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K Satchidanandan: Changing Landscape of Indian Literature

Assam Mukha mask. Courtesy-

Negotiating Heterogeneity: Indian Literature since Independence

Let me at the very outset clarify that this essay is but an incomplete attempt to take stock of Indian writing after Independence as it is impossible for any writer to have authentic information about the literary scenario even in the languages recognized by the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, not to speak of hundreds of mother-tongues all of which have their own specific traditions and their own corpus of oral as well as written literature. One can hardly generalize and yet one is forced to generalize while grappling with the great heterogeneity of India's literary output. If I have taken some names of works and authors here and there, they are only meant to exemplify certain trends and by no means to create an exhaustive list. Obviously I have to depend on the languages I know and the works as well as information available in those languages.

1. Indian Fiction: The Changing Landscape

It has become a cliché of literary criticism to say that the novelists in the so-called Third World "narrate the nation"; however, on closer scrutiny we find that our novelists narrate not one, but many nations, each imagining the nation and conjuring it into being in his or her own way, and often bringing a multiplicity of perspectives into play through a variety of characters from different strata of society. An activist Bengali writer like Mahasweta Devi or an Assamiya writer like Birendrakumar Bhattacharya privileges the tribal perspective (eg, the former's Aranyer Adhikar, Right to the Forest, or the latter's Iyyaru Ingam, People's Region); a Tamil writer like Bama (eg; Kurukku and Sangati), a Marathi writer like Lakshman Gaikwad (Uchalya) or Saran Kumar Limbale (Akkarmashee), a Gujarati writer like Joseph Macwan (eg; Angaliyat), a Kannada writer like Siddalingaiah (Ooru Keri) or Devanoor Mahadeva (eg, Kusumabale) an Oriya writer like Gopinath Mohanty (eg; Paraja, the Outcaste) or a Telugu writer like Unnava Lakshminarayana (eg; Malappally) might portray the reality of the Dalit life with its sense of disgrace, its moral beauty and its desire for social emancipation. There are regional novels where particular regions and local histories are at the centre of attention like Phaniswar Nath Renu's Maila Anchal (The Soiled Region), Rahi Masoom Raza's Aadha Gaon (A Village in Halves) in Hindi, Tarasankar Banerjee's Arogyaniketan or Shivram Karanth's Chomana Dudi (Choma's Drum) or U.R.Ananthamurthy's Bharatipura in Kannada , or M.T. Vasudevan Nair's Nalukettu ( Ancestral House), S.K.Pottekkaatt's Oru Desathinte Katha (The Story of a Village), Thakazhi Sivasankarapillai's Kayar or M.Mukundan's Mayyazippuzhayude Theerangalil (On the Banks of River Mayyazhi) in Malayalam or Sundararamaswamy's Oru Puliyamarathin Kathai (The Story of a Tamarind Tree) in Tamil. The partition of India is a recurring theme in post-Independence fiction as in Sunil Gangopadhyay's Purab-O-Paschim (East and West) in Bengali, Khushwant Singh's A Train to Pakistan in English or Yashpal's Jhoota Sach (The Untrue Truth) in Hindi or Qurratulain Hyder's Aag ka Dariyaa (The River of Fire) in Urdu as in the Urdu stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, Kishan Chandar and Rajinder Singh Bedi.

Historical novel

Historical novel has remained a favourite genre with Indian writers, right from the beginning of novel in India. Shyamal Gangopadhyay in Bengali (eg; Darashuko), Vrindavan Lal Verma in Hindi (Jhansi ki Rani, the Qeen of Jhansi), Masti Venkatesha Iyengar in Kannada (Chikkaveera Rajendra), Ranjeet Desai in Marathi (Swami), Surendra Mohanty in Oriya (Nila Saila, The Blue Mountain) and Viswanatha in Telugu (Ekavira) are some examples. Together such writers have covered a long span of history from the twelfth century to the present with rare imagination and historical insight. O.V.Vijayan, M.Mukundan, Sethu, N.S.Madhavan and Paul Zacharia in Malayalam, U.R.Ananthamurthy, Chandrasekhara Kambar and Poornachandra Tejaswi in Kannada, Sundararamaswamy and Jayamohan in Tamil, Suresh Joshi in Gujarati, Bhalchandra Nemade in Marathi and Nirmal Verma, Krishna Baldev Vaid and Vinod Kumar Shukla in Hindi have all contributed to the modernization of the genre by bringing in the complexities of modern life- particularly its angst and alienation- and inventing new structures and idioms that best express their fresh perceptions of life and mind. The rise of a number of women writers in the languages in recent years has ensured the representation of women's issues and women's perspectives in Indian fiction. They reexamine the patriarchal canons and litearry practices, re-vision myths, reinterpret epics and forge a counter-language and found an alternative semiotics of the body and beyond. Established women novelists like Kamala Das, Amrita Pritam, Krishna Sobti, Ashapurna Devi, Ajeet Cour, Lakshmikantamma, Lalitambika Antarjanam, Pratibha Ray, Indira Goswami and Nabaneeta Dev Sen have now been joined by scores of new and powerful writers from Sara Joseph (eg Alahayude Penmakkal, The Daughters of Alaha), K R Meera (eg. Arachar, The Hangwoman), Gracy, K. Rekha and Sitara (many short stories) of Malayalam to Ambai of Tamil, Volga of Telugu, Bani Basu of Bengali, Moushmi Kandali of Assamese, Sania of Marathi and Geetanjali Sree of Hindi to take a few examples.. There is a whole new generation of talented writers in all the Indian languages from Nabarun Bhattacharya in Bengali ( eg, Herbert) and Alka Saraogi in Hindi ( Kolikatha via Byepass) to Jayamohan in Tamil (Vishnupuram) and K.P.Ramanunni in Malayalam (Jeevitathinte Pusthakam, The Book of Life) , E.K.Santhoshkumar (Andhakaranazhi, The Port of Darkness), Subhash Chandran( Jeevithathinu Oru Mukhavura, An Introduction to Life), T.D.Ramakrishnan (Sugandhi enna Andaal Devanayaki , Sugandhi alias Andal Devanayaki) in Malayalam who have already proved their credentials as novelists of great talent.

Indian fiction in English

Indian fiction in English began receiving wider international acclaim with the publication of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. This is not to forget the contributions of pioneers like R. K.Narayan, Raja Rao, Bhabani Bhattacharya, Mulk Raj Anand, Nayantara Sehgal, Anita Desai and others. But there certainly has been a paradigm shift with the appearance of Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Allan Sealy and Arundhati Roy who are free from the self-doubt that seemed to have tormented their predecessors. These writers and those who follow, like Kiran Nagarkar, Kiran Desai, Rohinton Mistry, Gita Hariharan, Mukul Kesavan, Shama Futehally, Amit Choudhuri, Rukun Advani, Vikram Chandra, Altaf Tyrewala, Shashi Deshpande, Jhumpa Lahiri, Manju Kapur, Ruchir Joshi, Radhika Jha, Hari Kunzru, Anita Nair, Attia Hosain, Neel Bhattacharya, Anees Salim and several others are not apologetic about writing in English; they consider English a legitimately Indian language and use it with great ease and creativity. They share discoursal devices and genres with their language-counterparts. If R.K.Narayan's Malgudi Days, Raja Rao's Kanthapura and Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things are sthalapuranas or local histories, Allan Sealy's Trotternama follows the pattern of the nama or the Indian chronicle. Kiran Nagarkar's Cuckold is a new form of hagiography, Sasi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel is a mock-epic and Vikram Seth's Golden Gate is in the verse narrative tradition. The direct use of Malayalam words in The God of Small Things and the employment of native usages and proverbs as well as local customs and manners in the works of Khushwant Singh, Bhabani Bhattacharya, Raja Rao, Kiran Nagarkar, Kiran Desai, Kaveri Nambisan and Vikram Seth point to a process of the nativisation of English. Works like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August and Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies and The River of Smoke demonstrate a self-conscious questioning of linguistic boundaries. The new novelists interrogate the 'purity' of Indian culture, accept English as part of a sub-continental polyphony and refuse to privilege either tradition or modernity. The thematic range of the new English novel is astonishingly wide: the fissures in the body-politic (Beethoven Among the Cows), rising communalism (The Little Soldier, Fugitive Histories, Vanity Bagh), emigration (The Glass Palace, A Sea of Poppies), the divided immigrant self (Satanic Verses), disorienting loss (Afternoon Rag), post-Colonial history (Midnight's Children, Shame, Trotternama), the celebration of hybridity (Moor's Last Sigh, The Enchantress of Florence), the question of identity (Namesake), the life of the ambitious poor (White Tiger) and the changing Indian village (Nectar in a Sieve, Sunlight on a Broken Column) are only some of the major thematic concerns raised by these novelists. A new and lighter kind of writing not overtly worried about literariness has also emerged with the work of writers like Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, Samit Basu, Anuja Chauhan and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan. Blogs, e-zines and internet are also fast changing the nature of literary communication in India. It is quite likely that unexpected pathways may open up under the pressures of the market economy, globalisation and forced homogenisation of cultures. The inner cartography of liberalized India is likely to foreground new ethical questions about our social behaviour towards refugees, immigrants and the still un-mainstreamed populations, like the questions already raised by Rana Dasgupta and Kiran Desai in their recent works.

2. Poetry: New Directions

While independence was greeted by several poets with celebratory odes, quite a few considered it a false dawn: either because they felt, like Nazrul Islam, that the swaraj did not bring anything for the hungry child or because it was a flawed and fissured freedom since the gift was a divided India. Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, a pioneer of the new poetry (nayee kavita) in Hindi, declared in 1953 that 'the face of the moon is crooked' and the hegemonic political formation was a 'wooden Ravan'. Kedarnath Singh spoke of the anagat, the one who had not yet arrived, whose wings were lost in the golden shadows and feet were trembling in the mist. A catastrophic vision like that of W.B.Yeats in 'The Second Coming' seemed to penetrate literature, for, the best appeared 'to lack all conviction' and the worst were 'full of passionate intensity'. Bishnu Dey, the Bengali poet, expressed his concern for the death of the village, the rude aggression on nature, and the thoughtless urbanization that seemed to disturb the harmony of life:

How long do we roam about
carrying our tents?
When does the alien
set up his own house?

The same feeling was echoed by N. N. Kakkad, the Malayalam poet, who compared the city evening to a made-up whore roaming about the park in search of customers, when a giant figure was going up the mansions, spilling blood and thorns behind him.(Paarkil, In the Park).Ayyappa Paniker in his poems like 'Kurukshetram' and 'Mrityupooja' echoed similar frustrations and dilemmas, both social and moral; Gopalakrishna Adiga, in poems like 'Frog in the Well' and 'Do Something, Brother' too attacked the passivity and complacency of the Indian middle class that hardly responded to the misery around. Akhtar-ul-Iman, the modern Urdu poet, found in the child lost in the city's glare and stampede, a symbol of 'the Indian youth torn from his roots'. 'The Hungry Poets' of Bengal inspired by Allen Ginsberg, especially Sunil Gangopadhyay and Sakthi Chattopadhyay and the 'Digambara poets' of Andhra Pradesh like Nagnamuni, Jwalamukhi and Nikhileswar gave birth to a new poetry of anger and frustration with Dadaist and Surrealist elements in their modes of imagination and expression. Free verse and prose came to be increasingly used; images replaced older figures of speech; poetic imagination and idiom were both freed from conventional habits and clichés. Annada Shankar Ray said about these changes that there was nothing foreign about them: 'We went surrealist without reading about it. Ionesco's absurd world had descended upon us.'


These similarities of impulse and formal experimentation not withstanding, Modernism emerged under different circumstances in different languages. Even its names differed: it was nayee kavita (there were other movements too like akavita) in Hindi, adhunik kavita in Bengali and Malayalam, navya in Kannada and puthukkavitai in Tamil, though all these mean the new or modern poetry. The idioms and approaches often differed from language to language and even ideologically it was no monolith. For example in Hindi, Bengali or Telugu the new poetry had a predominantly progressive character as the movement had been pioneered by Muktibodh, Bishnu Dey and Sri Sri who had a radical socialist impulse in them, while in Marathi, Malayalam and Kannada the thrust was individualistic as in B.S.Mardhekar, Ayyappa Paniker or Gopalakrishna Adiga who were primarily for the sovereignty of the individual though their poetry seen in retrospect was not without social implications expressed often negatively, in terms of escape or of agony.

Whatever the paradigm we choose, the modern experience in India can be seen as a composite of many elements that had in their background the larger context of industrialization and urbanization. Initially at least it was the revolt of a sensibility threatened by imminent decadence on the one hand and the ominous intimations of the loss of rural life on the other. The existing culture was under shock, stimulated by the retreat of Gandhian values from political life, the huge city-oriented demographic movements prompted by rural unemployment, the trauma left by Partition, the demon of hunger stalking the city slums as well as the villages, the tensions bred by colonial education, the alienation, angst and solitude felt by the sensitive urban populace many of whom had their moorings in the village, the challenges posed by the uprooted masses to the secure sense of tradition and the native ways of seeing and feeling and the terror and ecstasy of the new world without a Supreme Ruler. Even collective ideologies seemed to have lost their charm to many and the simplistic idea of continuous progress was in question: the interminable complexities of experience compelled writers to seek alternative styles of thought, image and expression.

New aesthetic dimensions

By 1965-70, Indian writers in different languages had already produced a body of poetry that strove to capture the multi-layeredness of Indian life with its uneasy co-existence of different time worlds, of the rational and the spiritual, of the real and surreal, in their startling images, syncopated rhythms, employment of novel patterns, dream-like mixing and substitution of time and space, unexpected leaps of thought and fancy, transgressions of established norms of decency and propriety, odd combinatorial plays of the folk and the classical, indigenous and exotic elements, re-mappings of Indian mythology in the fresh contexts of life and language, forays into legends and archetypes and conscious use of everyday language. Navakanta Barua's Mor aru Prithvir (Of Mine and the Earth's), Hiren Bhattacharya's Bibhinna Dinar Kavita (Poems of different days) and Neelmani Phookan's Surya Heno Nami ahe ei Nadiyedi (The Sun is said to Come Descending this River) in Assamiya, Shakti Chattopadhyay's Jete Pari Kintu Kena Jabo (I Can Go, but Why Should I?), and Nirendra Chakraborty's Ulanga Raja (The Naked King) besides the poems of Buddhadev Bose, Amiya Chakravarty, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, Sudhindranath Datta, Samar Sen, Premendra Mitra and Sunil Gangopadhyay in Bengali, G.M.Muktibodh's Chand ka Muh Tedha hai and Ajney's Nadi ke Dweep in Hindi, besides the poems of Kunwar Narain, Kedarnath Singh, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Shamsher and others, Suresh Joshi's Pratyancha and Sitanshu Yashaschandra's Magan poems in Gujarati besides the poems of Ravji Patel and Labhshankar Thaker, Gopalakrishna Adiga's Bhoomigeete, Bhoota and Koopamanduka in Kannada besides the poems of K.S. Narasimhaswami, S.R. Ekkundi, Chandrasekhar Patil, Channaveera Kanavi and G. S. Shivarudrappa in Kannada, M. Govindan's Jeevitathil, Maranathil,(In Life, In Death) Ayyappa Paniker's Kavitakal, (Poems) N. N.Kakkad's 1963, Madhavan Ayyappath's Jeevacharitrakkurippikal (Notes for a Biography) and the poems of Attoor Ravivarnma and Cherian. K.Cherian in Malayalam, the poems of Nachiketa in Maithili, Dina Nath Nadim's Ba Geva Na Az (I Will Not Sing Today) and the poems of Rahman Rahi, Amin Kamil, and G. R. Santosh in Kashmiri, L.Samarendra Singh's Khula Amagi Wari (The Story of a Village), Thangjom Ibopishak's Narak-Patal-Prithvi (Hell, the Netherworld and the Earth) besides the poems of E. Neelakanta Singh and N.Biren in Manipuri, the poems of B.S.Mardhekar, Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar and P. S. Rege in Marathi, Bhanuji Rao's Bisad eka Ritu(Despair, a Season), Sachi Rautroy's Kabita series, Ramakant Rath's Sri Radha and the poems of Sitakanata Mahapatra, Guruprasad Mohanty, Hara Parasad Das and Soubhagyakumar Mishra in Oriya, Harbhajan Singh's Rukte Rishi, Amrita Pritam's Sunehere (Messages) and Shivkumar Batalvi's Luna and in Punjabi, Sundara Ramaswamy's Nadunisi Naikkal (The Midnight-Dogs) and the poems of Ka.Na.Subramanyam, Jnanakoothan, C.S. Chellappa, S.Mani, T.K. Doraiswamy and others in Tamil, the poems of Ismail, Ajanta, and others in Telugu and of Firaq Gorakhpuri, Akhtar-ul-Iman, Balraj Komal Shehryar, Makhdoom Mohiuddin and others in Urdu were responsible for giving new formal devices and aesthetic dimensions to Indian poetry in the last decades. While they were united in their urge to discover a new idiom of poetry, they differed at many levels, of the specific linguistic situation and genius, of ideological moorings and the models, if any, they looked forward to in other languages

Emergence of poetry of the marginalized

From the 1970-s onwards, the democratic tradition of Indian poetry, of which the poetry of the Bhakti-Sufi movements, of the freedom struggle and of the Progressives are earlier examples, has flowered like never before with the emergence of several so-far marginalised sections of the society getting empowered by democracy. This poetry has emerged from a series of transversal struggles that have been raising the issues of decentralisation, right to cultural difference, caste and gender power, ecological balance, the rights of the tribals to land, language and culture, and sought to fight the intrusion of the market in everyday life, the consequent reduction of liberty to mere consumer choice, the forced standardisation of culture sought by capitalist and communal forces, the valorization of competition, suppression of autonomy, the subtle imperialism of the unipolar world in the wake of globalisation and the cultural amnesia imposed on the Indian people with their glorious intellectual and artistic traditions and their unique ways of knowing and responding to the world. The individualistic tendencies of some of the modernists began to be interrogated as new collective identities got forged and a new a literature of opposition and an aesthetics of resistance began to evolve in almost all the languages of India in the 1970s.

Poetry reflects these emerging collective identities through diverse idioms and modes of articulation. One such collectivity is formed by the poets who share a deep social concern even while differing in ideological pursuits. There is a wide spectrum of dissenters who are democratic, but find the present system inadequate to reflect the aspirations of the common people. They include Gandhians, the followers of Ram Manohar Lohia and M.N.Roy and Communists of different denominations and liberal humanists of diverse hues. All of them recognize the existence of class inequalities and dream of a more egalitarian society. They differ from the old Progressives in their use of the new modes of poetry some of which were introduced by the Modernists--irony, black humour, free verse, prose in differing tones, fresh images, surrealist metaphors and new forms like the sequence poem, poetic cycles, the long poem, the extended lyric and the like. In short, they share the socialist vision of the Progressives and the contemporary sensibility of the Modernists. Their poetry is also informed by an awareness of the 'complexification' of life in our times as also their urban experience. The poetry of Raghuveer Sahai, Dhoomil, Sarveswar Dayal Saxena, Vijay Narayan Sahi, Kunwar Narain, Kedarnath Singh, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Manglesh Dabral, Rajesh Joshi, Arun Kamal, Vishnu Nagar, Riruraj, Asad Zaidi and several others of the younger generation can be cited as examples from Hindi alone not to speak of poets from other languages like Jagtar, Pash or Surjit Pather from Punjabi, Chandrasekhara Kambar or P.Lankesh from Kannada, Bishnu Dey, Samar Sen or Subhash Mukhopadhyay from Bengali, J.P. Das or Jayanta Mahapatra from Oriya, Narayan Surve or Chandrakant Patil from Marathi, Mafat Oza, Chinu Modi or Sarup Dhruv from Gujarati, Ali Sardar Jafri or Javed Akhtar from Urdu, Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, K. Satchidanandan or K.G.Sankara Pillai from Malayalam, Siva Reddy or Varavara Rao from Telugu, to cite just a few familiar examples. Some of these poets, like Kadammanitta and Kambar have rediscovered the folk idiom with fresh nuances while some of the Maoist poets like Subbarao Panigrahi, Cherabanda Raju, Saroj Dutta, Murari Mukhopadhyay, Gaddar and Civic Chandran have created a new symbolism that marks the arrival of a revolutionary romanticism. Many of these poets have fashioned a sharp, unsentimental, ironic and concrete language to express their distaste for the system. Look at Pash, the Punjabi poet: 'No, I don't think now about/ such things as/ the fine hues of red/ when the sun sets over the village/ nor do I care about how she feels/ when the moon glides over the threshold/ at night./ No, I don't worry about such trifles now." ('No, I am not Losing My Sleep Over…). Dhoomil says: "A man/ severs the neck of another/ from torso/ As a mechanic separates a nut/ from a bolt/ You say; This is murder. I say: This is the dissolution of a mechanism." He takes his readers "to the territory of poetry/ In the wilderness of language/ where cowardice has run away/ Throwing an empty revolver/ and defiance has gone forward/in then dark." In "Twenty Years After' he asks: "…is freedom only the name/ of three tired colours/ dragged by a single wheel?"


Another imagined community is that of the women-poets scores of whom have emerged with strong Feminist inclinations in the last three decades in several Indian languages. Though India has a tradition of women's poetry extending from the Buddhist nuns of the Sixth century B C E through the poets of the Bhakti like Akka Mahadevi, Meerabai, Andal or Lal Ded to poets of the last generation like Mahadevi Varma and Balamani Amma, a poetry consciously committed to the cause of women's emancipation, taking gender as the organising principle of experience and body as central to their language is a rather new phenomenon. It can be said to have begun with poets like Kabita Sinha, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Amrita Preetam and Kamala Das and has now several spokeswomen from Eunice D' Souza, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Arundhati Subramaniam, Menka Shivdasani and Sujata Bhatt of English to Mallika Sengupta of Bengali, Pravasini Mahakud of Oriya, Pratibha Nandakumar of Kannada, Tarannum Riaz of Urdu, Manjit Tiwana of Punjabi, A.Jayaprabha of Telugu, Salma of Tamil, Anuradha Patil of Marathi, Anamika of Hindi or Savitri Rajeevan of Malayalam and several other poets represented in popular anthologies like Arlene Zide's In Their Own Voice and Susie Taru and K.Lalita's Women Writing in India: From the 6th Century to the Present besides individual collections and anthologies in different languages. These poets challenge the norms of the phallocentric discourse, interrogate patriarchal canons and try to forge idioms adequate to express the specifically feminine experiences of pain, solitude, desire and pleasure. But women's poetry is no monolith, it has enough space for regional variations, specific geniuses of languages, diverse traditions, a large variety of forms and different approaches to experience. For example the poetry of urban Muslim women like Mallika Amar Seikh or Imtiaz Dharker, exiles like Panna Naik or Meena Alexander or Dalits like Prajna Lokhande or Hira Bansode reflect their specific community experience within the broader frame of women's poetry. They have realized, with Eunice D' Souza that 'the histories they know are not fit to print' and that 'the perfect book is one long cry in the dark'. Recent anthologies like We Speak in Changing Languages and Interior Decoration that followed In Their Own Voice testify to the multiplicity of voices and concerns that enrich Indian women's poetry today.

Dalit poetry

Dalit poetry has been mainstreamed in Kannada, Marathi and Gujarati and has emerged strongly in Punjabi, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam as reflected by the recent anthologies of Dalit writing like the anthology of Gujarati dalit poetry, Ekalavyas with Thumbs, the two volumes (Tamil and Malayalam) of The Oxford India Anthology of Dalit Writing, No Alphabet in Sight and Steel Nibs are Sprouting which have succeeded Poisoned Bread besides a lot of Individual collections. It is no more a mere expression of the despair and indignation of the dalit communities who had been relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy for over thirty centuries, but an assertion of dalit values and of the community's rightful claim to all the privileges democracy gives its people. The movement has produced an extremely innovative poet like Namdeo Dhasal in Marathi while it has been enriched by the contributions of scores of poets like Siddalingaiah of Kannada, S. Joseph, Raghavan Atholi, M. R. Renukumar and M. B. Manoj of Malayalam, Sivsagar, J. Gautam, Maddoori Nageshbabu, Paidi Thereshbabu and Satish Chander of Telugu, Anpathavan, Yakkan,Bharati Vasanthan, Puthiya Matavi and Idayavendan of Tamil, Soorajpal Chauhan, Rajnee Tilak, Om Prakash Valmiki, Mohandas Naimishrai, Susheela Taksore, Asang Ghosh and Kusum Meghval of Hindi, Gurdas Alam, Sant Ram Udasi, Manjit Khader and Lalsingh Dil of Punjabi, not to speak of Marathi poets like Arjun Dangle, Daya Pawar, J.V. Powar, Arun Kamble, Arun Kale, Sharan Kumar Limbale, Prakash Kharat, Arun Chandra Gavli, Dinkar Manwar, Mahendra Bhavre,Asha Torat, Meena Gajbhiye, Urmila Pawar, Jyoti Lanjewar and Kumud Pavade and Gujarati poets like Harish Mangalam, Jayant Parmar, Yoseph Macwan, Mangal Rathod and Kisan Sosa to cite only a few names. The Dalit poets have created their own aesthetic that often goes against the injunctions of traditional poetics, using expressions that used to be dismissed as gramya (rustic), chyutasamskara (culturally corrupt) and asleela (obscene) and questioning rules like dhwani (suggestion) and ouchitya (propriety). They have brought into poetry a whole new lexicon rich with community dialects, slang, street language and rarely known sayings and usages. They have redrawn the map of Indian literature by discovering and exploring a whole continent of experience so far left to silence and darkness. The dalit writers have also overcome the stagnation that was looming large over many literatures through a cleansing renewal, disturbing the complacency of the dominant social groups, challenging set mores and conventions of looking at reality and forcing the community to refashion its critical tools and observe itself critically. In this attempt they have re-visioned myths and reread the epics from the perspectives of a Sambooka or an Ekalavya subverting the middle class notions of poetry and poetic language. Writers like U.R. Ananthamurthy who had earlier complained that there is no dalit writing in English and there cannot be, are likely to be proved wrong very soon with writers like Meena Kandasamy and Chandramohan S emerging on the scene and many more certainly in the making.

Tribal poetry

Along with the dalits, the tribal communities of India have also woken up and begun to claim their rights for land and life and retrieve their history from amnesia. They have realized that they were the first poets, the first philosophers, the first cosmologists, the first peasants, the first myth-makers and the first artists and scientists. The vedas, the upanishads and the epics were created by the ancient tribes. Human history has also been the history of their marginalisation and alienation from the so-called mainstream. They have also a history of struggles against foreign invaders; the Bhils of Gujarat, the Kurichyas of Kerala and the Santals of Bihar were the first to fight the dominance of the British. It is strange that heroes like Birsa Munda, Siddhu Kanhu, Chand Bhairav, Thilak Majhi, Tantiya Bhil, Khajya Nayak and Rumalya Nayak find no place in official histories. Vinayak Tumram has defined the new tribal literature as 'the verbalisation of the primal pain of the maimed life of the adivasis'. The new tribal writing opposes the varna system that pushed them out of the society and upholds the ideal of an egalitarian, non-hierarchical, non-exploitative and non-violent society. Prakriti, sanskriti and itihas (nature, culture and history) equally inspire their writing and they celebrate the positive tribal values of camaraderie, sharing and concern for nature. Besides Santali and Bodo that have found a place recently in the eighth schedule of the constitution, languages like Bhili, Mundari, Gondi, Garo, Gammit, Bhartari, Mizo, Lepcha, Garhwali, Pahadi, Kokborok, Tenydie, Adi and Ho have thrown up a lot of new writing that connects with the specific oral traditions through their mythopoeic imagination and yet are distnctly contemporary. Anil Bodo, Ramdayal Munda, Nirmala Putul, Mamang Dai, Paul Lingdoh, Kynpham Nongkynrih, Robin Ngangom, Temsula Ao, Bhujang Meshram and Vinayak Tumram are only some of the champions of the new tribal writing of dissent and assertion. The poetry of the North-East to which some of the writers mentioned above belong is a special category in itself and is as rich and diverse as Indian writing elsewhere.

Nativism and multiculturalism

The nativist or desivadi writers have been celebrating cultural pluralism and questioning the hegemonic canons of the market and of the revivalists seeking to create an India that suits their projects. They feel that our geo-political and linguistic federalism is being undermined in the everyday practices of governance and reassert the need for multiculturalism and heteroglossia that have defined the Indian culture through the ages. The attempts by the bandaya poets of Kannada like Chandrasekhara Patil, P.Lankesh and Siddalingaiah to retrieve the cultural memory of the Soodras, the de-Sanskritisation of Malayalam sought by poets like M.Govindan, N.N. Kakkad and Attoor Ravivarma, the conscious employment of local dialects by several poets in Malayalam and Telugu, the use of local history, provincial archetypes, myths and nature in Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, K.G.Sankara Pillai, P.P.Ramachandran or Rafeek Ahmed of Malayalam, Arun Kolatkar of Marathi or Kanji Patel of Gujarati, the use of orality and the evocation of rural life in the uttar-adhunik Bengali poets like Anuradha Mahapatra, Ekram Ali and Amitabha Gupta, ("the roots lie deep into the soil, loud sophistries are but a desperate invocation", says Birendra Chattopadhyay) the deliberate assertion of Tamil tradition and identity in Tamil poets like Jnanakkoothan, Manushyaputran, Vallikkannan, Pasuvayya and others, the forging of a specific Punjabi identity by poets like Gul Chauhan, Surjit Pather, Minder, Swarjbir, Mohanjit, Jaswant Deed and others, the return to Bhakti to initiate a contemporay spiritual discourse in poetry as in H. S. Shivaprakash, S.R.Ekkundi or Dilip Chitre, the evocation of Maithei history and Manipuri landscape by Manipuri poets like Y. Ibomchasingh, Thangjom Ibopishak, Mouchambi Devi, Gambhinidevi and Saratchandra Thiyam: these are all attempts to bring back regional hues strongly to the cultural map of India that is turning increasingly monochrome under the pressures of the market forces as well as the Hindu theocrats. The richness, abundance and variety of Indian poetry in English is evident from the many recent anthologies like 60 Indian Poets , Ninetynine Words, The Dance of the Peacock, Indo-Australian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry of India and Midnight's Grandchildren, Post-Independence English Poetry from India besides several individual volumes. Names like Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Arundhati Subramaniam, Jeet Tayil and Vivek Narayanan are worthy of special mention, after the generation of Adil Jusaawalla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Nissim Ezekilel, Keki Daruwalla, Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and others.

3. Drama and Criticism: New Tensions

Indian drama too has responded to the changing reality of India in many different ways. Before the pioneers of contemporary theatre like P.L.Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar, G.P.Deshpande, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Satish Kalsekar, Girish Karnad, Chandrasekhara Kambar, H.S.Shivprakash, B.V.Karanth, Mohan Rakesh, Habib Tanvir, Bhisham Sahni, C.J.Thomas, G.Shankara Pillai, C.N.Sreekantan Nair,Kavalam Narayana Paniker, R.Narendra Prasad, Manoranjan Das, Manoj Mitra, Badal Sircar, Ratan Tiyam, Balwant Gargi, Mahesh Dattani and Raj Rao - to cite only a few names-, made their presence felt in the theatre, Indian drama had passed through a realistic phase when it dealt with domestic and psychic tensions in the fashion of Ibsen or Strindberg and social ones after the examples set by Shaw and Chekhov. The Indian Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA) played a major role in liberating the theatre from the stranglehold of mythology and bringing it face to face with ground realities. Brecht and Beckett were major influences on drama as can be seen in the practices of Manoj Mitra, Mohit Chattopadhyay or Sisirkumar Das in Bengali or K.B. Vaid in Hindi. Badal Sircar's Ebam Indrajit, Dharmaveer Bharti's Andhayug, Girish Karnad's Tughlaq and Hayavadana, Mohan Rakesh's Adhe Adhure, Habib Tanvir's Charan Das Chor, P.L.Deshpande's Tujhe Ahe Tujh Pasi, Vijay Tendulkar's Shantata, Court Chaloo Ahe and Ghasiram Kotwal Sriranga's Kelu Janmejaya!, Manoranjan Das's August Na, Chandrasekhara Kambar's Sirisampige and Jo Kumaraswamy, K.N.Paniker's Avanavan Kadamba and C.N.Sreekantan Nair's Kali will be remembered as some of the plays that championed a change in Indian drama. All of them learnt a lot from European practices from Antonin Artaud, Adolphe Appiah, Stanislawsky, Ionesco, Anouilh and several others, but were able to integrate their awareness of the new with a deep understanding of Indian drama as well as theatre practices. There is a whole new generation of writers and theatre activists now on the stage, striving to dramatize the new tensions of a globalised India.


Indian non-fiction, including life-writing, is flourishing better than at any time before, in English as well as other Indian languages –the several Dalit and Women's autobiographies published over the last fifteen years being a case in point- while the number and quality of translations, especially from Indian languages into English has gone up in the last decade with some of the leading publishers following the example of pioneers like Katha.

Literary Criticism

Indian literary criticism has tried to comprehend and interpret the new changes in diverse ways. It has, in the process, extended the scope of traditional critical theories as available in Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada, created Indian variants of Western trends like Myth Criticism, Archetypal Criticism, New Criticism, Phenomenological, Semantic, Semiological, Structuralist, Psycho-Analytical and Marxist modes of analysis besides post-Structuralist modes like De-construction and Reception theories and of course, post-Colonial criticism often inspired by Edward Said and Homi Bhabha. Some critics like Bhalchandra Nemade and P. K. Balakrishnan have tried to develop indigenous models based on principles derived from the literary practice respectively in Marathi and Malayalam.

A necessary heterogeneity

One way of looking at the development of Indian literatures after Independence is to see them as a series of attempts to grapple with the post-Colonial situation. Paradigms are tried and given up, communities are imagined and dissolved, traditions are constructed and deconstructed, the principles of unity and difference are alternately appealed to, the West's presence is acknowledged and refuted, radical European concepts and models are alternated with a return to indigenous roots, the classical and folk elements of the heritage- what A.K.Ramanujan calls the 'great tradition' and 'the little tradition'- are explored by turns: even the current scene is agog with the dialectic of decolonization. Our creativity has thus been dialogic as it befits the 'argumentative Indian' and our literary discourse marked by the negotiation of a necessary heterogeneity, by a conception of identity that lives through difference and hybridity, a continuous negotiation between 'the self' and 'the other' using, to employ a Foucauldian concept, different 'technologies of the self'.



Focus – Indian Literature Today

  GSP Rao: Editorial Impressions

Lead Essay
  K Satchidanandan: Changing Landscape of Indian Literature

  Assamese Literature: Bibhash Choudhury
  Bengali Literature: Subodh Sarkar
  Gujarati Literature: Ajay Sarvaiya
  Hindi Literature: Sukrita Paul Kumar
  Indian English Writing: GJV Prasad
  Indian English Writing: Harish Trivedi
  Kannada Literature: Mamta Sagar
  Kashmiri Literature: Mohammad Zahid
  Maithili Literature: Vidyanand Jha
  Malayalam Literature: T P Rajeevan
  Marathi Literature: Sachin Ketkar
  Odia Literature: Lipipuspa Nayak
  Punjabi Literature: Tejwant Singh Gill
  Tamil Literature: Rajaram Brammarajan
  Telugu Literature in Andhra: U Atreya Sarma & K Ravindra Trivikram
  Telugu Literature in Telangana: Itha Chandraiah & U Atreya Sarma
  Urdu Literature: Sukrita Paul Kumar

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