Features of Indo-Anglian Fiction

Distinctive Features of Indo-Anglian Fiction

Features of Indo-Anglian Fiction

Features of Indo-Anglian Fiction: The Indian novel in English made its debut in the last three decades of 19th century. “Early Indo-Anglian fiction appeared when Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott had become classics and Dickens had written most of his novels in England, when in France Balzac and Alexander Dumas were in their graves: when in Russia Dostoevsky and Tolstoy had published most of their important novels.”

Historical and Native Crudity in the Novels:

In the beginning the main trend was historical and there was a native crudity of the first attempt visible in the novels. It remained so upto 1920. One finds a variety of historical fiction in S. K. Ghosh’s The Prince of Destiny (1990). S. K. Mitra’s Hindupur (1909) and Jogendra Singh’s Nur Jahan (1909), the historical romance was very popular. It is a curious paradox that though these novels were called historical, they do not have any ‘history’ rooted in facts. On the contrary, they are romantic novels full of mediocre themes, little historical imagination, technical faults of construction and a romantic aura of unreality.

Beginning of significant attempts:

On the whole, there were hardly a dozen Indian novels in English upto 1920. Hence the year 1920 may easily be regarded as the beginning of serious efforts in the field of Indo-Anglian fiction. Indo-Anglian fiction has acquired certain distinctive features through a long, steady and slow process of experiments in the techniques of narration, construction and form, search for new and proper themes and, at the same time, the problems of writing in an alien language. Over a period of four decades notable achievements have been made by writers like Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan. Raja Rao, G. V. Desani, Anita Desai, Manohar Malgonkar, Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal, Sudhin Ghose, Khuswant Sing, Arun Joshi.

Novel— the most popular genre in literature:

The first striking feature is that the novel is the most dominant branch of Indo-Anglian literature as is the case with American Literature. Though the Indo-Anglian novel came later, the bulk of Indo-Anglian literature is in the novel-form. In spite of the fact that the Indian writer has to cater to an average readership, has a limited market, has to compete with other to publish a book abroad etc., Indians have come out to attempt the novel, “the genre of imaginative literature which gives artistic form to the relationship of man and society.” It is perhaps because the novel form largely suits the Indian temperament.

A product of two cultures and traditions:

The Indo-Anglian novel is not an imitation of the West. The Indian novelists writing in English such as R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand who have, of course, imbibed the essential lessons of the Western novel, especially from James Joyce, are no fake imitators of their Western counterpart. In his book An Area of Darkness V. S. Naipaul said that the Indo- Anglian novel is “mimicry of the West”. It shows “the Indian self-violation” because the novel is of the West.” Western novels depict life ‘here and now’ whereas thoughtful men in India have preferred to satisfy the basic hunger for the unseen.” But this accusation is not true.

Perhaps V.S. Naipaul has only read Narayan and Nirad Chaudhary, Malgonker and Prawer Jhabwala and not Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope. The Indo-Anglian novel is the product of two parent traditions’, Indian and Western. That is why Mrs. Meenakshi Mukherjee calls it ‘the twice born fiction’. C.D. Narasimhaiah refutes the charges of V S. Naipaul: “The novel, both in the West and the East, must trace its origins to a distant past. In one sense, India had a richer potential for the Novel form that the West, thanks to the Indians gift for story-telling which goes back to the Rigveda and the Upanishad.” The Indo-Anglian novel depicts both the social reality of here and now and the spiritual reality. These two things are present in ancient Indian stories. Here and now is the concern of the Western novel but the Indo-Anglian novel goes beyond it. Its range is wider and higher than that of the Western novel.

Prof. Narasimhaiah further says: “Only the Indian story does not stop there—its concerns range is wider and higher—the reason why Narayan’s The Guide is more engaging than Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur, Kipling’s Kim, and Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope is more significant than E.M. Froster’s A Passage to India for The Serpent and the Rope begins where A Passage to India ends.” The novel is temperamentally suited to Indians because the story is the most important part of a novel and India has a glorious heritage of story-telling. Raja Rao said in his preface to Kanthapura: “Episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop out breath stops, and we move on to another thought. This was and still is the ordinary style of story-telling.

The Development of the Indo-Anglian Novel as a Separate Genre:

Next to it, we find the emergence of the Indo-Anglian Novel as a distinct genre. Within a short period of 40 years it has eked out a considerable maturity and a separate identity. There are several traits of this maturity. The writers are conscious about their technique. They were inspired by varied creative impulses which have changed from period to period because of the writer’s prediction for new themes and technique. Though there is not much scope to experimentation in fiction, yet there have been some successful experiments.

Mulk Raj Anand makes use of the stream of consciousness technique in Untouchable which has a form, shape and coherence not found in Ulysses. In The Guide, Narayan, by alternating the objective story of Raju, the saint and the autobiographical story of Raju, the tourist guide, has achieved an artistic and technical tour-de-force. Anand’s Coolie is a triumph of picaresque genre in India. Raja Rao made a successful attempt in The Serpent and the Rope by a combination of the autobiographical method of narration, the introspective narration, flash-back, jottings from diary and the chronicle-method. Thus, the maturity of Indo-Anglian fiction is seen in the attention paid to technique by Indian novelists. Moreover, though the concern for technique has themes in Indo-Anglian novel and it anticipated new trends which were manifest in other regional literatures only later on.

According to Meenakshi Mukherjee, “The Indo-Anglian novel made a different appearance in the nineteen twenties, then gradually gathered confidence and established itself in the next two decades. The momentum has vet to subside, and more novels have been published in the sixties than ever before. This increase in output is difficult to account for, especially when there were hardly half a dozen Indo-Anglian novels until 1920. Perhaps one of the reasons is that the flowering of Indo-Anglian fiction coincided with the novel’s coming of age in the regional languages of India.”The maturity of Indian novel in English is to be seen in the expert handling of plot, depiction of a varied stock of characters and selection of new themes.

Awareness of Western audience:

Another feature of Indo-Anglian fiction whether it be a merit or a defect is the awareness of Western audience on the part of novelists. Indo-Anglian writers for the intellectual elite in India who unfortunately are few and most of the reading public prefer sex or spy-thrillers. Hence they faced with severely limited readership and have to cater to an average readership. They surmount this problem by catering to the Western audience.

Most of the Indo-Anglian novels have been published abroad. Raja Rao, R. K. Narayan, Khuswant Singh, etc, have been published abroad. Almost all the novels of Malgonkar have been published abroad. A short history of the publication of the Indo-Anglian novels would itself make an interesting novel. This awareness of Western audience does influence the subject-matter of novels there are scenes and characters from the exotic India-Sadhus, Fakirs, Caves, temples, Vedanta philosophy Gandhi, Rajahs and Nawabs. Manohar Malgonker rightly said about Raja Rao and R. K. Narayan; “They represent essentially the Western idea of India.”

Indian characteristics:

But this idea does not mean that the Indo-Anglian novel is purely mean for Western readers. There are elements of Indianness brought into the novel by our writers. Novels about all countries have the essence of their own nationalism. Indian novels in English are a vehicle of Indian sensibility because the operative sensibility of the Indo-Anglian novelists is local. It, therefore, makes Indo-Anglian fiction a part of Indian national literature. To quote Dr. A.V. Krishna Rao, “The Indo-Anglian Novel… has established itself in the mainstream of national literature of modern India.” This is clear from a study of the typical themes of the novels, the use of Indian symbols, and myth, Indian scenes and characters shaped and conditioned by the individual, local, racial, and national sensibility of the author.

Various Interests:

Yet another outstanding feature of Indo-Anglian fiction is its variety of interest. Its range is wider and concerns greater. Though it has only three main phases of the historical novel, the social and political only and the introspective or psychological novel, there is enough variety in it.

This quality has very ably been explained by Prof. C.D. Narasimhaiah: “And the Indian Novel in English has shown a capacity to accommodate a wide range of concerns : In Mulk Raj Anand is humane concern for the under-dog, not just a preoccupation with economic determinism; in R. K. Narayan the Comic mode as equivalent to the tragic in his evocation of mediocrity: and K. Nagarajan surprises by his sensitive handling of the human significance in the religious and theological labyrinth so characteristic of Hindu society.

While Raja Rao recaptures the magnificent mythical imagination of Indian antiquity successively in the three novels and short stories he has written to date, he has at the same time, to use T.S. Eliot’s words, ‘altered’ the ‘expression to accommodate a distinct, profoundly Indian sensibility One sees this in different degrees in the writings of Sudhin Ghose, Desani and Ananthanarayan. The women writers especially Kamala Markandaya, Santha Ram and Anita Desai have a fine eye for the urban scene. Bhabani Bhattacharya and Khuswant Singh, in very different ways, give us valuable insights into the pathos of economic improvishment, mal-distribution of wealth and human degradation caused by political upheavals. The wider canvas of Indo-Anglian novel can also be seen in study of some typical theme and characters. The range has been further widened by the inclusion of untouched themes. Malgonkar’s The Distant Drum is the only novel about army-life in Indo-Anglian fiction.

Thus Indo-Anglian fiction suffers from a distinct quality of exoticism and as Mrs. Derrett wrote, many of the Indians writers are writing exclusively for the Anglian-Saxon market and this fact certainly influences the depiction of characters, the selection of the themes and the construction of the plot. A recent example is Kamala Markandaya’s Two Virgins. But this is not all. We have Indo-Anglian fiction as a rich and distinctive branch of Indo-Anglian literature. It became a vehicle of social and political comment. It enriched the other literatures of India. It has displaced the rich heritage of India as well as the modem social scene in India.

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