social aspects in his poetry, and M.K.Gopinathan poetic mission is to spread peace in the minds of the readers. M.K.Gopinathan’s anthologies includes, “I go on for ever”, “A Fresh Rose” and “It is not my fault” which contained interesting subjects of day to day life.
Typically, the authors are either Western-based writers of Indian origin (e.g. Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry), or Western writers who have spent long periods of time in the subcontinent, possibly having been born or raised in India, perhaps as the children of British Raj-era European expatriates or missionaries (e.g. Jim Corbett, Stephen Alter). Or, they may even be Anglo-Indians who have emigrated from the subcontinent to the West. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) often grow up to produce Indo-Nostalgic writings that exhibit palpably deep (and perhaps somewhat romanticized) feelings for their childhoods in the subcontinent. Accordingly, another common theme in Indo-Nostalgic writing is “rediscovery” or its cousin, “reconnection”.
Of course, for mass-distributed authors, Indo-Nostalgic writings may not necessarily represent all of their literary output, but certainly would represent a high percentage; it is their sweet spot, after all. Finally, it is worth noting that the markets for such writers are almost entirely in the West; despite the rapid growth in the incomes of urban Indians, the sales of English-language literature within India (other than books required for educational degrees or professional purposes) are minuscule compared to sales in the West, even if one includes pirated copies.
- Haq, Kaiser (ed.). Contemporary Indian Poetry. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990.
- Hoskote, Ranjit (ed.). Reasons for Belonging: Fourteen Contemporary Indian Poets. Viking/Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2002.
- King, Bruce Alvin. Modern Indian Poetry in English: Revised Edition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987, rev. 2001. (“the standard work on the subject and unlikely to be surpassed” — Mehrotra, 2003).
- King, Bruce Alvin. Three Indian Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A K Ramanujan, Dom Moraes. Madras: Oxford University Press, 1991.
- Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna (ed.). The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets. Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1992.
- Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna (ed.). A History of Indian Literature in English. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.
- Parthasarathy, R. (ed.). Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets (New Poetry in India). New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976.
- Souza, Eunice de. “Nine Indian Women Poets”, Delhi,Oxford University Press, 1997.
- Souza, Eunice de. Talking Poems: Conversations With Poets. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Souza, Eunice de. Early Indian Poetry in English: An Anthology : 1829-1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- Srikanth, Rajini. The World Next Door: South Asian American Literature and the Idea of America’. Asian American History and Culture. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2004.
 See Also
 External links
- The Poetry House
- Blog: Discussion on Indian Writing in English
- List of English Books by Authors of Indian Origin
- Dhvani, online monthly webzine-cum-guide for students and professors of Indian English literature (and journalism)
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