Dominant Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction

Discuss Dominant Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction

Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction

Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction : In the first phase of the development of Indian novel in English which was by and large a Romantic phase, history was the theme of the day. The past history of India was romanticized. There were only scattered examples of social themes such as Raj Laxmi Devi’s The Hindu Wife (1876). But as the novel entered its second stage of development, the importation of new themes became a regular feature. The result was that there was a plenty of new themes including society, politics, problem of adjustment, poverty, love, Independence etc.

The burning problems of contemporary Indian life—the most dominant and pervasive theme:

The most dominant and pervasive theme used by the writers of Indo- English novel has been the focus on the burning problems of contemporary Indian life. No one of the stalwarts is free from this contagious theme, as literature reflects the life of its time. Related to this are the four thematic sub-groups, which have been brilliantly summarized in an article recently published by Prof. Dieter Riemenschneider.

Novels depicting the social, economic and political oppression of individuals:

The first sub-group consists of the novels depicting the social, economic, and political oppression of individuals. Most of the novels of Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in Sieve and A Handful of Rice, Bhabani Bhattacharya’s So Many Hungers, Manohar Malgonker’s The Princes belong to this category.

An individual’s search for identity:

The second sub-group concentrates on an individual’s search for identity, and this is to be seen in Anand’s Lalu trilogy (1939-42), Markandaya’s Some Inner Fury, B. Rajan’s The Dark Dancer and Too Long in the West, Attia Hussain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column, and Anita Desai’s and Arun Joshi’s most of the novels. In G. V. Desani’s All About H. Hatterr, Markandaya’s Possession, Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope, and Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, we discover a slight variation of this theme.

Novels mainly concerned with man’s role and position in society:

The third sub-group comprises those novels which are mainly concerned with man’s “role and position in society” and not with his “autonomous character.” Such are the works of R. K. Narayan and Bhattacharya’s He Who Rides a Tiger, Nayantara Sahgal’s Storm in Chandigarh and Arun Joshi’s novels.

Novels attempting to bridge the undesirable gulf between India and the West:

The fourth sub-group is constituted of a very small number of novels where attempts are made to bridge the undesirable gulf between India and the West, such as in K. Nagarajan’s Chronicles of Kedaram and Bhattacharya’s Shadow from Ladakh and Markandaya’s The Coffer Dams and Pleasure City. Apart from these categories of novels remarkably discussed in the article by Riemenschneider, there is altogether a separate category of those works which subtly portray human nature in a psychological fashion. In this category, the protagonist is a victim of his own inner tensions and struggles. Such are The Dark Dancer by B. Rajan, A Silence of Desire by Markandaya, the novels of Anita Desai and Arun Joshi.

Social problems: Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction

In dealing with social problems emphasis was laid on realism. It started with Mulk Raj Anand. We find him deal with the problem of untouchability. This is the main theme of Untouchable, and Padmini Sengupta’s Red Hibiscus. Poverty and economic exploitation is a major theme of Anand, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas etc. Coolie is a novel on this theme. Family problems become the motive of R. K. Narayan’s novels. Mrs. Jhabwala’s novels and the novels of Kamala Markandaya. Sex as a social theme is found in Khuswant Singh’s I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale. Narayan’s The Guide, Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges, Nayantara Sahgal’s This Time of Morning and Kamala Markandaya’s Silence of Desire and Two Virgins. To quote Kai Nicholson, “Sexual relationships between men and women in post-independence Indo-Anglian literature are interpreted pluralistically. The intensity with which sex is depicted, depends to a great extent on the novelist’s utilization of examples from English literature and how he interprets it to fit into Indian circumstances.”

Happiness through suffering:

The theme of fulfilment and happiness through suffering and ‘Sanyas’ is a typical and recurrent theme of indo-Anglian fiction especially after 1947. It is part of lndian sensibility. This theme comes as result of social and cultural life in India and the role of blind faith in it. Naturally, this ideal of renunciation brings in the ‘Sanyasi’ or ‘Swami’ or a ‘Sadhu’ as a typical character; sometimes a pseudo-mahatma also figures in novels with this theme, e.g., The Guide. These two types of character show two different attitudes towards suffering: genuine and fake. Thus theme is found in B. Rajan’s The Dark Dancer and Raja Rao’s The Serpent. and the Rope. Narayan’s The Guide and Bhabani Bhattacharya’s He Who Rides A Tiger tackle the theme of renunciation.


From 1920 to 1950 the typical and obsessive stuff of fiction was politics. It was mainly a period of politically conscious novels following the political scene of India. R. K. Narayan says, “… the subject-matter of fiction became inescapably political…the mood of comedy, the sensitivity to atmosphere, the probing of psychological factors, the crisis in the individual soul and its resolution, and above all, the detached observation which constitute the stuff of fiction, were forced into the background!” Even after 1950 there was penchant for various aspects of politics as a theme in fiction. The political theme as a matter of choice was very much influenced by Gandhi’s role and philosophy. These themes are the struggle for independence, the Indian National Amy. Indian Army, the present-gay politics, the debacle of Princely India and the partition and independence. These themes have been taken up by leading novelists both before and after independence.

Under the impact of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indo-Anglian novelists of the pre-independence period chose the struggle for independence as a theme of their novels. The theme of struggle for Independence aspires to be a major theme. It appears in Raja Rao’s Kanthapura and The Cow of the Barricades, K. A. Abbas’ Inquilab, R. K. Narayan’s Waiting for the Mahatma, Anand’s The Sword and the Sickle, C. N. Zutshi’s Motherland, Aamir Ali’s Conflict, Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges etc. These novels deal with Gandhi, his way of achieving freedom, revolution, satyagrah and Quit India Movement etc. Meenakhsi Mukherjee says, “Many more Indo Anglian novels… have dealt with the Independence movement, but no major novel has as yet emerged on the theme of this great and national upsurge.

The post-Independence politics of Delhi etc. appears in the novels of Nayantara Sahgal such as This Time of Morning. In some of the post-Independence Indo-Anglian novels we find the theme of Partition and Independence. Khuswant Singh takes up the human tragedy of partition in his Train to Pakistan (1956). The Partition is a theme in Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges (1964). It examines the horrors of partition. Attia Hussain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column deals with the troubled years before and after the Partition and Independence.

Manohar Malgonkar’s novel Distant Drum deals with the Indian Army. He has also dealt with the Indian National Movement of Subhash Chandra Bose in his novel A Bend in the Ganges. Another fruitful and fertile theme which has of late emerged is the debacle of Princely India—the disintegration and merger of Indian Princely states. This forms the motif of at least two novels—Manohar Malgonkar’s The Princess and Mulk Raj Anand’s The Private Life of An Indian Prince. Both these novels deal with the psychological breakdown of two typical Maharajas following the merger. We hope that this theme would be taken up by many more Indo-Anglian novelists. Kamala Markandaya has taken up this theme in her The Golden Honey Comb (1978).

Confrontation between East and West:

It was E. M. Froster who gave a timeless classic, A Passage to India on an Indian theme. He dealt with the East-West encounter. The Indo-Anglian novelist has adopted it. This East-West theme has been dealt with by Indo-Anglian novelists on the personal, social, political and cultural level. Very often the Anglicisd Indian is faced with the conflict of choice between East and West. The East-West encounter theme is found in numerous novels, as in Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope, J. M. Ganguly’s When East and West Meet (1960), S. K. Ghose’s The Prince of Destiny. K. S. Venkataramani’s Murugan The Tiller, B. Rajan’s The Dark Dancer, Meenakshi Mukherjee who discusses the typical theme of the Indo-Anglian novel in her book says, “The Indo-Anglians have explored the metaphysical, spiritual, and romantic aspects of the confrontation each in his or her own way. Even when the novel does not deal directly with the Foresterian theme, the personal crisis in the life of each Western-educated hero or heroine becomes intercultural in nature.”

Indian immigrants abroad: Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction

The theme of Indian immigrants abroad is treated in Dilip Hiro’s The Triangular View (1969), Kamala Markandaya’s The Nowhere Man (1972), Anita Desai’s Bye-Bye, Black bird (1971), Roman Basu’s A Gift of Love. Reginald and Jamila Massey’s The Immigrants (1963), Deep Chand Beeharry’s That Others Might Live. Bharti Mukherjee’s Wife (1976) and Ram Sharan’s Look Homeward! Whatever be the technical merit of these novels, they deal with a hot and contemporary theme.

Hunger and poverty:

The theme of hunger and poverty and “the concomitant theme of human degradation” and expression in such novels as Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie (1936), Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve (1954) and Bhabani Bhattacharya’s A Handful of Rice (1966) and He Who Ride a Tiger (1954). These novels are brutally realistic and portray hunger and poverty, pathos and peasantry with the candour of a naturalist.

Tradition versus modernity:

The theme of tradition versus modernity looms large in the novels which deal with the themes of hunger and poverty and East-West Encounter but it has been treated in particular by Kamala Markandaya in A Silence of Desire (1960) and Two Virgins (1973). and Bhabani Bhattacharya in Music for Mohini (1952).

Search for identity: Themes in Indo-Anglian Fiction

Many of the above mentioned novels are a variation on the theme of East-West Encounter which has been artistically presented in a score of novels. Notable among them are Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope (1960), Kamala Markandaya’s Possession (1969) and B. Rajan’s The Dark Dancer(1959) etc. These novels touch upon the theme of search for identity also.

There are other stray themes of love, murder, village life etc-also. But the Indo-Anglian novel suffers from lack of extremely localised themes. It is, however, thematically wide-ranged. Sometimes the quality of exoticism is introduced to attract Western readers. In general, these themes are universal and have value not only for Indians but for all, irrespective of class, creed and country.

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