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Under the Bhasha Gaze: Modernity and Indian Literature PP Raveendran https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192871558.001.0001 Published: 2023

Online ISBN: 9780191967801

Print ISBN: 9780192871558


Copyright Page  https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192871558.002.0003 Published: February 2023

Page iv

Subject: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) Collection: Oxford Scholarship Online

Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6dp, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © PP Raveendran 2023 The moral rights of the author have been asserted First Edition published in 2023 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the

address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2022913249 ISBN 978–0–19–287155–8 DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780192871558.001.0001 Printed and bound in India by Replika Press Pvt. Ltd. Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.

Preface This book is an outcome of my long-​standing interest in Indian literature and modernity studies, areas that have engaged my focused attention particularly over the past two decades. Its origin is as a collection of independent essays, some of them written as papers for seminars and conferences organized by universities and other institutions such as the Sahitya Akademi. However, even as separate essays, they are connected by a common logic—​a counter-​logic, perhaps—​that is also shared by a number of scholars from diverse Indian bhashas working in the field of Indian literature today. I have certainly benefited from my interaction with some of them during the long period of the book’s gestation. I know that it is not possible to name all the colleagues and fellow scholars who responded to my arguments when they were first presented at conferences. Let me, however, acknowledge the role of a few scholar friends who, either as organizers of conferences or as editors of publications, provided the initial impetus that led to the writing of the earlier versions of some of the chapters: Ipshita Chanda, Subha Chakrabarty Dasgupta, Amiya Dev, P.C. Kar, Mini Krishnan, Udaya Kumar, Jayanta Mahapatra, E.V. Ramakrishnan, K. Satchidanandan, and Harish Trivedi. Let me also remember two scholar friends who are no longer with us today: Meena Alexander and Avadhesh Kumar Singh. I am also thankful to P. Madhavan, K.M. Krishnan, and K.M. Seethi for reading and commenting on some of the chapters. I am thankful to E.V. Fathima whose draft translation of an essay that I originally wrote in Malayalam formed the basis for the analysis in one of the chapters. Most chapters are developed from critical essays written over the years, some of them published, some unpublished. Some of the material assembled in the book was collected while I was holding a UGC Emeritus Fellowship (2014–​2016) at the School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University. I am thankful to the successive generations of postgraduate and research students of the past few years at the School of Letters, who formed the initial audiences for the ideas presented here. Several of the Malayalam books listed in the

viii Preface bibliography were ferreted out for me by Mini G. Pillai and R. Saritha from the collections of rare books in the Mahatma Gandhi University Library. I am also thankful to the three unknown readers from the Oxford University Press who had provided useful comments on the book. The bibliography is an indication of my appreciation of the strong tradition of scholarship on Indian literature and modernity studies, to which I am indeed in great debt. As always, Sherine has been the first to read this book, which she did with her sharp critical gaze. I am thankful to her as well as to Aparna for meticulously going through the typescript before it was sent to the printer. Because of the book’s origin as a collection of essays written over a period of time, it would be natural and inevitable for certain key ideas to be repeated in parts of the work. Though caution has been taken at the time of editing to erase repetitions, I would not be surprised if the reader still comes across a few instances of arguments being repeated over chapters. I crave the reader’s indulgence in this matter. As regards the quotations appearing in the book, whenever I cite works from Indian languages other than Malayalam, I have taken care to use standard translations available. As for the translations from Malayalam, they are invariably mine, except where I have specifically mentioned other translators. P.P. Raveendran

Under the Bhasha Gaze: Modernity and Indian Literature PP Raveendran https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192871558.001.0001 Published: 2023

Online ISBN: 9780191967801


BN: 9780192871558


Acknowledgements  Published: February 2023

Subject: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) Collection: Oxford Scholarship Online

The author wishes to acknowledge the following publications in which

lier versions of some of the

chapters were printed, as detailed below: Chapter 5: Methodology in Translating Pre-modern Texts, ed. C. Nagan

Bengaluru: Sahitya Akademi,

2017. (The essay originally titled ‘Translation as Rewriting: Coloniali

, Modernity and the Idea of

Literature’) Chapter 6: Indian Literature, No. 252 (July–August 2009) (The essay o

inally titled ‘Decolonization and

the Dynamics of Translation: An Essay in Historical Poetics’) Chapter 10: Literary Criticism in India: Texts, Trends and Trajectories, ed

V Ramakrishnan. New Delhi:

Sahitya Akademi, 2021. (The essay originally titled ‘Modernity and I

anence: The Contexts of Kesari

Balakrishna Pillai’) Chapter 11: Chandrabhaga, No. 16 (2018) (The essay originally titled ‘

ere is Bharatvarsha? Region and

Nation in Indian Poetry’) Chapter 12: Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, Vol. 14 (2014) (The ess

originally titled ‘Bilingualism and

the Everyday: Bhakti and Vibhakti in Indian Writing in English’) Chapter 16: S.K. Pottekkat, The Story of the Time-piece: A Collection of S

rt Stories. Trans. Venugopal

Menon. New Delhi: Niyogi Books. (Foreword titled ‘SK Pottekkat: Writing as Fantasy Travel’) Chapter 18: Rajelakshmy, A Path and Many Shadows and Twelve Stories. Trans. RK Jayasree. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan. (Introduction titled ‘Rajelakshmy: The Tale and the Teller’) p. x

Introduction: Bhasha in Focus This is a study of Indian literature in the context of recent discussions on modernity and its theoretical extensions such as the everyday and the social and historical imaginary. The book in essence is an analysis of the aesthetics and politics of modernity as they are embodied in Indian bhasha literatures of the past two centuries. Exploring the trajectory of modernity after Indian literature came into contact with colonialism in the early nineteenth century is indeed the primary object of the book, though the intricate ways in which the bhasha imagination negotiated questions clustering around such concepts as the literary, the historical, and the social as part of the encounter receive more focused attention in the enquiry. Though the work acknowledges the European provenance of modernity as a historical idea, it also recognizes the inherent complexity of the concept and its uneven and equivocal connotations when used with reference to particular cultures outside Europe, especially with reference to the bhasha communities in India. Theoretical issues debated in relation to modernity such as its conceptual affinities with the western enlightenment project, its ideological investment in European aesthetics, and its implication for the evolution and development of Indian literatures are important for the study. The work also examines the local and regional strengths of the literary imagination that turns everyday experiences into aesthetically significant bhasha events. The critique of the idea of the aesthetic—​hermetic aesthetic, as it is sometimes described in these pages—​in this process, undergoes a radical transformation that assigns a new political force to the act of writing. Although the book is concerned with issues pertaining to Indian literatures in general, the theoretical postulates undergirding it are illustrated with the help primarily of Malayalam literature, with supplementary inputs from other bhasha literatures and Indian English literature.

Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0001

2  Under the Bhasha Gaze ‘Modernity’ is understood here not as a singular event, but as a complex and layered phenomenon that manifests across languages, both in India and abroad, in multiple forms. Traditionally, especially in the European context, modernity used to be identified with the breakdown of the feudal order and the emergence of new social formations in the wake of large-​scale industrialization. It is this understanding of modernity that Anthony Giddens draws upon when he formulates a preliminary definition for it: ‘Modernity refers to modes of social life or organization which emerged in Europe from around the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence’ (1990: 1). The assumption here is that modernity is a universal state of being towards which all cultures travel, discarding past beliefs. This monolithic view of modernity certainly is important in the history of contemporary social theory. However, one cannot ignore the fact that this view is under challenge from various quarters today, both on account of its Euro-​centric bias and its positivistic orientation. On the one hand, while there are important thinkers such as Perry Anderson (1984) and Bruno Latour (1993) who consider modernity more as a matter of faith or misrecognition and who question its conceptual and historical bases, there are also writers like K.M. Panikkar (1953), Walter Rodney (1972), and Eduardo Galeano (1973) who, on the other hand, draw attention to the grave injustice it has perpetrated on the people of Asia, Africa, and South America. Besides, as argued by scholars like Shmuel Eisenstadt and Lawrence Grossberg who talk about multiple and, especially non-​ western, modernities, while one is justified in granting ‘historical precedence’ and status as a point of reference to the western form, it can by no means be regarded as the only ‘authentic’ version of modernity today (Eisenstadt 2000: 2–​3). Modernity can manifest in diverse forms across cultures, and it is not imperative that it should have an adversarial relation with tradition in all societies. There could be interpenetrations between the values connected with tradition and modernity in specific societies, situations that might prompt one to be suspicious of simplistic definitions that consider ‘modern’ to be wholly and exclusively non-​traditional and ‘traditional’ as everything that is dated and obsolete. One might do well to remember in this context that the social awakening in India associated with such ‘traditional’ figures as the Buddha, Tiruvalluvar, the poets affiliated to the medieval Bhakti movement, or saints of modern times like Sri

Introduction  3 Narayana Guru can also be regarded as constituting important moments in the evolution of distinctively Indian versions of modernity. The present study, therefore, adopts the idea of a proliferation of modernities as a way of dealing with the concept’s nuanced, contested, and contradictory character. While modernity’s leverage as a desirable term for a mindset promoting liberal, enlightened, and scientific vision is indeed valuable, it is impossible to ignore its negative meaning as a representation of the language of ‘tyranny’ associated with the discourse of western rationality. This is where one feels compelled to talk about an Indian context for modernity in which concepts such as ‘everyday’, ‘worldliness’, ‘sociality’, ‘secularism’, ‘bilingualism’, ‘polyphony’, ‘democracy’, ‘resistance’, ‘nationalism’, and so on gain varied and vibrant resonances. These and other terms are used in this study not in any narrowly defined sense in which specific theorists might have used them in their formulations, but are deployed in a larger, often non-​European, context where one can interweave questions of history, culture, and politics with literary texts. The idea of the historical and the social in this context can be seen entering into a critical dialogue with concepts such as ‘ideology’, ‘hegemony’, ‘habitus’, and ‘social imaginary’ as well as with their more recent variants appearing in the writings of such social thinkers as Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Romila Thapar, Partha Chatterjee, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Charles Taylor, Edward Said, Arjun Appadurai, and several others. The concept of the ‘everyday’ that figures prominently in these pages, though borrowed from the social theory of Henri Lefebvre, is used here to describe bhasha literatures’ interest not only in the ordinary and the non-​elite, but in forms and structures that would allow a sense of this-​ worldliness to be worked into the conception of literature. Though the principles of art as handed down to Indian literary scholarship by western aesthetics leave little room for an understanding of literature in non-​esoteric terms, it is art’s turn to the social and the everyday that has arguably allowed bhasha literatures to weave new forms of critical consciousness into the experience of literature at various stages of the evolution of modernity in India. It is in this sense that the everyday signals the advent of a new epistemology concerned with the representation of immanent objects rather than of a transcendent reality, and implies the emergence of a new aesthetic that is geared to a radical understanding of

4  Under the Bhasha Gaze culture. Lefebvre makes a distinction between ‘everyday’ and ‘daily life’, and alludes, echoing in some sense Baudelaire’s definition of the ‘modern’, to the transience and impermanence of the mundane and the commonplace. The everyday, as he sees it, is what is excluded from philosophy, and it is this exclusion that accounts for its departure from elite responses and forms of thought, including art and literature of the esoteric kind. This is what makes modernity’s relation with high art and elite literature a matter of concern in considerations of the sociology of writing. Also, while the everyday represents the quotidian at the temporal level, it can also get spatialized in artworks and literary pieces to include the minor and the marginalized. Art and literature in the past revelled in epic and philosophical themes expressed in a grand, secure, and self-​assured language, but the advent of modernity in the alternative sense cited here appeared to pose severe threats to this security and self-​assurance. The theoretically sensitive cultural deliberation that the book represents cannot be divorced from the postcolonial and comparative reading of texts and trends from diverse Indian bhashas being carried out by countless scholars in Indian languages today. In that sense, the book may also be regarded as an attempt at formulating a new critical paradigm for the study of Indian literature from a comparative and interliterary perspective. The repeated references made herein to the bilingualism and multilingualism inherent to the Indian literary ethos would perhaps require further comment. Though one might differ on the precise ways in which the presence of multilingualism in the literary imagination was theorized in ancient days, no one would dare to contest, in the face of historical evidence unearthed from both literary and non-​literary sources, that exchanges between languages and literatures in India in the past were considerable. Such exchanges indeed went beyond instances of women and the working-​class speaking Prakrit in ancient Sanskrit drama, or of the manifestations of linguistic hybridity in medieval and early modern South Indian literatures, especially Malayalam literature, whose Manipravalam traditions are being subjected to fresh critical scrutiny by cultural studies scholars today. It seems to have been natural for an Indian text in the past to move from one language to another in the form of what we today broadly describe as ‘translation’, but which circulated through narrative reconstructions realized, sometimes in the name of literature, but more often in the name of devotional songs, oral tales,

Introduction  5 moral fables, and hagiographies. This certainly was a question that Indian scholars such as Buddhadev Bose, Sisir Kumar Das, Sujit Mukherjee, A.K. Ramanujan, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Meenakshi Mukherjee, Namvar Singh, and Ayyappa Paniker who did pioneering work in comparative literature in the past were serious about, but who, in the absence of material evidence from individual languages, apparently could not make much headway in their efforts. The situation, to be sure, has improved in recent days, primarily because of the significant work that is being done in several bhashas today, not by literary scholars alone, but by historians, social scientists, folklorists, and cultural studies specialists as well. In the light of the new developments, one might feel compelled to reimagine the literary landscape of premodern and modern India as a dynamic terrain marked by interliterary exchanges and the circulation of texts and ideas across cultures. One might also be persuaded to consider the polyphonic culture associated with the Indian creative mind as an integral characteristic of Indian modernity. No exaggerated significance needs to be read into the use of the word bhasha in the title or in the text. It is significant to the extent that bhasha, its root sense of expressive lucidity apart, is the common word for ‘speech’ or ‘a regional dialect’ in most Indian languages, especially when used in opposition to the hegemonic language of Sanskrit. Sometimes the term is used as an affix to indicate the translation in the regional language of a well-​known text in Sanskrit as, for example, in Bhasha Kautaliyam, the twelfth-​century Malayalam rewriting of Kautilya’s Arthasasthra. In premodern times, when the word appears prefixed or suffixed to the title of a literary work, it invariably means a non-​Sanskritic work as in Bhasha Bhushan, the seventeenth century Hindi treatise on poetics by Jaswant Singh, Gita-​govinda Bhasha, the seventeenth-​century Maithili translation of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, or Bhasha Naishadham Champu, the eighteenth-​century Malayalam retelling of the story of Nala by Mazhamangalath Nampoothiri. The word indeed is of Sanskrit origin, though its anti-​hegemonic thrust in the Indian linguistic context confers on it a degree of political power. There are a few more implications that the word has gained from its historically evolving semantic environment that might further deepen its political potential. One of these is that the word is sometimes used in opposition to chandah or a Vedic verse, and in that sense, enjoys a lowly status in the hierarchically organized

6  Under the Bhasha Gaze order of linguistic practice in past societies. It is possible that the inferior status of bhasha in relation to Sanskrit as a language is an extension of this. Added to this is the fact that the corresponding word for bhasha that the colonial officers used in the imperial days was ‘vernacular’, a word that originally signified a Latinate dialect spoken by domestic slaves in ancient Roman provinces. In the past, bhashas often implied languages used by the common people both for day-​to-​day communication and for the oral rendering of tales and narratives in a multilingual ambience, for which the dominant languages of Sanskrit, and later, English, had remained unavailable. Bhasha can also signify the possibility of interpretive plurality, especially in the expression bhashya, where it suggests a ‘vernacular’ reading of a master text in Sanskrit. Perhaps it was the political significance that the word acquired from these and other aspects of its semantic context that prompted Indian scholars critical of the hegemony of Sanskrit to use the word bhasha with reference to the literature written in the regional languages. ‘With such happenings a profound egalitarian impulse entered the hegemonic structure of Indian society’, says Ananthamurthy, one of the earliest to use the word in this sense (2014: 81). It is the subaltern and resistance potential implied by the term bhasha that this book seeks to draw upon in talking about bhasha literature and the bhasha gaze. The perspective outlined here should certainly provide a new critical angle to the scholar engaged in the study of the interaction between language, history, identity, power, subjectivity, culture, genre, gender, region, nation, tradition, fantasy, and imagination—​elements that contribute towards the making of the ideology of a people. Questions pertaining to the social, the marginal, the literary, the colonial, and the postcolonial, when deployed in the specific context of the construction and evolution of literary cultures in Indian bhashas will also be viewed differently in the altered environment. Inasmuch as the matter impinges on the imaginary constitution of the Indian nation with its inevitable entanglements with the larger, international world, this is not merely a literary question, but is one that is deeply political in import. It is this import that scholars like A.K. Ramanujan, Amiya Dev, Bhalchandra Nemade, Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Ganesh Devy, and others recognize when they choose to talk critically about the border-​crossing function of literature, whether the concept debated is Indian literature or world literature. The kind of

Introduction  7 aesthetic abstraction that accompanies the iconization and canonization of literary texts, in this context, perhaps cannot be looked upon as the norm in Indian literature. Though such abstractions and iconizations might suit the tyrannical purposes of colonial modernity, what manifests in Indian bhasha literatures of the modern period, enriched as they are with the culture of polyphony as well as the architecture of the social and the everyday, is a drift away from aesthetic abstraction towards a more concrete and politically significant articulation of experience. It is as an expression of the understanding of the literary process described above that the present book has been conceived and designed. Though the chapters that constitute the study have their origin as independent essays written over the past decade, they are held together in the present volume by the subtle political connection mentioned above. All the chapters have been reworked thoroughly for the present publication, so that their originals exist only as spectral presences in them. The book itself is divided into three sections, the first two consisting of seven chapters and the third of six chapters: Section I: Historicizing Bhasha Literature; Section II: Border-​Crossing Bhasha Literature; and Section III: Six Ways of Being Modern: Reading a Bhasha Canon. The key concepts around which the discussion in the book turns have been broached and elaborated in the chapters forming Section I. The arguments here seek to historicize bhasha literatures, and are set against a broad canvas. The section establishes the book’s general perspective on Indian literature and inquires into the various ways in which bhasha literatures engaged with modernity both as a concept and as an aspect of reality during the colonial and postcolonial periods. The deliberations carried out, however, are not exclusively theoretical, because what the chapters in this section attempt to do in essence is throw open the conceptual world, before letting it fuse gently with the larger literary cosmos of Indian bhashas. Specimens from Indian literature come alive in these chapters against the dynamic background of a world of cultural interaction where concepts like the everyday, the social imaginary, the hermetic aesthetic, translation, decolonization, literary history, and so on cease to be articulations of pure theory with no connection with lived and imagined reality. Thus in the first three chapters titled ‘Modernity and Indian Literature’, ‘The Everyday as Modernity’, and ‘Print Capitalism

8  Under the Bhasha Gaze and Modernity’, the bhasha-​centred resonances associated with specific concepts are illustrated with copious examples from Indian literatures, especially from the Malayalam missionary literature of the nineteenth century, as well as from writings and translations from Malayalam and Indian English. Chapters 1 and 2 try to make sense of Indian modernity by scrutinizing the signals of everydayness animating the specimens of bhasha writing and by analysing the spirit of pluralism and secularism that they are imbued with. Chapter 3 takes up the question of the evolution of printed prose as a medium of creative communication in Indian languages in the nineteenth century which, even as it can be interpreted as a process marking the passage from the traditional to the modern, can also be construed as indicating the advent of a logic that disregards the emotional make-​up of the colonized subject. Chapter 4, titled ‘The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary’ critically examines the evolution of twentieth-​century Malayalam poetry as a prototype of the history of modern Indian literature. The chapter reveals that the successive stages of nationalist-​progressive writing, modernist writing, and postmodernist writing, which are stereotypically represented as following one after the other in literary history are to be viewed in fact as expressions of contests and contradictions within the social imaginary surrounding the Indian literary mind. Though literary history in a narrowly defined sense cannot be considered the main focus of attention in these four chapters, their implication in the debates on the literary evolution of India can hardly be overlooked. Questions concerning literary history loom large in the remaining chapters of the section too. The principles underlying translation in Indian literary history are debated in all their inherent complexity in Chapters 5 and 6, titled, respectively, ‘Translation and Literary History’ and ‘Decolonizing Translation’. These two chapters chart the epistemological connection between modernity and translation. Inasmuch as translation is understood as a matter concerning truth, the two chapters examine how re-​writing truth in diverse ways has been of prime concern to literary traditions in bhashas. There certainly is the dominant view that the Indian novels and prose translations of the nineteenth century were merely translating western modernity into the language of the colonized. On the other hand, one might also look upon these specimens as continuing the practices and traditions of literary re-​writing that were strong in several Indian languages from the days of antiquity. These and other

Introduction  9 reflections on the dynamics of translation directed at an expansion of the universe of literary experience might also warrant a rethinking of the idea of world literature, which is carried out in Chapter 7, titled ‘Bhasha Writing as World Literature’. Section II examines Indian literature from a comparativist perspective. The chapters forming this section are text-​and-​author-​based readings rather than concept-​based analyses, and they discuss the issues raised in the earlier section from a more closely focused, albeit pan-​Indian, perspective. The section opens with Chapter 8, ‘Towards a Comparative Indian Literature’, which initiates a discussion of the general problems connected with reading bhasha literatures in comparison. The chapter examines the radical ways in which the idea of comparative literature has been rethought in recent days to incorporate into it the lessons of the cultural turn that of late has overtaken literary studies. The approach certainly is important for the study of Indian literature with its ambivalent attitude to colonial modernity and its inbuilt polyphonic dynamic. The finer details of this are explored in the subsequent chapters. Chapters 9, ‘Realism in the Bhasha Novel: The Case of Paraja’, and Chapter 10, ‘Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences’ dealing, respectively, with Gopinath Mohanty’s pre-​Independence Odia novel Paraja and Malayalam scholar Kesari Balakrishna Pillai’s critical essays of the same period, are particularly significant in this regard, for the reason that they both illustrate the schism and divide in the modern Indian psyche through their ambivalent attitudes to colonial modernity. The ambivalence is evident in the writers’ attitude to progress and their vision, of the future in the case of Mohanty and of the present in the case of Kesari. Mohanty repudiates the Progressive Writers’ Association’s official interpretation of progress, while Kesari endorses it through his acquiescence in the idea of modernity-​as-​the-​present. Both writers in this sense throw light on the divide in the idea of modernity. Versions of the divide continue to persist in the post-​Independence Indian mind, as is demonstrated by the discussion in Chapter 11, titled ‘Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry’ that follows. The chapter provides an analysis of the conflicted relationship between the nation and the region as it appears in selected bhasha poems from the languages of the Northeast as well as from Bengali, Odia, Telugu, and Malayalam. Though modernity’s schism is what surfaces as the rift between the local and the national in

10  Under the Bhasha Gaze the poems reviewed in this chapter, the discussion also demonstrates that the democratic and egalitarian spirit that underlies bhasha literatures is strong enough to thwart attempts at cultural tyranny by the advocates of hyper-​nationalism. Chapter 12, titled ‘The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature’, examines the issue of bilingualism in relation to Indian literatures as they attempt to articulate questions concerning the everyday. The chapter has a special focus on Indian English writing, as it is the literature written in the English language that often raises the question of bilingualism as a point of debate. This chapter also deals in a sense with the schism discussed, as crucial to the debate carried out here is the identification of a maimed language that is directly connected to English’s emotional aloofness from Indian bhashas. The bhashas are quite fortunate in this respect because of the innately multilingual contexts in which they thrive. They enrich each other by a mutual interanimation of the rhythms and cadences of individual bhashas. Chapter 13, titled ‘Modernity and Literary Historiography’, is an attempt to explore the possibilities of conceiving a critical literary historiography that would stay clear of the colonial cultural baggage that trammels available models of non-​western literary historiography. Chapter 14, ‘A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction’, again, is an examination of selected works from Indian literature read in comparison with a selection of Latin American writing. The method of reading texts in comparison adopted in this chapter indeed has been the main burden of the discussions carried out in Section II as a whole. The chapters in Section III are attempts at revisiting a bhasha canon, which in the present instance happens to be the Malayalam literary canon of the twentieth century. Six authors are examined in this section, each representing a seminal aspect of Indian modernity that has not been discussed in detail in the previous sections. The authors discussed are M.T. Vasudevan Nair, S.K. Pottekkat, O.V. Vijayan, Rajelakshmy, Ayyappa Paniker, and Madhavikkutty/​Kamala Das, all canonical figures, whose works exemplify the strengths and weaknesses as well as the conflicts and contradictions that are identified as markers of modern Indian literature. Each chapter, even as it enumerates the salient characteristics of an author’s output that might persuade one to place him/​her in what can be described the ‘modern’ tradition in the language, also aims at a comprehensive assessment of the writer as a bhasha artist. The Epilogue, a kind

Introduction  11 of coda to the volume, is a two-​pronged reminder to the reader: a fairly sober reminder to the general reader of the fact that no ‘literary’ question can stay purely literary forever and, more particularly, a somewhat grim reminder specifically to the Indian reader of the troubled modern times in which she lives. The moral that one might draw from the Epilogue is clear: perhaps the calm confidence regarding the almost absolute impossibility of the emergence of linguistic fascism in the multilingual Indian context might appear to be illusory, given the fact of the more direct threat that the idea of Indian modernity is facing at the cultural–​political level today.

1 Modernity and Indian Literature Modernity is a complex concept that subsumes within itself a number of conflicting and contradictory ideas. At a preliminary level, it signifies the condition of being new and radically up-​to-​date, making one feel aloof in time from one’s past. Defined historically and somewhat narrowly, it is a term that refers to diverse aspects of the physical and mental architecture of the new world that emerged in Europe in the late eighteenth century, and then spread to the rest of the world in subsequent centuries. In this sense, the term would cover both the technological developments of the period and the advances in knowledge and worldview made by society, and would imply an individual mindset that promotes the positive values of humanism, liberalism, enlightenment, scientificity, and secularism. The rise of urban and industrial culture, expansion of capitalism and colonialism, proliferation of the human sciences, and the evolution of bureaucracy would also be treated as part of the development of modernity. As a corollary to all this, the term has also acquired a mildly negative connotation as suggesting the language of ‘tyranny’ connected with the western discourse of rationality. Its association with temporal consciousness further alludes to its distance from tradition, generally counted as its opposite. Tradition and modernity, however, cannot be regarded as absolute and incompatible ideas that exclude each other, and it is this interconnection that makes modernity a complex phenomenon. As was pointed out in the Introduction, there is a clear interdependence of the values connected with tradition and modernity in concrete situations, prompting one to be suspicious of naive definitions that consider the ‘modern’ as wholly and exclusively non-​traditional and the ‘traditional’ as everything that is obsolete and unmodern. One can be modern without being non-​traditional, an idea that is being increasingly pursued in discussions of non-​western, indigenous, and alternative versions of modernity. There is a good deal of published scholarship on this question in Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0002

16  Under the Bhasha Gaze circulation today, with reference especially to history and literature (e.g., Chatterjee 1997; Eisenstadt 2000; Chakrabarty 2001; Mohanty 2011). Though the Europeanizing impulse underlying the colonial modernity project has been the focus of attention in debates on modernity, one must be sensitive to the presence of premodern, non-​European traditions of radical social reform that can only be interpreted in terms of the aforementioned alternative versions, whose tenets run counter to the idea of a monolithic modernity project. No serious social theorist would nowadays talk about ‘a singular modernity’, though the theorist of postmodernity who used that phrase as the title of his work on modernity is fully aware of the complexity of the issue (Jameson 2002). ‘Modernity is a historical fact, but each culture has its own native modernity, a desi modernity’, writes Bhalchandra Nemade (2009: 14). ‘To think through the possibilities of refusing euro-​modernity’, according to Lawrence Grossberg, has become a primary concern of much of the non-​European world today (2012: 73). Making his case for a precolonial bhasha modernity without actually naming it so, G.N. Devy suggests, choosing his words cautiously and quoting critic R.B. Patankar, that ‘India might have brought itself to the threshold of modernity even without the British impact’ (1992: 56). Most alternative theories are capable of unsettling the central principles undergirding western modernity, whose discourse is being critically scrutinized for emblems that invoke its implication in the imperialist ideology. Scholars are also becoming increasingly aware of Europe’s continuing efforts at appropriating historiography in a globalized environment where, as Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, Europe has for long been geographically ‘provincialized’ by history (Chakrabarty 2001: 3). Even models of ‘rational’ language, of the finest order, can be shown to have existed in the non-​European world. An example is that of the fourteenth–​fifteenth century Malayalam mathematician Jyeshtadeva, whose Yuktibhasha (Rational Language) is today regarded as ‘the first book of calculus in the world’ (Gurukkal 2019: 95). In this context, the ideas of ‘reason’, ‘enlightenment’, and ‘renaissance’, sometimes proffered as the distinguishing characteristics of western modernity, may acquire new resonances in relation to the social trends in non-​European cultures as, for example, in relation to the cultural awakening in India at the time of the Buddha, Tiruvalluvar, Basavanna, or Tukaram.

Modernity and Indian Literature  17 What this points to is the difficulty in treating modernity as an idea exclusively connected with the ‘modernization’ efforts initiated by the colonial forces. However, we should not also ignore the hegemonic form of modernity that exerted tremendous influence on the constitution of the idea of Indian literature. The Euro-​centric sense in which the term has generally been used in scholarly discussions till recently also cannot be overlooked. Because of the ‘universalizing’ tendency associated with dominant versions of modernity, we see an open contradiction, an internal divide develops within the concept when we propose an Indian version of it.1 The hegemonic version would not, theoretically at least, allow for other roads to modernity, other than what has been prescribed by the dominant European form, and any deviation from this would appear to be a methodological flaw. Hence the divide in the conception of modernity, which appears as a schism between a few binaries—​between the global and the national, the national and the regional, the abstract and the concrete, the secular and the non-​secular, the eternal and the everyday, and the elite and the popular. Perhaps the schism itself is a primary characteristic of Indian modernity, suspended as it is between a monolithically organized power and a heterogeneously distributed agency. Indigenous ideas force themselves into Indian modernity through this schism and serve as an effective agency, resisting the powers of Euro-​centrism and colonial domination. Modernity in the European context, after all, implies a social upheaval arising from a repudiation of the past, whereas the multiple forms of Indian modernity, even as they aim at a total overhauling of the culture by rejecting what is unhealthy in the past, also attempt to reconstitute the self by recovering from the past the memory of their struggles over history and cultural identity. As Walter Benjamin said in a famous passage, retrieving the past historically would mean recapturing ‘a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger’ (1973: 257). This is a difficult process, a process marked by tensions and contradictions, and taking place, especially in the contemporary world situation, in a site that is shared by cultural agencies with 1 The position on modernity outlined here is developed from the arguments given in the Introduction to my Texts, Histories, Geographies: Reading Indian Literature (Raveendran 2009a: 1–​12) and the essay ‘Modernity and Knowledge Production: Malayalam Thought Processes in the Modern Period’, in Science, Literature and Aesthetics, (ed.) Amiya Dev (Raveendran 2009b: 744–​767).

18  Under the Bhasha Gaze diverse, even antagonistic, ideological, and economic interests. It is the schism in modernity mentioned above that acts as a sort of buffer against the pressure emanating from these tensions and antagonisms. One might attempt to gauge the intensity of this schism as it narrows down in the Indian context, particularly at the site where colonial modernity comes into contact with literature and aesthetics. There is ample reason for conceiving an Indian version of modernity as a heterogeneous compendium of pluralistic cultural strands. One of the pre-​eminent senses in which modernity as a concept has been understood is as a secularizing process, where secularism carries with it the suggestion of a belief in the worldliness of experience as opposed to the hope for a transcendental resolution. The notion of this-​worldliness is important in unravelling Indian modernity because of the pivotal role that the decentred cluster of cultural symbols and images drawn from diverse material constituents can play in a secular society’s imagination. Where Indian modernity differs from its western counterpart, basically, is in the way it maintains a critical relation with a pluralistic tradition of values as an aspect of the modernity project itself. If the cultural tyranny associated with western modernity appears somewhat impotent in the Indian context, it is essentially because of the recognition of the country’s inbuilt cultural pluralism, a characteristic that constitutes the modern Indian nation as well as the social imaginary surrounding the Indian literary mind. One will have to consider, along with the internal schism that is part of the modernity project in India, the ‘dialectic’ of modernity that has shaped the logic of its progress in the present-​day world (Adorno and Horkheimer 2002). The operation of this dialectic has been very crucial in the constitution of the modern Indian subject practising literature. The important point to note here is that it is an already fractured subject that gains entry into the texts of Indian bhasha literatures. The concrete manifestations of this fracture are multiform, as indicated by the powerful articulations of feminist, Dalit, folk, and tribal consciousness in the bhasha literary scene today. Inasmuch as modernity in its vintage form swore by a monolithic literary experience that was autonomous and self-​validating, the emergence of Dalit, folk, and feminist expressive forms that validated themselves with reference to ‘extra-​literary’ experiences could be regarded as a manifestation of modernity’s dialectic that

Modernity and Indian Literature  19 entails its eventual disintegration. The cultural pluralism characterizing the Indian social imaginary indeed is sufficient to justify the presence of these trends, though one might legitimately wonder why it has taken so long for such trends to appear in the public realm. Modernity’s dialectic might perhaps be able to explain this delay too. Connected with this is also the idea of the degeneration of the spirit of modernity at the historical level. The suggestion here is that modernity is doomed from the very beginning by its own inner logic, because acquisition of knowledge, a function of modernity, would invariably lead to forms of tyranny that, in order to sustain themselves, would breed myths that could invalidate both modernity and knowledge. To probe a little further into the recent invasion of the Indian creative imagination by new forms of literary consciousness, one might examine how these forms constitute a departure from the dominant literary practice connected with colonial modernity. If modernity in its hegemonic form implies an attitude that promotes a monolithic view of culture, the pluralistic literary streams in India can only be regarded as deviant forms that do not take after the canonical literary tradition. They can only be treated as ‘little’ traditions, most of which are expected to pay obeisance to the great Indian tradition that is the repository of the dominant aesthetic. As this aesthetic insists on viewing literature as something that has been sealed off from the everyday realities of the mundane world, one might designate it the ‘hermetic aesthetic’. This is a literary ideology of European origin connected with eighteenth-​century western aesthetics that came to India and other Third World cultures in the shape in which it exists today through modernity and colonial mediation, though it is pertinent to remember that India found it easy to integrate the ideology into its poetics because of the concept’s basically metaphysical character. It was the metaphysical ambience of India’s non-​secular and quasi-​religious literary institution that facilitated a quick assimilation of the idea of literature’s autonomy as formulated by the European romantic theorists at the dawn of modernity. Art’s autonomy has continued to be the central principle of literary modernism that flourished in diverse Indian languages in the mid-​twentieth century. Inasmuch as this concept addresses the wider question of literature itself becoming dissociated from material and historical practice, it coincides with the literary ideology of contemporary global culture as well.

20  Under the Bhasha Gaze There indeed is reason to believe that the development of the hermetic aesthetic was but the natural culmination of the progress of the colonial literary ideology that from the very beginning wanted the discourse of imagination to be kept separate from the discourse of reason. One will only have to look at the contents of some of the early literary publications that arose in Indian bhashas as a result of the colonial contact for a corroboration of this observation. Look, for example, at the contents of Vidyasamgraham (1864–​1866), one of the early printed Malayalam periodicals published under the supervision of Christian missionaries, the harbingers of western modernity to Kerala.2 The most interesting point about the articles published in this magazine is that it provides a decisive clue to the kind of discourse that developed as a result of colonial modernity. It was a discourse of rationality—​of instrumental reason—​that, as we see it today, has for long remained blind to certain basic aspects of culture. All forms of knowledge in the era of modernity were articulated within the limits of this discourse. These include knowledge forms in the inchoate areas not only of science, aesthetics, and literature but also of ethics, history, socio-​political reform, administration, and jurisprudence. Even a casual perusal of the contents of the eight published issues of Vidyasamgraham would indicate that, in spite of the journal’s apparently multi-​disciplinary thrust, almost all the articles included in it argued ultimately for an amelioration of the material condition of man. Modernity, in the end, and by implication, was defined in terms of such an amelioration, for which modern education was presented as the most potent and useful instrument. The title of Vidyasamgraham (literally, a compendium of learning) pointed specifically to this moral purpose. So did almost all the articles printed, not only the essays on such topics as the steam engine and the telegraph, whose overtly scientific subject matter connected them directly with the advances of modern technology, but also the essays on the subjects of religion and ethics supposed to express a transcendental vision. This, in a sense, is part of the general colonial tendency, shared alike by the scholars associated 2 This bilingual journal was published as a college magazine from C.M.S. College, an institution started by the Church Missionary Society at Kottayam as part of its educational reform project in the nineteenth century. Eight issues of the journal were published from 1864 to 1866. The issues of Vidyasamgraham were collected and reissued in 1993 by the Benjamin Bailey Research Centre connected with the College in the form of a single volume.

Modernity and Indian Literature  21 with the Asiatic Society of Calcutta in the east and the Bombay Literary Society in the west of India. There is also an attempt to see modern science in terms of colonial modernity’s missionary ethics. One of the essays on ethics (‘Sanmargopadesam’ meaning ‘ethical instruction’) printed in the first issue of the journal, for example, talks about the importance of producing authentic books about modern science in Malayalam. This attitude has continued to be significant for all discourses connected with modern knowledge in the era of colonialism. Even works of imaginative literature are cast in the discursive mould preset for pragmatic writing and instrumental rationality. This is what one is to deduce from the novels produced in Malayalam in the latter half of the nineteenth century, most of them translations from western and Indian languages, all speaking the moralizing idiom of evangelism. One might think especially of Catherine Hannah Mullens’s Bengali novel, Phulmoni o Korunar Biboron (1852) and Mrs. Collins’s English novel, The Slayer Slain (1859), both of which were translated into Malayalam a few years after their initial publication, and were in due course to take their places in the history of early Malayalam fiction. There is no point in looking for the protocols of the hermetic aesthetic or of any variety of aesthetics in this environment, as the public culture in India, in colonial modernity’s scheme of things, was not considered sufficiently ‘mature’ to handle aesthetically significant material. This is evident in the creative tension in Chandu Menon, the author of the novel Indulekha (1889), who ventures into the business of novel writing after trying unsuccessfully to translate into Malayalam some of his favourite English novels. His purpose in a sense is to translate colonial modernity into Malayalam in a context where he finds it difficult to disengage from the matrix of interconnected ideas pertaining to modernity, such as education, reform, ethics, and science. The matrix, prosaic in form and with no twists and turns that mark the language of poetry, is integral to the ideology of colonialism. One can translate this matrix with the same ease that one may have in translating any of the essays on popular science that regularly appeared in the pages of Vidyasamgraham and other missionary journals. Chandu Menon refers in the introduction to his novel to the response of a learned friend who asserts that fiction is a luxury that the Malayalam language would do well to disregard. ‘Books on science

22  Under the Bhasha Gaze are the need of the hour. Malayalam has no place for books on other subjects at the moment’, the friend is on record as telling Menon (Chandu Menon 2014: 9–​10). The statement corresponds with the general tone of colonial modernity which, in the Indian context, puts a premium on the language of reason at the expense of the language of imagination. Most Malayalam narratives published prior to Indulekha were merely attempts at translating the ethics of colonial reason into the culture of the colonized. Indulekha belonged to a different class of fiction. Though full of internal contradictions, one might consider this novel to embody Indian modernity’s pioneering attempt to recapture the domain of imagination and the aesthetic, long overshadowed by colonial modernity’s ethics of reason. To pursue the trajectory of the ethics of colonial reason further, one might elaborate the unfolding scenario as a discursive formation, as an organization of language that constitutes modes of knowledge within the structures of inclusion and exclusion. Bernard S. Cohn, in a well-​ known essay, argues for such a formation to have emerged in the nineteenth century in parts of India, which according to him, acted as ‘the language of command’ and did the work of ‘converting Indian forms of knowledge into European objects’ (1997: 21). Discourse in this formulation is to be understood as a specific and somewhat inescapable way of speaking about the world of social experience, which in India in the age of colonial modernity is linked to the western enlightenment project ‘devoted to the cultivation and spread of modern sciences and arts among Indians, if possible in the Indian languages’ (Chatterjee 1997: 15–​16). The primary objective of starting educational institutions in the nineteenth century under the aegis of colonial administration, whether through the missionaries or through the reformists in India, was, as Partha Chatterjee observes, the ‘nationalization of modern knowledges’ that would serve the interests of colonial modernity (1997: 16). In fact, the motive behind the institution of C.M.S. College, the birthplace of Vidyasamgraham, could not have been much different from the reason given for the founding of Hindu College (renamed Presidency College later) at Calcutta in the same period, and this involved, in the words of S.C. Sengupta, a former Principal of the Hindu College, ‘the cultivation of English literature and European science rather than Hindu theology or metaphysics’ (quoted in Bagchi 1994: 150). The asymmetries between

Modernity and Indian Literature  23 Cohn’s views on the conversion of Indian forms of knowledge into colonial objects and Chatterjee’s on the nationalization of western forms of knowledge indeed are only apparent. Both speak essentially about the process of knowledge formation, and the superficial difference between them would dissolve the moment one remembers that discourse after all is a way of organizing knowledge and experience within the structures and processes of power. The analysis carried out above indicates that though nineteenth-​ century missionary discourse may appear to be different in flavour from Cohn’s ‘language of command’ designed specifically to introduce young British officials to the manners and customs of a subjected race, it certainly partook of the rational, scientific, and pragmatic qualities appropriate to the language of immediate reference in the colonial world. This is yet another way in which the dialectic of modernity operated in Kerala. Colonial modernity split the discursive practice into an emotionally surcharged private language and a rationally controlled public language, and promoted the latter as the appropriate medium for all inter-​personal communication, including aesthetic communication. The path that the discourse adopted to strengthen itself too partook of this dialectic. The technology of printing that started making its impact on the reading habits of the people of Kerala from the early nineteenth century is an instance of this. Though printing helped in spreading literacy and the positive values of civility and sociality among the masses, and led to a weakening of the aristocracy’s hold on knowledge resources, printing’s inherent bias against textual pluralism can be seen to have exerted some deleterious impact on the process of modernization. Subsequent developments have also seen the technology of printing becoming crucial in the consolidation of the arbitrary and instrumentalist dimensions of modernity. This arose not only from the specific, identifiable messages that printed prose communicated, whose ideational force in a society in transition can hardly be underestimated, but also and more importantly, from the ideological function that printing discharged by setting up norms for writing and reading. Printing set precise limits for the discourse and determined the shape of the knowledge in circulation. By promoting assumptions about normal and deviant forms of knowledge, it also helped society decide what was to be counted as true knowledge.

24  Under the Bhasha Gaze Prior to the advent of printing, knowledge and literature circulated in Kerala, as it did in other parts of the world, either orally among the masses or through hand-​copied palm-​leaf or other kinds of manuscripts kept in collections maintained often by kings and the aristocracy, to which only a minority had access. In broad terms, one might say that both these forms of knowledge transmission were accommodative of socio-​ historical dynamics in that the oral and manuscript transmission of literary and philosophical knowledge allowed for the limits of knowledge to be set and re-​set in each instance of oral performance or the copying by the hand of manuscripts. Though it is possible to imagine a particularly mischievous interpreter or copyist entering a wild interpolation into a newly made text, it is more sensible to assume that interpolative changes are normal, and are, in most cases, historically conditioned. Romila Thapar says with reference to the various versions of the Śakuntalā story in its travel across history that ‘when a theme changes in accordance with its location at a historical moment, the change can illumine that moment, and the moment in turn may account for the change’ (1995: vii). A.K. Ramanujan states that a poet never tires of chiselling at his poem to make it read better, but the history of its evolution comes to an end the moment it gets into print. ‘By printing it you put a kind of moratorium on it’, says Ramanujan (2001: 45). At an epistemological level, what printing did was to introduce the notions of textual purity and authenticity into the domain of culture. These notions were quite unknown to premodern scholarship that paid little attention to the ‘true’ versions of texts—​whether they are proverbs, legends, songs, or tales—​transmitted orally. These were moves of standardization and authorization introduced into a society that had no idea of such processes. The production of printed dictionaries and books of grammar can be said to have further reinforced these moves. To come back to the evolution of fiction and its linkage with modernity, it is obvious that Indulekha was born at the intersection of the discursive and epistemological complexities sketched above. It was an extremely complex novel that maintained a somewhat contradictory relationship with the age that produced it. It partook of the scientific temper of the Vidyasamgraham essays and the moralizing idiom of Mrs. Mullens’s and Mrs. Collins’s translated novels. In this sense, it was a translation of the mood and environment of rationality and scientific thinking that

Modernity and Indian Literature  25 colonial modernity sought to propagate. At the same time, it also constituted a suppression of this ethics in that it was the outcome of its author’s conviction that aesthetics and imagination would not lend themselves easily to translation. This is evident from some of the statements that the author makes in the successive introductions to the first two editions of the novel. Though Chandu Menon stops short in these introductions of stating that the aesthetic was what got lost in translation, his experience with the art of translating novels had allowed him to see that it was neither a useful nor a pleasurable exercise (Chandu Menon 2014: 8). The fabrication of the hermetic aesthetic too is linked to this important historical moment. As already suggested, the development of this aesthetic is to be regarded as the natural culmination of the progress of the colonial literary ideology, which from the very beginning wanted the discourse of imagination to be kept separate from modernity’s ethics of reason. The history of literature in all Indian bhashas since the late nineteenth century has also been a history of the consolidation of this aesthetic that has made sure that modern literatures in bhashas, if they are to be counted as ‘true’ forms of writing, would forever remain alienated from the ambience of material and everyday culture. This seems to be the unspoken message of the colonizer’s declared agenda on modernity and reform. Given the reality that the colonizer undertook his civilizing activities in the colonies with the help of literary works, the agenda to be sure could not be extricated from the category of aesthetics. Here then is a living proof of aesthetics presupposing a process whereby cultural production gets de-​linked from material and historical practices, and literature becomes independent of the various social functions that it served in the past. A brief review of another Indian novel set in Kerala, which is closer in time to our own day, will reveal how the question of aesthetic modernity is managed by Indian writers in the age of advanced capitalism and globalization. The novel is Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), which shot into fame after it won the prestigious Booker Prize for literature in 1997. The novel comes as the natural culmination of the progress of the hermetic aesthetic which, as already pointed out, systematically maintains the division between the discourse of imagination and the ethics of reason. Literary history has, by this time, learnt to reconcile itself with the rise and fall of the literary movement or the assemblage of

26  Under the Bhasha Gaze movements called ‘modernism’, which can be described as representing a general peaking of the sensibility connected with modernity, but in more specific terms constitutes an intensification of the formal and aesthetic properties of the artwork. The hermetic aesthetic idea of an autonomous art that is fully governed by its own internal rules finds perfect fruition in modernism. Though critics and theorists of modernism are inclined generally to focus on the concept’s narrowly ‘literary’ dimensions, its broader and more serious ideological connections with the age of modernity, capitalism, and even, perhaps, a globalized capital are elaborated by critics like Neil Larsen (1990). Characterizing modernism as the manifestation of the general crisis in capitalism that shows up as a crisis in representation, Larsen says: Modernism stems from this crisis [ . . . ] and inverts it. The crisis in representation becomes a crisis of representation: representation no longer ‘works’, no longer appears to offer the subject any cognitive access to the object. (1990: xxiv)

The God of Small Things is a classic example of such a crisis in representation belatedly manifesting in an Indian modernist work. What the novel creates is a fantasy world built on the patchwork of recollections and childhood memories pertaining to the lives of the seven-​year-​old fraternal twins, Estha and Rahel, who, though they are not the narrators in the strict sense, offer important points of view for narration. Other stories told in the novel, of the family history of Ammu and Chacko, of Chacko’s life as a Rhodes scholar in England, of Baby Kochamma’s infatuation for Father Mulligan, of Ammu’s marriage and her life in Calcutta, of her affair with Velutha, and of Velutha’s torture by the police—​all emerge from this narrative context, which is somewhat ‘inauthentic’ inasmuch as it is recounted by the omniscient narrator, borrowing the perspective, partly, of Rahel and partly, perhaps, of Estha, the latter presented as becoming mute at some point in his life. There is thus a crisis and a breakdown in representation at the thematic level, replicated in the very formal structure of the novel. The crisis becomes deeper in the representation of the political co-​text interwoven into the text, again because of the problem noted by Larsen—​representation does not offer the subject ‘any cognitive access to the object’. This in fact is a problem endemic to the hermetic

Modernity and Indian Literature  27 aesthetic itself. The world of fantasy and the world of reality are separate spheres of experience for this aesthetic. The crisis that this fact can create for representation is evidenced by the way in which The God of Small Things handles the relation between history and fiction. Although the novel is sometimes read as a work that deals authentically with Kerala’s history of the past century, with frequent references made to its creative articulations of untouchability, the caste system, and the emptiness of the society’s communist rhetoric, the novel’s perceptions on these issues are superficial and somewhat distorted, as evidenced by its caricature of one of the most respected of Kerala’s political leaders of the last century, E.M.S. Namboodiripad. One of the novel’s perennial beauties, however, is its superb craftsmanship, which to some extent has helped the novel mask its inadequacies at the epistemological level. Yet the crisis in representation remains, and this is indicated by the author’s initial note on a preliminary page where she feels compelled to remind the reader: ‘This is a work of fiction. The characters in it are all fictional’. The note is significant in that it extends the benefit of fictionality to all other depictions in the novel, including the representation of reality and history. One might extend this benefit to the depictions of communism and the caste question. The novel’s apparent setting in history, the detailed description it gives of places in Kerala, repeated references to the Indian Communist movement, and recurrence of the word ‘history’ in the pages of the novel—​all these point towards an attempted subversion of the hermetic aesthetic, though what all that yields in reality is a reaffirmation and consolidation of the aesthetic. The novel only wants to create the illusion that it has successfully broken down the distinction between fact and fiction without actually doing so. For to do so would mean breaching the hermetic aesthetic, which in effect would undermine the work’s privileged status as a highly valued specimen of imaginative writing. The change that happens to the Indian literary culture as it moves from Indulekha to The God of Small Things is indeed interesting. But what is more interesting is the continued operation of the aesthetics of colonial modernity in Indian bhasha literature that this exemplifies. There is no gainsaying the ‘literary’ merit of Arundhati Roy’s novel, however much, we might critically analyse the notion of literary value. For the European literary market, however, India is still, even in the twenty-​first century, an

28  Under the Bhasha Gaze attractive commodity, and this is indicated by the hefty prepublication advances that The God of Small Things received from international publishers and the severe competition that was on show before its prepublication rights were sold in several European countries. Larsen’s argument regarding the crisis in representation and its link with the modernization of capital—​and today, perhaps with the globalization of capital—​makes perfect sense here. Literature, as Raymond Williams says, is never seen as an abstract concept, but ‘there is a virtually immediate and unnoticed transfer of the specific values of particular works and kinds of work to what operates as a concept’ (Williams 1977: 45). Such an abstraction allows the literary text to overflow its boundaries and produce the concept of the aesthetic, which suits the tyrannical purposes of colonial modernity. What is needed, however, is a concept of literature that will also account for the presence in the literary system of the elements of the political, which precisely is what the theory of an alternative Indian modernity would posit before the reader.

2 The Everyday as Modernity Although Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life (3 volumes: 1947; 1961; 1981) constitutes the fundamental analysis of the concept of the everyday in contemporary social theory, it is in his essay ‘Towards a Leftist Cultural Politics’ (1988) that one would come across the most concise statement on the meaning and significance of the term. Mentioning ‘everyday’ as a term that he has been responsible for contributing to the progressively evolving vocabulary of Marxism, Lefebvre attempts in this short essay to provide a fairly comprehensive summation of what the term signifies for cultural theory: What is the everyday? In appearance, it is the insignificant and the banal. It is what Hegel called ‘the prose of the world’, nothing more modest. Before Marx, labour was considered unworthy of study, as before psychoanalysis and Freud, sex was considered unworthy of study. I think the same can be said of the everyday. As Hegel said, what is the most familiar is not for all that the best known. (1988: 78)

Lefebvre does not mention in this passage the everyday’s concurrence with modernity, though in a note given at the end of the text, while distinguishing the everyday from daily life, he makes a brief allusion to modernity. Daily life, he says, is routine existence permeated with values and myths, while the everyday indicates the integration of daily life into modernity, programmed by ‘marketing and advertisements’ (1988: 87). Lefebvre, it may be remembered, is also an important theorist of modernity as well, on which he has published an extended essay under the title Introduction to Modernity (1962). The Critique and his other works on the everyday too are replete with references to modernity. Many of the qualities that one would identify with the everyday, such as its status as the social practice of the middle classes and the aspiration of the poor as well Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0003

30  Under the Bhasha Gaze as its implication in the capitalist mode of production, indeed are aspects of the modern world. In The Everyday Life in the Modern World (1971), Lefebvre specifically states, somewhat poetically, that ‘everyday life is a crust of the earth over the tunnels and caves of the unconscious against a skyline of uncertainty and illusion that we call modernity’ (1971: i). The word ‘everyday’, however, does not reflect the true sense of its French original, la quotidienne, which carries suggestions of drabness and repetition connected with day-​to-​day life. The quotidian in a sense is what is excluded from consideration by philosophy, and it is this exclusion that marks the everyday’s connection with elite responses and forms of thought, including art and literature of the esoteric kind. This is what makes modernity’s relation with high art and elite literature a matter of concern in considerations of the everyday. Also, while the everyday represents the quotidian at the temporal level, it can also become spatialized in artworks to include the minor and the marginalized. Art and literature in the past revelled in epic and philosophical themes expressed in a grand, secure, and self-​assured language, but the advent of modernity seemed to pose severe threats to this security and self-​assurance. ‘The world’s becoming philosophical is at the same time philosophy’s becoming worldly’, as Marx said in a statement appearing in his doctoral dissertation which Lefebvre was in the habit of citing quite frequently (Elden 2008: 81). The statement could with equal relevance be extended and paraphrased to comment on the bond between literature and the world in the new climate. But elite literature would never brook a situation where art or literature could be deemed worldly. This indeed is the point in talking about the connection between modernity and the everyday in the context of the hermetic aesthetic. There is reason to believe that Lefebvre was sensitive to the schism in colonial modernity to which references were made in the previous chapter. The schism, it was noted, was between the global and national, the national and the regional, the abstract and the concrete, the structured and the experienced. Speaking of Marx, Lefebvre suggests that the schism in modernity was important for Marx too, who conceived of modernity, especially in its manifestation as state power, as ‘a separation within praxis’ (Lefebvre 1995: 170). Modernity simultaneously designated a form of the state, as distinguished from general social processes, as well as the state’s uneasy relation with everyday social practice. ‘Everywhere,

The Everyday as Modernity  31 in every area, the irrational and the rational become separated and yet confused, the one hiding the other in a single contradictory reality which is a rational (social and political) unity in appearance only: generalized unreality’ (1995: 170). Marx’s ‘irrational’ here obviously is the domain of the subjective and the experienced, which indeed is the territory of the everyday. While Marx thought that this domain of ‘unreality’ could be reconciled with the concerns of the public world through revolutionary social praxis, modernity sought to resolve the problem at the level of art theory by instituting the esoteric discipline of aesthetics that took care of the subjective domain, which ironically was the territory of the eternal and the universal. Given the reality that the ideology enveloping aesthetics insisted on viewing literature as something that was sealed off from the external world, what the culture of aesthetics promoted was an esoteric worldview that excluded the everyday from its purview. The problem with modernity, then, is part of its dialectic, which is that it engenders the category of the everyday as an inevitable aspect of modernity even as it devises ways of exorcizing the everyday from its experience. The internal schism in the concept noted earlier is a direct consequence of this dialectic. The dialectic also leads to a series of splits in the experience of modernity as, for example, the rift between the private and the public, between the mundane and the transcendental, between the political and the aesthetic, between the rational and the imaginary, and even between prose and verse that mark the literary discourse of the modern period. The split shows itself in Wordsworth, one of the early practitioners of western modernity and an advocate of the language of the everyday in nineteenth-​century Britain, who nevertheless nurtured ideas of creativity that emerged straight from the soul of the hermetic aesthetic. The conception of an abstract Art (with a capital A) was the direct outcome of eighteenth-​century aesthetics that swore by a belief in the creative imagination alienated from material practice. ‘High is our calling, Friend!—​Creative Art’, so says the poet of the everyday in an 1815 sonnet (‘To B.R. Haydon’) addressed to the painter, Benjamin Robert Haydon, who was later to repay the compliment by painting a portrait of Wordsworth standing on top of Helvellyn in the Lake District, his head held high among the moving clouds. For the European literary tradition, Haydon’s portrait of Wordsworth, on which Elizabeth Barrett Browning published a poem in 1842 (‘Sonnet on Mr. Haydon’s Portrait

32  Under the Bhasha Gaze of Mr. Wordsworth’), has been crucial in canonizing the iconic figure of the romantic artist, exiled and other-​worldly, musing among the celestial clouds. That Wordsworth sees no contradiction between aspects of the everyday celebrated in his poems and the transcendent spirituality that he associates with nature is to be interpreted from this general perspective on modernity. This can be proved with greater force with reference to the positions of Charles Baudelaire, Wordsworth’s younger contemporary from France and a precursor of nineteenth-​century French symbolism who was also a fervent advocate of the theory of art’s autonomy. Though Baudelaire’s youthful years were marked by an enthusiasm for radical politics, his poetic persona seems to have been formed largely by a fundamentally romantic world vision and an esoteric aesthetic. His fascination with the idea of the newly formulated concept of imagination as the force behind art is expressed in his admiration for two major nineteenth-​century writers, Thomas de Quincey and Edgar Allan Poe, both of whom looked upon imagination as autonomous and self-​referential, in spite of the familiarity that both had with everyday life in the streets of the modern cities they inhabited. Baudelaire’s forays into experiments relating to artistic creativity, prompted by de Quincey’s work on drug-​induced imagination, have been critically reviewed by a number of scholars (see, e.g., Burt 2005). Art for Baudelaire was an end in itself, and it was this attitude that forced him to remark: ‘Death or deposition would be the penalty if poetry were to become assimilated to science or morality; the object of poetry is not Truth, the object of poetry is Poetry itself ’ (quoted in Hamburger 1969: 4). Baudelaire is also a theorist of modernity, a fact that has been taken note of by Lefebvre too. Describing Baudelaire’s 1859–​1860 essay, ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, as a milestone in the history of modernity studies, Lefebvre states that what Baudelaire achieves by linking the modern with the transient, the fleeting, and the contingent is to draw attention to modernity’s temporal dimension as well as its self-​identity with fashion. ‘Reversing the perspective, and making the eternal his starting point rather than his goal, Baudelaire defines beauty as something to be captured in the fleeting instant’, he says (Lefebvre 1995: 171). As for modernity’s implication in the everyday, Lefebvre suggests that apart from reinterpreting modernity as an idea connected with the ephemeral rather than

The Everyday as Modernity  33 the eternal, Baudelaire provides a further ‘everyday’ twist to the idea of fashion by feminizing it. Though Lefebvre’s (and Baudelaire’s) primary reason for making such a remark is the etymological connection between the French words for ‘modernity’ and ‘fashion’, both of which are derived from the Latin root word ‘modus’ (Lehmann 2000: xv), the reference to feminization (as in ‘a la mode’) also calls attention to the ‘everyday’ and non-​hegemonic dimension of Baudelaire’s characters, especially women characters, drawn as most of them are from the margins of French society. Linked intimately to this question of the everyday as it gets transacted in European poetry is the problem of realism, which refers to the specific style of literary representation, especially in fiction, that presupposes a close correspondence between the artwork and the object represented. The nineteenth-​century novels of Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, and others were presented as specimens of European fictional realism because of the honest attempts that they made towards depicting the everyday with a sense of verisimilitude. Though this kind of realism—​ often described as classical realism—​is an extension of modernity in that it is modernity’s presupposition of a well-​defined object of perception as distinguished from the perceiving subject that manifests here, its assumptions have come under attack from artistic modernism, which, according to Lefebvre, is to be understood as modernity’s ‘consciousness’ of itself (1995: 1). Realism has subsequently been theorized in a number of other ways too, most of which start from the basic position that all forms of realism emanate from distinct conventions of reading, many of which go against the principles of classical realism. Several avant-​garde writers of the twentieth century such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Bertolt Brecht are united in denouncing the critical tendency to define realism in naïve and mechanical terms (e.g., see the essays in R. Taylor 1977). Brecht’s name is particularly significant in this context because of the way in which he integrated issues of the everyday into his drama, which also forged a formal pattern that clearly excluded the traits and conventions of classical realism. The relation between realism and the everyday becomes more complicated in visual culture, which promotes an apparently direct and unmediated representation of the object of perception. Though the mediations involved in visual representation have been subjected to close critical

34  Under the Bhasha Gaze analysis in recent days by film theorists, it is a fact of cultural history that the advent of cinema in the twentieth century has radically altered the literary scholar’s attitude to the everyday. The graphic sense of truthfulness that the filmmaker can create in depictions of reality—​the scene of the train tearing across the screen in Edwin Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), is said to have forced early movie viewers to flee in terror from the theatre in the days of silent cinema—​is unthinkable for a literary artist. Contemporary society is a society of ceremony and spectacle, a society that turns the signs of the everyday into icons that are to be visually consumed. This was what Lefebvre meant when he referred to the change from daily life to the everyday, which, as he indicated, was programmed by the spectacle of glitzy advertisements. Modernity’s ideology radically transforms the ambience of the everyday world. John Berger draws attention to an important aspect of this transformation while reviewing the historical shift from Titian’s nude paintings of the premodern period to Edouard Manet’s modern paintings of nude women, as exemplified by the former’s Venus of Urbino (1538) and the latter’s response to it in Olympia (1863). Both painters represent women’s nudity, but while Titian’s desexualized and self-​engrossed women appear to be representations of idealistic, dehistoricized, and ungendered female objects, Manet’s bold women looking somewhat ‘defiantly’ at the spectator can be regarded as specimens of gendered women who recognize themselves as subjects of history (Berger 1972: 63). Berger here is talking about the incorporation of the everyday into the process of subject formation, a development that can be interpreted as deepening the split in art experience. While one cannot in the present-​day world think of eliminating the icons of the everyday from one’s experience of art and literature, the conventions of reading would persuade one to erase the everyday and misread its signs as the signals of eternity and assign to them perennial and universal significance. This, as we noted earlier, is what aesthetics as an esoteric discourse endeavours to achieve. The hermetic aesthetic is a historically specific instance of this practice, and is linked to the literary ideology of European origin that came to India and other Third World cultures in the shape in which it exists today through colonial mediation. Since the ideology’s metaphysical character agreed with the non-​ historical ambience of India’s hegemonic literary culture, it must have been easy for the hermetic aesthetic to be quietly assimilated into Indian

The Everyday as Modernity  35 bhashas. Art’s autonomy that denies the everyday has continued to be the central principle of aesthetics in the entire period of modernity. Its dominance in literary modernism that flourished in diverse Indian bhashas in the mid-​twentieth century is a telling illustration of this. This is also true of the literary ideology of contemporary global culture, whose idea of representation implies the literary imagination’s dissociation from society’s material practice. Since the concept of literature in all cultures works in tandem with the hermetic aesthetic and has the innate tendency to absolutize and hegemonize literary experience, mainstream literatures seldom endeavour to integrate ideas connected with the everyday into the general literary culture. That is why all literary traditions, ‘national’ and ‘regional’, ‘great’ and ‘little’, ‘marga’ and ‘desi’ alike in the Indian context, howsoever humble their origins might be, end up claiming for themselves the elevated status of aestheticism. There indeed might be moments in the history of modern Indian literature when the writer tries to steer clear of elitism and makes conscious efforts to adopt radical postures associated with the literature of the everyday. The emergence of the progressive literary movement in Indian literatures is one such moment. This pan-​ Indian trend flourished in most Indian languages in pre-​Independence days and had some of the very prominent Indian writers like Munshi Premchand, Sadat Hassan Manto, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Vijaydan Detha, Habib Tanvir, Amrita Pritam, and Mulk Raj Anand subscribing to its ideals. Early associates of the movement in Malayalam included Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, M.P. Paul, and Joseph Mundasseri, who were among the best Indian intellectuals of the time, as well as a number of fiction writers such as Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkey, and S.K. Pottekkat. The consistent way in which these writers sought to articulate the concerns of the everyday is what strikes a reader considering their works in the context of modernity. To look at one of these writers in some detail, the Jnanpith-​winning fiction writer S.K. Pottekkat provides a clear model of a Third-​World artist whose work is complicated by the contradictory presence of some of the elements of modernity noted above—​a romantic worldview, an affinity to realism, and a concern for the everyday coupled with an espousal of the hermetic aesthetic. Pottekkat was primarily a writer of novels, short stories, and travel literature. The voice of the romantic artist is very strong

36  Under the Bhasha Gaze in his early writings, and it was perhaps as a romantic writer that he constructed his own self-​image. There is a reference in one of his travelogues, London Notebook (1970), to a meeting he had in London with High Commissioner V.K. Krishna Menon, to whom he introduces himself as a writer of romantic fiction (Pottekkat 2001: 28). If this self-​image is an indication of his acquiescence in the ideology of modernity, his standing also as a writer of travel literature only confirms this acquiescence. Writing for all modern artists is after all an act of travel that brings the writer into contact with new sights, new sounds, and new experiences. Travel for Pottekkat acted as a true emblem of modernity which drew him closer to unknown forms and contexts of reality. He sought to document this reality truthfully with a sense of realism, and in that sense could be regarded as one of the earliest Malayalam writers to internalize the drabness of modernity and the everyday into his practice of writing. However, one could also discern in Pottekkat the problem connected with modernity’s dialectic, which is that even as it engenders the category of everyday, modernity also devises ways of expelling the everyday from experience. Pottekkat’s posthumous fame has rested primarily on his masterpiece Oru Desattinte Katha (The Story of a Land, 1971), the novel that fetched for him the Sahitya Akademi award. He has altogether published 10 novels and around 170 short stories, each regarded as an epitome of storytelling conceived as a social ritual rather than an individual achievement. Oru Desattinte Katha in a sense represents the peak of a narrative journey that progresses from the romanticism of his early stories to the narrative realism of his mature work. Pottekkat is an artist who, even as he subscribes consciously to the hermetic aesthetic, invalidates that aesthetic in practice by facilitating a textual work that is non-​esoteric in intent. This contradiction is dramatized in his evolution as a writer. While his early novels such as Vishakanyaka (The Fatal Woman, 1948) are characterized by a supporting aesthetic that presents the story as an artifact rather than as an extended narrative practice, the later ones, especially Oru Theruvinte Katha (A Street’s Story, 1960) and Oru Desattinte Katha, are concerned more with narrating stories that are embroiled in questions pertaining to the history of a community. One might take this to be a corroboration of the idea of Walter Benjamin who would describe storytelling as an act comparable to a folk ritual that initiates a pedagogic

The Everyday as Modernity  37 practice involving the construction of the collective memory of a people. ‘The storyteller takes what he tells from experience—​his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to it’ (1973: 87). This, needless to say, is a communal exercise. In contrast to this is the generally individual-​oriented tradition of reading that merely endeavours to communicate isolated personal experiences through novels-​as-​artifacts. The textual practice that Pottekkat inspires through his later novels corresponds to Benjamin’s storytelling in that it brings into being a community of readers who would actively body forth, in the process of its reading, a collective subject and a collective history. What the later novels of Pottekkat unconsciously recognize, in other words, is the discursive singularity of the novel as a narrative form that responds to the historical specificities of modernity. As already noted, it is in Oru Desattinte Katha that Pottekkat has most successfully worked his anxieties about modernity into the form of narration. But Kabeena, his last published novel, can be treated as an example of a narrative that lays bare the diverse ways in which the formal aspects of narration get dovetailed into the practice of writing. This short novel set in Tanganyika in East Africa tells the story of Kumar, a young man from Malabar who is appointed as a police inspector in Tanzania. Kumar marries an African girl named Sara in Tanganyika. They soon have a daughter whom they name Kabeena. Before her marriage, Sara used to be associated with an African ethnic terror group that practiced black magic to eliminate the country’s white invaders. But after her marriage, she becomes a follower of the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and establishes a home for the downtrodden. But things turn bad for Sara and Kabeena when Kumar is killed by a member of the terror group. The novel closes at the point where Kabeena comes of age and arrives in Kerala. Though this simple plot does not indicate any innovation in the technique of writing, it is the peculiar way in which the novelist chooses to narrate the story that makes Kabeena a unique reading experience. Considered rhetorically, the novel’s narrative could be regarded as a composite discourse produced by each of its narrators who appear in its four chapters. No attempt is made to grant ‘aesthetic’ coherence to the form of the novel by unifying the disparately organized narration by three different narrators. Kumar’s, the young Sara’s, the widowed Sara’s, and Kabeena’s stories are narrated

38  Under the Bhasha Gaze from separate standpoints which, though interrelated, also announce the possibility of narrative polyphony that is implicit in the novel form. While this narrative aspect is in full play in the form of Oru Desattinte Katha, which on that account can be read as an engaging example of a Bakhtinian dialogical novel, what makes the novel more engaging is its entanglement with questions of the everyday. This new focus, which comes apparently as a consequence of Pottekkat’s disenchantment with the romantic worldview, turns Oru Desattinte Katha into an important document connected with the development of modernity in Kerala. Though the elaboration of a romantic vision is an integral aspect of the ideology of modernity, a debunking of the romantic as it appears at that point in time in Malayalam literary modernism, does not constitute a basic departure from modernity. Though Pottekkat was not favourably disposed to the formal experiments connected with the literary modernism of the 1960s, he could not have been unresponsive to the increasing obsolescence of the romantic worldview that his early novels up to and including Vishakanyaka embodied. In a 1979 interview, Pottekkat acknowledges his difficulty with the language of fictional modernism, but recognizes at the same time that times have changed. ‘Changes can be seen in ideas, philosophies and ways of expression’, he says. ‘There is a total change in forms and themes. Fiction is now infected by the new energy transmitted by science and technology, by politics and journalism’ (Pottekkat 2013: 66). It is this recognition of all-​round change that is illustrated by Pottekkat’s turn to the everyday in his novels of the period following the 1960s, especially in Oru Desattinte Katha. Pottekkat’s creative personality was always predisposed to the drab, the banal, and the routine. Truthfulness to day-​to-​day experiences was an important aspect of his creative practice. He was in the habit of keeping a writer’s notebook in which he recorded his impressions of the quotidian world and the experiences he acquired in his interaction with men and matters. It is awareness of this altered relation between literature and the world whose depths Pottekkat could not plumb even during the days he aligned with pre-​Independence progressive literature that makes for the discursive distinction of Oru Desattinte Katha. Oru Desattinte Katha is an autobiographical novel, which is another way of saying that what the novel does is to explore certain unknown segments of the writer’s self, which in Pottekkat’s case is co-​extensive

The Everyday as Modernity  39 with the self of his native land. The writer himself perhaps is unaware of the existence of such a self or its contiguity with the land. Fiction in the modern era after all is a means of making explorations into landscapes, both of the mind and the world. This has been emphasized by Milan Kundera who says that the only ethical reason for a novel’s existence is to discover areas of the mind and the world that may be unknown to the person—​‘a hitherto unknown segment of existence’ (Kundera 1988: 5). As for Oru Desattinte Katha, its plot is redolent with the smell of countless unknown segments, which however do not add up to the image of a well-​plotted ‘desam’ (a country unit) indicated in the title. It is a deeply fragmented world of experience that appears in the novel. The ‘desam’ here is Atiranippadam, a thinly veiled fictionalization of the part of Calicut where Pottekkat was born and where he lived for the most part of his life. The inhabitants of Atiranippadam are mostly people drawn from the working classes—​vendors, masons, carpenters, toddy tappers, tea-​shop owners, and saw-​mill workers. The quotidian events happening in Atiranippadam are narrated from the perspectives of the little men and women inhabiting the suburban countryside. Though there is the central consciousness of Sreedharan acting as a connecting link between the several stories narrated, the basic narrative structure of the novel is that of a collage in which a number of independent scenes and sketches are brought together in order to produce a composite effect. Pottekkat’s documentary mode of narration in Oru Desattinte Katha can be said to anticipate the more popular forms of metafictional narration that a number of Malayalam writers were to adopt and elaborate in the decades to follow. The preoccupation with the everyday in Oru Desattinte Katha manifests not merely in its representation of the drab and the commonplace, but in its journal form that constitutes a replication of the shape of the travel diary that Pottekkat had perfected into an art in some of his writings. A review of any of the 65 chapters—​this is apart from the novel’s prologue and its lengthy epilogue titled ‘Marmarangal’ (Rustlings)—​ forming the three-​part novel will prove this. True, it is a lucid picture of the everyday in the modern world that Pottekkat sketches in Oru Desattinte Katha. However, it is also true that Pottekkat has not been able to break free from some of the structures of modernity that bind his historical subjectivity together. The novel’s conspicuous patriarchal bias is an evidence of this. Though Pottekkat’s narrative style has succeeded in

40  Under the Bhasha Gaze capturing certain hitherto undiscovered segments of his everyday self, the hermetic aesthetic that has taken possession of his artistic personality has made sure that the creative subject stays clear of the everyday and transcends itself into the domain of the eternal and the universal through the captivating brilliance of the aesthetic imagination.

3 Print Capitalism and Modernity Much work has been done on the relationship between modernity and the evolution of prose as a medium of literary communication in Indian bhashas.1 A critical review of the studies undertaken on this question (see, e.g., Blackburn and Dalmia 2004) would reveal that the word ‘prose’ in this period functions as a key to the modern worldview, indeed to the very process of modernity as it evolved in most bhashas from the closing years of the eighteenth century. Although what the modernity discourses unravel is the history of how the western world engaged itself with non-​western cultures as part of colonial expansion, it might appear ironic that these discourses also embody elements that would, to some extent, empower the colonized and make them capable of resisting colonialism, sometimes overtly, but mostly in covert ways. It is for this reason that a reductive model representing a naively conceived interaction between tradition and modernity proves inadequate in explaining the complexities of the cultural history of nineteenth-​century India. There are several issues to be sorted out here, such as, for example, the new educational and social reforms which colonialism brought into being in Asian and African societies as part of modernity-​related reform. When it comes to the question of the bhasha context, one should also take into account India’s indigenous culture that manifests in diverse and multifarious forms at the regional level. There is also a conflict of interest between the colonizer country on the one hand and the colonized societies built on inherited forms of hierarchical power and organized around caste-​based social groupings on the other to reckon with. One may find it difficult to analyse the real nature of colonial modernity without reference to the debates that developed around these and 1 This chapter is built upon the arguments regarding modernity and the evolution of prose I originally made in an essay on the subject in my book in Malayalam, Etirezhuttukal (Counter-​ writings, 2013b). I am thankful to Fathima E.V. who prepared a draft English translation of the essay to work on. Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0004

42  Under the Bhasha Gaze several other issues. Some of the issues thus debated were described as both modernity’s causes and, simultaneously, its effects. The spread of English education, the arrival of print, the growth of printed periodicals, the missionary involvement in language activities, Bible translation projects, the emergence of new narrative forms like social history, and the novel are among such issues. However, the social meaning and relevance of these developments will become clear only if they are studied in the context of indigenous and native traditions, placing them at the originary site from where popular reformist impulses and resistance practices emerged. In other words, discussions about modernity will cease to be Euro-​centric only when the heterogeneity of India’s cultural practices expressed in and through bhashas are incorporated into—​and set off against—​the idea of modernity. If prose in the modern period can be regarded as a discursive formation, as the ‘language of command’ that represents the potential of cultural practices in their entirety (Cohn 1997: 21), the prose revolution in Malayalam and other Indian bhashas that occurred in the nineteenth century can be said to embody the complex and conflicting dimensions of this formation. The development of prose certainly can be interpreted as a process that clearly marks the passage from the traditional to the modern. In consonance with the etymological difference between the words ‘verse’ and ‘prose’, the shift from verse to prose announces the transition from a convoluted and somewhat opaque state of affairs towards a new social order, one that is relatively simple, straightforward, and transparent. This to be sure is a desirable outcome of the prose revolution that occurred in the nineteenth century. Alternatively, a rather undesirable fall-​out can also be said to have accompanied this positive shift. This pertains to the relative undervaluing of the inscrutable language of creativity in a world dominated by the relatively uncomplicated logic of prose. One might wonder whether the logic of linear thinking underwriting the evolution of prose was conducive to the protection and promotion of creativity and the faculty of emotional communication inherent in native cultures. The currently widespread belief that western modernity only popularized a discursive order rooted in rationality and a prosaic logic with no regard whatsoever for the creative and emotional make-​up of the colonized subject is the provocation behind this question.

Print Capitalism and Modernity  43 These in a sense are two separate approaches that current literary scholarship has taken on the evolution of prose in bhashas. They are reciprocally linked positions, aspects of which have already been subjected to a preliminary examination in the previous chapters. To focus on the first position, the transformation from verse to prose can be seen as the sign of a social revolution that gives birth to a new social order. Though it may not be semantically precise to use the word ‘verse’ in the sense of ‘poetry’, poetic literature certainly formed the heart and soul of the Indian, and especially Malayalam, literary heritage of the premodern period. This is true right from the days of Ramacharitam, the twelfth-​century bhasha rendering of sections from the Ramayana, narrated in an environment that was, in a couple of centuries, to develop into the cult of bhakti in Malayalam. The momentous role of the medieval bhakti movement in engendering new awakenings in the poetic traditions of Indian bhashas has been pointed out by literary historians (see, e.g., some of the essays in Lele 1981; Sisir Kumar Das 2005: 27–​51). Medieval bhakti was responsible for robust social renaissances in languages like Tamil, Kannada, and Marathi. Though the bhakti tradition did not perhaps operate with the same force in Malayalam as it did in these other bhashas, the influence of the devotional poetry of Cherusseri and Ezhuthachan on the subsequent trajectory of literature was tremendous. Literary histories would, in spite of this, testify to the fact that after the vigorous growth of poetry in the medieval times, the Malayalam poetic tradition suffered a series of setbacks in the early modern period, that is to say, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. One might inquire in this context as to why literary histories in general speak of the premodern period as an era marked by the poetic genres alone. Why is it that the premodern literary endeavours are reduced by and large into poetic practices, as documented by the first literary history of Malayalam, Malayala Bhasha Charitham (History of the Malayalam Language, 1881)? In the Preface to this book, written by P. Govinda Pillai, the author clarifies on the purpose of his history thus: ‘The aim of this book is to discover the poetic luminaries who adorn the firmament of Malayalam letters at present and to identify the faults of this language so as to rectify them from future practice, as well as to resurrect past poems sunk in the ocean of forgetfulness. Its other purposes are to prevent contemporary poetry from drifting into oblivion and to promote the creation of new poems’ (Govinda Pillai 2017: 45;

44  Under the Bhasha Gaze emphases added). Pillai’s words underscore the general intellectual consensus of the time, which viewed literary discourse to be one constituted entirely by verse. It is useful to examine why the literary endeavours of the premodern period in most Indian bhashas were limited to the verse genres and what historical conditions necessitated the shift to prose in the modern period. The truth of the matter is that the tendency to limit literature to verse can only be explained in terms of the nature of the social formation and the hierarchies of power operating in society at that point in time. It is also a reflection on the configuration of the reading community and the nature of the readers’ expectation from works of literature. Critic P.K. Balakrishnan’s shrewd summing up of the cultural environment of the day is precise. The constituents of the pre-​modern literary environment, according to him, bore unmistakable marks of a society in ruin: ‘a poetic language that was incomprehensible to the common man, a literary style wedded to the Sanskrit worldview, slokas that primarily evoked the shringara rasa, minds indulging in poetic exercises such as the construction of chayaslokas that echoed ancient verse models, a reading community that refused to see poetry beyond its entertainment value’ (1997: 303). What the literary historian of the nineteenth century was forced to confront in his premodern past, in other words, was a sapped literary heritage constituted by a lethargic poetic culture that had evolved in the feudal set-​up under Namboothiri and Nair dominance in a strictly caste-​driven society. It was this context of cultural decay that had prompted the poets of the premodern period to while away their time composing frivolous verses on naïve and foolish subjects in the Sanskrit meters they were familiar with and in the hybrid language of Manipravalam, which according to Balakrishnan, again, was nothing more than an ‘absurd mix of fragments’ from the languages of Sanskrit and Malayalam (1997: 303). Evidently, then, the shift from verse to prose in the nineteenth century epitomizes, at one level, a fundamental social change, a radical transformation that can be characterized as a shift from the discourse of timelessness to the practice of the everyday. What was accomplished with the development was a re-​awakening of the forms of the quotidian, which had remained excluded for a long time from the literary domain, and which were now being brought back into the centre of social practice

Print Capitalism and Modernity  45 through the prose of the world. As Lefebvre and following him Michel de Certeau point out, what the discourse of the everyday does is to prepare the ground for radical social changes by reordering dominant cultures from within. Prose constitutes a linguistic arrangement that can hold in check the discursive propensity for ‘mystification’ and ‘specialization’, which Lefebvre and de Certeau in their separate ways analyse and find deplorable in hegemonic cultures. The syntactic order of prose simultaneously demystifies life and reverses the process of specialization, both of which are important steps on the road towards recapturing the experiences of the drab and the quotidian. Prose in Malayalam, in other words, became established and popular in the nineteenth century as a consequence of certain deep-​rooted social causes. Traditional literary scholars might aver that this was a case of the re-​invention of a genre and that the language of prose had been in use for various cultural and discursive purposes in the past, well before the nineteenth century. This argument is only partially true. It is true that several works written from the twelfth century onwards can be cited as vibrant examples of prose writing in the premodern period. There were at least four variants of the genre in circulation. Works like Bhasha Kautaliyam, which was a translation of Arthasasthra, and the various Aattaprakaarams and Kramadeepikas, which were in use as supportive texts for Koothu and Kudiyattam performances, form the first category. A second category consists of what the fourteenth-​century author of Leelatilakam described as ‘Nambiantamizh’, the variety of language appearing in such works as Brahamandapuranam, Dootavakyam, Nalopakhyanam, and Devimahatmyam, which were used primarily for the performance of Pathakam, a kind of public declamation of stories from the puranas performed in temple premises in the premodern times. A third, rational and somewhat scientific, model of Malayalam prose can be seen in Jyeshtadeva’s Yuktibhasha, the fifteenth-​century work on astronomy and calculus. The missionary Malayalam that developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially as used in the canons of the Synod of Diamper (1599), and the associated Laws (1606), showcases a fourth model of prose in use before the nineteenth century. This last-​named model developed under the direct influence of the evangelical work of western missionaries, who had near-​complete dominance over the use of written and printed prose in the period, and that is why,

46  Under the Bhasha Gaze except for a few historical narratives like Vellayude Charitram (1789) by Vella Nampoothiri that chronicles the details of Tipu Sultan’s invasion of Kerala, most other texts in prose of the eighteenth century are seen to be written by missionaries and the followers of the Christian faith. The Milan Scrolls that originated in the early decades of the seventeenth century, Kariyattil Malpan’s Vedatarkam (1768), Clement Pianius’s Samkshepa Vedartham (1772), Jnanamuttumala (1784) of anonymous authorship, Paramekkal Thoma Kathanar’s Varttamana Pustakam (1785), all written in the eighteenth century, are among them (for details, see Antony 1958; Thomas 1961; Zacharia 1989). In spite of its historical significance, a closer scrutiny of the above archive would nevertheless reveal that none of the models of prose described can be regarded as expressions of the everyday. For one thing, all these variants share the common characteristic of mystification that Lefebvre finds unpalatable. Moreover, the prose of the time verbalized religious rituals rather than the spirit of religion, and tried to narrate eternity and timelessness as did the verse of the period. This prose did not particularly touch the everyday life of the individual, nor did it play any significant role in fashioning the public outlook or the world view of the people. Only when a language engages itself with the day-​to-​day life of a society, and becomes the medium of expression of its historical aspirations and its emotional undercurrent, can it hope to approach the status of a public discourse. That is when it becomes the language of the everyday. Malayalam prose attained that kind of identity only against the backdrop of the distinctive socio-​cultural advances of the nineteenth century. The new progressive movements that arose in the fields of public education, social reform, and journalism are among these initiatives. It was when these new movements joined hands with the new public consciousness that had evolved through activities related to print technology, dictionary making, grammar writing, and translation that the language of prose evolved into the full-​fledged discourse of the everyday. One might rephrase the above formulation and state that nineteenth-​ century prose was becoming secular through such activities as public education, social reform, journalism, and the efforts to renovate the language. Though the concept of secularization is often used in the sense of westernization and both generally mean the loosening of the influence on individual minds of the beliefs and institutions connected with

Print Capitalism and Modernity  47 religion under the impact of modernity, in the specific context of India, secularization also strongly implies ‘a process of differentiation which results in the various aspects of society, economic, political, legal, and moral, becoming increasingly discrete in relation to each other’ (Srinivas 2009: 126). A language becomes secular when it is used not merely for the articulation of the needs of religion and its rituals, but is expanded and deployed in discrete spheres of activity of a non-​religious kind, connected especially with education and social reform. The development is broadly linked to the idea of a ‘political modernity’ that Dipesh Chakrabarty speaks about (2001: 4). It is true that a part of the missionary work included a kind of narrow religiosity effective, and perhaps possible, only in prose. However, when prose engages itself with new social processes and starts embracing the non-​ritualistic dimensions of popular experience, it chooses to locate itself in the secular spaces of public discourse. This development can also lead to the possibility of a re-​definition of both religion and politics. These and the attendant changes that animated the emergent national consciousness of the time naturally had their impact on the further elaboration and expansion of prose. Though it may appear paradoxical on the surface, a careful reading of the written literature of the time will reveal that there was a secular ideal implicit even in the Bible translation projects in progress during the period. It would not be wrong to assume that at least in the case of the translation efforts supervised by the Protestant church, the translators had the lofty intention of preparing individuals to read the Bible on their own without the mediation of the church or the ordained priest. To empower the individual with the right to interpret the Bible on her own also meant that individuals were allowed the freedom to assign secular or literary meanings to the holy book, if they so desired. That the nineteenth-​ century Malayali put this freedom to generous use is demonstrated by the evolution of Kerala’s social renaissance, which emerged in the last decades of the century as a desirable outcome of some of these developments. Though prose is often used as an emblem to signify these diverse trends, it is true that it was not the rise of prose alone that was responsible for the Kerala renaissance. Prose nevertheless is to be deemed one of the most important cultural factors that accelerated this event. Several thinkers have pointed out that it was through prose that nationalism and national consciousness gained strength during the

48  Under the Bhasha Gaze period of modernity. Benedict Anderson, in his classic study, Imagined Communities (1983), examines how language, obviously the language of prose, converges on ‘capitalism’ and ‘print technology’—​what he calls ‘print capitalism’—​to create the stage for the rise of the modern nation in an international context (2006: 46). Nations indeed are created by prose, but what is more significant is that even individual subjects are constituted through prose. The modern individual who considers himself free to act according to his will in fact is shaped in and through language that manifests as social movements and endeavours for social reform. This is the point that Anderson makes in linking language with nationalism. The individual consciousness that prides itself in its agency to act according to its desires and the collective consciousness that makes the individual appear insignificant in comparison are both creations of the language of prose. This fact sheds light on the contradictions at work in the ideology of the period, which in a sense are extensions of the discursive conflicts of modernity. One would do well to remember at this point the arguments about the internal conflicts of modernity as delineated by the Frankfurt School thinkers, especially by Adorno and Horkheimer (2002), who present these conflicts as an expression of the progressive disintegration of modernity. Though the seeds of the downfall of modernity are inbuilt in its ideology, indeed in the ideology of western colonialism, it is only in the twentieth century that these seeds begin to germinate. That is why the nineteenth century, especially its closing decades, remains in our memory as the most productive years of Kerala’s renaissance. Modernity discovered an expansive and potent source of energy to buttress individual creativity. It is with the support of this energy that the religious and linguistic innovations of Benjamin Bailey and Herman Gundert, western missionaries whose contributions to education and print culture remain unsurpassed in the context of colonial modernity, become instrumental also in strengthening the secular spaces of nineteenth-​century Kerala. The introduction of print technology was the single most important factor that contributed towards new developments in the spheres of education, journalism, and linguistic reform. Historical evidence supports the argument that in Kerala, the reverberation of the new changes ushered in by print was not to come to an end even by the mid-​twentieth century. Printing completed the separation between two worlds that had been taking place over a long period of time: the old world founded on

Print Capitalism and Modernity  49 aurality and illiteracy, and the new world created on visuality and literacy. That this new world is that of capitalism and market economy as well is what transforms the separation into one constructed around society’s power structures. P. Bhaskaranunni’s documented study of nineteenth-​century Kerala (1988) reveals how conflict-​ridden the social relationships of the period were. These conflicts continued into the early decades of the twentieth century, as demonstrated by the pedagogic experiences recounted by scholars, social reformers, and activists of the period, such as Ayyankali, Chattampi Swamikal, Narayana Guru, Poikayil Appachan, C. Kesavan, V.T. Bhattathiripad, and E.M.S. Nambudiripad. The autobiographical accounts of some of the above attest to the fact that the world before print continued to exert its influence on the attitudes and worldviews of the people in parts of Kerala for a very long time even after the physical disappearance of that world. The situation certainly has changed in the largely modernized contemporary Kerala, but it will not be a ‘historicist’ exaggeration to state that the old, feudal, and premodern regime persists to this day in several other parts of India. As the essays on nineteenth-​century literary history edited by Stuart Blackburn and Vasudha Dalmia (2004) illustrate, print technology completely transformed the traditions of epistemological inquiry and knowledge dissemination that existed in Indian bhashas in the premodern era. Print radically altered the relation among the dialects and languages on the linguistic map of India. Anderson notes that ‘certain dialects inevitably were “closer” to each print language and dominated their final forms’ (Benedict Anderson 2006: 45). Sometimes, print even decided which dialect of a language was more suited to become the standard language to be chosen from among the several contesting ones in a particular culture. An example for this can be cited from the Telugu language, about which Velcheru Narayana Rao has made some interesting observations. Rao speaks about two linguistic variants that constantly fought for dominance in the Telugu culture throughout the nineteenth century. They were the Pandit’s language and the Karanam language, both of which in the preprint world enjoyed similar social status, receiving equal favour from Telugu-​speaking people. The first was the language variant used by the Sanskrit scholars and the other was the variant patronized by the Karanam writers. Rao points out that the delicate balance that existed between the two linguistic variants was upset when western missionaries

50  Under the Bhasha Gaze started using the Pandit’s language for printing purposes (2004: 149–​ 151). When we realize that it was from this variety of the language that modern literary or standard Telugu emerged, it becomes possible to draw inferences about the prodigious influence print exerted on Indian bhashas in the period of modernity. Print, as is universally known, is not a mechanism that affects a society’s writing practice or its communication medium alone. It is a technology that can profoundly impact the culture and the structure of thinking of a people. More than acting as a technical instrument that standardizes the written script, it reveals itself to be the very foundation of capitalism’s market economy. Anderson’s inquiry focuses primarily on the role of print capitalism in generating nationalism, national consciousness and, thereby, nation states. Print capitalism erases the difference between the old and the new as well as between the proximate and the remote. It allows a set of people newly settled on a continent to imagine their lives to be closely related to that of another set on a different continent for the simple reason that the two share the same place name in print. As Anderson demonstrates, when a place in a conquered territory is named as a ‘new’ version of a place in the colonizing country, people in the new place start thinking of ‘themselves as living lives parallel to those of the other substantial group of people—​if never meeting, yet certainly proceeding along the same trajectory’ (Benedict Anderson 2006: 188). One of the obvious, positive outcomes of print then is that it brought in greater rapport between social groups that were divided by cultural differences in the preprint world, thus homogenizing and democratizing culture. Print also homogenizes the diversity of viewpoints that is a basic characteristic of democracy. Furthermore, the centralizing and homogenizing function of print provides added inducements to capitalism by eliminating differences in terms of space and time. Closer analysis would reveal, as Sumit Sarkar argues, that even the linear time scheme implicit in modernity and the market economy has close linkages with print culture (2002: 26). It is these distinctive features of print that enable it to wield enormous power and create new centres of dominance in a culture. Some of the distinctive qualities that we often recognize in prose can on closer examination be shown to be connected to the peculiarities of print culture. The standardizing function that we sometimes attribute to nineteenth-​century prose, for instance, is an outcome of print rather than

Print Capitalism and Modernity  51 of prose per se. It is printed prose and not orally transmitted prose that acts as a vehicle for the standardization of language. In this context, Anderson’s observations on the paradoxes of national consciousness become relevant. If prose is said to etch the myths regarding the antiquity of a national culture firmly in the minds of the people, it is important to remember that it is able to do so primarily because of print. Further, print is the most effective agency that promotes the standardization of a language, and printed prose is a linguistic model that embodies the distinctiveness of a standard language. Print thus becomes the chief weapon of the culture industry that propagates the message of colonialism and modernity through the agency of printing presses which in the early modern period were owned and managed by the missionaries and other private entrepreneurs. However, having grown with capitalism, it was impossible for this industry to contain itself within the confines of the seminaries of the Christian missions. So, over the years, it became imperative for this industry to pursue interests in such ‘secular’ spheres of activity as journalism, lexicography, grammar making, documentation of oral narratives, and interpretations undertaken through textual production and translation. This indeed was the case with several missionaries too, who, as noted earlier, were primarily religious scholars, but were persuaded by circumstances to pay attention to non-​religious activities and contribute towards enriching the language of a secular kind. It was in the novels, short stories, and allied literary writings published in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, some of them written by the missionaries, but mostly by non-​missionary secular artists from outside the church, that the secularization of prose found its ultimate fulfilment. This fulfilment can be seen best exemplified by the literary endeavours of two nineteenth-​century native writers: Rev. George Mathan and Keralavarma Valiyakoyi Thampuran. Rev. George Mathan’s claim to recognition is as a great scholar and as the famed author of Malyanmayude Vyakaranam (1863), one of the early treatises on the grammar of Malayalam written in the language. A native missionary who played a key role in making Malayalam prose secular, Mathan was responsible for inculcating the spirit of rationality and scientific temper in the minds of nineteenth-​century readers. In his prose-​centred literary activity, he was perhaps influenced by the work of Hermann Gundert, who had learned Malayalam for missionary purposes and had subsequently become actively involved in taking the

52  Under the Bhasha Gaze language on a secular route. Mathan’s pioneering grammar of Malayalam might indicate a shared interest with Gundert, but one might not be off the mark in suggesting that in the matter of grammar writing, Mathan perhaps walked a little ahead of Gundert. Though Gundert’s Malayalam Grammar (1851)—​the first grammar in Malayalam, according to linguistic historians—​ was published earlier, several scholars point out that the manuscript of Mathan’s Malyanmayude Vyakaranam was completed well before Gundert’s structurally incomplete, albeit printed, work (Thomas 1961: 220). In the introduction to Malyanmayude Vyakaranam, Mathan himself remarks about the damage caused by the book’s delayed publication. As for the virtues of Mathan’s grammar, scholars recognize in it an expertise that surpasses that of Gundert, generally regarded as the greatest among the western missionaries who mastered the Malayalam language. It is interesting that when compared to Gundert, who more or less adopted a prescriptive approach to grammar, Mathan’s descriptive method is a great deal more systematic and scientific. There are other grounds for comparing Mathan with Gundert. Though the role of Gundert in making Malayalam prose secular was crucial, his prose writing was ultimately an extension of his missionary activity. He chose to make inroads into areas like grammar, folklore, and lexicography as part of his endeavour to develop a workaday language that would allow him access into the hearts of the masses among whom he worked. It may even be argued that his linguistic practices were part of his long-​drawn efforts at formulating a standardized language best suited for the translation of the Bible, an activity that was spread over a period of four decades across a fairly long-​lasting scholarly career. Gundert did not succeed in producing a complete prose translation of the Bible, but had to be satisfied with fragments that were published piecemeal between 1849 and 1883. In fact, he looked upon prose as the most natural medium for carrying out his missionary work. That is why he took the liberty of inserting a statement in support of the Christian faith into his translation of Ashvaghosha’s Vajrasoochi, a Buddhist work from the first century CE. Mathan’s path is different. His treatise on the Bible and his other liturgical studies prove this. Even in Satyavadakhetam (1861), a treatise on ethics, sometimes regarded as the finest example of an early and well-​written essay in prose on the subject in Malayalam, Mathan does not advance a partisan perspective. The message highlighted by this work, based as it is

Print Capitalism and Modernity  53 on both Christian and Hindu scriptures, is more or less neutral and, in that sense, secular.2 The same approach is continued in his translations as well as in the articles on modern science that he published in Jnana Nikshepam and Vidyasamgraham, journals that can be described as forerunners of the several little magazines that became popular in Kerala in the mid-​twentieth century as the purveyors of an alternative sensibility. Missionary prose certainly played a crucial role in the development of Malayalam as a modern language in the nineteenth century, but the parallel tradition of a heavily Sanskritized Malayalam, which had reigned supreme for centuries together in premodern Kerala, was also in the process of being modified and reworked in the century. If the general secularization of society, as M.N. Srinivas has argued, was accompanied by a process of ‘Sanskritization’ in most Indian social groups (2009: 125), the secularization process in bhashas seems to have gone hand in hand with a process of de-​Sanskritization. This seems to have been the case at least of nineteenth-​century Malayalam, whose encounter with modernity at one point led to concerted efforts to strip the language clear of its Sanskrit content. During the period, there even arose a poetic movement called ‘Pacha Malayalam’ (Raw/​Pure Malayalam) that aimed at systematically eliminating from the poetic vocabulary words that came from ‘foreign’ sources, and that included Sanskrit. Keralavarma Valiyakoyi Thampuran, himself a Sanskritist and no votary of Pacha Malayalam, was nevertheless in favour of modernizing the language. He is often celebrated as a staunch practitioner of modern prose, and is sometimes regarded as the father of secular prose in Malayalam, an appellation one might be justified in granting either to him or to George Mathan. On the other hand, in view of the zeal, he exhibited in popularizing the prose texts that were used by successive generations of students in Tiruvitamkur (Travancore), one might with equal justification grant this appellation exclusively to Keralavarma. As the head of Tiruvitamkur’s textbook committee set up in 1867 during the reign of King Ayilyam Thirunal Ramavarma, Keralavarma brought about sweeping and radical changes to language education in nineteenth-​century Kerala. It is undeniable that it was on 2 While the western idea of secularism means a neat separation of religion from the state and a rejection of religion from the public realm, social theorists have pointed out that in the Indian context, secularism also implies state tolerance and accommodation of all religions. See Chatterjee (1994) and Needham and Rajan (2007) for analyses of this question.

54  Under the Bhasha Gaze the strong foundation laid by the scientifically organized and sequentially graded textbooks compiled by Keralavarama that modern Malayalam prose literature flourished in the subsequent decades. If modernity also indicates a new pedagogy, Keralavarma’s creative personality can be regarded as one in which Kerala modernity appears in all its contradictions. Modernity in a sense fulfils its ideological objective at the focal point where Keralavarma’s scholarship in Sanskrit, his enthusiasm for English, his Manirpravalam style—​his translation of Sakuntalam was in Manipravalam—​all coalesce with the simple language of the textbooks prepared under his supervision. It is worth remembering that Keralavarma, who otherwise admired poetry, eschewed verse altogether for the textbooks he designed. At a time when the textbooks of Gundert, widely used in British Malabar around the same period, were a happy mix of prose and verse, the fact that poetry was excluded completely from Keralavarma’s textbooks underscores his firm, yet unconscious assimilation of the tenets of modernity. The above account of the social dynamic of the language of prose that functioned as an agent of reform throws light only on one side of the story. Its other side, which is not as laudable as the first, is linked to the enlightenment logic governing this discourse. A most disturbing dimension of this logic is that the language of prose, even as it prevailed as the language of the everyday and the medium of expression for secularism, also acted as a major force that sustained colonial dominance in the non-​European world. As already stated, this is a history that is seldom narrated in the usual, hegemonic accounts of literary evolution. It is the history of the evolution of a discourse that allowed forms of the everyday to meld seamlessly with society’s secular structure and a uniquely constituted hermetic aesthetic to produce new literary genres like the short story and the novel. We will have to subject prose to a much deeper scrutiny in order to unravel this history. It is true that the transition from verse, a form of expression endowed with a great deal of inherent authority, to the historically vulnerable discourse of prose hastened the process of the democratization of society. However, a weakness of western modernity that seeped into the colonial world was its general worldview which, as was noted, rejected the imaginative dimension of experience. This perhaps is at the root of the commonplace observation pertaining to the west’s materialistic obsession.

Print Capitalism and Modernity  55 The language of prose conceals a logic that is euphoric about seeing what is on the surface. It dismisses the unseeable, the marginalized, and the non-​visible in the world. This reasoning, sometimes described as positivistic, was what invaded the colonies as the logic of modernity. It was the discursive order driven by this logic, often misconstrued as the language of science and reason, which organized and regulated the modes of knowledge production and dissemination in colonial modernity. All the linguistic activities of the missionaries in the colonized cultures took place within the limits of this discourse. Though prose had generally appeared as the opposite of verse in the discourse of modernity, it actually functioned as the Other of all creative practices including poetry. The logic of modernity was never able to capture the creative potential of the colonized cultures, as creativity and imagination were thought to thrive only outside their borders. Although the rationality of modern science was able to counter many regressive customs and antiquated beliefs in society, the limitless conception of this logic has, many a time, led modern science to a sort of blind scientism. The Frankfurt theorists, as well as such culture theorists as Althusser and Foucault, have severely criticized modernity for this scientism. It was when scientism took total control of the intellectual practice of nineteenth-​century colonial cultures, and prose became the instrument for such control, that modernity’s logic of prose became regressive and reactionary. The educated contemporaries of the novelist Chandu Menon, as we noted earlier, thought that books on science were all that one needed in Malayalam at the time. Books in other subjects, it was argued, were of no relevance (Chandu Menon 2014: 8). It is the western enlightenment principle that required one to comprehend everything through a positivistic lens, subject everything to reason, that is revealed here. This ideology, which places imagination under the logic of modern reason, was not ready to even recognize that imagination may have any vital function to serve in non-​western cultures. It was this logic again that allowed Edward Fitzgerald, the English translator of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat, to justify the unwarranted liberties that he took with the non-​western text he translated by openly stating that the Persian language needed some aesthetic refinement which was what he had supplied to it in translation (see Bassnett 1991: 11). This means that the change from verse to prose also signalled the transformation from the dynamic logic of creativity to the mechanical

56  Under the Bhasha Gaze logic of scientism. This latter logic had begun its work in Malayalam and other Indian bhashas from the beginning of the nineteenth century. In fact, all the colonized Asian and African countries were forced to confront the pressures of this logic to varying degrees. The conviction that even the spiritual and ethical problems of man could be analysed and resolved through the positivistic approach was a belief shared alike by all who availed themselves of the fruits of modern education. The numerous articles on ethics and morality written by George Mathan and published anonymously in Vidyasangraham are solid proof of this. The methodological and stylistic rigour that the author followed when writing about science was the same that he followed in his writings on morality. Some of these articles even suggest that moral consciousness has a scientific foundation. Though it is impossible to imagine that the colonial scholars were unaware of the discursive distinction between the material sciences and ethical doctrines, it appears that at least some of them did believe that the moral principles they upheld contributed to a new ‘science of administration’. It is in this context that Sir James Mackintosh’s remark that the ethical and moral precepts contained in Indian dharmasastras are scientific assumes significance (see Sangari 1999: 126).

4 The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary Literary works, though authorized by individual writers and identified as the personal creations of individual artists, are not purely the making of autonomous individuals.1 The literary process is intimately connected with the social, a connection that is described by critical scholarship in diverse terms, like, for example, in terms of the peculiarities of the language, in terms of the author’s representative status in the language, in terms of the literary institution’s role in the production of the work, in terms of the nature of the literary tradition, in terms of the history of the culture of which the work is a product, or even in terms of the culture’s relation with other cultures. Questions pertaining to the interconnection between the literary process and the social also frequently come up in discussions of the evolution of Indian bhasha literatures, especially in dealing with their history in the twentieth century. In this context, one might talk about two broad ways of looking at the evolution of Indian literatures in the twentieth century. One of these is to regard the different traditions of writing in particular languages as moulded by the literary imagination, which is conceived of as composed essentially by the hegemonic culture in the language, and see how the dominant forms of literary expression give shape to specific sensibilities in command at a particular point in time. Twentieth-​century Indian literature, in this view, goes through a history of sensibility shifts in which the attitudes of the progressive-​nationalist, the modernist, and the postmodernist have, in succession, acted as pivots in the development of the dominant literary

1 Earlier versions of this chapter were read as papers at the seminar on Poetry and Counter-​ culture held at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, in May 2016 and the seminar on Bhasha Literature held at the Centre for Contemporary Theory, Baroda, in February 2019. Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0005

58  Under the Bhasha Gaze culture. Such a reading would provide a kind of ‘extrinsic’ literary history, where literature is defined in terms of its ability to represent the issues of the time that are deemed important by the more articulate segments of the community, who also enjoy enormous symbolic and cultural power. In the context of a sensibility that in effect captures a community’s structures of feeling as framed by the dreams and desires of its more powerful segments, these readings are partisan and sectarian. Writers here act, to paraphrase a well-​known maxim, as the antennae of the race, where the term ‘race’ does not represent the heterogeneity of the community, but merely its most dominant segment/​s, producing a ‘rational’ site that excludes from the realm of artistic comprehension the experiences of the community’s mute majority. The second position taken on this question is much more nuanced. It recognizes the complexities and contradictions within the discrete trends of progressive nationalism, modernism, and postmodernism and looks upon the sensibility shifts in Indian bhasha literatures with greater caution and with a great deal of qualification. It considers literature as a relatively self-​governed discourse, immanent, and this-​worldly inasmuch as it is wedded to the language’s inbuilt creative, unconscious, and ‘irrational’ realms. The semantic distinctions and ideological contents that inform the counters dispensing the ‘nationalist’, ‘modernist’, and ‘postmodernist’ fare may not be validated by this view. The discourse of literature in this view can be realistic, progressive, nationalistic, modernist, postmodernist, and whatever else the resourceful critic might suggest it to be, all at the same time. As a consequence, the sensibility shifts implied by the first interpretation do not make sense in consideration of literature as an expression of the dreams, desires, and pains of a community that is heterogeneous, pluralistic, and polyphonic. This ‘intrinsic’ view recognizes the literary imagination as a dynamic and open-​ ended force that shapes individual and collective identities through practices and symbolic representations. Literature in this view is a manifestation of the social imaginary, which exercises its power through its discursive singularity and its status as the language geared to the society’s progressive potential. This position in some sense overlaps with Seamus Heaney’s well-​known argument regarding a poetic tongue that is self-​ governed, but would not corroborate Heaney’s somewhat non-​political stance (Heaney 1988: 92–​93). Writers here too function as the ‘antennae’

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  59 of the race, but the signals captured are significantly different, both in terms of quality and definition.2 To insert a word on the idea of the social imaginary, the concept certainly shares the broad connotations that it receives in the accounts of its key theorists such as Cornelius Castoriadis and Charles Taylor, though it is not used here in any of the specific senses suggested by them. To be sure, Taylor’s definition of the social imaginary as a society’s ‘common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy’ is broad enough to accommodate a pluralistic society’s heterogeneous literary response (Taylor 2003: 23). One might broaden this understanding further by incorporating into it the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu, whose theorization of a field of literary production that works in tandem with a particular habitus can be read as a profound way of making sense of the social imaginary without naming it so. To embed this idea of the social imaginary on the two positions on literary history outlined above is to recognize the nature of literary modernity in India from a refreshingly new angle. While colonial modernity has invariably denied any role for imagination in the production of representations and social practices and has promoted art and ideas linked to the first position, the second position that upholds heterogeneity in matters of literary response and takes into account the resources of the imaginary in social practice is more consistent with the pluralistic modernity of India. Wedded as it is to experience, art here is not a matter of meaning and interpretation, but is something that concerns the way it allows the reader ‘to see more, to hear more and to feel more’, as Susan Sontag once put it (1994: 14). Most bhasha writers recognize this, but it is in the postcolonial writers who write in languages like English with a strong background of the bhasha culture that this acquires an urgency not to be seen in regular bhasha writings. Look, for example, at the following statement of poet 2 The statement was originally made by Ezra Pound who proclaimed in his study of modern French poetry titled Instigations: ‘Poets are the antennae of the race, but the bullet-​headed many will never learn this’ (Pound 1920: 109). Compare this with Anna Swir’s statement, which Heaney quotes: ‘A poet becomes then the antenna capturing the voices of the world, a medium expressing his own subconscious and the collective subconscious. For one moment he possesses wealth usually inaccessible to him, and he loses it when that moment is over’ (Heaney 1988: 93). Certainly, Pound’s original interpretation is double-​edged and can, even as it promotes literature’s polyphonic impact on the world, act as an expression of open and elite contempt for the material world and the general public, as is illustrated by the second part of his statement.

60  Under the Bhasha Gaze Meena Alexander, who describes her poetry as ‘luminous’ that arrives at her door ‘in the face of present danger’, bringing with it an inexplicable ‘shock of arrival’ (1996: 6). She writes thus about her Indian English poetry, which becomes possible only in the context of a plurality of languages. On the surface, Alexander’s statement is about two kinds of pedagogy, but it can as well be about two modernities that run parallel to the two positions on literary history: I was born a few years after Indian Independence and learned English both in India and North Africa. The English I learned in India was always braided with other languages: Hindi, for I was born in Allahabad and spent my earliest years there; Malayalam, the language of my parents; Tamil, which was spoken by friends; Marathi, for I spent a year in Pune. In contrast, the English I learnt from a Scottish tutor in Khartoum and then perfected in the Diocesan School for British children was strict, and given the sternness of colonial pedagogy, cut away from the Arabic that flowed around. (1996: 3–​4)

The interconnections here are strong enough to corroborate a thesis regarding certain recurring motifs in the literary histories of Indian bhashas. This will become evident from a close reading of the history of the bhasha literatures of the modern period. However, if we consider any of the literatures of the past century to be providing a prototype for the history of modern Indian literature and examine how the two positions detailed at the beginning of this chapter intervene in its construction and delineation, we face problems. While the first position is what usually passes for standard literary history in most Indian languages, the second position exists in a buried form, as a footnote, so to say, to most histories, and can be unearthed only by a close critical reading of these narratives. It is also to be remembered here that the two positions are not mutually exclusive and that in real situations, in considerations especially of the larger Indian reality, they sometimes overlap with and inter-​penetrate each other. This is why critics often speak of ‘phase-​lags’ and ‘time-​lags’ between languages and sensibilities, which, as literary historians note, make it difficult for one to visualize a uniform history of—​to take a representative genre—​Indian poetry with successive phases across linguistic boundaries (e.g., Sisir Kumar Das 1995: 180). As is well-​known, Indian

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  61 bhashas demonstrate vast heterogeneities in terms of poetic trends, forms, and structures of response in the modern period, so that it becomes practically impossible to talk about a common course of poetic evolution with common phases of development. However, historians of Indian poetry also point out that poetry in most Indian bhashas, irrespective of their phases of development, slowly converges in the period of modernity on a single object which, according to Sisir Kumar Das, constitutes the ‘inspiration’, ‘imitation’, and ‘appropriation’ of elements from western poetry, especially from modern English poetry, for its onward journey (1995: 180, 185). It is this context of reception and appropriation that becomes the breeding ground for the first perspective, which forces on the reader the critical need to recognize in Indian poetic history the successive phases of progressivism, modernism, and postmodernism. The three phases indeed have their prototypes in western poetic history of the modern times, which is often represented as getting unfolded through the phases of romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism, in that order (see, e.g., the historical accounts in Gregson 1996; Nicholls 1995; North 1994; Wain 1972). Progressivism in Indian literary history is a variant of the romantic phase, which, as theorists of romanticism recognize, is linked intimately to the idea of progress. Though the age-​ old concept of romanticism is still a difficult word to define, one of its better descriptions has come recently from Duncan Wu who interprets it as ‘the unquenchable aspiration for universal betterment, the reclaiming of paradise’ (Wu 1998: xxxv). This of course is a statement on literature’s ‘progressive’ function, upheld by radical writers of all languages. Most Indian progressive writers of the 1930s and later, whether part of the Progressive Writers Association or not, were essentially romantic in temperament and were deeply influenced by western romantic writers of diverse hues. Though romanticism in its avatar as the revival and idolization of the past and the primitive could be treated as anti-​progressive, the sense in which the progressives could draw inspiration from the romantic visualizations of an improved and egalitarian world has remained undiminished. Philologically and historically, both the ‘progressive’ and the ‘romantic’, moreover, partook of the same environment of political and philosophical debate and both acquired their present associations and shades of meaning as part of this debate in the early nineteenth century. The complex history of the word ‘progressive’, as Raymond Williams

62  Under the Bhasha Gaze and others have pointed out, should be understood in the context of the new senses that words like ‘civilization’ and ‘history’—​and ‘romantic’ as well, obviously—​acquired in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though the word ‘progress’ has always been associated with a journey or a movement, as is indicated by the title of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), for example, it acquired its sense of an improved moment, the sense of a change from a somewhat uneasy state of affairs to one that could be deemed better, in the eighteenth century, when it was reduced to an impersonal, historical concept. Williams recognizes this when he notes: ‘It was the abstraction of this movement as a discoverable historical pattern that produced progress as a general idea’ (1976: 206). The shift in meaning is also bound up with its reincarnation as a term of political description, where its dynamism is opposed to the idea of a stable condition associated with conservatism. The parallel development of romanticism as a dynamic principle opposed to the more stable and stabilizing notion of classicism comes about as part of this. Current critical scholarship defines romanticism as a composite term that embodies within itself a range of sliding meanings, some of which are in contradiction to the others. The progressive, the visionary, the imaginative, the liberal, the secular, the reformist, and the nationalistic, though not mutually exclusive, are recognized worldwide as aspects of the romantic mind, which appear in theories of romanticism as universally relevant principles. There is also the possibility of considering romanticism as a precursor to literary modernism, especially in view of the fact that it constitutes crystallization in the subjective realm of the more generalized condition of modernity.3 It is in the general context outlined above that one feels compelled to acknowledge that Indian bhasha poetry written in the period of modernity cannot but follow the historical paths delineated for western poetry, whose inspiration becomes crucial for the evolution of literary history. Sisir Kumar Das’s historical account of the progress of modern Indian literature up to the mid-​1950s articulates this position thus:

3 There is a sense in which Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Walter Pater, Paul Valery, and W.B. Yeats can all be seen as rendering irrelevant the popular distinction between the romantic and the modernist sensibilities. Comparable poets from the Indian context would be Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, D.R. Bendre in Kannada, B.S. Mardhekar in Marathi, and R Ramachandran in Malayalam. See for an elaboration of this position with respect to European literature, Bayley (1957) and Kermode (1957).

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  63 There are at least two distinct phases of transition in Indian poetry from its traditional moorings to its culmination in ‘modern’. The first stage has been identified by the literary historians of different languages as ‘romantic’ and the second stage as ‘nationalistic’. [ . . . ] Both phases however coalesced in most of the languages and [were] quite often indistinguishable. (1995: 183)

As this evaluation is presented as an outcome of the analysis of the data received from twenty-​two languages across India, it should be deemed somewhat definitive. To be fair to Sisir Kumar Das, it should however be mentioned here that he is merely compiling information gathered from individual bhashas and that the analysis does not in the strict sense represent his own theoretical position on the nature of Indian poetry or its evolution in the modern period. Having no prior model of a multi-​ lingual and multi-​literary history before him, he obviously had to depend entirely on the interpretive inputs received from individual language histories. In his Preface to the volume, Das himself has made a reference to this practical difficulty (Sisir Kumar Das 1995: xv). Most Indian bhasha literatures, in short, imagine their modern histories as going through the romantic, the modernist, and the postmodernist phases in succession and talk about two major sensibility shifts taking place in the twentieth century. The first of these was around the 1950s, which arguably marked the emergence of poetic modernism, and the second in or after the 1970s, which led to the development of postmodernism. The phase prior to modernism in most Indian bhashas is generally characterized as a period of lyrical imagination, spontaneous passion, nationalistic fervour, and progressive attitudes to life, all qualities identified with European romanticism. The historical accounts of Indian modernism would like to see the poets appearing on the scene after the period of romanticism and progressivism as fighting a battle against a bygone tradition in the name of the living ethos of the present. The modernists are shown to be the initiators of a new culture of revolt against the obsolete literary forms and practices associated with the romantics and the progressives. This is a standard narrative about the development of modernism routinely reiterated in language after language, in Hindi, in Bengali, in Kannada, in Marathi, in Urdu, and other bhashas. To give just one example of such a narrative from Telugu, look at the way

64  Under the Bhasha Gaze in which poet Sri Sri, a radical exponent of new poetry in that language, is represented in one of these accounts: ‘As a romantic he revolted against the classical tradition; as a progressive, he revolted against the romantic school [and] as a revolutionary he revolted against the “progressive” establishment’ (Anjaneyulu 2014: 472). The role of imagination in the construction of collective identities—​which is an important sense connected with the concept of the social imaginary—​is often elided in these narratives. As a result, one feels compelled to revisit the earlier phases of literary history to gauge the extent of social imagining and experience what was left uncharted by official literary sensibilities. This is also the reason why after the end of modernism in the late 1970s, most Indian literary histories started talking about a massive upsurge of counter-​ modernist tendencies—​some of them covered by the expression ‘postmodernism’—​from the 1980s, which led to an unprecedented assertion of new subjectivities that sought to express hitherto unarticulated anxieties about environmental depredation, racial oppression, and social marginalization. Malayalam has kept pace with this development, which in fact is also linked to the first of the two positions taken on the evolution of modern literary history. Almost all literary histories in the language, from the earliest to the most recent, are inclined to adopt the story of modern Malayalam literature’s evolution and growth in terms of sensibility shifts represented in this narrative. The stage for this perhaps was set in some of the early literary histories written in the colonial period itself. The intervention of the social imaginary does not seem to be a matter of concern for any one of these histories. All of them are vocal articulators of the first perspective, though closer scrutiny would reveal some of them to be concealing a coded subtext that can be decoded to disclose meanings that are closer to the second perspective. An early example of this is Malayala Sahitya Charitra Samgraham (A Short History of Malayalam Literature, 1922) by P. Sankaran Nambiar, which happens to be the second literary history in Malayalam. Nambiar was an extremely perceptive literary historian and a competent scholar, one of the most rigorous critics of his generation. In the Preface (written originally in English) to the first edition of his history, Nambiar states, echoing the words of Matthew Arnold on high culture, that his book embodies ‘in a nutshell the best that has been thought and said in the much-​neglected mother-​tongue of my

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  65 native land’ (Nambiar 2001: 8). The principal account of Nambiar’s literary history reiterates much of what has been canonized by P. Govinda Pillai, the first literary historian in Malayalam, whose shortcomings in terms of chronological arrangement and historical accuracy are sought to be corrected by Nambiar.4 However, when it comes to the question of the literary philosophy that guides him in his work, he is candid enough to admit that he closely follows the method of history writing adopted by English literary historians of his time: ‘As regards the plan of my work, it is almost the same as is generally adopted by renowned writers of English literary history’ (2001: 8–​9). Nambiar does not seem to be worried about the canonical approach of Govinda Pillai, but is concerned only with the ‘correctness’ and ‘accuracy’ of the material that has gone into his predecessor’s literary history. It is quite clear that Nambiar’s interpretive skills are greater and far more sophisticated than those of Govinda Pillai, though Nambiar is modest in acknowledging the superiority of his work. He says: ‘If I have in any way been more correct and precise than Mr. Govinda Pillai of revered memory, it is because I have been able to take advantage of the years of research that have elapsed between him and me’ (Nambiar 2001: 8). However, in spite of the years of research, he does not seem to have got wise to the idea of the need to represent contemporary and living authors in literary history. As it is, Nambiar’s literary history comes to an end with a detailed consideration of Keralavarma Valiyakoyi Thampuran, the scholar poet who figured in the previous chapter as a major practitioner of nineteenth-​century prose. Chandu Menon and C.V. Raman Pillai, both pioneering novelists of the century, are only sweepingly mentioned. Potheri Kunhambu, the author of Saraswati Vijayam (1892), today regarded as a founding text of the Dalit narrative consciousness in the language, is not mentioned at all. Kumaran Asan, often described as the harbinger of romanticism in modern Malayalam poetry, also does not figure in Nambiar’s narrative. True to the presuppositions associated with the first perspective, Nambiar’s history views literature as a symbolic institution constituted by the best of what has been thought and done in the language. There is a focus on the past which is supposed to grant glory and canonical honour 4 For a discussion of the shortcomings of this history, see the chapter ‘Literary Historiography in Malayalam’ in Raveendran (2009a: 62–​73).

66  Under the Bhasha Gaze to literary works. That literature could be a living practice in the present or that it could be a representation of the everyday or that it could be an expression of the social imaginary that would help the reading community to construct an identity for its members is seldom recognized by this history. This conspicuous disdain for the present is what prompts the historian to leave out of account living writers, including Asan, who by 1922, the year of publication of Nambiar’s history, had emerged as a major and radical poetic voice in twentieth-​century Malayalam. But the present is not totally banished from the unconscious of the book’s textual narrative. It appears in its concluding chapter as a coda, so to say, where the author talks, in an obvious reference to Asan and other younger writers of his time, about the radical changes that the Malayalam poetic scene has been witnessing over the decade preceding the publication of his book, and this constitutes a virtual subtext that in effect negates the canonical perspective sought to be upheld by the main narrative: But now, over the past ten years or so, Malayalam poetry is seen to go through a process of reform. Conventions regarding subject matter, style, language, metrical pattern, the manner of treating the subject and the rhyme scheme are no longer held sacrosanct. The writers of today flout these conventions with the purpose apparently of liberating the poet from the shackles of tradition and making poetry more natural. Here, they also seem to triumph in securing their purpose. The changes that are happening to Malayalam literature today are comparable to the kind of transformations that happened to English literature in the early nineteenth century. This is aided and abetted by the new culture of English education and the writers’ increasing familiarity with English literature. (Nambiar 2001: 134)

Nambiar here names neither the writers associated with the ‘transformations that happened to English literature in the early nineteenth century’ nor the Malayalam writers of his own time who could be compared to them, but it is clear that he has the poet Kumaran Asan and his colleagues in mind when he talks about their affinities with the poets of the nineteenth century. His history was perhaps too close in time to the period of Asan, but he lived long enough to see the rudimentary sensibility change that he had anticipated in Malayala Sahitya Charitra Samgraham, almost

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  67 in spite of himself, flourish into a major literary ‘movement’ in the subsequent years. He does indeed make a note of this in one of his later essays. In a short, five-​page account of Malayalam literary history that he wrote under the title ‘Malayala Sahityam’ (Malayalam Literature), he refers to the poetry of Asan and his celebrated colleagues, Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer and Vallathol Narayana Menon, as representing a successful integration of the richness of the Malayalam literary imagination with the formal lessons learnt from British romantic poetry (Nambiar 1993: 127). Critical recognition to Asan, however, was somewhat late in coming. The significance of the literary revolution ushered in by his poetry was for long beyond the grasp of conservative critics, who misread his poems as carrying forward the neo-​classical tradition of writing practiced by authors like A.R. Rajaraja Varma. There is a notorious review of Asan’s Karuna (Compassion, 1923), in which the reviewer, P.K. Narayana Pillai, makes the absurd comparison of Asan’s innovative work with poet Ramapurath Varier’s eighteenth-​ century ‘boat song’, Kuchelavrittam Vanchippattu, and suggests that the former is written in imitation of the latter. T.K. Krishna Menon, who published a history of Malayalam literature in English in 1939, puts Asan in the company—​this might sound more absurd—​of the same P.K. Narayana Pillai and Vadakkunkur Raja Raja Varma, both of whom, though respected as accomplished scholars, are not treated as poets worth mentioning today (1939: 68–​69). Critics who did notice the formal innovation and the freshness of approach embodied in the new poetry talked about a khandakavya genre that was getting consolidated as part of the development.5 One of the earliest to talk about the change in a systematic manner was Joseph Mundasseri, whose critical interventions have played a crucial role in consolidating a romantic phase in twentieth-​century Malayalam poetry with Asan as the pivotal figure. In Mattoli (The Echo, 1943), his first attempt at critically explaining the genius of Asan’s poetry, Mundasseri reads him in comparison with his contemporaries Ulloor and Vallathol, and sheds light on Asan’s mysterious poetic power that, according to him, excels Ulloor’s 5 Khandakavya, to be distinguished from mahakavya, is a poem of medium length that deals with an episode in a person’s life or a fragment of life. Though the fourteenth-​century Sanskrit poetic theorist Viswanatha has used this term in his Sahityadarpana, khandakavya is not a standard literary form sanctioned by ancient Indian poetics. There are no models to follow for an ideal khandakavya in Sanskrit poetry.

68  Under the Bhasha Gaze felicity of diction and Vallathol’s image-​making skills. Mundasseri was also the first to speak at length about Asan’s radicalism. In an essay that was later included in Manushyakathanugayikal (Bards of the Human Tale, 1967), Mundasseri describes Asan as the ‘lodestar’ of social revolution, thus providing a progressivist twist to the poet’s romantic bent. Asan’s poetic call for comprehensive social change is particularly taken note of by Mundasseri’s essay (Mundasseri 2004: 167, 171). Looking in retrospect at the situation of Malayalam poetry in the early twentieth century, one might be compelled to observe today that the identification of Asan as a poet comparable to the British romantics might have been a radical step to take for the literary scholar of the 1920s and 1930s. However, viewed from the larger perspective of Indian literary history, this identification cannot be described as wholly salubrious, especially when one undertakes to assess the poetic merit of a complex Indian artist, whose genius can in no way be reduced to the characteristics of European romanticism. This unfortunately was what literary history had in store for Asan, whose poetic genius cannot be separated either from the traditions of Indian philosophy that he had internalized from his mentor Narayana Guru, or from the Sanskrit poetic culture that he had assimilated through his reading of the ancient Indian classics and who, apart from writing poetry, was also immersed actively in the social reformist work of his day. Though Asan’s public image was an extension of his image as a poet, his critics invariably viewed him as a subjectively oriented romantic, who, like Keats, Shelley, and Byron before him, allowed his political persona to be collapsed into a vaguely conceived cosmic poetic vision. This had the deleterious effect of limiting the political dimension of Asan’s irrefutable imaginative powers. Even Mundasseri, who as a critic was deeply sensitive to the socio-​political dimension of imaginative writing, was inclined to regard him, for all his complexities, as a direct scion of British romanticism. In a comprehensive study of Asan’s poetry that he wrote towards the end of his life, Mundasseri sums up his general assessment of Asan in the following words: ‘All of Asan’s characters from Nalini onwards possess these romantic traits. Only the themes differ in individual works. All of them are subject to the virtues and limitations of their English counterparts’ (quoted in Govindan 2014: 207; trans. A. Radhakrishnan). To come back to the two competing positions on literary history outlined, Mundasseri’s remark in fact is to be viewed as a literary historical

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  69 statement made from the first position. But this statement, significant as it is in the canonical installation of Asan, does not exhaust the creative potential of Asan’s poetic genius. Mundasseri, the resourceful critic who is aware of the role of the social imaginary in the production of poetic effect, recognizes this, and that is why after referring to Asan’s limitations arising from his British romantic connection, he adds as an afterthought, and almost as an articulation of his own unconscious: ‘If, on account of these limitations, we consider Asan’s heroes and heroines as distorted characters who have little in common with the normal human beings, and if we reckon their feelings as alien to the human character, we will be committing a great injustice to the poet’s imagination’ (Govindan 2014: 207). In fact, a close reading of Asan’s major works such as Nalini (1911), Leela (1914), Chintavishtayaya Sita (Sita Immersed in Thought, 1919), Duravastha (The Tragic Plight, 1922), and Karuna (Compassion, 1923) would reveal the poet to be extending his vision to areas and experiences that cannot be grasped by the limited idiom of British romantic poetry. Describing Asan as a romantic would certainly help one to talk critically about certain aspects of his new writing, part of which indeed must have been inspired by his reading of the British romantics. But there is a poetic and experiential surplus in Asan’s poetry, ineffable and ungraspable, which cannot be explained in terms of the romantic mindset. P. Pavithran, a critic of the present generation who interprets the poet with the help of Lacan’s theories, points to this surplus when he refers to Asan’s regional and subaltern roots that eclipse the western impact on his poetry (2002: 254). This surplus is what makes the writings in Indian bhashas uniquely Indian. One might perhaps take a look at Asan’s poetic reinterpretation of the Ramayana story in Chintavishtayaya Sita to see how this surplus drives the poet to focus on the character of Sita, the much-​wronged consort of mythical Rama who, in contrast to her general depiction as a pious and devout woman, grows in Asan’s poem into an icon of female anger against gender violence. In the early twentieth century, this surplus was sometimes highlighted as an important feature of the progressive literature in bhashas. This certainly has been the case with Malayalam, where progressive literature invariably articulated the miseries, dreams, and desires of the depressed classes. Literary historians of the time seem generally to have been blind to this surplus, though Sankaran Nambiar did talk about it in some of

70  Under the Bhasha Gaze his essays. One such essay where he links Asan to progressive literature is particularly interesting in this context. At a time when writers with Marxist leanings alone wrote in praise of progressive literature, here is Nambiar, a liberal-​minded critic, choosing to write a scholarly piece on it under the title ‘Jeeval Sahityam’, which provides an informed overview and critical appreciation of the literary landscape that emerges in the wake of the new poetry of Asan. Nambiar defines progressive literature as ‘forward-​looking’ (‘mun nokki’), the kind of writing which brings into the ambit of literary scrutiny the events of the everyday and the concerns of the present, in place of the themes and concerns of the past that traditional literature often chose to celebrate (Nambiar 1993: 26). But what makes Nambiar’s essay unique is his critical far-​sightedness that permitted him to see the caste, class, and gender concerns that arguably were being successfully articulated by progressive literature. The repressed unconscious of literary histories mentioned earlier comes out into the open in the following words of Nambiar: Progressive literature is more about caste than about a person. It is not the individual who matters in it, but the class to which he belongs. The progressive writer’s sympathies are for the common man who suffers under the step-​motherly treatment of a cruel mother nature [ . . . ]. In these matters, one possibly can see some relation between the history of literature and the history of women [ . . . ]. Today’s woman does not run away from life’s realities. She faces life boldly, fights it and finds a solution to its problems. This is true of ‘kavyangana’ [poetry imagined as a woman] as well. (Nambiar 1993: 27–​29)

Described above are the contradictions and incongruities one might encounter while working on an outwardly seamless and self-​enclosed romantic-​progressive phase in modern Malayalam poetry. This is true of the modernist phase too, which is equally riddled with conflicts. In the histories of M. Leelavathy and D. Benjamin, poetic modernism appears as a phase that lies sandwiched between romanticism and postmodernism. Both writers devote a chapter each to the modernists in their respective histories and repeat the general story of a new generation of writers reacting against the outdated practices of the previous generation to give rise to a new movement (Leelavathy 2002: 370–​501; Benjamin

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  71 1998: 66–​88). Though the poetic scene of the 1950s–​1960s represents a confluence of currents drawn from diverse sources, the modernist domination of the scene in the later years is seen as almost complete. Poets like N.N. Kakkad, Ayyappa Paniker, Akkitham Achutan Nampoothiri, Attoor Ravivarma, and Madhavan Ayyappath are the key participants in the new development. These poets brought about a new sensibility that arguably was formalist, anti-​romantic, aesthetically intense, and highly intellectualized. These perhaps are the characteristic traits of literary modernism in general and, as suggested by K.P. Appan, one of the major advocates of modernism in Malayalam, these characteristics also led to the creation of ‘a new style of art’ that turned modernist literature into a distinctive discourse (Appan 2000: 70). It however didn’t take long for the readers to get frustrated with this new style. Ayyappa Paniker, an architect of modernist poetry, was also one of the earliest to announce the demise of poetic modernism in Malayalam. An essay published in 1979 opens with the following unambiguous statement: The most important fact concerning present-​day Malayalam poetry is that the modernist verse which arose in the 1950s in the post-​ Independence world from the ashes of the romantic-​ progressive movement, and which became a major force in the 1960s and guided the poetry of the 1970s, has fulfilled its historic duties. It is now transforming itself into the postmodernist verse that has taken birth in the closing years of the 1970s and is anticipating a large role for itself in the 1980s. (Paniker 1985: 140)

This crisp summation of the artistic activities of an entire period—​in the Malayalam original, it is a single, long sentence—​is literary history narrated from the first perspective, compressed into a few words. The words however can be said to subsume within themselves a plethora of questions—​literary, historical, and literary historical—​that can render its transparency problematic and sow the seeds for the germination of the second perspective. For one thing, though Paniker himself is often regarded as an important formulator, successively, of the modernist and the postmodernist sensibilities in Malayalam at different stages of his life, one cannot overlook the perennial influence of the romantic culture in the making of his poetic personality. If one is not keen on seeing this

72  Under the Bhasha Gaze development as a case of linear evolution, one might even consider the romantic in him to be equivalent to the indigenous ‘surplus’ that we noticed in Asan, and which surfaces periodically in Paniker’s own poetry. In an essay (‘Why Write’) written in the early 1990s on why he wrote poetry, Paniker makes a statement that can be interpreted as deeply romantic in import: ‘There is an element of vagueness about all works of art. Even in the appreciation of art there might be elements that one cannot fully understand and share with another’ (Paniker 2005: 279). Paniker’s life-​long fascination for such Malayalam romantics as Changampuzha Krishna Pillai and Edappalli Raghavan Pillai has often been commented upon. Though Leelavathy proclaims that Paniker’s poetry of the 1950s was essentially romantic in spirit and that the sensibility shift attributed to him comes only later (Leelavathy 2002: 374), one might also argue that the spirit of romanticism is all-​pervasive in Paniker’s work and that it would be unrealistic to regard his modernism as something that is opposed to the fundamental romantic element in poetic creativity. Paniker’s admiration for the musical element in poetry, for example, is a romantic trait continuing into his postromantic or modernist phase (Paniker 1982: 35). Leelavathy herself, it is useful to remember, is inclined to regard modernism in Malayalam as an ‘afterglow’ of romantic poetry (2002: 370). Two significant questions that one might raise in connection with the conceptual world surrounding literary histories pertain, first, to the idea of progress, and second, to the problem of dealing with writers like Ayyappa Paniker who could be described as ‘maverick’. Though descriptions of the romantic phase loom large in most literary histories, the concept of progress does not seem to have received proper analysis in any one of them. Progressive writing to be sure is documented, but most literary histories share an inherent bias against this literature, which is often regarded as non-​art.6 One reason for this perhaps is the fact that most literary histories of the post-​1960s era are produced from the point of view of artistic modernism, which considered progressive writing to 6 Leelavathy’s history does not discuss the question of progressive writing per se, though she discusses poets such as Vayalar Ramavarma, P. Bhaskaran, and O.N.V. Kurup, generally regarded as progressive poets, along with a few others who cannot be easily classified, in a separate chapter. Benjamin’s history (1998) discusses these poets in the chapter titled ‘Arunayugavum Yatharthyabodhavum’ (The Pink Era and the Sense of Reality).

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  73 be built on the false opposition between art and life. Progressive literature, obsessed as it was with the life of the depressed classes, in this view, never cared for the autonomy of art. The organic connection between the romantic temperament and the idea of progress is never sought to be elaborated in the discussions on progressive literature carried out in Malayalam literary histories. As pointed out above, there indeed is a relation between progress and the theory of romanticism on the one hand, and progress and modernity on the other. Duncan Wu seems to recognize this two-​fold relation when he, after naming ‘the unquenchable aspiration for universal betterment’ (a euphemism for progress, one might add) as the most distinctive trait of romanticism, goes on to explain its significance for the age of modernity: Today, when the world seems so inexorably drawn to global destruction of various kinds, such hopes may seem ludicrous. But two hundred years ago, when the world was gripped for what seemed like, for the first time, by successive revolutions in America, in France and even South America, it was possible to believe, just for a brief period, that improvement, both on the physical and spiritual planes, could be made real. (Wu 1998: xxxv)

Progress, in other words, is to be understood as ‘improvement’ on ‘the physical and spiritual planes’. This romantic idea of progress seems to have resonated particularly well with the Indian mind of the 1930s and later. The Indian Progressive Writers Association, which embraced a broad spectrum of society, was a direct outcome of this resonance. It was a broad platform of writers and intellectuals—​Gandhians, liberals, and Marxists—​who were held together by their opposition to orthodoxy and a common interest in the values of modernity. There was an inherent pluralism in its ideological composition at the national level, where it was able to reshape the idea of progress as an important aspect of social re-​organization with a pronounced thrust on a possible alternative to colonial modernity. This apparently was what Sankaran Nambiar was suggesting when he referred to caste, class, and gender issues as receiving a new visibility in progressive literature. One might argue that it is this romantic connection with progress as a desirable idea that persisted in literary modernism, especially in the Malayalam modernist poetry of the

74  Under the Bhasha Gaze 1970s, when literature underwent a massive process of political radicalization in the hands of poets like Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan (1935–​ 2008), D. Vinayachandran (1946–​2013), K. Satchidanandan (b. 1946), and K.G. Sankara Pillai (b. 1948). The absurdity of imagining literary history as a succession of self-​ enclosed movements cut off from the social imaginary is brought into closer focus by the presence in literary history of maverick writers who defy easy classification. Malayalam has a substantial number of poets in the last century who cannot be classed either with the romantics or with the modernists. This, needless to say, betrays the unreal or inadequate nature of the frame of reference used by the historian that excludes several important poets from its ambit. The literary historical practice of naming them without classifying them, a practice that Leelavathy perfects in her history, is one easy way of dealing with this problem. Edasseri Govindan Nair, Vailoppilly Sreedhara Menon, N.V. Krishna Warrior, R. Ramachandran, and M. Govindan, who all figure prominently in Chapter 14 of Leelavathy’s history, are among the poets who came to maturity at the time when the ‘spirit’ of romanticism was at its peak, but chose to stay clear of its shadow. None of them can be said to have sought its shelter, although their poetry in individual ways was shaped and moulded both by the vast and heterogeneous culture of Malayalam’s traditional lore as well as by the colonial cultural resources that came to them through modern education. The ‘surplus’ that we noticed in Asan seems to have been the standard substance in them, and this makes each of them a class by himself. Leelavathy is at a loss to decide where to place them. It is this uncertainty that forces her to state that M. Govindan belongs to modernism in thought and to romanticism in poetic sensibility (2002: 317), that Vailoppilly’s poetry moves spontaneously from romanticism to realism with great ease (2002: 301), and that Edasseri’s poetry represents a confluence of diverse cultures (2002: 295). Poet O.N.V. Kurup is bewildered by the fact that Changampuzha and Vailoppilly, hailing from adjacent villages and born in the same year into families of comparable social standing, could be so widely apart from each other in matters pertaining to literary taste and poetic culture (Kurup 2010: 15–​ 16). The two poets, according to Kurup, traverse parallel lines of poetic experience. Though the romantic enthusiast in Kurup would have us believe that the two poets represent two divergent aspects of romanticism,

The Literary Process and the Social Imaginary  75 it is clear from his account of Vailoppilly that he considers the latter to be unique in his poetic practice. It is the unconscious in literary history that speaks through Kurup when he defines Vailoppilly’s poetry as ‘poetry that is inconclusive’, though by the end of his narrative, he expands the phrase and makes it embrace all great poets. Referring to the new significance that each succeeding generation discovers in Vailoppilly, Kurup says: ‘This inconclusive poetry dissolves into the cultural essence of a people. Here poetry is in dialogue with infinite time, and will continue to do so as long as the rivers flow and the mountain peaks hold their heads high’ (Kurup 2010: 71). Here indeed is the literary historian’s attempt to canonize a writer who cannot be pigeonholed into received categories of literary culture, but there is also an unconscious recognition of the social imaginary as a dynamic force that works through poets and artists to shape the cultural identity of a people.

5 Translation and Literary History That translation is an activity related to modernity has been a truism shared by literary scholars for about a hundred years now, at least from the days of Walter Benjamin’s classic 1923 essay, ‘The Task of the Translator’. Benjamin’s essay to be sure does not say that translation has links with modernity, but it does open up, with its elaborations on ‘afterlife’ and ‘translatability’, a space of possibilities where translation, till then considered an unhistorical activity, shakes hands with the historical event of modernity. The connection is made not on the ground that translation is a modern discipline—​we know that it is as old as literature. It arises primarily from the fact that translation from one language into another is not a matter concerning the transaction of ideas and words from the dictionary, but is expressive of the vital dynamics of history. In the course of mapping the vast theoretical terrain of translation, Benjamin says: ‘The history of the great works of art tells us about their antecedents, their realization in the age of the artist, their potentially eternal afterlife in succeeding generations’ (1973: 71). Modernity and translation, one might add, are further united because of the universalizing mission implied by the two concepts. There is also a metaphorical angle to the relationship, though Benjamin’s thesis may not support arguments that posit translation as a metaphor for modernity. True, it is translation’s structural connection with modernity, its ‘carrying-​across-​cultures’ role that enables it to discharge its function as an effective vehicle for the values of modernity. This has proved to be important in most Indian bhashas in the nineteenth century when translation acted as a conduit for the values of colonial modernity to travel to India. To see this, one need only examine modernity’s strong links with Indology, a domain of knowledge organized by European scholars in the colonial period, as well as with the early novels published in Indian bhashas, both of which can be interpreted as extensions of the practice of translation. Indian writers of the nineteenth Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0006

Translation and Literary History  77 century, to follow this argument, were merely rewriting western modernity in the language of the colonized. So were the European scholars writing on India, many of them translators of Indian works who, in a related move, were reading the values of colonial modernity into the Oriental classics. Equally significant is the epistemological connection between modernity and translation. Modernity, as present-​ day social theorists acknowledge, cannot be regarded as an indisputably liberating phenomenon, but is only equivocally so in given societies. Indeed it has acted in certain historical locations as an oppressive agency of the dominant classes in excluding from the social milieu the experience of the marginalized segments. This aspect has been analysed with reference to the social and political developments in India by several Marxist, feminist, Dalit, Subaltern Studies, and post-​structuralist scholars (e.g., see some of the essays in Guha 1997; Panikkar 1995). Here it is also important to point out that modernity’s cultural tyranny has worked through a hegemonic discourse that seeks to distinguish truth from falsehood. Modernity’s epistemological connection with translation becomes more apparent when one remembers that translation has always been looked upon as an enterprise concerning truth. All translators aim at the truthful reproduction of an original text preceding the act of translation. Fidelity to the original has also been a time-​honoured concept in translation theories. The truth-​claims made on behalf of translation are perhaps what make it modernity’s treasured form of cultural representation. One might look at the practice of representation, especially in the context of translation, in one of two ways. The first is the popular and conventional way of treating representation as an activity involving the cardinal principles of the author, the work, and the world, around which contemporary criticism has developed its mythology of aesthetic experience. The second, alternative, way is to invoke the notion of textuality in which the written work is understood in a more rigorous and dynamic manner as the product of reading that entails a demystification of the interrelationship between the author, the work, and the world.1 The concept of the 1 This is a familiar position taken in contemporary literary studies. For basics, one might look at one of the following texts: Said (1983) and Belsey (1980). Niranjana (1995) is a work that reviews some of these problems in relation to the translation scene in India.

78  Under the Bhasha Gaze social imaginary that we appealed to in Chapter 4 could in some sense be regarded as providing a key to this act of demystification. Both approaches are supported by well-​formulated epistemologies and both have implications for comprehending the relation between a literary work and its meaning, though one might state in a general way that while the first approach regards literature as a private, asocial activity alienated from the public and material culture, the second approach is one that promotes a historically significant understanding of literature as a practice that produces collective identities. As representational practices, one might be able to discover several levels of correspondence between literature and translation in the age of modernity. As already noted, the dominant presence in nineteenth-​ century prenovelistic narratives of a large number of translated texts in all Indian bhashas is an indication of this. At the heart of this correspondence is the fact that while literature could be imagined as an act of writing modernity for the colonized, translation could, by the same token, be regarded as an act of rewriting it. Literature and translation both implied a number of interconnected activities for the premodern reader, and rewriting was one significant practice that bhasha scholars were adept at, whether they recognized it as literary activity or as translation activity. From a theoretically informed perspective, both literature and translation referred in the past to a range of functions connected with literacy, reading, and writing. As for translation, its implied functions started from simple transliteration to the most complicated interpretive acts. Between these two extremes, one might place a whole gamut of activities including commentary, adaptation, rewriting, and so on as connoting the semantic habitat of the term. If one were inclined to include translation’s metaphorical extensions too in the inventory of the word’s possible meanings, one might get a longer list of activities involving transfer of material from one medium into another, like, for example, the dramatic/​ cinematic adaptation of a novel or, even, the articulation in language of an idea that has occurred to the speaking subject only in the form, let us say, of a ‘brain-​wave’. An interesting aspect of these activities, all of which involve some form of rewriting, is that they all partake of an element of falsification. Cultural production in the ultimate analysis is a form of symbolic exchange that inserts literary texts—​and this includes translated texts—​into a network

Translation and Literary History  79 of social practices. Distortion and falsification are built into this exchange. This falsification is not to be judged negatively. The word ‘falsification’ itself carries with it the baggage of the culture of ‘truth-​telling’ that has been integral to the western history of translation. The falsification associated with translation in this context is to be judged positively as a manifestation of the intervention of imagination in the activity of rewriting. This is especially relevant in a discussion of the practice of translation in premodern India, as the translation traditions in Indian bhashas never looked upon translation as an activity concerned with the transmission of an original truth. This is proved by the presence in most Indian bhashas of distinct versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, each of which deviates radically from the Valmiki and Vyasa ‘originals’. Even from the period before the proliferation of modern Indian bhashas in the second millennium of the Common Era, one could mention, for example, two Jain adaptations of the Ramayana, one under the title Pauma-​chariya by Vimala Suri from the fourth-​century Prakrit, and the other titled Pauma-​ chariyu by Swayambhu from the eighth-​century Apabhramsa. Both versions are anti-​Brahminic in spirit and contain variations from the ‘true’ story as narrated by Valmiki. ‘Truth’, if at all one wanted to use that word with reference to the textually constructed idea that was handed down across cultures and generations through history, was something that changed shape as it moved from commentary to commentary, from an earlier text to a later one, from the original to its translation. If the notion of fidelity were to be applied to the Indian traditions of translation, one might, with a degree of exaggeration and paraphrasing Jorge-​Luis Borges, say that it was more a case of the original trying to be faithful to the translation rather than the translation trying to be faithful to the original.2 Even a casual reading of the literature of premodern Kerala would illustrate that right from its inception the tradition of literary writing in Malayalam has been constituted entirely by what today we would describe as translated texts.3 Since these texts never thought of themselves as translations, the question of fidelity to the original never arose. As an example, one might take a look at the twelfth-​century work Ramacharitam, one of 2 This idea, described by Borges as an expression of ‘creative infidelity’, is repeated in several of his works. See, for example, the essay ‘Kafka and His Precursors’ in Borges (1999). 3 For an excellent survey in English of the state of Malayalam literature in the premodern period, see K. Ramachandran Nair (1997).

80  Under the Bhasha Gaze the earliest ‘literary’ texts in Malayalam, which belongs to what is known as the Pattu tradition in premodern poetry. The author of this work is Chiraman, identified as King Vira Rama Varma of Venad, who lived in the latter half of the twelfth century. Ramacharitam is a rewriting of the ‘Yuddha Kanda’ of Valmiki’s Ramayana. The rewriting has been undertaken apparently to instil courage and confidence in the King’s soldiers during the days of combat. The style followed is one that suits its purpose, and the author does not feel compelled to make any apology for his conscious deviation from the form and matter of the original. Another work from the same century belonging to the alternative tradition of Manipravalam is Vaisikatantram, an anonymous treatise written in the tradition of poet Damodara Gupta’s eighth-​century work in Sanskrit titled Kuttanimata. Given the fact that Vaisikatantram is a kind of manual on the art and craft of a courtesan, the work could be regarded as a rewriting of its Sanskrit original. Both Kuttanimata and Vaisikatantram are constructed in the form of professional advice given by an elderly courtesan to her young daughter who is newly entering the profession. If the author of Vaisikatantram does not consider it necessary to mention the work’s filial connection with Kuttanimata, it only proves that concepts like literature and translation connoted different things for the readers of the twelfth century and the twenty-​first century. There are a large number of other similar texts from the premodern period, which fall in the border-​country between literature and translation, with reference to which no one ever thought of raising the question of the later work’s fidelity to the original. Even in the case of patently ‘non-​literary’ works such as Bhashakautaliyam, the twelfth-​century interpretive rendering in prose of Kautilya’s Arthasastra, this does not seem to have been a significant question worth raising in scholarly debates. Unnuneelisandesam, a fourteenth-​century rewriting of Kalidasa’s Meghasandesa retold from a Kerala setting and Brahmandapuranam Gadyam, an abridged fourteenth-​ century prose adaptation of the Sanskrit purana of the same name, are both instances of translation, but no reader of the premodern times was unduly obsessed with an original truth that gets distorted in translation. Some of these works have indeed been assimilated into the tradition of literary writing and have, as in the case of Unnuneelisandesham, acted as models for subsequent literary creations. One might, on the basis of this, suggest that the idea of literature

Translation and Literary History  81 in premodern Kerala must have been broad enough to encompass the practice of rewriting as an integral and legitimate component of creative expression. This is further corroborated by the work of the Niranam or Kannassa poets of the fifteenth century and of Ezhuthachan of the sixteenth century. Though the Niranam poets conformed broadly to the Pattu tradition starting from Ramacharitam, one might perceive in them a fruitful attempt to integrate the positive aspects of the Manipravalam mode into their writing. It is this integrative approach that characterizes the rewriting of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Mahabhagavata carried out by Rama Panikkar, Madhava Panikkar, and Shankara Panikkar who together form the Niranam group of poets. Madhava Panikkar’s rewriting of the Bhagavad Gita was a condensed version of the Sanskrit original and was, apparently, not regarded by premodern readers as less ‘literary’ because of its derivative thematic content. So were Shankara Panikkar’s Bharatamala, a compressed version of Vyasa’s epic, and Rama Panikkar’s rewriting of the Mahabhagavata. The premodern readers would certainly have found each of these works to be extensions of the poet’s imagination, a function of the language as social praxis, the intervention of which allowed the works to be distinguished from their respective originals. It was the works’ existence as the discourse of imagination that redeemed them from the realm both of pragmatic reason and of private experience and transformed them into articulations of the social imaginary. Poet Ezhuthachan’s rewritings of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata between them represent Malayalam literature’s early, perhaps the first important, attempt at synthesizing the idea of literature with the practice of translation under the power of poetic imagination. It is this aspect of Ezhuthachan’s work that transforms his Ramayanam into a reproduction of the imaginative ‘surplus’ that he contributed to Adhytma Ramayana, its fourteenth-​century original, which in itself is not valued highly as an artwork. In terms of literary merit and canonical status, Adhytma Ramayana is no match for Valmiki’s great epic. What distinguishes it from Valmiki’s Ramayana is the quality of bhakti that it embodies. Adhytma Ramayana in Sanskrit is an anonymously written work whose only claim to recognition rests on the fact that it presents Rama as a god. It is a propagandist work whose sole function is to inculcate the spirit of devotion for Rama among its readers. What Ezhuthachan does is to rewrite this work after

82  Under the Bhasha Gaze recapturing the ‘surplus’ it implies and transform it into a major statement on bhakti, which at that time constituted the culture and lifestyle of the common people. Bhakti was the living ideology of the common man that sustained him and provided him with hope in a hopelessly hostile world. Ezhuthachan’s version of the epic, known as Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipattu, depicts both hope and hopelessness in the spiritual future of man. It is devotional poetry of a rare order. In rewriting its little known original, Ezhuthachan’s creative imagination elevates a minor poem into a great artwork, and propels it as the centrepiece of the Malayalam bhakti tradition. Along with his Mahabharatam Kilipattu, Ezhuthachan’s Adhyatma Ramayanam served to unify the people of Kerala at the level of subjective experience, and provided, for the first time, a model of writing that could through poetic imagination bring about emotional and psychological unity among them. The two works proved, and proved for the first time, that literature could be simultaneously public and unifying, popular and imaginative. One inevitable inference that we might draw from the foregoing discussion of the state of medieval Malayalam writing would be that imaginative literature was never a private experience cut off from social life for the premodern reader. However, things did not remain so for long, especially after the advent of colonialism and modernity in the next few centuries. There is reason to believe that the development in Indian bhashas of the idea of literature as a private experience alienated from material culture was but the natural culmination of the progress of the colonial literary ideology that from the very beginning wanted the discourse of imagination to be kept separate from the discourse of reason. This was discussed in detail in the previous chapters, making references to the early literary publications that arose in Malayalam as a result of the colonial contact. Here it is pertinent to revisit one of those publications: the bilingual journal Vidyasamgraham published from Kottayam. The most interesting point about the articles published in the eight issues of this magazine, as already pointed out, is that they are all in one way or the other illustrations of the language of rationality that gained currency in Kerala in the modern period. Even a casual perusal of some of the Vidyasamgraham articles would reveal that, in spite of the journal’s apparently multi-​disciplinary thrust, most of them argued ultimately for a rational and scientific attitude to things. This is what accounts for the

Translation and Literary History  83 large presence of contributions discussing such inventions as the steam engine, the telephone, and the telegraph, as well as other scientific topics that are linked directly with advances in modern technology. Along with these, the journal also carried essays on ethics and religion, which too were deviously connected to a science-​oriented approach. Ethics and religion, accordingly, articulated attitudes that the colonial scholars like James Mackintosh described as inherent to the ‘science of administration’ (Sangari 1999: 126). Even specimens of the literature of the time, such as the translations of Catherine Hannah Mullens’s Bengali novel, Phulmoni o Korunar Biboron (The History of Phulmoni and Koruna, 1852), and Mrs. Collins’s English novel, The Slayer Slain (1859), spoke not in the idiom of imaginative writing but in the moralizing language of ethics and religion. To take a closer look at one of these works, Phulmoni o Korunar Biboron is sometimes regarded as the first novel to appear in any Indian language.4 Catherine Hannah Mullens, the author of this work, was a Christian missionary whose purpose in writing the novel was to use it as a medium to spread the values of Christian morality and lifestyle among the masses, the same ideals that inspired the composition and translation of the articles on ethics and science appearing in the pages of Vidyasamgraham. The language of crude reason bereft of any ‘aesthetic’ content is the most visible aspect of this novel. What one would note here is the total lack of appreciation for the emotional and subjective side of human experience. There are no cultural tensions or psychic traumas expressed in this straight narrative that does not even pretend to be connected with imaginative writing. It is quite vocal about its moral purpose, which is emphasized by its subtitle in the Malayalam version: ‘An interesting history written by an English woman that women in India might find useful’. There is an explicit moral message that the novel carries for modern Indian women. It is this: If they agree to fashion their life and culture in an orderly and disciplined way, following the ethical and religious principles laid down in the texts associated with Christianity, they 4 This Bengali novel, first published in 1852, was translated into English and several other Indian bhashas. The English translation (The History of Phulmoni and Koruna) came a year after its original publication. The other languages into which it was translated soon after its publication were Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, and Asamiya. The title of the Malayalam translation is Phulmoni Eennum Koruna Ennum Peraya Randu Streekalude Katha. The Malayalam version went out of print after its first publication in 1858. Meenakshi Mukherjee regards Phulmoni as the first novel to be written in any Indian language (Mukherjee 1981: 65).

84  Under the Bhasha Gaze can hope to be salvaged from the miseries of the world. This is what they can learn from the life of Phulmoni, the good woman in the novel. On the other hand, if they stray from the path of Christianity and forget the ethical values it upholds, like Koruna the bad woman, they will be doomed forever. Literature in this setting is not a form of writing that appeals to the principles of aesthetics, but is a pragmatic discourse that can only be comprehended in the language of reason. In the colonial modernity’s scheme of things, the literary culture in India apparently is not yet mature to aspire to the values connected with aesthetic refinement. The creative tension perceptible in Indulekha (1889), the novel that comes at the end of a series of pre-​novelistic writings starting from Phulmoni and The Slayer Slain (Ghatakavadham) is an outcome of this contradiction. Together with other narratives pre-​dating Indulekha such as Kalloor Ummen Philipose’s Aalmaaraattam (1866), Archdeacon Koshy’s Pulleli Kunju (1882), and Appu Nedungadi’s Kundalata (1887), these are at times referred to as the early novels in the language, which would also include the prose adaptations of several Shakespeare plays composed during the period by such scholars as Chidambara Vadhyar and Ramavarma Ayilyam Tirunal. Though some of these adaptations come under the purview of rewriting described above, the concern with fidelity to the original that informed such works would preclude them from being classified with the premodern enterprise of translation-​as-​rewriting. This is a question that cannot be analysed here in detail. All that can be said at this point is that the logic of the opposition between prose and verse, which has been played out in great detail in the era of modernity, is not to be treated as a superficial matter connected with the generic preference of the readers of a historical period, but is to be regarded as symptomatic of the ideology of a community that promoted the discourse of rationality and the concept of translation as truth telling. Translations, in this view, can be either successful or unsuccessful, and an unsuccessful translation is one in which the truth has not been told, one which has not been able to preserve the spirit of the original. Even Chandu Menon, as he claims, ventures into the business of novel writing after trying ‘unsuccessfully’ to translate some of his preferred English novels (2014: 7). In writing Indulekha, then, Chandu Menon’s object was to translate colonial modernity into Malayalam in a critical context where it was

Translation and Literary History  85 difficult to disentangle his self from the matrix of interconnected ideas such as education, reform, ethics, and science, all ideas connected with the business of truth telling. The matrix, prosaic in form and with no convolutions that mark the language of poetry, was integral to the ideology of colonialism. One can translate this matrix with the same ease that one may have in translating an essay on popular science. Chandu Menon’s remark on the statement of a learned friend on Malayalam’s prevailing need for books on science as contrasted with fictional works has already been touched upon. The statement corresponds with the general tone of colonial modernity, which, in the Indian context, puts a premium on the discourse of reason at the expense of the language of imagination. Most modern Malayalam narratives published prior to Indulekha, as we have seen, were merely attempts at translating the ethics of colonial reason into the culture of the colonized. Though full of internal contradictions, one might consider Indulekha as embodying Indian modernity’s pioneering effort to recapture an indigenous aesthetic and the culture of imagination, long overshadowed by colonial modernity’s ethics of reason. Chandu Menon’s appeal to ‘true taste’ made after quoting Alexander Pope’s verse on the divine origin of true literary response goes to prove this (Chandu Menon 2014: 14). It is at this conjunction of changing sensibilities that Indulekha locates itself. It was an ambivalent novel that both expressed and suppressed the discursive thrust of the age that generated it. As was pointed out in Chapter 1, Indulekha partook of the scientific and moralizing temper of the times, epitomized by the Vidyasamgraham essays and the Phulmoni narrative. The novel, in other words, was an expression of the pragmatic ethics of scientific reason that colonial modernity sought to enrich. Simultaneously, it also represented a clear departure from this ethics in that it articulated its author’s obsession with aesthetic appeal and ‘true’ taste. Chandu Menon’s experience with translating modernity must have allowed him to see that it was not an exercise concerned with the representation of the truth and reality of a superficial kind. Literature, after all, was not a matter of truth alone but was also something that answered people’s deeper, emotional needs. This comes as a new insight to Chandu Menon, who summarizes its details in the introduction to the first edition of his novel in the form of a brief narrative on his experiments with translation and novel writing. That a novel should emerge organically

86  Under the Bhasha Gaze from the life-​world of a people and that the translation of a novel involved more than paraphrasing its thematic content are seminal aspects of this insight that neither the theories of translation nor the edicts of literary historiography in the language have since then found easy to ignore.5

5 According to Chandu Menon, a literal translation of erotic scenes from English into Malayalam may not elicit the right response from Malayali readers. Such depictions may not be appropriate or beautiful, he says (Chandu Menon 2014: 8).

6 Decolonizing Translation The precolonial history of the translation practice in India and translation’s tryst with modernity and colonialism in the nineteenth century were examined in detail in the previous chapter. Indian translation’s subsequent journey, its twentieth-​century ramifications, and its interaction with new developments in literary history, will be discussed in the present chapter. Though we are looking specifically at the Malayalam literary culture, the scenario can be described as representing the overall situation in Indian bhashas where translation’s colonial ethnographic connection is held in balance with literature’s decolonizing urge. By inserting translation into the conceptual framework of literary decolonization, our analysis shall move towards the reconstruction of a ‘historical poetics’ for modern Indian bhashas.1 Even as one is sensitive to the subtle and not-​so-​subtle ways in which the international culture of today, directed as it is by global capital, continues to wield ideological power over the non-​western world, one might possibly look upon the translations of works from the non-​English languages undertaken in the Indian bhashas in the twentieth century as epitomizing the attempt to decolonize culturally from the West. Translation’s colonial ethnographic connection has been subjected to close critical scrutiny by translation theorists and social thinkers alike (see, e.g., Asad 1988; Clifford 1988; Niranjana 1995). Theorists taking after Said’s Orientalism (1978) specifically talk about this connection, but one might come across similar arguments in contemporary debates on translation in general, and more particularly in post-​structuralist formulations of literary translation. The scholars participating in these debates have unearthed the covert ways in which European societies use translation 1 The term ‘historical poetics’ is from Mikhail Bakhtin, whose most important theorization of this concept is provided in the essay ‘Forms of Time and the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetics’ (Bakhtin 1981). Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0007

88  Under the Bhasha Gaze to exercise hegemony over the postcolonial world. Translations of works from western into Indian languages, both pre-​Independence and post-​ Independence, according to this logic, are to be viewed as illustrations of the colonial culture’s attempted control over the colonized or ex-​ colonized cultures. There indeed is a strong case for considering the late eighteenth-​and nineteenth-​century Orientalist translations of Indian classics as invisible exercises of power through unintended manipulation of knowledge. However, one might also consider the obverse of this, that is, the ideological service rendered by translations of European—​ especially non-​ British—​ literary works into Indian languages in the present era, to be worth examining from a different angle. Can we read these works as expressions of the decolonizing spirit at work in Indian bhasha writers? This is a complicated question, which for a proper answer demands a more thoroughgoing untangling of the relationship between literary history and the dynamics of translation. It is common knowledge that the history of literary translation in Malayalam and other Indian bhashas was controlled to a great extent by the colonial aesthetic in the nineteenth century. This is true not only of the texts chosen for translation but also of the philosophy that informed the practice of translation. As noted in the previous chapters, the articles included in Vidyasamgraham, several of them translated from English and other languages, were a clear pointer to the nature and object of translation for the nineteenth-​century bhasha scholar. What the translator seeks to inculcate in the readers of these anonymously written and anonymously translated articles is the spirit of practical wisdom, of this-​worldly materiality, of Christian morality, and of scientific temper, all understood in a highly pragmatic sense.2 This certainly is a phenomenon that should be examined with reference to the experience of practicing scholars from other bhashas as well, because the discourse of scientific rationality appears to have been on the rise in almost all Indian languages from the early nineteenth century (see, e.g., Habib and Raina 1993). The career of the German missionary, Hermann Gundert, whose scholarly work in Kerala in the mid-​nineteenth century was spread across such disparate fields of knowledge as lexicography, grammar making, folklore, and translation, 2 Rev. George Mathen, who was mentioned in Chapter 3, is credited with the authorship of several of these articles. Most of the translations too, apparently, were done by him.

Decolonizing Translation  89 might provide some insights into this. Gundert, who initiated pioneering work in framing school textbooks in the Malayalam language, in starting journals in the language, in collecting and collating the specimens of oral literature, and in introducing printing into the Malabar area of Kerala, was less of a missionary and more of a secular scholar. Yet, it is possible to interpret his work in diverse fields of knowledge as attempted exercises in linguistic evaluation that would ultimately permit him to take a decision on the appropriate register to be used for his projected translation of the Bible. Though aesthetics and the question of ‘true’ taste were heatedly debated by western literary scholars throughout the nineteenth century, the aesthetic was conspicuous by its absence in the literary debates carried out in India in the same period. On the contrary, reason was the most prominent question discussed by the literate in India at that time, a fact corroborated by Chandu Menon’s reference to the initial reservations of some of his friends in welcoming a work of fiction rather than a book on science into Malayalam. There is a clear division between the aesthetic and the pragmatic in the colonizer’s scheme of things, and the pragmatic is what the colonizer prefers to propagate in the name of art and literature in the colonized culture. However, the aesthetic enters the colonial world later in the nineteenth century, again through translation. That Indulekha can be read as a ‘translation’ of the worldview expressed in the British romantic fiction of the nineteenth century has been taken note of by recent fiction scholars (Devasia and Tharu 1995). Chandu Menon refers to the pleas made by some of his ‘dear ones’ to retell the stories of the English novels that he read and his repeated attempts to translate some of these stories into Malayalam, which acted as a spur to the creation of the novel (Chandu Menon 2014: 7). As argued in the previous chapters, Indulekha certainly was a translation of the ideological concerns of the colonial modernity project, which paid little attention to the element of the aesthetic in human experience. That is why Chandu Menon chooses to model his pioneering work not on any canonized piece of aesthetically valued writing, but on a somewhat minor novel of the time—​Benjamin Disraeli’s Henrietta Temple. By doing this, Chandu Menon was also unconsciously acknowledging Malayalam literature’s historical inability at that point in time to cope with the principles of western aesthetics. Aesthetics, however, does slowly enter the scene in due course and eventually in the

90  Under the Bhasha Gaze twentieth century crystallizes itself into the principle of the hermetic aesthetic, which, as was pointed out, is the literary ideology of considering texts as autonomous entities that can be read independently of material culture. Translation too is implicated in the formation of this ideology, as reading texts independently of material formations is the ideal moment when the translator is assured of the spirit of the original getting transferred without much loss into the target language. This perhaps is also the moment when one feels, as Hillaire Belloc arguably felt, that the translation of poetry reads better if rendered in prose (see Bassnett 1991: 117). The hermetic aesthetic would also confer certain puristic assumptions on the practice of literature. Translation, concerned as it is with the binaries of purity and impurity, is important in the scheme of things here, as all translations are bound to swerve away from the ‘purity’ of discourse associated with an original. Translation can be a savage act that shows little concern for purity and refinement. And when it comes to the question of translating a work of literature, one is not sure where the purity of the work lies. Does the purity of Kalidasa or Homer consist in the poetry or in the story? This was an important point of debate for the Malayalam translators of Shakespeare in the late nineteenth century. If this suggests a gradual shift of emphasis in the terms of the debate for the translator, the focus on Shakespeare—​who had evolved by then into an icon of high culture in the colonies—​as a potential source text for translation is indicative of the gradual consolidation of the hermetic aesthetic in the Malayalam literary culture. In fact, one of the earliest specimens of Malayalam drama is a translation of Shakespeare: Kalloor Ummen Philipose’s translation of The Comedy of Errors under the title Aalmaarattam (1866). Other early Malayalam translations of Shakespeare included Kalahini Damanakam (1894; Kandathil Varughese Mappila’s trans. of The Taming of the Shrew), Hamlet Natakam (1896–​1897; Kunjukuttan Thampuran’s trans. of Hamlet), and Lear Natakam (1897; A Govinda Pillai’s trans. of King Lear). These translations were trend-​setting inasmuch as they attempted to place an exotic artistic form within the easy reach of the common Malayali reader. They, however, did not care much for the generic purity of the texts as some of these works were translated as novels and some others as narratives that merely summarized the stories. The evolution of Malayalam literature in the twentieth century is marked by two significant ‘aesthetic’ events, both of which are implicated

Decolonizing Translation  91 in modernity’s literary ideology. The development of the language of fictional realism as an extension of the discourse of rationality that allowed for a limited and controlled deployment of formal imagination is the first of these. Western literary forms and genres like the novel, the drama, and the short story were freely used for creative expression by Indian bhasha writers during this period. If the Indian novels and short stories written in the early part of the twentieth century constitute a translation of the western worldview into Indian bhashas, this can be explained partly by elaborating the formal peculiarities of the genres used for literary writing. This went hand in hand with the second development, which, as we have seen, led to the formulation of the principle of the hermetic aesthetic that was to consolidate itself in bhasha writing across the country in the twentieth century. Both events can be said to have strengthened literature’s colonial connection. It is in this context that the publication of Indulekha and the emergence of the Malayalam translations of Shakespeare in the closing decades of the nineteenth century become interrelated events, symbolic of a scenario where colonial modernity enters into an alliance with the institution of literature in Indian bhashas. This of course should not be taken to mean that the history of literary translation in Malayalam has been one of uninterrupted colonial cultural intervention. True, the tradition of translating from English that started in the nineteenth century continued unabated into the early decades of the twentieth century and soon came to replace the older tradition of translating from Sanskrit. There is a sense in which one might consider translation from English to be a practice that is ideologically linked to the activity of translating from Sanskrit. Both were perceived in the ultimate analysis to bolster the forces of colonialism in the nineteenth century. This, as is quite well known, is the burden of much of the postcolonial writing on translation (e.g., Niranjana 1995). However, Malayalam has had the good fortune of having been able to sidestep the colonial trap early on through its multilingual sensibility, a consequence perhaps of its association with a number of cultures—​Arab, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and the like—​in the pre-​modern days. The polyphonic sensibility that Malayalam literature has cultivated in the twentieth century through translations of works from the non-​English world, especially from the French, German, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese languages, is an important factor that will have to be taken

92  Under the Bhasha Gaze into consideration. One might look upon these translations as attempts to move away from the cultural influence of the British colonial power. They can be read as a society’s creative way of expressing its discomfort with colonial cultural domination and in this limited sense as attempts at cultural decolonization. Translations from non-​ British European languages attempted by such writers as Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, Nalapat Narayana Menon, and Changampuzha Krishna Pillai in the early decades of the twentieth century become significant in the above context. These translators indeed could not have been aware of the political and historical significance of their endeavour. It is also quite unlikely that their creative and critical writings and their preferences in translation arose from an anti-​colonial worldview. Their aesthetic approaches were, to varying degrees, controlled certainly by the colonial view of art, which in their liberal humanist understanding was merely the modern, enlightened position on art. In an age when the ideology of the hermetic aesthetic was making slow and steady inroads into Kerala’s public consciousness, they do not seem to have made any conscious efforts to resist it. But there is reason to believe that Kesari, one of the architects of modern Malayalam criticism, Nalapat, one of the earliest to bring the language into contact with the diversity of speech genres in fiction, and Changampuzha, whose popularity as a poet is unequalled in the recent history of Malayalam poetry, were all aware of literature’s public function and were sensitive to the crucial cultural role that the non-​English writing they translated played towards discharging this function. The writers that Kesari introduced to Malayali readers through translation and reviews were largely non-​British and included Honore de Balzac, Stendhal, Maurice Maeterlinck, Guy de Maupassant, Villiers d’Isle Adam, Leonid Andreyev, Anton Chekhov, Anatole France, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Luigi Pirandello, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Jakob Wassermann, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. Kesari’s reason for choosing these European models in preference to the more popular, and in the British colonial context, more accessible, writers in the English canon, is elaborated in some of the essays included in his collection Navalokam (The New World, 1935). The collection itself, though indicative of his affinities to modernity in general, also proves that the borders of Kesari’s intellectual world stretched far beyond those of a scholar groomed by the British imperial cultural environment.

Decolonizing Translation  93 In one of the essays in this collection, originally written as an introduction to his translation of Maupassant’s Bel Ami, he examines the difference between French and English novels and arrives at the considered opinion that French and Russian novels are superior to their English counterparts, both in terms of craftsmanship and world vision. Unique as this is as a position to take for an Indian writer groomed in the British colonial cultural context, what is far more interesting is the reason Kesari provides for the superiority of the French novel: It is seen that while an English novel tells the history of human life that ends in success, it is the history of life that ends in failure that French novels often recount. The success or failure in question could be either physical or spiritual. One might remember here that it is the French—​ and Russian—​approach to the novel that the Japanese tradition of novel writing has been following. But the Malayalam novel, still in its infancy, is geared to the model provided by English. (1984: 53)

Though Nalapat was a well-​known poet of Asan’s and Vallathol’s generation, it was his translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (1862) that brought him lasting fame as the founder of twentieth-​century Malayalam prose. The translation was published as Pavangal in 1926–​ 1928. Although Nalapat’s huge three-​volume work was based on Isabel F. Hipgood’s English translation of the French original, the iconic shift in the translator’s linguistic choice from English to French must not have gone unnoticed by the readers of the day. Kesari himself in the Navalokam essay mentioned earlier cites Nalapat’s translation as proof of his point that it is important to have more translations of works from European—​ especially French and Russian—​literatures in order to give bhasha writers proper orientation in the craft of fiction (1984: 48). Pavangal turned out to be monumental for the development of Malayalam prose fiction as an epitome of the diversity of worldviews and stylistic variations that a fictional text can embody. The translation turned out to be enormously popular with successive generations of readers. It was not a mere book, but a whole library, averred a contemporary writer (Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai 1990: 93); it acted as a window on world literature for the Malayali readers, remarked a distinguished poet of the following generation (Ayyappa Paniker 1982: 329); it was the one book that decisively changed

94  Under the Bhasha Gaze the trajectory of fiction before O.V. Vijayan’s Khasakkinte Itihasam, according to a more recent fictionist (Madhavan 2006: 71). Kesari and Nalapat focused primarily on translating fictional and dramatic writing. While their efforts were in this sense directed towards an enrichment of prose, poet Changampuzha concentrated on the translation of poetry from European languages into Malayalam. Before Changampuzha there were sporadic efforts in the translation of British Romantic and Victorian poetry by such writers as C.S. Subramanian Potti, P. Sankaran Nambiar, and Pallath Raman, but they were somewhat disorganized in their work in this direction. The scenario changed dramatically with the coming of Changampuzha who, in keeping with the practice started by Kesari and Nalapat for narrative and dramatic literature, brought out translations of poetry from several international languages. His selection of poems included in the anthology Mayookhamala (1940) indicates a clear preference for non-​British poetry, especially for German, Persian, Latin, and Greek verse composed by such poets as Goethe, Heine, Schiller, Hafiz, Catallus, and Leonidas. He also translated Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat as Madirolsavam (1947) as well as a number of Japanese haiku (Manjakkilikal, 1949). While Changampuzha was often regarded by pro-​colonial critics as an Indian counterpart of Keats or Shelley, Kesari would compare him to the French poet, Paul Verlaine. In his introduction to Changampuzha’s Spandikkunna Asthimadam (1945), Kesari assigns to young Changampuzha the same status that French critics grant to Verlaine in modern French writing. Changampuzha is emphatic in his assertion that the future of Malayalam literature is geared to translations from European literature, a point he advances in his preface to Sudhangada (1937), his adaptation of Tennyson’s Oenone. As translators, Kesari, Nalapat, and Changampuzha, one might argue, represent a turning point in the decolonization history of Indian literature, not because of their active subscription to an anti-​colonial agenda, but because of their endorsement for an alternative literary tradition which, although European in origin, is non-​colonial inasmuch as it overlapped with a heterotopic territory of decolonized imagination. Their broad literary humanism and their unconscious approval of the principles of the hermetic aesthetic would have made it impossible for them to take an overtly anti-​colonial stand in their time. However, it is possible to look upon their systematic espousals of an international sensibility and

Decolonizing Translation  95 their choice of non-​British literature to elaborate this sensibility as having prepared the ground for the subsequent development of Malayalam literature in general and of translation in particular. This is especially significant in the context of post-​Independence translators’ pronounced fancy for African, Caribbean, and Latin American literatures as well as for the ‘socialist’ models in European writing. Certainly, the process of cultural decolonization that arguably has gained momentum in recent bhasha literature associated with new Dalit and feminist initiatives can be said to owe a great deal to these developments. At least in the case of Kesari, the development does not seem to have been totally unanticipated, his postulation of a literary movement built on the politically radical principles of German Expressionism and Italian Futurism combined with a strong sense of nationalist and socialist commitment urging him to adopt an attitude akin to that of such poets as Mayakovsky towards social revolution. Indeed the rudimentary challenge to the hermetic aesthetic contained in the writings of fictionists like Vaikom Muhammad Basheer would not have been possible without the support of the cultural sensibility derived from some of these translations. It is true that some of these were described as bad writing by the patrons of pure art and morality. Even Victor Hugo, one might remember, was considered bad writing by the French middle class in the nineteenth century.3 The translation trend set by Kesari, Nalapat, and Changampuzha, in other words, has been continued by post-​independence Malayalam writers. One can see the preference for an alternative tradition at work both in the selection of material and in the general political culture that shapes the activity of translation. The African, Caribbean, Latin American, Asian, and European writers who have thus been translated into Malayalam in the second half of the twentieth century include Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Jean-​ Paul Sartre, Nikos Kazantzakis, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Luis Borges, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Jose Saramago, Orhan Pamuk, Wole Soyinka, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Nicolas Guillen, Octavio Paz, Rainer Maria Rilke, 3 Arthur Rimbaud, one of the most imaginative of French poets after Victor Hugo, is said to have been advised by one of his teachers in school to read Hugo’s Les Miserables. The young Rimbaud’s mother resented this, and complained irately to the teacher that he had lent her son a ‘dangerous’ book to read (Rimbaud 1979: 3).

96  Under the Bhasha Gaze Federico Garcia Lorca, Andrey Voznesensky, Nissar Qabbani, Mahmoud Darwish, Nazim Hikmet, Zbignew Herbert, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Guiseppe Ungaretti, and Alexander Blok. Though ‘aesthetic’ consideration certainly is an important factor in the selection of the writers and works, an equally significant inducement has been the writer’s perceived ‘political’ position. Aesthetics implies politics, a point that has amply been made by the reference to historical poetics in these pages. Bakhtin’s theory in a sense is an attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction between history and poetics. Indeed several post-​Independence translators find little contradiction between the poetic and the historical or between the aesthetic and the political. Translation apparently provides a context for writers to express their politics not in the form of direct political statements, but through symbolic means, through their choice of an icon in a foreign language that stands for a real or imagined cause. In many cases, translation also offers them a pretext to articulate their unease with the British colonial cultural domination. In this sense, one might possibly look upon translations from the non-​English world undertaken by these and several other translators more as attempts at purging Malayalam of the colonial or British cultural influence rather than as essays in the reproduction of works of perennial aesthetic value. This might be true of translations into other Indian bhashas too. In the instances outlined above, the translated writers’ symbolic position in the original culture rather than their work’s ‘intrinsic’ literary merit seems to have been the primary consideration in choosing them for translation. Pierre Bourdieu is right in suggesting that in choosing a foreign author for possible translation, it is not what he really says that matters, but what he could perhaps be made to say in the new context. In his essay ‘The Social Conditions of the International Circulation of Ideas’, which can be read as a theory of literary reception, or even as a treatise on translation, Bourdieu discusses the unarticulated social motives and structural constraints that condition the import of intellectual ideas from one culture into another. He contends that in the international circulation of ideas, the logic of laissez-​faire would often favour the circulation of ‘the worst ideas at the expense of the best’ (Bourdieu 1999: 220). The popularity in a foreign culture of an idea that is only of marginal significance in the originating culture could perhaps be explained by this. Extending this to the project of translation, one might also suggest that the selection

Decolonizing Translation  97 of works for translation need not always follow from the work’s relative standing in the original culture. This is so because texts often circulate without their contexts, which also means that the reader of a translation can be totally insensitive to the position of the work in the canon of the original culture. The situation also permits one to de-​link texts from their original cultures, where they were products of particular political contingencies, and reinsert them into the new contexts where they could be presented as pure texts with no political significance whatsoever (Bourdieu 1999: 221). This, to be sure, can work in the opposite way too, an apolitical text receiving a new political meaning in a different environment. This is so because texts in translation are not accompanied by their contexts. ‘They don’t bring with them the field of production of which they are a product, and the fact that the recipients [ . . . ] reinterpret the texts in accordance with the structure of the field of reception, are facts that generate some formidable misunderstandings and that can have good or bad consequences’ (Bourdieu 1999: 221). African, Latin American, and European writers, whatever their standing in their respective cultures, can be made to voice positions against colonial invasion in Indian bhashas. The actual content of a work or its specific object in the original context is perceived to be of little significance to the receiving cultures in such situations. What is important on the other hand is the work’s iconic, formal, status in the new culture, where it provokes debates that are of purely local and indigenous significance. This is the dynamics of translation that allows the work to be inserted into the problematic of historical poetics, where it continues a life of its own, an ‘afterlife’, perhaps, in the sense of Benjamin (1973: 69). Even works that in their original culture emanated from a somewhat ‘apolitical’ environment—​the works of Rilke, Borges, or Llosa, for example—​are read as politically charged responses in Malayalam because of this dynamic. This perhaps is a scenario that would necessitate the conceptualization of a world literature, which can also incorporate works from the Indian bhashas into its canon.

7 Bhasha Writing as World Literature There are two important ways in which the idea of an ‘Indian literature’ has been conceptualized by literary scholars: one, as the artistic realization of an essential spirit of Indianness that binds all Indian bhashas together; and two, as a politically significant blanket concept that brings together discrete literary formations, each centred on a bhasha with its own canons and traditions. Although there are basic conceptual differences between the two formulations, both agree, in principle though not always in practice, on a relation of egalitarianism among the different languages with room for each bhasha to thrive independently of the others. The constitution of India also guarantees equal state patronage for all Indian languages. It is true that government policies and historical links between languages as well as the power relations that in practice exist between them have sometimes led to tensions between bhashas, especially between those that are geographically close to each other as, for example, between Assamese and Bengali or between Tamil and Telugu or between Kashmiri and Urdu in the past. One might also think of the tensions between Hindi and Urdu in the post-​Independence years. Though there is a widespread fear among speakers of languages other than Hindi, even today, of a possible imposition of Hindi on non-​Hindi speaking states, the Indian polity seems in general to have tided over the major language crisis that hit the nation in the decades following Independence. In the circumstances, Indian literature—​in the second sense—​can be theorized as a possibility that can be realized in a cultural environment where bhashas interact with a spirit of mutual filiation and inter-​animation. Can the same be said of world literature, a comparable concept that signifies, at one level at least, a universal and representative compendium of the ‘best’ literature written in languages across the world? The idea perhaps is not totally alien to Indian scholars, familiar as they are historically to the fact of Sanskrit literature for long representing a Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0008

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  99 trans-​regional repository of literary knowledge of a ‘supreme’ kind. Sheldon Pollock who has written extensively on Indian modernity, especially in relation to the culture of Sanskrit as a language of power in South Asia, uses the expression ‘Sanskrit cosmopolis’ to describe the translocal spheres of political and cultural influence that Sanskrit generated in premodern India (2007: 10–​12). Pollock’s description indeed is a way of talking about a scaled-​down version of world literature that came into existence in premodern South Asia as part of the cultural expansion of Sanskrit across the world in the first millennium of the Common Era. The Sanskrit cosmopolis certainly implies universalism, but it was a universalism that, as Pollock puts it, ‘never objectified, let alone enforced, its universalism’ (2007: 12). The anthropological division between great and little traditions, theorized by such scholars as Robert Redfield and, especially, Milton Singer, is sometimes extended to the Indian situation to explain the conceptual binary of marga and desi, which is often used to describe the difference between the cosmopolitan and regional imaginations on the one hand and between the classical and folk imaginations on the other. The binary is also used at times to describe the separation between the literary cultures connected, respectively with Sanskrit and Prakrit. Pollock too dwells on the distinction between the marga and desi traditions as constituting a major division within his Sanskrit cosmopolis (2007: ch 5.3, ch 10.2). To come to the question of the role of bhashas in the premodern Sanskrit cosmopolis, it is worthwhile to remember that the rules of Sanskrit poetics never allowed for a conception of kavya or literature in the regional dialects. Though there indeed are very important specimens of literary writing in modern Indian bhashas at least from the second millennium C.E. onwards, and in such earlier bhashas as Prakrit and Apabhramsa much before (see, e.g., Jain 2004; S.K. Das 2005), it is unlikely that they could have been recognized as serious literature by the official management of the Sanskrit cosmopolis. That is why Pollock says that ‘the very idea of a desi-​kavya, “vernacular literature”, would have constituted a contradiction in terms’ for Sanskrit scholarship (2007: 14). This is also the reason why bhashas often turn to the English ‘cosmopolis’, as powerful and hegemonic as the Sanskrit one, for support and protection in the period of modernity. In fact, several bhasha writers have no hesitation in acknowledging their intellectual indebtedness to English even

100  Under the Bhasha Gaze when they criticize the language for its hegemonic intervention. This is evident from the words of some of the writers included in, to name a recent and representative anthology of Indian literature, Name Me a Word (2018), a collection of fiction, poetry, and non-​fictional prose that constitute selected Indian writers’ reflections on writing. Given the political issues surrounding the concept of world literature that we shall discuss presently, it is doubtful whether this collection put together by poet Meena Alexander will ever be recognized as a worthy representation of a valuable segment of world literature. However, it is undeniable that the works of some of the writers included in the anthology are ‘world-​ literature’ material. Alexander herself has called attention to the contradiction involved in this matter in an earlier work in a language echoing the critique made above of the Sanskrit cosmopolis. In her Preface to Poetics of Dislocation (2009), she says: The tension between cosmopolitanism and regionalism is not new in the history of literary culture. In classical Indian poetry, the idea of place is powerful, and poets who write in a regional language, an outcrop as it were of place, are thought to partake of desh-​bhasha (language of the native place). Balanced against this is the notion of a cosmopolitan language, part of marga, the Great Way, allowing for a poetry that can be read and written in disparate places. (2009: x)

Alexander’s description of marga literature as writing ‘that can be read and written in disparate places’ obviously suggests another meaning for world literature, which is connected with the idea of an individual’s feeling of rootlessness and her perennial travel beyond the borders of the nation. As one of the writers included in Name Me a Word, Arun Kolatkar, proclaims, quoting from the Russian poet Marina Tsvetayeva’s letter to Rainer Maria Rilke, artists by nature are rootless and cosmopolitan; they belong to no nation. ‘No language is the mother tongue. For that reason I do not understand when people speak of French or Russian poets. [ . . . ] Orpheus exploded and broke up the nationalities, or stretched their boundaries so wide that they now include all nations, the dead and the living’ (Alexander 2018: 202). It is possible that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German writer who used the term ‘world literature’ for the first time in 1827, and formulated an elaborate theory thereon, himself

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  101 could have been moved by his genuinely non-​nationalistic, cosmopolitan spirit in an age when fellow scholars were talking in terms of narrow nationalisms.1 The term, once coined, provoked heated debates among literary historians across cultures, and was dissected threadbare by literary scholars in the whole of the nineteenth century. World literature has stayed on the agenda of literary and cultural studies ever since, including in India, where Rabindranath Tagore happened to be one of its most formidable articulators. Tagore, like Goethe before him, was a diehard cosmopolitan, who dismissed the idea of the nation as a ‘great menace’ to the thinking individual (Tagore 1992: 87). His effort was to exorcise the cult of nationalism from the Indian subcontinent, but going by the hyper-​nationalist frenzy that has gripped the nation today, one might state that his efforts have proved to be greatly futile. Perhaps the internecine conflict between languages, poised as they are in the foreground, not just of the nation but of the diverse and competing bhasha nationalities that constitute the nation, has something to do with this failure. To return to Goethe’s concept of world literature, one interesting aspect of the history of the concept is that its circulation across cultures has always been more as a culturalist, world historical term than as a purely literary term. Among the earliest to use it in a broad, historical context were Marx and Engels, who in The Communist Manifesto (1848) extended the spirit of Goethe’s phrase to the economic dimension of literary exchange and referred to the ‘cosmopolitan character of production and consumption’ in the period of capitalist and colonialist expansion.2 Since then, the term has been used by scholars belonging to diverse disciplines both as the indicator of a substantial literary system and as a metaphor for talking about non-​literary systems that are of global reach and magnitude. 1 Goethe shared his views on world literature for the first time in his conversations with a young admirer, Johann Peter Eckermann, whose Conversations with Goethe, is a classic in Goethe literature. This work, which several scholars (including Nietzsche) consider to be Goethe’s most important literary critical output, is a record of his opinions on a wide range of subjects expressed in a series of conversations that he had with Eckermann during the last 10 years (1822–​1832) of his life. Quotations from this work are indicated by the dates of the conversations as they appear in the text. 2 ‘The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. . . . The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-​sidedness and narrow-​mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature’ (Marx and Engels 1967: 83–​84).

102  Under the Bhasha Gaze Among recent scholars who have adapted the term for elaborating their own theories of world historical systems are Homi Bhabha and Franco Moretti who in their respective works, The Location of Culture (1994) and ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ (2000), look upon the concept as one that enables them to focus on cultural displacements and socio-​political developments central to their critical projects. In spite of this broad culturalist connotation, the term ‘world literature’ is somewhat vague and imprecise in conception and has been used in the 200 years of its history in several senses, often unrelated to one another. One of its primary senses is as a corpus of literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin. It is in this sense that David Damrosch, the most resourceful of the term’s elaborators in recent years, uses it in the opening pages of his book titled What Is World Literature? (2003), but as his argument progresses, we come across distinctions that render the concept equivocal.3 At one point, he makes a distinction between three senses of the term: ‘as an established body of classics, as an evolving canon of masterpieces, or as multiple windows on the world’ (Damrosch 2003: 15). These indeed are three approaches—​often mutually exclusive—​adopted in understanding the object of literary analysis. Notwithstanding the currency of such expressions as ‘feminist classics’, ‘modern classics’, and ‘twentieth-​century classics’ in contemporary critical discourse, world literature as an established body of canonical works moves centrally within the paradigm of esoteric literary studies and refers principally to the ancient Greek and Roman classics of ‘foundational’ value. This is different from masterpieces, which, though embedded in the literary studies paradigm, are modern and need not, as Damrosch recognizes, have the force of the classics. The expression ‘multiple windows on the world’, on the other hand, would imply a shift away from these two approaches towards a more polyphonic ethos. Critics also use the phrase ‘world literature’ in the sense of ways of reading literary works across cultures in an international context, a use which also has the strong approval of Damrosch. One might even think, after Italo Calvino, of authors who become dear to individual readers—​a private choice, often 3 The term has continued to fascinate Damrosch since the publication of his first book on world literature, as indicated by his subsequent works, such as Longman Anthology of World Literature (Damrosch, ed. 2004), How to Read World Literature (Damrosch 2009), and Teaching World Literature (Damrosch, ed. 2009a).

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  103 described as one’s personal ‘classic’—​on the basis of their separate individual tastes, in effect invalidating the notion of certain universal ways of reading literature as underwriting the concept (Calvino 1997: 130). Although Goethe does not use the term ‘comparative literature’ in his elaboration of the idea of world literature, it is obvious from the account given here that the term would make little sense outside the theoretical context of comparative literary studies. For the issues implicated in the conceptualization of world literature are issues pertaining to the poetics and politics of comparative literature. Nationalism, humanism, universalism, canonicity and, of course, modernity are all questions emerging from this poetics and politics. So also are colonialism and Euro-​centrism integral to this subject. Within the conceptual framework of comparative literary studies itself, the term is proposed as an effective antidote to the parochially conceived notion of national literatures. This indeed has been an irony inherent in the comparative literature project right from its beginning in early nineteenth-​century Europe, where comparative literary studies, even as it promoted the idea of universality of literary experience, received practical impetus from people’s nationally rooted search for cultural identity. World literature, then, is a synonym for comparative literature. Tagore knew this and that was why he minced no words in defining world literature as synonymous with comparative literature. Vishvasahitya, the Bengali equivalent of the term, he says, is nothing other than comparative literature.4 This assessment of world literature may not be sufficient for a proper understanding of the subject in the age of globalization, in which both ‘world’ and ‘literature’ have come to acquire new meanings. As Franco Moretti has suggested, a reader today cannot be blind to the fact that she is working in a system of world literature that is ‘one’ and yet ‘unequal’ at the same time. Borrowing his initial positions from the world system school of economics, Moretti states that the present-​day literary scholarship engages with a cultural system that is radically different from what was envisaged by Goethe and Marx (Moretti 2000: 21). While this warrants a relook at the idea of world literature from a fresh perspective, it 4 Tagore’s vision of ‘Visvasahitya’ was given in a lecture that he delivered on 6 February 1907 in a meeting of the Jatiya Shikshaparishad held at Jadavpur. See Tagore (2001: 138–​150) for an English translation.

104  Under the Bhasha Gaze also necessitates a re-​examination of the present state of the concept in the age of advanced capitalism and globalization as it impinges on the network of Indian bhashas. Before doing that, however, we may have to analyse, first, the history of the concept in the context of its evolution; and, second, its implication in the colonial modernity project and its literary ramifications.5 To put one’s finger on the historical conditions that necessitated the evolution of Goethe’s concept, early nineteenth-​century Europe was a place where the artist was going through a crisis of confidence in the face of the emergence of a new sense of narrow nationalism after the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. As historians point out, this was the period in European history when new national communities, inspired by the aspirations of the newly emerging social classes, were struggling to establish themselves on the political map of Europe (Hobsbawm 1996: 132–​148). Each community knew that it had to work hard to wrest its place on the map; that it had first to assert its cultural identity and let the world know that here indeed was a nation with a glorious past and a powerful literary tradition of its own. If one didn’t have a tradition, one might perforce have to invent one, if one’s national identity were to be recognized. This was a parochial sense of nationalism that had its backlash both in the political and aesthetic realms, and Goethe’s world literature could be regarded partly as a concerned intellectual’s aesthetic response to the new development. Goethe’s concept has also been seen as a ‘counterthrust to the religious universalism of backward-​looking Romantics’ in Germany (Hoffmeister 2002: 234). Goethe, a representative of Weimer classicism, lived in a turbulent period of European history that provided him with rare insights into the working of the human mind, the depths of which he seeks to plumb through some of his plays. As a man of political affairs who served the German state of Saxe-​Weimer-​Eisenach throughout his adult career, Goethe was witness to some of the important historical events of the day. He said to Eckermann in 1824: ‘I had the great advantage of being born at a time that was ripe for earth-​shaking events which continued throughout my 5 Some of the ideas elaborated here and in the following paragraphs are discussed in greater detail in Raveendran (2013a). Part of the analysis carried out in the present chapter is built upon the arguments made there.

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  105 long life, so that I witnessed the Seven Years’ War, then the separation of the American colonies from Britain, the French Revolution, and finally the whole Napoleonic era down to the defeat of the hero and what followed after him’ (25 February 1824). These experiences could have prompted him to react, imaginatively at least, against the life of parochialism that he was forced to live in the new, post-​Napoleonic Europe. A great cultural icon in the Germany of his day, he had a large readership in his country, but his exchanges with young Eckermann point to an unstated sense of insecurity about the growing opposition in his country to his elitism and his brand of classicism. In some of the exchanges, he explicitly gives vent to his displeasure with the common readers of Germany for their lack of ‘sympathy’ for his plays Iphiginia and Tasso. Comparing the insensitivity of the German readers to him with the loud enthusiasm that the French and Italian readers demonstrate towards their own writers, he says: ‘In Italy they perform the same opera every evening for four or six weeks, and the great Italian children by no means desire any change. The polished Parisian sees the classical plays of his great poets so often that he knows them by heart, and has a practiced ear for the accentuation of every syllable’ (27 March 1825). His greater pleasure in the knowledge that his works in translation, some of them done by such renowned artists as Scott, Carlyle, and Gerard de Nerval, were being read and enjoyed by readers from non-​German cultures is also to be noted. Goethe’s great excitement about world literature, whose approach he wanted everyone to strive to hasten, then, is linked to the anxiety of a creative artist who feels insecure in terms of reader support from his own country and who imagines the possibility of his works getting larger audiences outside through translation. Goethe’s enthusiasm for world literature perhaps is also linked to his devotion to classical literature, especially to ancient Greek and Roman literature, which was being increasingly denigrated in the new climate where literature was being identified more and more with light-​weight specimens of ‘modern’ writing. In spite of his theoretical approval of non-​European literary traditions and texts from Indian, Chinese, and Japanese literatures, Greek and Latin classics continued to provide him with the ultimate test of creative genius. He had expressed his opinion on this time and again, and in the conversations with Eckermann, one would come across interesting statements like the following:

106  Under the Bhasha Gaze But while we thus value what is foreign, we must not bind ourselves to some particular thing, and regard it as a model. We must not give this value to the Chinese or the Serbian or Calderon or Niebelungen; but if we really want a pattern, we must always return to the ancient Greeks. (January 31, 1827) [A]‌noble man in whose soul God has placed the capability for future greatness of character and elevation of mind will, by a knowledge of, and familiar intercourse with, the elevated natures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, everyday make a visible approximation to similar greatness. (April 1, 1827)

This of course implies certain theoretical issues concerning formal aesthetics, about which Goethe perhaps could not talk with confidence.6 The concept of beauty invoked in the first passage above is an important component of world literature. It is possible to argue that Goethe leaves it to his friend and collaborator Friedrich Schiller to provide a theory of formal aesthetics that would be later incorporated into his concept of world literature. Schiller shared a warm friendship with Goethe, who depended on the philosophically inclined younger poet to help him refine some of his crudely formulated conceptual ideas. Though Goethe’s conceptualization of world literature comes several years after Schiller’s death, there is reason to believe that Schiller’s aesthetic ideas outlined in On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) and On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1796) could have played an important role in the actual formulation of the concept, when Goethe designed it. Schiller proposed to elevate the moral character of man through beauty, a task that could be fulfilled only through aesthetic education, which involves attaining spiritual freedom by disciplining one’s natural impulses. In developing this idea, Schiller also drew upon Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790), which also forms the basis for his analysis of the difference between classical writers who unconsciously display connections with nature and the Christian world as opposed to contemporary writers whose disconnect with nature leads to what Schiller calls ‘sentimental’ (or reflective) poetry. The human 6 Eckermann says that Goethe stands in a sort of ‘disadvantageous relation’ with natural philosophers who have ‘mastered a kingdom of endless details’, while Goethe’s own inclination is towards the ‘contemplation of great universal laws’ (16 April 1825).

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  107 being with refined, classical tastes, who is close to nature and is properly trained in aesthetic education is Schiller’s perfect individual. It is this perfect individual who in Goethe’s reckoning becomes the ideal reader of world literature. This individual, incidentally, is also the subject of modernity, a point recognized by all three founding theorists of world literature, namely Schiller, Goethe, and Tagore. Art, in Schiller’s view, would take man closer to nature, make him ‘naïve’ and whole. Schiller would further consider Goethe who consistently upholds ‘universalist’ values to be representing such a reader. The same is the case with Tagore’s ‘visvamanav’ (the world citizen realized in visvasahitya) who knows no constraints of space and time. All these are prototypes of the modern subject, who embodies within himself a universal and universalizing mindset as a precondition for his existence. This subject also embodies the values of liberal humanism and enlightenment and is literate and cultured, so that his world vision is shaped by the best of what has been thought and written by humanity. Whatever be the conceptual ideas that underwrite world literature at the practical level, the corpus of world literature is sure to include much of Harold Bloom’s Western Canon (1994), though one is not certain whether even the select canonical works from non-​western cultures such as Aka-​nanuru, the ancient Tamil collection of 400 love poems representing the work of several poets, The Tale of Genji, the eleventh-​century Japanese classic by Lady Murasaki, Gita Govinda, Jayadeva’s twelfth-​ century dramatic poem in Sanskrit, or Gulistan, Sa’di Shirazi’s Persian work of the same century would be accommodated there. Literature, the theorists of world literature might say, is unmindful of the points of the compass, but might, in the end, reduce itself to the classics of the Greco-​ Roman tradition. A random and cursory examination of any standard compendium of world literature would illustrate this point, both by its lack of balance in the selection of authors and by the theoretical assumptions that underlie the selection. To give a concrete example, if one were to leaf through the pages of Hornstein et al.’s Reader’s Companion to World Literature (1973), a handy and popular volume that contains brief introductions to a large number of writers and works across the world, one would be astounded by its total omission of writings from African literature and almost total neglect of the Asian literature of the

108  Under the Bhasha Gaze modern times. One would fail to find entries here on such Indian classics as Cilappatikaram, Kathasaritsagaram, and Dhvanyaloka, though arguably unexceptional works from western literature such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Henry James’s Ambassadors, and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler are listed in it prominently. There is no entry even on Tagore, who spoke and wrote a great deal about world literature. But what is more astounding is the self-​complacency with which the editors justify their own ignorance of the morphology of world literature. ‘It was natural to stress Occidental literature more than the Oriental’ is their justification for the omission of standard non-​western classics (Hornstein et al. 1973: 7). That their emphasis on the western canon in a compendium that claims to represent the contributions of the entire humanity appears natural to them is reflective of the general position on this. This is how literary studies, more particularly comparative literature, of the traditional kind constructs its object of analysis, a point that has been forcefully made from a different perspective by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her 2000 Wellek Library Lectures on Critical Theory given at the University of California, Irvine (Spivak 2004: 6). This aspect of world literature, a manifestation of its Euro-​centric bias, is linked also to its affiliation to modernity, and is a feature to which Afro-​ Asian writers have lately started reacting sharply. To give an example of such a reaction, the distinguished Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’O remarks that the introduction of modernity in African cultures has led to the complete erasure of African literatures, which is now supplanted by literatures written in European languages. The irony here, as always, is that the literature ‘produced in European languages was given the identity of African literature as if there had never been literature in African languages’ (Ngugi 2007: 22). This is the cultural equivalent of the capitalism-​driven ‘underdevelopment’, which, as Walter Rodney indicates, is a direct outcome of the introduction of colonial modernity into Africa (Rodney 2018). The observation parallels the bhasha writers’ criticism of Indian English writing, which in several colonialism-​inspired accounts emerge as the sole representative of Indian native literary response. Apart from the elision of the native’s sense of identity, such a move, according to Ngugi, also led to a reproduction of ‘the European experience of history’. Naming specifically the western liberal humanist literary tradition consisting of such authors as Aeschylus, Sophocles,

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  109 Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gorky, and Brecht—​ what in critical parlance would constitute the great margi tradition of world literature—​Ngugi shows how these writers were abstracted from their historical settings and presented as though ‘their only concern was with the universal themes of love, fear, birth and death’ (Ngugi 2007: 91). Western modernity led one to believe that the great canon of European writing was, for all practical purposes, the sole tradition of literature that mattered. Looked at from other perspectives, related facets of modernity such as its ‘phallocentism’, and its ‘authoritarianism’ can also be seen to cast its shadow over the concept of world literature (Jameson 2002: 1). If it is the project of western modernity that world literature carried forward through its literary critical assumptions, it also partook centrally of the universalist assumptions about literature that the liberal humanists have always championed. Like the notion of Indian literature, which as a theoretical category was constituted in the nineteenth century by European scholars in order to advance their own ideological interests, world literature with its universalist assumptions has continued to trouble the minds of the non-​hegemonic writers even before Goethe, as the conceptualization of a desi style of writing within the Indian literary ethos indicates. The Malayalam fictionist O.V. Vijayan often talked about the diversity of the spoken idiom used in different segments of a linguistic area. He compared this diversity to the variety of fish faunas appearing in different parts of the world, sometimes in parts of the same geographical culture. The fish faunas in Chennai are different in quality from those in Mumbai or Kolkata. It is this diversity that grants identity and specificity to cultural experiences. This sense of cultural identity is lost in world literature, where one presses home the idea of a variety of cultures being produced by a creative imagination and consumed by an individual consciousness. Even the positing of such an imagination and consciousness, according to some critics, is a European idea, growing in step with colonialism and modernity. Its continued presence in literary critical debates, as pointed out by Aijaz Ahmed, signals a new shift in the production and consumption process, which he captures using the metaphor of the supermarket. World literature’s universalism is like a grand supermarket where all nationals go shopping with élan (Ahmed 1991: 128). World literature in the present stage, then, is the great marga way, growing in step with advanced capitalism and the global market. One

110  Under the Bhasha Gaze might imagine that one can legitimately talk about literature as a set of works that constitute an expansion of values in the market spread across the world. Literature, in the liberal humanist tradition, has always been defined as a discourse that allowed one to expand oneself across cultures. ‘An expansion of values across the world’, however, is a phrase often invoked in discussions of globalization, both by its proponents and by its detractors. Historian Eric Hobsbawm, no proponent of globalization, defines it as an exercise in the abolition of distance and time (2000: 62). Tagore’s visvasahitya, the domain of visvamanav who knows no constraints of space and time obviously is close in spirit to the subject of Hobsbawm’s global literature. Hobsbawm here is talking about internationalization of culture rather than about its globalization. That is why he insists on delinking the economic dimension of globalization from earlier attempts at the elimination of technical obstacles from human social interaction. ‘It would have been impossible to consider the world as a single unit before it had been circumnavigated at the end of the fifteenth century’, says Hobsbawm (2000: 62). Globalization as the natural outcome of capitalism’s drive towards an integrated world market controlled by corporate forces, then, is to be distinguished from the internationalization of literature, which is related more to the circulation of ideas in an egalitarian context, where there is equal opportunity for all players in the game. This is especially important in describing the stratified and hierarchically organized theatre of world literature, where unequally placed individual literatures coexist and struggle with one another to be heard and recognized. There is a set of general ground rules to be followed, which is indeed asymmetrical in practice. Pierre Bourdieu’s essay ‘The Social Condition of the International Circulation of Ideas’, briefly mentioned in the previous chapter, throws a great deal of light on this asymmetry. Bourdieu’s essay deals primarily with the factors involved in the export and import of intellectual ideas from one national culture—​one bhasha—​ into another. Between the lines, however, one can also read there an attempt to develop a theory of literary reception in the age of globalization. Bourdieu’s basic argument, as already noted, is that since texts always circulate outside their culture without their original contexts—​what he calls their fields of production—​there is always the possibility of the artwork being misread or misinterpreted. Foreign judgments need not carry with

Bhasha Writing as World Literature  111 them the weight of the writer’s canonical authority in the original culture, so that ‘foreign judgments are a little like the judgment of posterity’ (Bourdieu 1999: 221). Unarticulated social factors and unthematized problems in a particular culture can prompt and facilitate the introduction of ideas that might not have been deemed important or canonical in the foreign culture from where the ideas have originated. The internationalization of a work of art need not therefore be regarded as emanating from processes of strict quality control. This indeed is an extremely sophisticated theory of reception, which Goethe nevertheless would have found somewhat uncomfortable to engage with. What this implies for a theory of world literature is that one cannot always guarantee the quality of a work from a peripheral culture that has been chosen for inclusion in the corpus of world literature. And once included, one cannot also ensure that works of oppositional value imported from the peripheral culture shall not be co-​opted in the service of the dominant culture. Taking specific examples from the exchanges between German and French literatures, a discourse which had greatly inspired Goethe, Bourdieu further notes that German thinkers have read French thinkers very badly, ‘seeing texts that were the result of a particular political juncture as pure texts’ (Bourdieu 1999: 221). Bourdieu’s views are of significance for any project that proposes to canonize bhasha writing, whether done as part of Indian literature or of world literature, both of which are somewhat arbitrary compilations. Be that as it may, one could draw a few important lessons from the above Bourdieu-​inspired reading of trans-​local literature, which might be summarized thus: First, the cultural influence of a language cannot be measured in terms merely of the economic power that the speakers of the language might wield. A language also has a degree of symbolic power, which is what decides the circulation and translation of works across languages. Bourdieu was talking about this, and so was Walter Benjamin from a different perspective through his concept of ‘translatability’, by which he meant a quality inherent in the original which comes about ‘not so much from its life as from its afterlife’ (1973: 71). This would also explain the choice for translation by the European Orientalists of Indian classics in the period of modernity. If for nineteenth-​century Orientalists, Indian literature meant only the literature in Sanskrit, the reason for this can be understood by invoking the idea of the language’s

112  Under the Bhasha Gaze symbolic power, which was sought to be explained at the beginning of this chapter through the concept of the Sanskrit cosmopolis of the precolonial times. After the dissolution of the Sanskrit cosmopolis, the power of Sanskrit apparently was transferred to English, and this accounts for the large presence of Indian English writing in any anthology of modern Indian literature.7 Even in Alexander’s Name Me a Word, the reader will be surprised to see that of the 48 writers included in the anthology, only a half are from bhashas, leaving an equal portion to be filled up by Indian English writers. Second, the uneven power relations that exist between western and non-​western languages are replicated in the practical equations among Indian bhashas, with some of the bhashas enjoying positions of privilege in the overall scenario. Though all bhashas might be of equal status from a theoretical point of view, in practice, some of them enjoy far greater leverage in comparison with others. In terms of translatability, for example, several bhashas from Northeast India and South India are said to fare poorly in comparison with Hindi or other languages from North India. It has been pointed out that modern Malayalam, which boasts of a rich tradition of translated literature from Indian languages, has not gone in the same measure into other bhashas. Sanskrit, Bengali, Hindi, and Tamil in that order top the list of languages into which Malayalam works have been translated in the past. Perhaps Bengali holds the pride of place here, as has been revealed by an academic study conducted recently. The study also reveals 277 Bengali novels to have passed into Malayalam in the last 150 years, while there have been very few Malayalam translations into Bengali. Further, the researchers could locate no significant translation from Malayalam into Bengali for the pre-​Independence period (Sukumaran and Zacharia 1997). What this implies is that translatability is also linked to a community’s predisposition to other languages; its perception of a particular language as constituting a superior culture would invariably inspire the community to honour that language with translations from it. In this sense, translatability is to be understood more in terms of a language’s present life rather than the work’s potential afterlife. 7 A classic illustration for this is Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West’s edited volume, Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947–​1997 (1997), which carries a selection of Indian English fictionists to represent Indian fiction of the post-​Independence period.

8 Towards a Comparative Indian Literature Although comparative literature has been interpreted in manifold ways ever since it began to be used as a critical term in Europe in the early nineteenth century, there are two distinct senses in which one might look upon the subject as an academic discipline today. The first is somewhat traditional and technical, and pertains to the study of literature across cultures carried out with a view to discovering similarities and correspondences that recur in works and literary systems. The correspondences thus studied might include recurrence at the level of theme, form, structure, narration, metrical organization, metaphor, meaning, image, figurality, and so on. Studies on questions pertaining to genre, period, translation, influence, reception, nationalism, literary movements, and literary history are also sometimes pursued as part of such study. Though the connections and correspondences discovered by these approaches might be important in literary studies, one may not find ‘comparativism’ of this kind greatly useful from an epistemological perspective, especially in formulating the protocols of a discipline concerned with the production of knowledge. This is primarily because comparative literature in this sense does not signify any discursive specificity, either in regard to its object of study or in regard to the critical method adopted. Comparison after all has been an important aspect of literary analysis at least from the time literature came to be treated as an object worthy of academic scrutiny,1 and there is nothing specific about a critical exercise that claims comparison to be the central analytical activity. 1 To invoke the names of western pundits in the discipline, Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century, Matthew Arnold in the nineteenth century, and T.S. Eliot in the twentieth century have each stressed this point in their observations on the study of literature, all of which have become classic statements in western literary criticism. Johnson, for example, says: ‘What mankind have long possessed they have often examined and compared, and if they persist to value the possession, it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed opinions in its favour’ (1975: 131); Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0009

116  Under the Bhasha Gaze There is a second sense of comparative literature which has always lingered on the fringes of the discipline. This derives from its concern with doing literature, in comparative literature parlance, beyond boundaries. Boundaries here signify a number of things, from the boundaries of individual art works to the boundaries of literary genres, to the boundaries of language and culture, and to the boundaries of the concept of literature itself. This has always been an important aspect of the theory of comparative literature, though it has received little support from conventional institutions that promote its study. This second sense has been a radical promise tucked away, one might say, in the heart of comparative literature, whose discourse has made sure, especially in the hands of the promoters of the first sense, that its subversive potential is held down by the plethora of inane analytical details that are allowed to proliferate around the discipline. The tussle between these two senses, however, has led to interesting discussions in comparative literature. Some of the acrimonious debates that have been carried out in the past on the nature and object of comparative literature in fact are related to this. It is the ferocity of these debates that has ensured that comparative literature has not remained static in meaning and orientation. Over the last 150 years of its existence, it has undergone radical changes in meaning and in the last few decades, especially after the emergence of the putative ‘crisis of comparative literature’ (Wellek 1963: 282), there has been a fundamental reorganization of its boundaries in such a way as to make it an entirely new discipline. There are several ways of defining the nature of this reorganization. One way is to talk about a new interdisciplinary alternative which, even as it retains the name comparative literature, focuses on a range of new priorities in setting and elaborating the discipline’s agenda. Jean Bessiere refers to some of these new priorities when he enumerates four topics, which he summarizes from the discussions held as part of the Arnold observes: ‘Everywhere there is connection, everywhere there is illustration. No single event, no single literature is adequately comprehended except in relation to other events, to other literatures’ (1914: 456); Eliot remarks: ‘Comparison and analysis, I have said before, and Remy de Gourmont has said before me, [ . . . ] are the chief tools of the critic’ (1986: 32–​33). At a broader level, the comparative method can be treated as the distinguishing characteristic of the methodology of the humanities and the social sciences in general, where the theorists look for interconnections between societies across cultures and histories, a fact corroborated by the work in the nineteenth century itself of such social science thinkers as Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. For a brief discussion of comparativism with reference to the social sciences, see Sjoberg (1955).

Towards a Comparative Indian Literature  117 XVI Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) held at Pretoria: ‘Identity and literary cultural transfers; synchronic readings across various literary periods, across various linguistic regions and across various cultures; cultural and literary histories of various regions; and metacriticism’ (Bessiere 2002: 5). This, again, is what a more recent volume of essays collected under the title Interdisciplinary Alter-​natives in Comparative Literature and prepared, partly under the aegis of the Comparative Literature Association of India (CLAI) too does (see Ramakrishnan, Trivedi, and Mohan 2013). Some of the broad divisions appearing in this volume indicate the paradigmatic change that has happened to the subject over the past few years. Titles such as ‘World Literature’, ‘Creative Response to Region and Resistance’, and ‘Beyond Colonial Frames’ figure among the names of the chapter divisions in the volume. Earlier on, the ICLA had come up with a larger volume of essays under the title Colonizer and Colonized, which too raised issues that deviated from the central concerns of mainstream comparative literature (D’haen and Krus 2000). This latter title was one in a series of published volumes constituting the proceedings of the XV Congress of the ICLA, which had ‘Literature as Cultural Memory’ as the broad theme of the deliberations. What is being announced in these instances is a paradigm shift, in which comparative literature as understood in the first sense yields place to a new understanding of the discipline, inspired by the second sense, where the critic is engaged in constructing a new ethic and a new methodology for the discipline in the altered context. Scholars seem to choose from a cluster of possible areas in the new paradigm in order to build their own independent models of comparative literature, each choice leading to a new perception of the subject. To give an example, Susan Bassnett focuses on two crucial dimensions of the new paradigm when she isolates women’s studies and translation studies as thrust areas. She closes her critical introduction to comparative literature with the following significant statement: ‘Comparative literature as a discipline has had its day. Cross-​cultural work in women’s studies has changed the face of literary studies generally. We should look upon translation studies as the principal discipline now on, with comparative literature as a valued but subsidiary subject area’ (1993: 161). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, likewise, after announcing the ‘death’ of comparative literature in the old sense, makes a call for ‘a new comparative literature, whose

118  Under the Bhasha Gaze hallmark remains a care for [the] language and idiom’ of the global South (2004: 5, 8). Spivak’s and Bassnett’s words certainly call for a fresh look at comparative Indian literature from the altered perspective. What the two scholars do is to point to some of the new directions towards which comparative literature, faced as it is with the possibility of its own redundancy, has been forced to move in recent days. What their words provide is an inventory of hitherto unmapped approaches and disciplines that have invaded the territory originally occupied by comparative literature, and this provides a new legitimacy to the concept of a comparative Indian literature. This is also linked to the erosion of the concept of an aesthetically dense text that used to be invoked in discussions of European literature, whether carried out from a comparative perspective or not. Using the concepts of the ‘text’ and the ‘paratext’ as defined by Gerard Genette (1997: 1–​15), but used here more in a metaphorical sense, this can be elaborated in the following way. While the concept of the text—​armed as it is with all the aesthetic paraphernalia of formal and generic protocols that comparative literature sets up for it—​should be regarded as crucial in the evaluation of specimens of European writing, there is an unstated notion among theorists of comparative literature that Third World literature should be read also in conjunction with the paratext, constituted essentially by the mediatory and contextual elements such as the forewords, the prefaces, and the epigraphs that often lie outside the core text. Spivak certainly has been focusing particularly on the paratexts of the Indian works that she chooses to explicate for and before her readers. Her prefaces and annotations to her translations of Mahasweta Devi and other Indian bhasha writers illustrate the new elements that she has provided to comparative literature in enriching its inventory. Other scholars have added potentially newer areas of inquiry such as postcolonial studies, popular literature, cinema studies, performance studies, critical theory, New Historicism, and so on, to the list. These indeed have given a new lease of life to the traditional subject of comparative literature, but if there is one discipline that in this process can be said to have taken the place of comparative literature wholly and squarely, it is cultural studies. Cultural studies, or comparative cultural studies, which represents a merger of the methods and principles of comparative literature with cultural studies (Zepetnek 2003), is the new body of knowledge that has come in the place of comparative

Towards a Comparative Indian Literature  119 literary studies. It embodies a new epistemology that illumines the areas of reality that comparative literature in the past failed to recognize. What is happening here is the development of a new context for the study of individual languages and cultures from where to probe the possibility of generating a concept of literature that cuts across linguistic and cultural barriers. ‘Theory’ and ‘critique’ in reality are the key questions that engage the attention of the scholars associated with this development, and they bring their theoretical and critical understanding to bear upon their analysis of social concepts, including literature, gender, self, history, and culture. What comparative literature of the first kind lacks is a theoretically informed perspective that would allow the scholar to recognize the intricacies of the politics of representation and to expatiate with critical acumen on the interrelationship between literature, culture, and society. It is this lack that is sought to be remedied by cultural studies today. Here is a new interdisciplinary domain of knowledge that respects cultural pluralism, is sensitive to the operation of power in society, is politically committed, and is aware of the complexities of the politics of representation. Comparative literature in the second sense, then, is a new object of knowledge altogether different from the branch of study that was inaugurated in Europe in the early nineteenth century, in the year 1816, as some would say, through the series of French anthologies for teaching literature published under the general title Cours de litterature comparee. Reality, representation, power, political commitment—​everything connected with the discourse of literature acquires a new meaning with reference to this new object. While literary writing in the conventional model of comparative literature implied a corpus of valuable and self-​validating texts that emerged from a straight and unmediated representation of an unproblematic reality, accessible to everyone and everywhere in the same way, in the new model, it becomes a culturally constructed canon of historically contingent texts whose value is relative to and mediated by a number of linguistic, cultural, sociological, and ideological factors. The important traits characterizing literary culture in the earlier model, such as the authority of the artist, the autonomy of art, the transparency of language, the authenticity of experience, the objectivity of historical knowledge, the universality of aesthetic pleasure, and the impartiality of interpretation are all subjected to a renewed critical scrutiny in the altered environment.

120  Under the Bhasha Gaze It is significant that the traits associated with literary culture in the earlier model are also linked conceptually to the discourse of aesthetics fashioned in the eighteenth century as a specialized domain of knowledge that took an uncritical view of art and beauty, which in turn were understood in ahistorical, non-​social, and apolitical terms. The concepts of the autonomy of art and the universality of aesthetic pleasure, for example, are the basic principles of aesthetics formulated by Immanuel Kant, one of its eighteenth-​century architects, who in his Critique of Judgment (1790) spoke about art’s ‘disinterestedness’ and its ‘purposiveness without a purpose’ (1982: 476–​479; 483–​491). To be ‘disinterested’ and ‘purposive without a purpose’ also connotes the idea of literature becoming dissociated from material and historical practice, and in that sense, coincides with the literary ideology of contemporary global culture. The same could be said of the other traits associated with the old model of literature, most of which draw their conceptual ammunition from the elite discipline of aesthetics. The connection is most conspicuous in the belief in versions of aesthetic absolutism, which has been described in these pages as the hermetic aesthetic that conditions the esoteric reading of literature and art in the modern world. This aesthetic, which is pervasive in the theory and practice of comparative literature as well, is the literary mythology that has been handed down to India and other Third World cultures through colonial mediation. If we find comparative literature of the first sense to be Euro-​ centric in orientation, the reason for it is obvious enough. Mainstream comparative literature never had non-​European literatures as part of its province. No early European comparativist could think beyond the European literary horizon. Susan Bassnett quotes Paul Van Tieghem, one of the earliest practitioners of what has been described as the ‘French’ school of comparative literature, as saying in his 1931 book, La litterature comparee, on what should be the appropriate object of comparative study: ‘Comparative literature comprises the mutual relations between Greek and Latin literature, the debt of modern literature (since the Middle Ages) to ancient literature, and finally, the links connecting the various modern literatures’ (Bassnett 1993: 23). Though one could argue that the reference to ‘modern’ literature in the statement is broad enough to include literature written in any language, the literary critical work of most comparativists would indicate that, in practice, they showed little interest

Towards a Comparative Indian Literature  121 in going beyond the narrow limits of European creative writing. Some of them even attempted to provide a theoretical justification for their narrowly conceived remit, as, for example, C.L. Wrenn in his lecture on ‘The Idea of Comparative Literature’ given at the 1967 Chicago meeting of the Modern Humanities Research Association. Wrenn says: ‘Clearly fundamental differences in patterns of thinking impose relatively narrow limits. An African language, for example, is incompatible with a European one for joint approaches in comparative literature study. Even Sanskrit, though itself an Indo-​European language along with its Indian ramifications, presents a pattern of thought which renders any sort of literal translation of limited value’ (quoted in Bassnett 1993: 19–​20). Though Wrenn’s observation regarding the uniqueness of a European language’s cultural and thought patterns might be regarded as logically flawed inasmuch as it contradicts one of the key ideas in comparative literature, namely, the concept of the universality of aesthetic experience, the European comparativists’ lack of interest in non-​European literatures appears to be more an expression of the European tendency to monologize literary experience than anything else. Henry H.H. Remak, another pioneer of comparative literature, confesses that he was absolutely ignorant of the work that was being done on comparative literature in the Asian mainland even though he had 40 years of active research in the subject behind him. He says: ‘This delay, not based on a lack of goodwill, illustrates the slow gestation of non-​western orientation among typical comparatists in the occident’ (Mohan 1989: vii). This ignorance, though perhaps not a consequence of lack of goodwill, has of necessity severely curtailed the horizon of comparative literature’s conceptual universe. The rethinking of literature’s conceptual universe implied by the new model of comparative literature, then, involves the revision and reformulation of some of the basic premises on which the edifice of comparative literature has been built. Ngugi wa Thiong’O refers to one such premise when he chooses to criticize the notion of the universality of aesthetic experience valorized by western theorists of comparative literature. Speaking specifically of the concept of world literature that is a central point of debate in comparative literature today, Ngugi points out that colonialism in Africa has led to a complete erasure of African literatures, which are now supplanted by literatures written in European languages. European literatures, according to him, spirit away the real identity of

122  Under the Bhasha Gaze African literature (2007: 22). This was discussed in detail in Chapter 7. As was pointed out there, the problem with Euro-​centric literatures is that they erase the native’s sense of identity and history and replace both with European experiences of self and history. Ngugi shows how mainstream literary criticism transplants major European writers from Aeschylus and Sophocles to Gorky and Brecht from their concrete historical contexts and presents them as abstract universal beings with no rootedness whatsoever in history. ‘History’ and ‘self ’ are redefined as part of the conceptual reformulation taking place in comparative culture studies today. History, which in the conventional model often appeared as a background to the experience of writing, now enters the kernel of the literary process and becomes integral to the text’s signification. A narrative is to be deemed historical not because it is set in external history but because no narrative can escape being historical. History in what is described as the ‘historical novel’, for instance, is not merely a part of the thematic content of the novel but is something that is built into the very structure of the novel’s narrative. One might even find it difficult to disentangle history from fiction in real specimens of imaginative literature. This is precisely what Ngugi is saying. His objection to European comparative literature rests on the observation that all specimens of good literature are representations of history, and that one is ill-​advised in characterizing certain varieties of literature as dealing with universal values to the exclusion of most others, which are deemed to deal purportedly with local values. Similarly, the self or the subject, which in the past was treated as the transcendental expression of a unified and unitary personality, is now seen as multiple and fractured, a meeting place of several voices and fragmented points of view. One of the basic philosophical questions here is whether the self is pregiven or whether it is historically and culturally constituted. The study of the self of course has a long history, starting with the ancient sages and philosophers of all cultures. From the time of Descartes at least, the self has been reduced, from a psychological point of view, to the individual, but we now know from the work of a number of scholars including Freud that the self is not merely the individual. The self is invariably constituted in relation to the other, and both the self and the other are subjects that are at the mercy of forces over which neither the self nor the other has any control. There are also regulations imposed by language on the self. In the

Towards a Comparative Indian Literature  123 context of the debates taking place in comparative literature today, one might say that current theories of the self would permit one to think in terms of both individuality and universality simultaneously. This indeed is what prompts Deleuze to state: The concept of the subject has for a long time fulfilled two functions, first, a function of universalization in a field where the universal is no longer represented by objective essentials, but by acts, noetic or linguistic. [ . . . ] Second, the subject fulfills a function of individuation in a field where the individual can no longer be a thing or a soul, but is instead a person, alive and sentient, speaking and spoken to. (1991: 94)

Similar changes have come over the meanings of other comparable concepts like ‘gender’, ‘discourse’, and ‘culture’. We shall not examine them here, but shall conclude this account by making a brief reference to a word that is intimately connected to culture—​‘technology’. Inasmuch as comparative literature in the electronic era cannot ignore the impact of technology on the sensibility of the individual, such a discussion will be significant for comprehending the relation between literature and the other arts. While ‘art’ and ‘technology’ appear to come from two different worlds, it is somewhat paradoxical to note that the two words shared the same semantic environment in the premodern world. The Oxford English Dictionary (1992) indicates that the two are derived from semantically related root words, Latin and Greek, respectively, which originally had the meaning of ‘skill’. The Latin ‘ar’, the root of ‘art’, referred to ‘skill in joining things’. So did Greek ‘tekne’, the root of ‘technology’, which too meant ‘skill’. It was in the eighteenth century, in the wake of the industrial revolution, that the two words diverged and took on new connotations. Technology, which in the past was understood as a physical skill external to human subjective experience, has today become an integral part of the imagination and subjectivity. Perhaps Raymond Williams had anticipated this possibility some time ago when he coined the expression ‘mobile privatization’ to talk about the impact of television on the private lives of individuals (1974: 19–​21). Following Foucault, one might also talk about the technologies of self which are principles formulated in connection with his theory of biopolitics, but which in some sense can also be treated as extensions of technology developed under

124  Under the Bhasha Gaze capitalism. Technology was for long regarded as a tool in the service of the human individual, who with its support could extend his or her abilities beyond the physical body. It is no longer merely thought so, but has become an internal, subjective aspect of the human personality, an aspect of the individual’s interior landscape. Today’s electronic revolution can be said to have changed our sensibility in the same way as printing or seeing art on the printed page changed it a few centuries earlier. Velcheru Narayana Rao has, in an essay on the intervention of the technology of printing in the making of modern Telugu, discussed the way in which the introduction of printing affected the evolution of the Telugu literary sensibility in the nineteenth century (Blackburn and Dalmia 2004: 146–​166). As was indicated in Chapter 3, citing Narayana Rao, what ultimately decided the fate of modern Telugu literature, was the adoption of one of the two competing varieties of the language for printing consequent to the introduction of printing technology in the nineteenth century. Here is an important lesson for literary scholars in the age of advanced technology, a lesson that comparative literature will be in a position to accommodate only if it is prepared to enlarge its boundaries as prescribed by the new model of the discipline. The new model of comparative literature can be described as tailor-​ made for the study of Indian bhasha literatures for the simple reason that it is the altered theoretical context that has led to the constitution of the object of knowledge called bhasha literature in the first place. For one thing, the model’s implicit acknowledgement of linguistic polyphony—​ sometimes related to the writer’s bilingualism—​as a principle of literary production sits comfortably with the cultural pluralism of the Indian creative personality. In fact, the kind of bilingualism that Indian bhasha-​ speakers exemplify is peculiar inasmuch as it is not a case of a speaker using two or more languages in unrelated contexts demanding the use of separate languages. The bilingualism that one speaks of with reference to the bhashas, on the other hand, is closer to the idea of code mixing, which enables speech to have resonances that are unavailable to ‘pure’ forms of the language. It is the physical contiguity of bhashas that paves the way for this kind of bilingualism. Ananthamurthy was referring to this aspect of bilingualism when he talked about the fusing of other languages with Kannada by the speakers belonging to different parts of Karnataka: ‘Kannada gets enriched by Marathi in Belgaum, Tamil in

Towards a Comparative Indian Literature  125 Kolar Gold Fields and Telugu in Bellary. You have to search for a pure Kannadiga. A significant number of Kannadigas are Urdu-​Kannadigas, Tamil-​Kannadigas, Telugu-​Kannadigas, Marathi-​Kannadigas, Tulu-​ Kannadigas, Kodava-​Kannadigas and Konkani-​Kannadigas’ (2014: 15). This is true of other Indian bhashas as well, whose stylistic range and variety emerge from the diversity of the country’s speech genres. After describing Tagore’s Bengali work, Gora, as a ‘modern epic’, Amiya Dev quotes Ananthamurthy’s observation that Gora is the most important Indian novel of our times (Dev 2018: 71). Ananthamurthy’s praise of course is for a writer who has been hailed as an architect of modern prose, who uses in his writings ‘all the modes of Bengali prose, all the styles that were and are living’ (Bose 1961: 108). One might not be wide off the mark in extending this characteristic to any bhasha writer of some significance. Here then is a strong case for conceiving a discretely composed comparative Indian literature. A second, equally important, idea that points towards the possibility of a comparative Indian literature pertains to the problem connected with the erasure of the colonized subject’s self and history that followed the advent of colonialism and modernity in the non-​European world. The erasure was achieved through what can be described as an ‘English cosmopolis’—​comparable to Pollock’s ‘Sanskrit cosmopolis’ or Richard Eaton’s more recent ‘Persian cosmopolis’—​that managed to contain dissent and confine it to a region after effecting a concerted suppression of the bhashas. Sudipta Kaviraj appears to have this in mind when he says, making a pointed reference to Bengali, that a language ‘not only unites people, it also effectively divides them’ (2010: 127). It is through language that a community recollects its past history and thus constructs its identity. Suppression of the language would naturally lead to an effacement of memory and the collective history of a people. Tagore perhaps was trying to resist this suppression by releasing through his writings the power of the Bengali language. When Amiya Dev talks about the power of Tagore’s words that act as ‘a surer way to truth’, he is pointing to this element of resistance (2018: 17). That the resistance can take several forms is suggested by Prachi Deshpande (2007), who cites the case of the Marathi language to show how precolonial Maratha history centred on the figure of Shivaji plays a crucial role in the cultural and political configuration of present-​ day Maharashtra. It is possible to consider the emergence of the novel and

126  Under the Bhasha Gaze other forms of modern literary genres in the nineteenth century as yet another way of resisting the suppression of the bhashas. Though the novel partakes of the formal features of the western genre, it can be argued that by integrating the genre skilfully with indigenous forms of narration of a more traditional nature, the Indian novelist is bringing about a kind of coup d’etat that effectively overturns the western form. Two edited works of comparative Indian literature that between them represent the basic characteristics of the new model of comparative reading deserve special mention. The fact that both works contain writings by diverse hands perhaps is significant in that it symbolically represents the multiplicity of viewpoints that any integrated approach to Indian literature invariably carries. The first of these is the volume of critical essays edited by Sheldon Pollock under the title Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia (2003). This is a path-​breaking collection of essays on the literary history of the various languages in the Indian subcontinent reconstructed from a rigorous cultural studies perspective. This voluminous work that runs into more than a thousand pages is the outcome of a monumental project aimed at historicizing the study of Indian literature, and involving an assortment of scholars and researchers drawn from such diverse disciplines as history, anthropology, political science, and literary criticism. The essays in the volume are not about Indian bhashas alone, nor are they confined to the period of modernity. The study of bhasha literatures apart, there are long and in-​depth analyses of the literary cultures connected with such languages as Sanskrit, Pali, Persian, Tibetan, and Sinhalese. There are also deeply historicized analyses of the state of literature pertaining to the Indian languages in the classical and premodern times. However, the focus in most of the essays is on the passage from the premodern to the modern that has also led to a new understanding of the idea of literature in several cultures. One may have reservations about the specifics of the arguments that the authors make, or with their perceptions and judgements on particular questions, but one might find it difficult to disagree with David Shulman’s observation that with the arrival of this book, the field of study called Indian literary history ‘has been irrevocably transformed’ (2005: 378). The second work is Satya P. Mohanty’s edited collection of essays titled Colonialism, Modernity and Literature: A View from India (2011). Though

Towards a Comparative Indian Literature  127 basically a collection of readings on Fakirmohan Senapati’s nineteenth-​ century novel in Odia, Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Third, 1897–​1899), the essays in the volume gain strength from a view of literature that is built on a firm comparative framework. The essays provide close critical readings of the novel made from a perspective that the contributors describe as ‘a literary view from below’. The editor’s introduction raises some of the central issues that are pertinent to the discussion of modernity in the context of Indian literature. Mohanty is aware that one cannot in the present cultural scenario talk about a singular tradition of modernity. Though we are familiar with the practice of looking upon such values as social equity, equality, democracy, individuality, and critical and historical spirit as inconsistent with premodern and non-​western forms of social organization, what the essays in the collection affirm is that there is nothing particularly western about these values and that one can legitimately talk about non-​western sites of modernity endemic to the premodern world. It is the systematic distribution of such sites in the imaginative geography connected with creative practice in India that Mohanty and his fellow contributors attempt to unravel, seeking to illustrate it both by looking at Chha Mana in isolation and by placing it in conjunction with other Indian and non-​Indian texts selected from diverse cultures.

9 Realism in the Bhasha Novel The Case of Paraja

Gopinath Mohanty’s Paraja (1945) is one of the earliest Indian novels set in the tribal world. A creative work that can also be read as a document in social anthropology, this Odia novel is a fictional rendering of the lives and practices of Parajas, a tribal community from the mountains and forests of Koraput in Odisha. Often hailed as a deftly crafted narrative that carries forward the traditions of the social novel in Indian bhashas initiated by such early novelists as Rajanikanta Bordoloi (Asamiya), Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (Bangla), Thakur Jagmohan Singh (Hindi), O. Chandu Menon (Malayalam), R.B. Gunjikar (Marathi), Fakirmohan Senapati (Odia), Kandukuri Veeresalingam (Telugu), and Mirza Ruswa (Urdu), it would, in today’s context of heightened self-​consciousness about the complexities of narrative discourse, raise a number of questions regarding its status as a bhasha novel that deals with the issues of modernity, progress, the everyday, and social exclusion. In this context, it will be worthwhile to read Paraja as a representation of certain important literary trends that dominated the pan-​Indian literary culture of the period in which Gopinath Mohanty lived. Through a reading of the novel’s realism and its participation in the idea of progress, one might hope to discover how Paraja, even as it inhabits the environment of modernity, forces one to challenge and redefine that environment in certain crucial respects. As an artist who started on his creative career in the late 1930s, Mohanty, author of more than 20 novels and numerous short stories, belongs to the generation of such Indian writers as Manik Bandopadhyay (Bangla), R.K. Narayan (English), Munshi Premchand (Hindi/​Urdu), Pannalal Patel (Gujarati), Shivarama Karanth (Kannada), Niranjana (Kannada), Kalindi Charan Panigrahi (Odia), Kartar Singh Duggal Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0010

The Case of Paraja  129 (Punjabi), Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (Malayalam), Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (Malayalam), and Pudumaipittan (Tamil) who collectively symbolize a new approach to art as social discourse. The 1930s were turbulent years in Indian history, whose sense of its distance from the past gave a new vibrancy to the various liberal and social renaissance initiatives that it generated and whose impact on the nationalist movement was quite perceptible. Marx, Gandhi, and Ambedkar emerged as the icons of liberation in the Indian popular imagination primarily in this decade. The decade also witnessed the birth of the All India Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) which was formed in 1936 under the leadership of Munshi Premchand and Sajjad Zahir, and which had the active support of such celebrated figures as Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Mulk Raj Anand, and Hasrat Mohani. There indeed was an international dimension to the founding of the Association as it was also a response to the various resistance movements organized across the world by such writers as Romain Rolland, Maxim Gorky, and Henri Barbusse. The emergence of new dictators in parts of Europe, especially of General Franco in Spain who had assumed power after overthrowing a legally constituted republican government, had provided urgency and legitimacy to the international resistance. The Progressive Writers Association worked in tandem with the League against Fascism and War formed in 1937 under the leadership of Rabindranath Tagore and Saumendranath Tagore. The two organizations together represented the collective anxiety of the Indian creative mind in a period which, in spite of its recognition of the writer’s creative autonomy, shared in a general distrust of capitalism and imperialism as well as in the colonial policies promoting poverty, inequality, war, injustice, and social exclusion. ‘Realism’ is the general term that literary traditions in Indian bhashas, used as they are to the practice of borrowing critical templates from western aesthetics, adopt in order to describe the mode of representation followed by the fictionists of this period. The historical specificity of the place or the experiential singularity of the subject represented does not count for much here. All that matters is the colonial idea of the ‘real’, and it is this that prompts Meenakshi Mukherjee to state that the genesis of the Indian bhasha novel cannot be extricated from the literate Indian readers’ enthusiasm for ‘mimetic representation’ as embodied in the British fiction of the nineteenth century (2002: xi). It is this enthusiasm

130  Under the Bhasha Gaze again that inspires Fakirmohan Senapati, the acclaimed predecessor of Gopinath Mohanty and the author of Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Third, 1902), to ascend ‘the apex of realism’ in the Odia fiction of the nineteenth century (S.P. Mohanty 2011: 6). The enthusiasm apparently has continued well into the mid-​twentieth century, turning most Indian writers of Gopinath Mohanty’s generation into practitioners of various forms of social realism. Most of the bhasha writers mentioned above in this chapter are invariably regarded as realists of diverse hues, who explore various aspects of the social reality and provide a ‘truthful’ representation of the life around them. In his History of Indian Literature, Sisir Kumar Das groups together the fiction of Premchand, Niranjana, and Manik Bandyopadhyay as admirable examples of the writings of the period that express a ‘grim realism’ (1995: 268). Premchand’s Godaan is sometimes described by critics as marking a departure from his usual practice of narrative realism (Mohapatra 2011: 94–​95). Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935) is described as subscribing to the ‘tradition of protest literature’ that deals with ‘the reality of marginalization’ in pre-​Independence India (Bhattacharya 2007: xvii). A standard history of Tamil literature describes Pudumaipittan, Gopinath Mohanty’s contemporary from Tamil, as a gifted writer who portrays with ‘realism’ whatever he sees around him (Varadarajan 1988: 286). K.V Tirumalesh talks about a ‘realistic tradition’ that takes firm roots in Kannada fiction in the 1920s, which lasts up to the 1960s (2005: 73). Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s early novel Balyakala Sakhi (Childhood Friend, 1944) is described by critic M.P. Paul as a page torn off the book of life with blood oozing from the margins (Basheer 1992: 11). Talking in general about the Malayalam fiction writers of the 1930s and 1940s, Sisir Kumar Das also points out that they depicted the life of the downtrodden and the working class ‘with vivid realism’ (1995: 262). Gopinath Mohanty himself is described as belonging to a ‘generation of writers to whom social commitment [came] naturally’; his Paraja is summed up as a work that tells you: ‘it was thus’ (B.K. Das 1987: v, vii). This indeed would prompt one to take a relook at the whole idea of narrative realism and see if realism in the Indian bhasha context would communicate anything more or other than its nineteenth-​ century European sense of verisimilitude and accuracy in representation. In European literature, realism has generally meant an attitude to life geared

The Case of Paraja  131 to the authenticity of experience. But in Indian writing—​and in several other non-​European literatures like Latin American writing—​realism also implies, apart from an attitude to life, a vision, a perspective, and a method of writing as well. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, as is quite well known, implies a vision of life that recognizes the fluidity and multiplicity of experience, which is sought to be captured in a language that does not rest on the principle of experiential authenticity for its meaning. In his introduction to Strange Pilgrims (1993), Marquez says that for a creative artist, ‘true’ memories of what one has gone through in the past are less significant in comparison with ‘false’ and ‘distorted’ recollections of one’s experience which somehow appear to be more real than what are deemed ‘real’ memories (1993: xii). This is true of other versions of realism including its Indian and other non-​European equivalents, some of which were drawn upon by European writers themselves, as pointed out by Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, and others who participated in what is known as the ‘Brecht-​Lukacs debate on realism’ (R. Taylor 1977). Several Indian works of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century—​such as C.V. Raman Pillai’s novel Marthanda Varma (1891) in Malayalam, Gurajada Apparao’s play Kanyasulkam (Girls for Sale, 1892) in Telugu, and Fakirmohan Senapati’s Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Third, 1897–​99) in Odia—​are seen to deviate from the European classic realist model by incorporating copiously into the literary text elements from oral and non-​hegemonic traditions of narration. This is to enter contested territories, because novelistic realism is often regarded as a literary device that was imported into Indian bhashas along with the advent of western modernity. As indicated in the previous chapters, this view will have to be rethought in the light of alternative positions that argue for Indian versions of modernity connected with individual bhashas. Several bhasha scholars, speaking independently of each other, have in the past pointed this out. Speaking of the wide variety of narrative modes prevalent in precolonial India, Ayyappa Paniker has referred to a realm of cultural practice traversing such forms as music, theatre, painting, literature, and folklore, whose lessons are sought to be internalized today by several ‘postmodern’ artists in the West (Paniker 2003: 4, 153–​168). Bhalchandra Nemade has discovered a ‘nativist’ spirit akin to modernity at work in the Marathi mind from very early days which, in

132  Under the Bhasha Gaze his view, can be abstracted from India’s own cultural traditions (Nemade 2009: 9–​37). Providing copious illustrations from Gujarati and Marathi literatures, G.N. Devy argues that there was nothing un-​modern in the precolonial literary attitudes in Indian bhashas, which today one could only regard as ‘the living cultural heritage’ of India that was replaced in the colonial days ‘with a fantasy of the past’ (Devy 1992: 55). Partha Chatterjee has suggested that the Bangla modernity, as opposed to western modernity, is ‘deeply ambiguous’ and is characterized by a ‘nationalization of new knowledges’ (1997: 20; 14–​17). U.R. Ananthamurthy has talked about a distinct spirit of regional creativity that has acted as a guiding principle for the innovative literary mind in Kannada from the precolonial days (2014: 51–​53). Attempts have been underway in Malayalam to reinterpret the ethics represented by the social reformer Narayana Guru as an indigenous upsurge of the modern temper (Rajeevan 2009: 241–​ 343). This modernity, it is also suggested, goes hand in hand with the developments in literature that has led to the creation of a ‘new’ literary and cultural taste in the language (Panikkar 1995: 123). This certainly has been happening in other Indian bhashas too, as indicated by the contents of the volume of essays on Senapati’s Chha Mana Atha Guntha, edited by Satya P. Mohanty (2011). Apart from allowing one to read the rise of the Indian novel across languages in the late nineteenth century in a new light, such conceptions of modernity would also provide a new meaning for the idea of realism in Indian bhashas. In this context, one might find Mohanty’s argument that Fakirmohan Senapati’s experiments with language and narrative style turn Chha Mana Atha Guntha into a radical text that subverts the conventions of western realism to be greatly persuasive in considering the realism appearing in the bhasha writing of the period. The above argument to be sure could be extended to Paraja and stated with greater emphasis, because Gopinath Mohanty is critically recognized in Odisha as the most important writer to have continued the narrative tradition of Fakirmohan Senapati and enriched Odia prose by extending its colloquial vocabulary (Gopinath Mohanty 2015). Paraja and several other Indian novels of the period such as Shivaram Karanth’s Chomana Dudi (Choma’s Drum, 1933), Thakazhi’s Thottiyude Makan (Scavenger’s Son, 1947), and Phanishwar Nath Renu’s Maila Anchal (The Soiled Border, 1954) can properly be comprehended only if the reader is sensitive to their layered textures and to the muted voices embedded in

The Case of Paraja  133 them. One will have to be mindful of the internal conflicts operative in the novelistic texts in order to recapture what E.V. Ramakrishnan calls ‘the indigenous imaginaries’ at work in them (2017). In the case of Paraja, for instance, one cannot fail to notice the conflict between modernity’s institutions of legal jurisprudence that dominate the tribal life at the material level and the tribes-​people’s own traditional belief systems that bind them to the land they are born into, which becomes so crucial in the evolution of the story. One cannot say that the tribal belief in an Earth Goddess that is witness to the injustices being perpetrated on them is unmodern. It merely signifies an ethic that is inconsistent with the ‘civilized’ ethic of western modernity. There are occasions in the novel that foreground the conflict between these two ethics. Here is an instance in Chapter 52 which describes Sahukar Ramachandra Bisoi’s immoral and unjust annexation of the land belonging to the members of the Kondh tribe. The Sahukar had, sometime earlier, forcefully occupied the tribal lands adjoining his own plot and ordered his gotis, the labourers in his bonded service, to cultivate paddy there. But since according to the law the tribal lands were inalienable and non-​transferable, the lands were later restored to the Kondhs themselves. The Sahukar however uses his proximity to power to persuade the revenue officials to recognize his rights over the lands and permit him to take possession of them. The tribesmen can only look on helplessly in fear and wonder as things unfold before them. They pray for a meeting of the Panchayat to be convened, but nothing comes of it as the legal nitty-​gritty connected with land transactions in modernity is beyond their understanding. They have no documents to support their claim over the lands. They swear an oath that goes like this: ‘The Earth Goddess is our witness, and the sacred Kodingamali Mountain is our witness. May our lands wither away and all our cattle and children die if we speak a falsehood. The land is ours’. There is little that can come of this. ‘It was an impressive oath but useless against the sharp [modernity-​driven] logic of the Sahukar supported by all legal documents’, says the narrator (G. Mohanty 1987: 198).1 The story repeats itself in the dispute between Sukru Jani, the novel’s protagonist, and the Sahukar a little later. As is to be expected, Sukru Jani loses the battle, and in the process the little piece 1 All references to the text of Paraja will henceforth be indicated by page numbers in parenthesis.

134  Under the Bhasha Gaze of land he had in his possession. In the end, he even loses his daughter to the wicked and lascivious Sahukar. Though Gopinath Mohanty, unlike his contemporaries Sachidananda Routroy or Bhagabadi Charan Panigrahi, is not regarded as a ‘Pragativadi’ or ‘progressive’ writer in the history of modern Odia literature, one might consider the idea of progress to be an important constituent of the literary ethos that produced Mohanty. (Mohanty, it may be remembered, was a translator of Maxim Gorky’s works into Odia.) In neighbouring Bengal, as Ritwik Ghatak reports, this was the time when they witnessed ‘an unprecedented expansion of progressive influence in the cultural sphere’ (2006: 15). Though the rhetoric of progress is an important dimension of western modernity, progress as a cultural trait rather than a natural attribute of the living world is to be seen as a characteristic of the bhasha modernity that we are considering. As a concept that refers to the possibility of the world becoming increasingly better in terms of knowledge production, quality of life, science and technology, and structures of administration and governance, progress has come to mean a natural extension of western modernity, defined especially as a function of the European discourse of enlightenment rationality that entered the non-​ European world through colonial contact. This idea of progress in a sense was what was sought to be cultivated by the PWA in most Indian languages in the 1930s, though it is clear from the debates that took place in the period that there were scholars in PWA who were more sensitive about the nuances of the concept (Pradhan 1979). ‘Pragati’, ‘Purogati’, ‘Unnati’, ‘Pragatiseel’, and ‘Pragativad’ are terms that became popular in a number of Indian bhashas during this period. As Munshi Premchand emphasized in his famous presidential address given at the inaugural meeting of the PWA at Lucknow in 1936, for society’s progress, the writer in the altered times will have to recapture his/​her lost contact with the community. Life in all its glory will have to be reclaimed. Man and life are centrepieces in the problematic of western modernity in the period we are considering. Man was still the measure of all things and life a matter to be celebrated in those pre-​Foucault days. Celebrating man and life: this was what a writer like Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai thought he and his colleagues were doing in the Malayalam literary context when they composed novels and short stories in a language and an idiom that did not conform to the norms of the

The Case of Paraja  135 dominant aesthetic. As progressive writers, Thakazhi and Basheer took pleasure in writing about the ‘dirty’ and ‘filthy’ aspects of life, as did Mulk Raj Anand in Untouchable. The rhetoric of progress, as already noted, is certainly a central aspect of modernity, which has been somewhat too willing to denounce whatever is perceived as superficially ‘grand’ and ‘glorious’ in preference for the dirty. One of Thakazhi’s and Basheer’s earliest publications was a collection of short stories with the title Anchu Cheetta Kathakal (Five Bad Stories), which carried, apart from their own short stories, the fiction of some of the most proficient Malayalam writers of the day: Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkey, and S.K. Pottekkat. Referring to his and his friends’ literary endeavours of the time, Thakazhi says in his autobiography: ‘We finished our education in the arena of life, on which we had plenty to narrate—​regarding what we went through in our life of poverty, misery and grief ’ (T.S. Pillai 2007: 371). It was not aesthetics, but progress in the sense of a positive orientation towards life that animated their writings. Through their writings, they were also producing a reading public, a community of readers who would respond to their narration sympathetically. Sisir Kumar Das recognizes this, and that is why he makes the following statement about all the writers of the period, not about the progressive writers alone: ‘The hope that one finds in Indian literature in this period comes from the writer’s undying faith in the common man’s determination to live and to rebuild their “villages” ’ (1995: 392). What Das refers to here are community narratives—​not narratives about village communities alone—​that proliferated during this period, and which, according to him, had ‘both a philosophical and a political dimension’ (1995: 392). Das specifically mentions Luhara Maniso by Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Manvini Bhavai by Pannalal Patel, Harijan by Gopinath Mohanty, and Ichmati by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay as novels that articulated the aspirations of a community by focusing on its life and cultural practices. Novels such as Phanishwar Nath Renu’s Maila Anchal (1954), generally described as regional novels, could also be clubbed with this. A focus on life also meant a commitment to life’s trivia, to the everyday, and to the ordinary. Progress also implied this. Literature is not an elite discourse. It is ‘ordinary’, to paraphrase Raymond Williams’s well-​known definition of culture, and it is literature’s ordinariness that makes it progressive. This was what Mulk Raj Anand and Shivram Karanth implied when they set their novels Untouchable and

136  Under the Bhasha Gaze Chomana Dudi in the ‘dirty’ colonies populated by Dalit outcastes. Thakazhi too implied the same by locating his novel Thottiyude Makan in a ‘filthy’ scavengers’ colony. Gopinath Mohanty’s purpose in locating Paraja in a tribal settlement could not have been different. Though Mohanty was not formally connected with the progressive literary movement in Odisha, social commitment, as his translator Bikram K Das points out, came ‘naturally’ to him (1987: v). Social commitment certainly was part of the idea of progress in the 1930s and 1940s. ‘By progress we refer to that condition which creates in us strength and vigour, which makes us aware of our misery, which enables us to analyse the internal and external factors that have reduced us to the present state of inertia, and which attempts to remedy them’, states Premchand in his Presidential address at the inaugural meeting of the PWA held at Lucknow (Pradhan 1979). If one is progressive, obviously one cannot help being socially committed. However, what we see in Mohanty is not a blind support to the idea of progress as defined in European terms, but an attempt to redefine progress on its own terms, which would perhaps render it more consistent with Indian modernity. This modernity in some sense is the meeting ground of Marx, Gandhi, and Ambedkar, whatever conflicted relations the philosophies represented by the three visionaries might have had at the practical level in pre-​Independence India. This idea of progress is inalienable from social commitment and it is inherent in the idiom that the writer uses. This was suggested by Joseph Mundasseri, the distinguished Malayalam critic of the time, who though an early associate of the PWA, quit the movement in protest against the Communist Party’s perceived interference in its internal affairs. In an essay titled ‘Sahitya Purogati’ (Progress in Literature, 1951), Mundasseri writes: A progressive writer feels compelled to disclose his real affiliation when the struggle for social freedom becomes a pragmatic issue. In political struggles he can only join the ranks of the people. He will be on the side of the exploited in economic struggles and of the oppressed in social struggles. This is because he sees life as the flip side of unfreedom, and therefore as the site of real freedom. (1988: 24)

The sense of ‘affiliation’ that Mundasseri speaks about could rouse fierce passions among writers. Such passions sometimes dominated the

The Case of Paraja  137 articulations of progressive writers and reduced their writings to hollow rhetoric. Occasions of such rhetoric are rare in Paraja, although there is one moment in the story where passions arising out of ‘affiliation’ seem to dominate the narrative. Here it is: The great ones of the earth are unconcerned about the opinions that such insignificant folk hold about them. Their eyes see only the ashes remaining from the holocaust that they themselves have caused, but not the fire that smoulders underneath. And the fire feeds on itself and waits. (127)

This perhaps is a moment in Paraja where Mohanty chooses to disclose what Mundasseri calls his real ‘affiliation’ in a divided world. What Mundasseri does in the quoted passage is to reinterpret progress as sensitivity to the conflict between freedom and unfreedom. This was a new understanding of progress that radically deviated from western modernity’s notion of progress as nature, as a process governed by natural laws. Looking at things in retrospect today, one would realize that an important lacuna in the aesthetic of the PWA consisted in its acquiescence in a positivistic theory of art. It may be recalled that the manifesto adopted at the first meeting of the PWA called upon the Indian writers to assist in developing ‘a spirit of progress’ in the country by infusing the temper of ‘scientific rationalism’ in literature. Progress in art then becomes comparable to progress in natural sciences (Pradhan 1979). Organic evolution in this view is the prototype of social progress. Hence the teleological possibility of the world evolving naturally into a better place through scientific and technological development. Progress in reality, however, is not a natural trait but is a cultural phenomenon. It is not being, it is a matter of becoming. One can see this divided attitude to progress unfolding itself at several places in the narrative of Paraja. To take a closer look at the text of the novel, one of the important aspects of Paraja is its celebration of nature, which comes to life and almost becomes a living character in the narrative. Sukru Jani’s distrust of the civilized world cannot be disentangled from his deep allegiance to nature. Nature is a thing of perpetual awe and wonder for him. He would never feel tired of taking time off his work to survey the hills before him and wonder each time about the vastness of the forest (22). This is why

138  Under the Bhasha Gaze the identification of the tribal people with nature and the attribution of natural qualities to them become common features of the figuration employed in the novel. The intermingling of man and nature too is not uncommon. Here are a few examples: A tribal roused to fury is like a beast of the jungle. Sukru Jani was flushed and swollen with anger, his vision blurred. (31) His [i.e. Mandia Jani’s] rice crop and his Kajodi, his house overflowing with rice and his heart overflowing with Kajodi, became one and inseparable in his consciousness. (63) Other girls were out in the jungle, alone or in groups, for the forest echoed to the sounds of their shouting and laughter. (90) The land to him [i.e. Sukru Jani] was not merely a patch of earth—​it was part of his body. (193)

The tribal subject’s identity, which is etched on his/​her physical body, realizes itself only in close proximity to nature. S/​he is part of the natural world. In contrast to the pristine condition of the natural world is the dark and sombre civilized world, which is often portrayed as corrupt, dishonest, intrusive, and lecherous. The forest guard who appears in Chapter 2 of the novel is a typical specimen of this world. His identity is marked on his body. ‘He could easily be recognized as one from the civilized world, because in those hills, where people went about half-​naked, he was dressed in shirt and shorts’ (9). This does not mean that structures of western modernity are totally excluded from the experience encoded in the narrative. There indeed is a rupture in the pattern of experience in Paraja, and this is evident from the fact that Sukru Jani’s love of nature and his deep distrust of the civilized world do not sit comfortably with his abiding faith in the power of civilization to change the world. In a sense, Sukru Jani’s visions of the future emanate from the picture of the world visualized by a predatory western modernity. They are built on his faith in man and man’s ability to conquer nature. He sees a world cleared of all forests in his pet dream: ‘He sees, in his fancy, that all the hills around his village have been completely cleared

The Case of Paraja  139 of forest and neatly cut into terraced fields where crops grow luxuriantly, and they are all his. Wherever he looks he sees only cultivated fields’ (5); ‘How nice it would be if all these trees could be cut down and the ground completely cleared and made ready to raise our crops’ (22). His dreams are described as ‘taking shape’ in step with his act of clearing the forests and carving out a plot of land for cultivation (23). They are shattered and turn to a ‘nightmare’ when he is booked by the forest officials (41–​43). The question of Paraja’s modernity perhaps can be resolved only through an analysis of the novel that places it in the broader context of the historical constitution of the Indian literary imagination, and assimilation by the Indian mind of the neoliberal discourse of development as it impinges on the tribal experience. The tribal issue figures prominently in the recent fiction of several authors such as Temsula Ao, Easterine Kire, P.Valsala, and Narayan. But it is in the writings of Mahasweta Devi, the most articulate Indian fictionist to deal with the tribal question after the period of Gopinath Mohanty, that the continuing communication gap between the tribal India and the mainstream India receives the most focused attention. ‘Their roads have run parallel’, says Mahasweta Devi on this, and adds: ‘whatever has come in the name of development has spelled disaster for the tribes. And they do not know how to dishonour others’ (Devi 1993: xvi). In fact, Gopinath Mohanty was one of the earliest creative artists in India to seriously ponder over the problems of the tribal communities and their marginalized status. Before him, most of the work done on the tribals was in the field of anthropology, a discipline whose links with the project of western modernity have been closely and critically scrutinized by a wide spectrum of contemporary theoretical scholarship. Mohanty himself was inspired to study the plight of the tribals and their culture because they seemed to represent to him ‘an ancient stage of human civilization with much that was of sterling worth, least inhibited and least sophisticated’ (Mahapatra 1992: 8). Needless to say, there is a vision of an alternative modernity embedded in this statement. And it is this vision that one might draw upon in elaborating an agenda for an inclusive and pluralistic Indian literary ethos.

10 Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences The generally accepted European sense of modernity, which is what we have been critiquing here, is as a universal state of being towards which cultures travel, discarding past beliefs and customs. All cultures, irrespective of their geographic location and their temporal affiliation, inevitably take—​or are expected to take—​this road sooner or later. Literature is important in the scheme of things connected with this development, as it is supposed to prepare the subjective ground for this travel and to set up the human mind for the change. The idea of literature, however, has undergone radical transformations over the past half a century, transformations that would not allow for an easy accommodation of the old sense of modernity in the new environment. This also calls for a new conception of the relationship between modernity and literature, which was what the Malayalam literary critic Kesari Balakrishna Pillai (1889–​1960) demonstrated, perhaps a great deal ahead of his time, through his life and work. Although Kesari is one of India’s early public intellectuals who, through his journalistic interventions, established democratic accountability from the rulers as a fundamental principle of public governance, it is as an architect of modern literary criticism in Malayalam that he etched his name in the history of Indian bhasha literatures. These are the two facets of his personality that acted in close union to produce a complex political individual. While his early journalistic writings had the effect of extending the frontiers of Tiruvitamkur, his native country in pre-​ Independence India, into the vastness of an ever-​widening international polity, through the literary criticism of his later, post-​journalistic life, he translated and presented the international world of art and culture to his simple and undemanding fellow-​countrymen. Both moves were part of his attempt to negotiate western modernity for the Malayalam literary imagination at a time when similar efforts were being made by intellectuals in other Indian bhashas too. Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0011

Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences  141 This is also linked to the historical process of the constitution of literary criticism as a contested genre of writing in Indian bhashas in the late nineteenth century. For criticism in the modern sense of a reasoned discussion of individual works and authors with a view to passing judgment on their comparative worth was shot through with contradiction right from the early days of modernity in all bhashas. This was primarily because of the conflicting pulls of the cultural strength of classical Sanskrit and Persian poetics on the one hand and the hegemonic power of western critical scholarship on the other. Though Indian language critics such as Lakshminath Bezbarua (Assamese), Bankimchandra Chatterjee (Bangla), B.M. Srikantayya (Kannada), N.C. Kelkar (Marathi), Nanda Kishore Bal (Odia), M.P. Paul (Malayalam), and Chidambaranath Mudaliyar (Tamil) chose to follow the methods of western scholarship in their critical pursuit in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the choice, as Sisir Kumar Das has pointed out, was not unambiguous. ‘There was a strong patriotic component which prompted many of our critics to take a rigid position resisting western influence on literature and literary thought’ (1995: 249). But in the case of some others, the contradiction created a tension between western and Indian ways of literary thinking, leading to the creation of a split critical personality, wherein attitudes connected with both colonial and Indian versions of modernity could be seen to coexist. Kesari is one such writer who, however, does not allow the split in his personality to blunt his critical power, but reunites and reshapes it in such a way as to redeem modernity’s transformative power. Kesari’s fame in Malayalam literary history is as a pioneering critical thinker who introduced western ideas into Kerala’s literary landscape in the early decades of the twentieth century. His essays in literary and cultural criticism are replete with references to Indian poetics and Indian literary classics. It is true that he was extremely well read in western literature, both classical and modern. His choice of western authors for commentary and critical reference in the 1930s and 1940s included such contemporary and near-​contemporary artists and writers as Marcel Proust, Remy de Gourmont, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Benedetto Croce, Arthur Schnitzler, Isaac Babel, Alexander Kuprin, Kate Chopin, Alexander Blok, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Luigi Pirandello. The European works that he chose for translation

142  Under the Bhasha Gaze into Malayalam too were mostly works by contemporary authors, which was discussed in detail in Chapter 6. His was an encyclopaedic imagination that embraced a range of knowledge domains, which included history, politics, journalism, psychology, sociology, archaeology, linguistics, astrology, legal studies, folklore, and social anthropology, as well as art and art history. His interventions in the several debates in these disparate disciplines also indicate that his level of familiarity with the developments in each of them was fairly comprehensive and up to date. It has been pointed out, on the strength of his reviews of S.K. Pottekkat’s anthology of short stories, Asramattinte Neduveerpukal (Sighs of the Hermitage), and Nalapat Narayana Menon’s study of sexology, Ratisamrajyam (The Erotic Empire), that his book reviews would invariably contain an update on the current state of knowledge in the discipline concerned (Tatapuram Sukumaran 1982: 4). This was the seminal importance of Kesari’s essays and reviews, which in the eyes of his readers were serious critical interventions into the debates on the subject concerned. If one could describe the Indian and western knowledge systems that Kesari sought to combine in his work as representing two discrete and internally coherent cultural models, he can be regarded as one torn between the cultural traditions of the East and the West. This, of course, is a somewhat reductive way of approaching the problem, because he is aware of the dissensions and contradictions within each of these models. Like his illustrious older compatriot Rabindranath Tagore who was branded by his critics as a diehard modernist, Kesari too was chastised by local pundits for what they saw as his fancy for western thought. Both were censured for their alleged attempts to convert their respective languages into appendices of Europe, a charge that Buddhadev Bose is said to have raised against Tagore (Sisir Kumar Das 1995: 227). In some of his writings, Kesari argued for a healthy blending of ideas derived not only from Sanskrit and English but also from native and indigenous traditions of knowledge. He proclaims: ‘In the times to come, Malayalam cannot be expected to grow if we depend solely on Sanskrit. The language will have to make liberal use of western literatures. Simultaneously, one also cannot afford to denigrate and ignore the originality of Kerala’s ancient and indigenous literature. It is through the folk songs in a language that its artistic skill is to be properly assessed’ (quoted in Tatapuram Sukumaran 1982: 8). Yet, some of Kesari’s essays like ‘Sundara Kala: Paschatyavum

Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences  143 Paurastyavum’ (The Fine Arts: Western and Eastern, 1935) indicate that he could not, in spite of his professed international outlook, escape the conceptual dualism of the East and the West minted in the Orientalist scholarship of European Indologists. He was somewhat suspicious of the usefulness of the category of nationalism, and upheld cosmopolitanism as the goal of cultural work, as did Tagore. In an essay written in 1939 as an introduction to modern drama, he expresses his discomfort with both western and Indian theatres developed from traditional cultural practices. His criticism of traditional Indian theatre is not based on the usual arguments: It may not be ideal to follow the style of Sanskrit drama. I say this not because its style is conservative and regressive. Since there is no room for progress in art, it may not be reasonable to talk about regressive art. These conservative dramatists adopted the kind of art that they espoused not because no progressive forms were available, but because they were aware that only conservative forms would allow them to express the emotions of their period that would fully satisfy their audience. (Kesari Balakrishna Pillai 1984a: 406)

When Kesari talks about ‘conservative art forms’ capable of expressing the ‘emotions’ of a particular period, he obviously has in mind the historical and ideological factors that constitute the artistic sensibility of a period. He is of the opinion that it is the narrow nationalism of the theatre practitioners of his day that disallows them to see the historical connections of classical Indian theatre and prompts them to imagine that it is valid eternally. In doing this, their productions however fly in the face of the evolution of Indian art history, which was always open to external influences. Kesari cites the example of the sculptures at Amaravati, heavily influenced by non-​native art, to substantiate his argument that Indian art practice has always been receptive to foreign influences. Kesari would say that traditional western theatre too is equally unsatisfactory, mainly because of its unfamiliar mental environment: The problem with traditional western theatre is that most of them are inadequate inasmuch as they fail to represent mimetically the kind of mental environment that Malayalis are familiar with, especially through

144  Under the Bhasha Gaze their exposure to Sanskrit drama. Malayalis are not used to an overdose of dramatic action that such plays contain, and are therefore in no position to enjoy the plays written on the model of traditional western theatre. (Kesari Balakrishna Pillai 1984a: 408)

What is the alternative, then, if neither Indian theatre nor western theatre is acceptable as an appropriate model? Kesari’s solution to this conundrum comes in the form of a plea for the art of the present, which stands in opposition both to traditional Indian theatre and traditional western theatre. By the art of the present, he means two things, primarily. On the one hand, it implies the western experimental theatre developed in opposition to traditional western theatre. It represents the theatre of the present, just as Italian Futurism represents the art of the present. It is German Expressionist theatre that Kesari would specifically recommend as an alternative. In essays published in two consecutive issues of the Mathrubhumi weekly for March 1939, Kesari discusses at length the characteristics of European Expressionism and Surrealism, which, though aimed at the depiction of contemporary reality, are basically anti-​realistic and non-​representational in character. He raises the question of their relevance and applicability to the Indian literary context, and suggests that these movements are closer in spirit to the techniques of representation adopted by India’s own indigenous arts. As Kesari remarks, though it might be true to say in general terms that Indian art forms, unlike their western counterparts, are basically non-​representational in character, there is scope for a lot of exchange and communication between the two (1984a: 363). A second meaning of the art of the present is related to the aesthetics of immanence, and is indicative of Kesari’s interest in the everyday, which he calls ‘contemporary life’. His position on the contrast between the Indian and western forms of representation and his attitude to literature as a potent social tool for articulating contemporary reality are integral to his critical personality. Kesari repeats these ideas, especially the latter one, in more personal terms in a set of draft notes on himself and his work that he prepared in English for his potential biographers. He says: When I entered the literary world in Malayalam as a critic, I found that [ . . . ] except for a few poets like Kumaran Asan, the Malayalam men

Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences  145 of letters were not depicting the real life of their contemporaries [ . . . ]. I wanted them to depict the aspirations, ideals, tastes, etc. of their contemporaries which I believed was for a new world different from the old, and for this advised [them] to adopt the technique of Expressionism (Futurism is only a form of it), [which] has the great advantage that it can be used as a means for bringing about a social and political revolution. (quoted in T.P. Sukumaran 1987: 199–​200)

The position here could be regarded as a way of talking about art not as a transcendental experience but as an immanent practice. The art that Kesari celebrates is the art of the present, which he sees emblematized in the art and letters of the French Expressionists and the Italian Futurists. His point of contact with the modernity project is in evidence here, as what animates Kesari’s literary thought in the end is a longing for a Navalokam,1 a new world order that rides on the wheels of social change. Articulating a position that runs the risk of being branded ‘historicist’, he suggests that the West to be sure has entered the new order, and it is for the people of India to accelerate the emergence of such a world here. Art has a crucial role to play in the production and promotion of this new world. Artists, according to Kesari, should be willing to sacrifice their ease and comfort for safeguarding the welfare of the community. ‘Visham Teenikal’ (the poison squad) is the expression that Kesari uses to refer to the artists of a progressive cast of mind, who would willingly consume the poison of life for the sake of society. In a terse essay published under the title ‘Samudayattile Visham Teenikal’ (The Poison Squad in Society), Kesari makes a strong plea for commitment in literature, a plea that brings him close to the leftist writers in Kerala. Indeed Kesari was one of the founding figures of the Purogamana Sahitya Sanghatana, the organization of the progressive writers in Kerala, although he had to leave the organization after a few years because of differences with its leadership. The art of immanence, for Kesari, is not merely contemporary art, but is also the art of the present moment, and it is here that he finds himself more closely allied to the Italian Futurists. Futurism is marked by a distrust of the past, and it is its rejection of the past that brings it close, in the 1 Literally ‘A New World’, which Kesari used as the title for his essay collection published in 1935.

146  Under the Bhasha Gaze Indian context, to the writers of the progressive movement. The future, after all, is an extension of the present, of the immediate present, which for the future generations might bear the marks of its time. The present is the moment of immediate sensation, of raw experience, where temporality shakes hands with eternity. This, we might remember, was a point that Baudelaire made about modernity, while discussing the modern element in the paintings of Constantin Guys. ‘Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable. There was a form of modernity for every painter of the past’, said Baudelaire (1972: 401). Kesari makes a similar observation with regard to the practice of the Futurists who insisted on articulating the concerns of the present to the exclusion of everything that bore the imprint of the past: The Futurists declare that they have written only about contemporary things. Apart from their distrust of the past, another radical aspect of the Futurist art is their belief that the arts should be describing the force that underlies and reigns over things and events rather than things and events themselves. This is a principle that flies in the face of the earlier principles of realism that paid attention merely to the external form. (Kesari Balakrishna Pillai 1984a: 39)

This, as we know, is not a point of view that is shared by other western theorists of modernity. Baudelaire’s in that sense is not a standard or representative view in western modernity—​his is almost an alternative vision—​but the way Kesari unconsciously echoes Baudelaire’s views would also indicate the distance he might have wanted to maintain between his own ‘new’ world and the ‘modern’ world that was being unfurled by colonialism’s modernization drive. Kesari’s new world is a world built in the present, one that stretches in the immanence and immediacy of the present across nations, cultures, and continents. In the essay that he prepared for his potential biographers, Kesari talks about his initial advice to young Malayalam writers to follow the method of realism, which after a few years, he revises in favour of Futurism (T.P. Sukumaran 1987: 199). This change of preference might bring into the ambit of discussion the question regarding the relation between realism and modernism that was subjected to critical debate by scholars such as

Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences  147 Georg Lukacs, Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, and Walter Benjamin in the 1930s and 1940s (R. Taylor 1977). Kesari, for practical reasons, certainly would not have been aware of this debate, which was basically an expression of the differences of opinion, at the literary level, that existed between two sections of the leftist forces that joined hands against fascism during that period. The debate between the section that supported realism and the other that supported the anti-​realism of Expressionism and other avant-​garde movements does not seem to have arrived at a conclusive position on the issue debated. It is possible to argue that Kesari’s critical career that embodied a neat transition from realism to experimentalism could have provided a fertile ground for evolving a meaningful, Third-​World perspective on the issues involved. That Kesari, in spite of his intellectual abilities and his strong historical sense, could not initiate a discussion on this in the Indian context would point perhaps to some of the historical limitations of the environment he was working from. This is also true of his studies in history which, though based on a meticulous understanding of several literary and historical documents from Sanskrit, Tamil, and English sources, have been severely criticized for their quixotic disdain for received historical knowledge existing in the form of academic scholarship. Traditional critics invariably accused Kesari of being an indiscriminate proponent of the colonial critical practice. A close reading of his works, however, would reveal him to be a scholar deeply sensitive to the crucial cultural role of non-​English and non-​British—​and therefore not part of the colonial cultural baggage in the immediate Indian context—​ literatures in the promotion and renovation of the Malayalam literary sensibility of his period. As we saw in Chapter 6, an examination of the writers that Kesari introduced into Malayalam through translation and reviews would demonstrate that they were largely non-​British: Honore de Balzac, Stendhal, Maurice Maeterlinck, Guy de Maupassant, Villiers d’Isle Adam, Leonid Andreyev, Anton Chekhov, Anatole France, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Jakob Wassermann, and Vladimir Mayakovsky—​a long list of talented writers who in their own cultures stood for certain positive values. His reason for choosing these European models in preference to the more popular writers in the English canon is elaborated in some of the essays in Navalokam, which indicate that Kesari was deeply conscious of the need to resist the cultural invasion of the colonizer. The

148  Under the Bhasha Gaze colonial cultural incursions on Indian bhashas manifest also in the form of a blind admiration for the British literary models. Kesari warns the writers of his generation against this, and recommends that they could perhaps learn a few lessons from the French and Russian writers of fiction rather than from British writers. ‘It is the French and Russian models that the Japanese novelists follow’, he reminds the younger Malayalam fictionists of his day (1984a: 53). Both as a public intellectual and as a literary critic, Kesari further upheld the secular dimension of modernity, which consisted basically in a belief in the materiality and this-​worldliness of things. While this belief impelled him to embrace the aesthetics of immanence in the field of letters, it also forced him to take radical positions in the world of politics. The forceful and pungent editorials that he published on diverse political issues in the three journals that he successively edited—​Samadarsi (1922–​1926), Prabodhakan (1930), and Kesari (1930–​1935)—​would point to the objective and critical attitude that he consistently adopted as a political observer. As a matter of fact, it was the government’s displeasure with the tone and content of the editorials that led to the closing down of the journals after the publication of a few issues in each case. One of the immediate reasons for the collapse of Prabodhakan was a strongly worded editorial that Kesari wrote, criticizing Dewan V.S. Subrahmania Iyer of Tiruvitamkur, who, on being invited by the Viceroy to an official conference in London, had refused to travel overseas for fear of losing his caste. In the editorial, Kesari criticizes the Dewan for his conservatism and describes him both as a ‘traitor to the country’ (Rajyadrohi) and ‘an enemy of the King’ (Rajadrohi), who had betrayed both the King and the country by abstaining from a politically important conference (Kesari Balakrishna Pillai 1989: 21–​23). To cite another instance, Kesari was an articulate supporter of the ‘Nivartana’ (Abstention) movement, which actively campaigned for social equality as well as proportional representation for communities of all hues—​including the underprivileged caste of Ezhavas and the religious minorities of Christians and Muslims—​in a legislative assembly dominated by the upper castes.2 Kesari wrote a 2 The ‘Nivartana’ movement was started in the wake of the new reforms in legislative representation announced by the Maharaja of Tiruvitamkur in 1932, which was weighed heavily in favour of the dominant community of Nairs. The movement got its name from the policy

Modernity and Kesari’s Ambivalences  149 number of editorials in support of the movement in his journal (see, for example, 1989: 74–​77; 85–​88; 107–​109). He was a strong advocate of the principle of egalitarianism, which as he saw it was a precondition for a society to be counted as modern and civilized. In an editorial written in 1931, Kesari reminds the young King of Tirvuvitamkur of the importance of equality and secularism in the governance practice of a modern nation. ‘It is important for a King to let his public understand that he considers all his subjects, irrespective of their colour, class, religion, or job, to be equals’ (1989: 36), he says, and cites the example of King Edward VII of England, who once censured a flattering visitor by reminding him that he was sitting on the same chair on which the visiting labour leader, John Burns, had sat before him. Inviting attention to the heavily hierarchical social order in place in Tiruvitamkur, Kesari draws a correspondence between the status of the labour leader in England and that of the Dalit leader Ayyankali in Kerala, and says: ‘The King of Tiruvitamkur should be able to tell a fawning upper-​caste visitor, pointing to the chair in the royal office, that this was the chair in which the Pulaya leader Ayyankali sat before him’ (1989: 36). The relationship between modernity and the literary process should be comprehended in this larger social context. It is unlikely that Kesari could have thought of literature as a domain that remained aloof from material culture and the social world. As a person who stood for the principle of egalitarianism in socio-​political life, he could not have been averse to the idea of an equitable distribution of a society’s cultural capital across the strata of classes, castes, and communities constituting it. His support for the politically significant Nivartana movement, when extended to the cultural sphere, can certainly be said to have its implications for the question of representation in culture as well. Kesari knew this, and that was why he allied with the progressives in Malayalam in the pre-​Independence days, and tried to persuade the movement to adopt the radical views of the German Expressionists and the Italian Futurists in shaping their own idea of social transformation. Social transformation—​what Kesari calls ‘revolution’—​involves a reconfiguration of the human personality and a

of abstention from elections that it advocated. Most of the leaders of the Nivartana movement joined the Indian National Congress and became its leaders in due course.

150  Under the Bhasha Gaze rearrangement of the life pattern of an individual at the objective level. Literature implies such a reconfiguration of the individual at the subjective level, and that was why Kesari described progressive literature as ‘jeevalsahitya’, a vital state of being to which ‘true’ literature would ultimately lead the individual.

11 Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry There are, from a theoretical perspective, two primary ways of looking at the idea of ‘region’ in relation to the concept of ‘nation’. One is to consider the region as an incomplete nation, a territorial fragment that can never be a substitute for the nation but only a supplement to it. This is the approach adopted by those who consider the nation to be the central category of literary critical analysis. ‘Region’ here is merely a popular term that describes an administrative unit of the nation state. Regional heroes, regional histories, and regional cultures, in this view, are supposed to bolster the spirit of nationalism, especially in the Indian context, where the nation is conceived of as a mysterious and quasi-​metaphysical entity, which transcends the material dimension of the constituting regions. It is this sense that forms the basis for Sisir Kumar Das’s distinction between nadu and desa, where the Dravidian term ‘nadu’ represents a narrowly conceived region, and the Sanskrit term ‘desa’ represents the hegemonic nation. Both terms have their share of strengths and weaknesses, though nadu, as Das argues, can contain ‘seeds of regional chauvinism’ that can pose a threat to ‘the unifying vision of India’ contained in desa (1995: 101). A second approach is to regard the region as the fundamental unit of analysis, where the nation becomes merely its ‘imagined’ extension. The region here is real and concrete, while the nation is more of an abstract category, which can never be part of the lived reality of the people, except as a composite political formation emerging from the union of different regions. In fact, it is through the region, especially in its practical realization as nadu and the linguistic state, that the culture of the Indian nation manifests itself. National culture here becomes contiguous with such characteristics of the region as its landscape, its history, and its social practice as well as its class, caste, ethnic, and linguistic composition. This has been noted by scholars working on India’s language politics, such as, Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0012

152  Under the Bhasha Gaze for example, Asha Sarangi, who says that cultural regions in the country can be defined in terms of ‘the territorial location and distribution of castes and languages’ (2010: 7). This attitude is most tellingly expressed in Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Bengali novel Aranyak (1939), where a character named Bhanumati, an illiterate tribal girl, says that she knows nothing about her nation, Bharatvarsha, when quizzed about her motherland. All that she knows for certain about the geography of her native country is that she lives in Chakmakitola in Bihar’s Gaya district (quoted in Das 1995: 418). The exchange between Bhanumati and the narrator of Aranyak can indeed form the basis for formulating an important position on the relation between the Indian nation and the issue of cultural identity implicit in the idea of Indian literature. There indeed is an argument, which is congruent with the first of the two theoretical positions on region and nation given earlier, that Indian literature constitutes a unified body of writing that expresses a common spirit, a shared cultural essence that holds the nation together as a unified and well-​knit fabric. Bhanumati’s confession, however, is one that problematizes the notion of a homogenous Indian identity. It points to India’s practical and day-​to-​day existence in the form of a conglomeration of regions spread across a vast territory, inhabited by people who share very little in common. India is a cultural mélange composed of diverse creeds, faiths, customs, rituals, bhashas, and literary traditions. The two characters participating in the exchange in Aranyak, as Sisir Kumar Das also notes, partake of diverse perceptions of geography and history. They belong to different universes of experience, a fact that is to be deemed true of the inhabitants of Indian literature in general, who perhaps arrive at the image of a composite India through a process of dialogue and exploration. As Das remarks, what such dialogues and explorations reveal, again, is a ‘diverse India’, a polyphonic land where several regions, faiths, castes, languages, and belief systems coexist (Das 1995: 419). What Das’s remark points to is the environment of cultural heterogeneity that is part and parcel of the Indian literary mind. Histories of Indian literature, including perhaps the one compiled by Das himself, however, portray a somewhat biased picture of the situation, presenting a monolithic and essentialistic spirit as running through the articulations of Indian creativity. This was the standard position on ancient Indian

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  153 wisdom—​as opposed to the enhanced civic virtues of the modern West—​ made popular by the European Orientalists of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They often spoke of a basic ‘idea of India’—​what Perry Anderson (2012) designates ‘the Indian ideology’—​which has continued to wield enormous power over intellectuals in India and abroad ever since. Though the importance of ancient Indian literature and knowledge systems is not a matter of dispute, the problem is in presenting early India as a land of contemplative subjects, concerned exclusively with the inner, spiritual life of man. India had certain specific lessons to teach the modern world, as the nineteenth-​century Cambridge Indologist Max Muller—​greatly influential on subsequent western scholarship on India—​was to elaborate in work after work. In a series of lectures that he delivered in 1882 at the University of Cambridge to young British nationals aspiring for careers in the Indian Civil Service, he speaks on the ‘idea of India’ that humanity can afford to ignore only at its peril. Muller’s words are deeply persuasive, and the picture of ancient India that he provides is greatly romantic, but what is interesting is his conviction about India’s ancient wisdom, which he expects to form a corrective both to the West’s indifference to the inner life of man and its exclusive focus on material culture: And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and on one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life—​again I should point to India. (2002: 6)

The picture presented is that of a transcendental India, which conformed broadly to colonialism’s image of India as a culture that preferred the metaphysical world to the material world.1 This is the idea of India 1 Max Muller’s ‘idea of India’ is deeply conservative, and has been under severe challenge from liberal-​minded and radical intellectuals, who have consistently pointed to an alternative ‘idea of India’ that is built on the principles of pluralism and social justice. The debates that followed the publication of Perry Anderson’s Indian Ideology (2012) can be read as articulations of such an alternative view of the idea of India. See Chatterjee, Kaviraj, and Menon (2016) for an update on this.

154  Under the Bhasha Gaze that has dominated the country’s public life in the entire period of modernity, and has found its way later into the nationalist discourse. There are several versions of this idea circulating in the scholarly world today, one of which is illustrated by the position that Salman Rushdie took in his introduction to the Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947–​1997 (1997), a volume of ‘representative’ writings from contemporary India that was prepared to coincide with the 50th year of India’s Independence. Though Rushdie cleverly steers clear of the idea of a foundational spirit animating the Indian creative personality in the present period, he would still talk about a common culture informing specimens of Indian literature composed across languages, a culture which he finds expressed in a more pronounced way in the literature written in English rather than in the bhashas. Though Rushdie’s reference is primarily to the fiction composed in the post-​Independence period, his overall argument that the literature by Indians in English constitutes a more valuable body of writings in comparison to Indian bhasha literatures is apparently meant to be extended to other forms of writing. It is not the purpose here to discuss the relevance of English as a language for creative writing by Indians or the relative merit of Indian English literature and bhasha literatures. Perhaps the issue could be resolved quietly, as is done by the Sahitya Akademi, by naming Indian English as one of the bhasha literatures in India. The real point however pertains to the opposition between the culture of homogeneity represented by Sanskrit in the past and English today, and the culture of heterogeneity represented by bhashas. In this context, one might remember that it is a multi-​lingual environment that works as the background for Indian creativity, whatever the language used. This is how the alternative idea of India and indigenous modernity, built on the principles of pluralism, secularism, and social justice arises. One is persuaded to suggest in this context that there is an inevitable culture of bilingualism that props up a large segment of India’s creative hinterland. Amartya Sen’s ‘argumentative’ Indian is one who argues across languages. Poets who wrote in Telugu in the premodern period, according to Velcheru Narayana Rao, read and interacted extensively with poets and scholars from other bhashas spoken in the neighbouring areas (Rao 2016: 28). U.R. Ananthamurthy has, as already noted, consistently maintained that the Indian creative artist is bilingual by default, most writers speaking more than one language in

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  155 real life. This is true of the readers too, who would often switch from one language to another with ease. Ananthamurthy remarks: One of my pet theories is that in India the more literate one is, the fewer languages one knows. Those who are literate only in English are tempted to use only English. But in the small town where I come from, one who may not be so literate speaks Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, some Hindi and some English. (2014: 81)

We are not talking here merely about the ease and flexibility in communication that a bilingual society discovers at the pragmatic level. What is more important is the philosophy of social interaction that is involved. A language is not merely a cluster of words and sentences mechanically strung together, but a cultural system that encompasses the lived life of a people. It is often said, in view of language’s social power and the symbolic capital implied by its distributive taxonomy across the speaking community, that a language is a dialect with an army and a currency. One might also say that a language is an idiolect that exercises its power through individual speakers without the support of any army or currency. Language here becomes an ideological force that works through its internal resources of symbology, folklore, and other icons of cultural exchange to produce a universe of meanings that is culturally relevant and socially constitutive. This in a sense is what Ananthamurthy means when he talks about the power of bilingualism. His reference in fact is to the strength of the folk symbols and other elements of regions and local cultures that the speaker of a language draws upon in her articulations made in a different language. There is a percolation of such local and indigenous ethos among bhasha literatures, and it is this that makes Indian literature democratic and egalitarian in spirit, as contrasted with Sanskrit literature of the past and Indian English literature of the present, which are organized, to a great extent, along elite and ‘national’ lines. This egalitarianism is an aspect of the resistance element constituting bhasha literatures, because the bhashas themselves are products of prolonged resistance involving great struggles against the threat of assimilation into the dominant languages and elite cultures. To quote Ananthamurthy again: ‘Ever since the medieval period, these bhashas have been the conduits of egalitarian passion working through the history of India. It has been a continuous process

156  Under the Bhasha Gaze of inclusion [ . . . ], of Sanskrit in the past, or of the bhashas, or of English later on’ (2014: 82). It is worthwhile to examine, against this general background, a miscellany of bhasha poets, selected almost at random from recent Indian poetry, to see how the conflicted relation between national demands and regional aspirations is expressed in bhasha literatures. Though the miscellany in itself cannot be described as exhaustive of the inherent plurality of India’s literary culture, this random grouping of selected poets from Northeast India as well as from Bengali, Odia, Telugu, and Malayalam, which form a significant segment outside what is called the Hindi heartland in journalistic parlance, affords opportunities to comment on the dynamics of Indian poetry as it engages with questions concerning people and places, the word and the world, creativity and tradition, content and form, and identity in terms of nation, region, gender, caste, ethnicity, and language. Of the eight poets examined here, four—​Sananta Tanty (Assamese), Saratchand Thiyam (Manipuri), Yumlembam Ibomcha (Manipuri), and Manprasad Subba (Nepali)—​come from the area traditionally defined as Northeast India,2 a region marked by great linguistic diversity, and often imagining itself as having a troubled relationship with the mainstream—​sometimes designated ‘mainland’—​culture. The other poets examined could be described as hailing from regions functioning as the nation’s outposts in the East and the deep South, Debi Roy (Bengali), Pitambar Tarai (Odia), N. Gopi (Telugu), and K. G. Sankara Pillai (Malayalam).3 The last two poets come from languages spoken in South India, and in that sense somewhat removed from the literary ethos of the Northeast, but their poetry often engages with the issue of the self 2 Geopolitically, West Bengal is not a part of the Northeast. Nepali poet Manprasad Subba hails from the Darjeeling area of West Bengal. Darjeeling’s strategic location in the Himalayan foothills and the peculiar status of the Nepali language spoken there are factors that might prompt one to treat Darjeeling—​though located on this side of the Siliguri corridor—​as an extension of the Northeast. 3 The poems cited in this chapter can be seen in the following translated volumes of poetry by the respective poets: Sananta Tanty, Selected Poems, 2017; Manprasad Subba, The Primitive Village and Other Poems, 2013; Yumlembam Ibomcha, Come Out Sandrembi, 2017; Saratchand Thiyam, Sister and Other Poems, 2014; Debi Roy, The Insane City, 2011; Pitambar Tarai, The Mortgaged Man, 2017; N. Gopi, The Blooming Breath, 2016; K.G. Sankara Pillai, Trees of Kochi and Other Poems, 2016. I owe this random selection of poets from Indian bhashas to the editor of the journal Chandrabhaga, where an earlier version of this chapter was published. The editor’s selection apparently was guided by the fact that all the poets reviewed have a book of poetry in English translation published during the decade preceding 2018, the year of the review.

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  157 in relation to the world, which is also a matter of prime concern for the Northeast writers. Though none of these poets is to be regarded in any sense as ‘representing’ their respective bhashas, it will be interesting to inquire how these poets define themselves through their poetic practice as ‘Indian’ writers, both in relation to Indian literature as an idea and to the literatures of the other regions in India. If one were to identify a few traits that would guide one in this inquiry, one might consider, apart from the poets’ handling of the national culture, their bilingualism, their engagement with history, the resistance element dominating their poetry, their use of folk and indigenous material and their consciousness of cultural identity and marginality. These indeed are important questions figuring in the literature of the Northeast. An examination of Northeast bhasha literatures, in other words, can operate as the fulcrum and a point of entry into the larger debate on the vexed issue of the nation-​region conflict in Indian literature. As a political category, the term ‘Northeast India’ is a colonial abstraction, and in that sense is a concept constructed externally, outside the region. As in the case of other similar terms fabricated externally, it represents the image the outsider has of an alien culture, rather than the culture’s own image of itself. Literature of Northeast India, like Indian literature, then, is an invented corpus, embodied as it is in the form of individual bhasha literatures written in Assamese, Manipuri, Nepali, and so on. In spite of the vast time difference between the Northeast and the rest of India,4 politically, the Northeast can be described as a minuscule India inasmuch as it constitutes seven states—​Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Tripura—​of the Indian Union, with people speaking a wide variety of bhashas, such as Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, English, Hindi, Khasi, Kokborock, Manipuri, Mizo, and Nepali, to name some of them. The diversity of dialects, languages, and cultures, especially in the tribal areas, turns the literature of the region into a microcosm of Indian literature. It is true that the member states of Northeast India are each constituted differently, both in terms of linguistic and geopolitical relations, but their literatures have definite, 4 There is even a proposal for a different time zone for the Northeast, a proposal that has been recommended by the CSIR National Physical Laboratory and the National Measurement Institute.

158  Under the Bhasha Gaze sometimes contested, relations with each other as well as with the literatures of the rest of India. These relations, as Tilottama Misra argues, are multi-​faceted, based as they are on the opposition between the forces of ‘appropriation’ and ‘resistance’ (Misra 2011: xiii). Illustrations for such resistance against the nation’s invasions on the poet’s self, formed predominantly by the cultural material extracted from the margins of national and local life, can be drawn from the Assamese poet Sananta Tanty’s poetry. Identity is a serious matter of concern for this poet, whose poems are mostly about the self, at one level. That is why most of the poems adopt a kind of confessional tone that invites the reader into the interior of the poet’s personal self, as in the following: I am a poet A contemporary Asomiya poet With both hands, I cultivate crop Offering my blood, offering my seed and courage (‘Sunshine’s Kin’; trans. Dibyajyoti Sarma)

I struggle every second With myself With my world With my words (‘Having a Bath in the Sun’s Warmth’; trans. Dibyajyoti Sarma)

The self that the poet talks about, however, is not one that is produced in a vacuum. It is closely bound up with the poet’s marginal and marginalized existence in a deeply divided world, the memory of his past life, and his dream for the future, which is that of ‘a luminous festival of mankind’. Tanty is aware of the underprivileged life he was forced to live in his childhood as the son of a labourer in the tea gardens of Assam. He is proud to announce in the poem ‘On the Subject of My Father’ that his ‘father was a tea garden labourer/​and a citizen of India’. In spite of the pride expressed in being a citizen of India, his loyalty to the Northeast remains unshaken, as the following lines announce:

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  159 Dear Northeast, You are my mother. You are the state of dream that awakens in my heart when I spend my silence and wake up in faith. [ . . . ] In silence, I walk on the road of hunger that stretches beyond the horizon, slowly losing its shape in trust and relationship, slowly building me like a rainbow in the making to break me in the light. (‘Dear Northeast’; trans. Dibyajyoti Sarma)

Though outwardly there is no conflict between the poet’s fervour for the Indian nation and his loyalty to the Northeast, the plaints of an evolving rift between India and the Northeast are evident in several of Tanty’s poems. The grouse against internal ‘colonialism’ that some sections of the Northeast hold against the Indian state can be said to seep gently into these poems, rendering absurd whatever postcolonial force we might want to attribute to them. Theatre activist Ramu Ramanathan is vocal about this grouse in his foreword to Tanty’s Selected Poems where he talks, with reference to the poem ‘Whenever I Protest, They Call Me a Terrorist’, about the local people’s frustration with the nation: ‘There is something happening in the Northeast, something outside our La La Land of fairy tales, something that continues to resist the omnipotence of the Indian state’ (Tanty 2017: 15). Tanty’s growing up as a poet and as a citizen was during the heady days of the Assam Movement that raised the question of Assamese nationalism for public debate. Tanty says that his poems were affected by the movement in that some of them carried his protest against ‘the communal hatred directed against the poor’ that came in its wake (2017: 252). If this points to the fissured poetic persona of Tanty, the origin of this fissure can also be traced to his feeling of rootlessness and his bilingualism—​in fact, trilingualism, as Tanty’s linguistic personality is divided among his mother tongue Odia that he spoke at home, the Bengali language that he studied at school, and Asamiya, the local language that he spoke outside home. The real language that he speaks however is none of these, but the language of the poor, of the landless, of the marginalized, and the minorities. This is the crux of his statement in the poem titled ‘Rootless’: Everywhere around my body were garments of the minority community. In my tongue was the language of the minority. In the eyes was the

160  Under the Bhasha Gaze withered look of hunger. In the stomach was a terrible, painful hunger. My dry, thinning muscles were exhausted. My dirty clothes screamed it to everyone how even after independence I was a landless farmer and beggar-​labourer. (Tanty 2017: 240; trans. Dibyajyoti Sarma)

Poet Manprasad Subba from Darjeeling, who writes poetry in the Nepali language, would further illustrate this point regarding marginality and its implications for the construction of the self. Subba’s poetry can be read as an expression of his creative engagement with the question of identity, but identity is understood as a kind of existential selfhood. On a casual reading, his poems may not give the reader any clue to the resistance element at work behind his complex poetic personality. On the surface, the poems appear to be about philosophical themes of universal significance, such as the futility of human life, man’s quest for eternity, his struggle against time, the existential angst of the solitary individual, and so on. His oft-​quoted poem, The Primitive Village, originally Aadim Basti, composed in the 1990s, is a good example of this. This poem is about man’s journey through time in search of perfection. It is a long poem that deals with the essential bestiality of man, what he calls man’s ‘primordial animality’. There is a constant struggle between the basic, instinctual nature of man and his borrowed second nature, between his ‘worldliness’ and his ‘present-​ness’, as he describes them in the poem: [W]‌ith faith tethered to a stake this village keeps sounding empty. Rituals and countless contortions, faiths fidgeting and choking in quest of outlet [ . . . ] (The Primitive Village; trans. the poet)

It is clear that the metaphorical world recreated in The Primitive Village obviously is one that the postcolonial Indian reader has become familiar with through Anglo-​American modernist poetry, especially the poems of T.S. Eliot and his followers. This is confirmed by Subba’s Afterword to the translated collection, The Primitive Village and Other Poems (2013), which proclaims in the style of Eliot that The Primitive Village is an

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  161 exploration of ‘man’s eternal imperfection spread over the undivided stretch of time’ (Subba 2013: 78). However, it would be premature to regard Subba as merely an Indian Nepali echo of Anglo-​American modernism. Though a casual reading might lead one to such an impression at the beginning, closer examination would reveal Subba’s verse to be far too complex to be comprehended fully in a first reading. The ‘universalized’ appeal that The Primitive Village appears to promote is only tentative, as we soon recognize. In the Afterword, Subba too recognizes the local and regional aspirations that motivate his more recent verse. He says: That a work should have a universal appeal and be able to stand the test of time was the belief I was attracted to during the earlier phase of my writing. [ . . . ] Drawn by wider or global situations, man’s unchanging attributes, rather than local and transient, were given more priority for poetry to be more lasting. However, these bases of writing are also influenced by the transitory happenings of the world. A few intensely emotional urges relating to regional issues have been given vent in similar poetic vein. (Subba 2013: 82–​83; trans. the poet)

It is not merely the universalized events that are important; the ‘transitory happenings’ too count, though the confused poetic spirit does not seem to be ready yet to fortify them in the poems of his early phase. This leads to a kind of crisis, the signals of which can be seen dispersed in some of the poems in The Primitive Village itself. Look, for instance, at the following lines from ‘Dejection: A Sketch’: After a tiresome long wait a crippled and diseased change is back from a strange land. But revolt in me is mute and frigid like a blind hand-​grenade found in the battlefield long after. (Subba 2013: 14–​15; trans. the poet)

Here then is the picture of a ‘strange land’—​not the idyllic ‘La La land of folk tales’ that Ramu Ramanathan refers to in his reading of Sananta Tanty’s poetry. Manprasad Subba is vaguely aware of a new feeling of

162  Under the Bhasha Gaze place and time overpowering his poetic self. Gone are the twittering swallows and the colourful kites that once littered the sky of his imagination, which has now turned ‘blank and faded’. He is aware of some radical change coming over his poetry, though he can make sense of this change in the present moment only in the language of the colonial aesthetic. There is reason to believe that Subba would soon outgrow this moment and come out openly in favour of a new region-​based poetic.5 In The Primitive Village and Other Poems, however, he is still uncertain about the journey ahead. Hence perhaps the title of ‘Dejection: A Sketch’, echoing the title of Coleridge’s famous ode on dejection, and, especially, the last stanza of the poem, where we learn: I know some songs and ghazals but no mood to croon them at all. At this time Shelley’s West Wind is too exhausted to arrive at Eliot’s Waste Land. (Subba 2013: 15; trans. the poet)

To come to contemporary Manipuri writing, poet Robin S. Ngangom suggests that present-​day Manipuri poetry could be read either as a ‘poetry of witness’ or as a ‘poetry of survival’, both expressions alluding to the precarious social conditions that render a life of constant struggle and resistance almost normal for a creative artist. Referring to the predominance of such images as ‘bullets’, ‘blood’, and ‘red’ in this poetry, he further remarks that ‘the menace of the gun does not permit the Manipuri poet to indulge in verbal wizardry or woolly aesthetics’ (Ngangom 2011: 299). If this tends to drive poetry out from its natural homeland of finer sentiments into the domain of dark realism, specimens of contemporary

5 Having no first-​hand knowledge of Nepali, and in the absence of any new anthology of Subba’s later poetry in English translation, I cannot discuss his subsequent poetic development. However, my acquaintance with specimens of Subba’s later work available on the inter­net prompts me to conclude that Subba’s journey, as suggested here, has been from the poetics of universalism to that of regionalism. I am thinking especially of his later poems ‘This Stinking Coat’ and ‘Introducing My Country to a Tourist’ as well as his 2015 essay ‘Marginality in Contemporary Indian Nepali Writing’, all of which can be accessed from various sites on the Web.

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  163 Manipuri poetry do not seem to be inclined particularly to the realistic. A reading of the poems of Yumlembam Ibomcha or Saratchand Thiyam in Manipuri will prove this. While they represent diverse aspects of the land’s poetic ethos, they also exemplify language’s ability to sustain a community through traumatic times. In this sense, Ibomcha’s and Thiyam’s poems are celebrations of a region that refuses to be suppressed by violence and state power. In spite of the precarious social conditions that surround him, Yumlembam Ibomcha does not write overtly about violence. His is the language of understatement that allows him to comment on the state of his country metaphorically through a restatement of the lore of the land. His volume of poems, Come out Sandrembi We Will Make a Grandiose Home for You (2017), is quite typical in this regard. The title of this volume is borrowed from a Manipuri folk tale that narrates the story of a young woman named Sandrembi, who is constantly harassed by her stepmother and stepsister. The two first kill Sandrembi’s mother, who turns into a turtle. But the stepmother and the stepsister catch hold of the turtle, boil it, and eat it up. Sandrembi herself is subjected to severe ill-​treatment. There are points in the folk story where Sandrembi is forced to part with her physical form and turn into a spirit. Though Ibomcha does not use the story of Sandrembi as thematic material in any of the poems in Come out Sandrembi, it figures in some as part of the metaphorical structure of the poem. This is clear from references to the ‘soul’ in relation to life and death, which appear in several poems, as in: In a corner Devoid of light The living is crying in anguish ‘Dead soul Dead soul’ (‘In the Land of Darkness’; trans. T.B. Singh) Soul is crying Live soul of the dead Is calling light For the dead soul of the living (‘The Throne’; trans. T.B. Singh)

164  Under the Bhasha Gaze Though the character of Sandrembi by name is mentioned in two poems (‘The Door That Has Been Closed’ and ‘The Dead Having Nightmare’), the original tale is only tangentially invoked in the entire volume. An important aspect of the poetic method of Ibomcha is revealed here. He is careful not to make direct comments in his poetry on the political situation in his land, and in the few cases where he appears to do that, he never gives the impression of being a victim. His tone is always that of someone who is making a dispassionate report on the event that is being narrated. Robin Ngangom’s description of the ‘poetry of witness’ makes perfect sense in evaluating Ibomcha’s verse. He is aware of the gravity of the injustice that is being thrust upon the people, as is clear from lines like the following: We were born like them What is the difference between Their birth And ours We too had come without knowing anything They too had come without knowing anything But Today, they are walking With their huge dirty feet Stepping on our heads (‘In the Netherworld’; trans. T.B. Singh)

Yet his tone is always that of stoicism and indifference, as in ‘The Ultimate Word’: Why have we been born? Why should we stay alive? The meaning of life And that of death Is there any difference? (Trans. T.B. Singh)

Compare this with the poetry of Saratchand Thiyam, who belongs to the generation immediately following the generation of Ibomcha. Thiyam

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  165 is more emotionally involved in the events connected with the continued state of conflict existing in Manipur, and does not avoid commenting on it directly in his poetry. He is not merely a witness to the events, but is in an important sense, a participant in them. This is what makes his verse an instance of Robin Ngagom’s ‘poetry of survival’ that helps the victim to tide over traumatic experiences. Regionalism here becomes a perfect means of asserting one’s culture and identity, as does the poet’s liberal use of place names and other icons of the local culture. In the poem ‘Shillong’, for example, one would find references to niang kynjah, the cricket-​ like insects abundant in the area, jainsem, the traditional dress worn by Manipur’s Khasi women, and Lawkyntang, the Khasi sacred grove. In the poem, it is these emblems as well as the common people’s ‘wailing voice/​ run over by time’s wheel’ and their plea for succour that one sees and hears in the ‘shriek and howl’ of the crickets and in the wild sounds from the sacred grove. The ‘all-​green’ grove is described as: [ . . . ] carefully guarded by the tiger and the snake and the forest goddesses. The little forest trail, the dependent creeper play happily inside Lawkyntang. (‘Shillong’; trans. Robin S Ngangom)

The pity however is that these sights and sounds are seldom recognized by the nation. Though the political unrest in the region appears only in a muffled form in this poem, the poet has reason to feel alarmed about the emotionally charged real-​life situation developing around, which is presented more directly in several other poems of Thiyam. Moving from Northeast poetry to the poetry written in neighbouring bhashas is like entering the broad highway of national literature from one of its narrow by-​lanes in the region, as per conventional accounts of Indian bhasha poetry. This impression however is belied by concrete specimens of poetry written in bhashas. The Bengali poet Debi Roy, for instance, may not corroborate the general image. His poems abundantly prove that it is through the expression of the regional aspirations of Indian nationals living on the margins of everyday life that individual

166  Under the Bhasha Gaze traditions of bhasha verse attain the status of national literature. As Sudipta Kaviraj has forcefully argued with reference to the formation of the Bengali speech community, languages can be said to participate simultaneously in the unification and the rupturing of social identities (Kaviraj 2010: 127–​155). This is what happens when one is forced to think of a language in abstract terms as a homogenous discourse, while in real life, in terms of life practice, it divides the speech community into segments on the cultural spectrum. In the specific instance of Bengali, the cultural capital accruing from being a speaker of the Bengali language is not enjoyed by all Bengali-​speaking people in the same way. Kaviraj points to this division on the literary spectrum and the unevenness in the distribution of the cultural capital governed by what he calls ‘the internal economy of language’. He says that while one side of the spectrum is occupied by the Kolkata bhadralok who speak the ‘standard’ Bengali in which Tagore wrote his poetry, on the other side are a whole assortment of speakers, the fishermen in the bazaar, ‘the maid in the babu household’, and ‘the criminals on the margins’ of the city, each with its sublanguage, each erecting its own ‘wall of words’ in social life and contributing towards the production of the fragmented identity of the Bengali (Kaviraj 2010: 128). Debi Roy’s poetry would provide ample illustration for the operation of this internal economy of language in contemporary Bengali poetry. Known outside Bengal as a poet of the 1960s, and perhaps as one of the earliest Dalit poets from Bengal, Debi Roy has authored more than twenty books of poetry. His connection with the 1960s poetry is primarily due to his association with the short-​lived avant-​garde movement known as the Hungry Generation, which in the decade campaigned for a kind of counter-​modernist verse that went against the ‘tyranny of logic’ that characterized much of the dominant Bengali modernist poetry. Though Roy must have ceased to be a Hungry Generation poet after a few years of its existence, some of its principles seem to have had a lasting impact on the shaping of his poetic personality. These include, apart from his opposition to the tyranny of logic, his life-​long fascination for human values and his obsession with the everyday. The tone of protest that marked the verse of the Hungry Generation also seems to have continued into his later poetry and settled there for good. This is especially true of the poems where hunger appears as a theme, as in the following:

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  167 Come hunger, let me convert you today Let’s go together to visit Vietnam; Hunger, are you international? Are you obscene? Hunger, shall I never become free from you? (‘I’m Hungry’; trans. Amitava Bhattacharyya)

The tone of anger and protest evident in these lines gains a political edge in the poems where the state appears as an adversary. In the poem ‘Protest, Calcutta’, there is the picture of the ‘rabble’ that advances towards the city, torches in hand, in protest against the prevailing state of disorder. Roy seems to associate the city with the nation in his poems. The city as a representation of the nation and the village as providing a picture of the region—​this in fact is a standard dualism that appears in several other works of Indian bhashas. There is an element of absurdity and insanity in the constitution of the nation, which is expressed in Roy’s poetry through references to the city’s pronounced lack of order. Absurd is the way of the city, which revels in its own glitz and glamour, but does not care about the lives of the people who actually live there. There is an evident distortion of real life in the city as ‘nobody anymore has time for anybody else’ (Roy 2011: 27). Everything appears empty, as the title of another poem proclaims (Roy 2011: 22). The rhetoric of progress and development that the public space resounds with, in the end, is all pointless, as indicated by the poem ‘The Chorus of the Minibus’: Advance to the back Go backwards, go backwards Sing open-​heartedly The song of advancement. (Roy 2011: 38; trans. Amitava Bhattacharyya)

Even the references to hunger in Roy’s poetry perhaps are to be deemed more as a way of talking symbolically about the state of the nation. An open indictment of the state can be seen in poems such as ‘India’ and ‘This, Then, Is Your Country’. The total failure of the nation-​building project is at the heart of all these pieces. In ‘Mute Witness’, there is the image of a youth who habitually sits alone every night by the window and stares at nothing in particular with vacant eyes and contemplates on the burdens of life. He

168  Under the Bhasha Gaze recognizes that his life has been a failure, a recognition that gains larger dimensions in the context of a few mute witnesses to the sight: From the hanger are suspended A bush-​shirt and a pair of trousers And beneath lie a pair of shoes, Mute witnesses to a life of failure (Roy 2011: 28; trans. Amitava Bhattacharyya)

Though Pitambar Tarai is often described as Odisha’s ‘committed Dalit poet’, the initial impression a non-​Odia reader new to his poetry would get is that he is primarily a poet of his native land. Odisha’s landscape, its fauna, its rivers, its rains, and its bird songs as well as its suffering women loom large in his poetry. The images of the ‘shoulder-​high wild berry shrubs, year-​round/​flowering poison yellows, and the branches of jasmine’ (‘The Lost Butterfly’), ‘the sea washing away/​Stupor’ (‘In All Ages Dim-​witted I am’), ‘the northern cloud that floated over [ . . . ] humming vernal song’ (‘Suhasini Tonight’), ‘the rain water from the eaves’ (‘Man on the Outskirts’), the ‘chilling wind from northern side/​and Radhu Mahali’s crop-​cutting song’ (‘The Scarecrow’), and woman as ‘an unsparkling boundary of river’ (‘The Housewife’) seem to be as important in Tarai’s poems as are the pictures of caste and gender oppression perpetrated on Dalits and women in contemporary India. In fact, it is in the interweaving of the experience of oppression with landscape imagery that Tarai’s poetry distinguishes itself as an identifiable poetic phenomenon. In the poem ‘The Bird’, for example, the poet expresses his commitment to the idea of Dalit solidarity, but does so through images that are drawn from a familiar landscape. This is what the poet says about his Dalit identity, even as he imagines himself as a singing bird: I don’t care [for] the big sky, oceans, mountains, cyclone and even man. [ . . . ] My tongue sings of my clan, [ . . . ] whether I live in the forest or the cage. (Tarai 2017: 87; trans. K.K. Mohanty)

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  169 What the reader comes across in Tarai’s poetry, then, is a poetic identity rooted in a provincial culture that cannot ignore the pressures of the national culture. There is an ironic reference in the poem ‘Terms and Conditions’ to ‘our [ . . . ] beloved country Bharatbarsha’. Though the speaker in this poem does not make any claim for a share in the privileges accruing from his affiliation to the nation, he is insistent that the person who wields power on its behalf should ensure that the country remains united. He is really worried about the state of affairs in the polity today, saddled as it is with an irresponsible leadership that does not care for the welfare of the common man. Behind the leaders, as he says in the poem ‘The Map’, are ranged the poverty-​stricken millions who have no idea whatsoever as to what to do or where to go: but behind them come hunger and thirst in procession with flags flying high! But alas! Unclad is my country India. (Tarai 2017: 100; trans. Biswanath Rout)

The image of an ‘unclad India’ perhaps is the national equivalent for the more localized ‘man on the outskirts’ in the poem of that title or the ‘unwanted skeleton’ sitting on a chair and waving at his children in the poem ‘A Piece of Land’. Both are pictures of marginalized beings, regional figures that inhabit a terrain outside the borders of the nation. N. Gopi is a celebrated name in Telugu poetry, especially after the publication of his book Naneelu (2002), which introduced a new poetic genre in the language. The literal meaning of ‘Naneelu’ is ‘the little one’, a name that refers to the minimalist, haiku-​like form of this four-​line verse genre. As a writer with open and declared sympathies for the Telangana cause, Gopi can also be described as a champion of Telugu national pride. Through his literary and non-​literary activities, the poet in a sense helps strengthen the category of Telugu literature which, if we are to follow Velcheru Narayana Rao’s logic, is to be deemed as being non-​existent ‘before the literary historians produced its history in the early decades of the twentieth century’ (Rao 2016: 27). Indeed, if it is the porous and unstable nature of the boundaries of language that one is trying to stabilize by erecting region-​based literatures and literary traditions, Gopi’s

170  Under the Bhasha Gaze move in formulating a new literary genre and his political support to the Telangana movement cannot be seen as separate and exclusive activities. They are inter-​connected exercises, which in turn are also connected to his identity as an Indian writer. Though there is nothing unusual about the themes that Gopi adopts for his poetry—​he generally writes on such themes as time, nature, death, family, identity, memory, and the art of poetry-​writing—​his unique perspective on life and his close observation of the world around him provide an unusual tint to the feelings and responses versified. In fact, poetry is his life force, what holds his self together and endows him with a distinct identity. ‘If poetry had not been with me [ . . . ], I would have lost my identity’, he says in the poem ‘Robot’ (Gopi 2016: 32). Poetry, according to Gopi, comes from the very depths of one’s heart. It is an extension of the soil one is rooted in. That is why the image of a potter at work becomes his favourite metaphor for poetic composition. The poet-​potter works on the ‘wheel of time’ to compose poems which are ‘earthen pots’, as he says in ‘The Elements of Soil’. In this poem he also says that it is maternal love that translates itself into the language of poetry. That is why the poet has to wait ‘for poetry/​like a mother/​standing at the door’ (Gopi 2016: 34). Poetry is ‘the blooming breath’ that binds reality to ‘the ecstasy of dreams’: A pen seems to be lying quiet. But within it impossible storms go on raging. A drop is petite but the feel of an ocean! A paper the size of a palm, but with poetry in it it gets vaster than the sky. (‘Blooming Breath’; trans. R.N. Sarma)

Gopi’s poetry by and large is poetry of the inner world rather than of the outer world. That is why he is not seen to care much for overt articulations of the political in his poetry. He is more interested in singing about the ‘impossible storms that go on raging’ within in his poetry. Though it is the depth and magnitude of the feelings and sentiments

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  171 expressed by poetry that is suggested here, he also knows that poetry’s political power comes from its ability to depict the realities of the external world. The politics of the Northeast, however, does not seem to inspire the poet in him. This is clear from the poem titled ‘Traffic Jam in Gauhati’, which is about traffic congestion in Guwahati in the context of local violence, when ancient ‘sons of the soil’ fought ‘with swords/​for the sake of boundaries’. The poem expresses the poet’s inability to connect emotionally with the political problems in the Northeast. On other occasions, the poet had no reason to feel lonely because he always had poetry for company which, like a bird inside boring at the bark outside, stayed with him and sustained him through and through. Not this time in Guwahati, as the traffic congestion freezes his emotions and ‘the bird inside me/​flew away suddenly somewhere’, leaving him lonely with himself (Gopi 2016: 46). The response in some sense is predictable, as the Northeast politics, as far as a Telugu poet is concerned, is part of that amorphous entity called the Indian national identity. There are instances where the poet feels totally out of sync with the developments in the larger nation. In the poem ‘Gol Chakkar’, for example, the reader would come across a speaker who is totally disenchanted with the goings-​on in the national capital Delhi, a city described as ‘full of political brokers’ and where ‘motor cars roam around’ with ‘suitcases of currency notes’ (Gopi 2016:25). But this does not mean that the poet is insensitive to the possibility of being an Indian national and a Telugu national simultaneously. In poems such as ‘Waves Are Many’ and ‘An Advice to the Migrant’ one would read sentiments that would effectively neutralize the boundaries between the nation and the region. While these sentiments are expressed somewhat subtly in ‘Waves Are Many’, they are more overt and open in ‘An Advice to the Migrant’: It may be Tamil Nadu, Mumbai or let it be even Andhra Pradesh. All regions are ours. Under the shade of constitution all are equal. (Gopi 2016: 62; trans. R.N. Sarma)

172  Under the Bhasha Gaze Gopi’s overt support for the Telangana cause is expressed in such poems as ‘Recalling Them’, ‘Telangana’, ‘A Split Morning’, ‘Another Resolution’, and ‘Immortals’. These are all poems that loudly proclaim the poet’s regional identity. While most of these poems could be read as polemical interventions in Telangana’s demand for statehood, they also seem to raise subtle questions concerning language, as when in ‘Another Resolution’ the poet asks the reader to ‘love the dialects/​when the language is the same’ (Gopi 2016: 39). Perhaps it is all related to the issue of identity. In the poem ‘Home’, there is a reference to the speaker’s loss of identity after he shifts from a small house to a bigger one. In the bigger house, one’s identity is lost in the grandeur of the building. Perhaps what the poet implies is that one can feel secure about one’s identity only in smaller domains of experience rather than in large structures which tend to obliterate the resident’s identity. The distinguished Malayalam poet K.G. Sankara Pillai came into the limelight in the 1970s with a series of poems that spoke to the reader in a poetic idiom that appeared to deviate radically from the high modernist syntax of the time. Emerging as a pioneer of modernism in Malayalam poetry, his political radicalism prompted him to part ways with his apolitical, esoterically inclined fellow-​ modernists, whose carefully cultivated ear was deaf to the tone of public discontent that characterized the Indian reality of the period. The evolution of Sankara Pillai’s verse from the 1970s to this day corresponds in many ways with the transformations and metamorphoses that the Malayalam poetic sensibility has undergone over the past decades, and this in a sense accounts for his popularity among readers. Look at ‘Bengal’ (1972), for instance, a poem that acquired a kind of cult status in the Malayalam poetic history of the modernist period. Though Sankara Pillai has in later life turned somewhat critical of the poem’s rhetorical flourishes, ‘Bengal’ represented for many a happy conjunction of the mood of political radicalism of the time captured in modernism’s formalist idiom. The empty rhetoric that the poet later discovers in ‘Bengal’ in some sense is related to its formalism. This is a case of the paradox of the poet renovating the tradition, which through its rhetoric conspires to transform him into a hide-​bound artist. Sankara Pillai talks about this paradox in the poem ‘Favours Returned’: ‘I renovated tradition/​In return/​tradition rendered me antique’ (Sankara Pillai 2016: 76). Several other poems, such as ‘Baldness’, ‘The Dhobi and the

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  173 Dhoti’, and ‘Who Else Is There to Come?’ could perhaps be seen as exemplifying this dialectic. Sankara Pillai annuls the propensity for rhetoric in his style by infusing into his later poetry a strong sense of place and history. This he does by assimilating place and history into the form of his verse rather than using them as its content. In ‘Who Else Is There to Come?’ there is a reference to Lord Dalhousie, the British Viceroy, who waves his green flag from the trains running on Indian rail lines. The reference constitutes a powerful criticism of the colonial mindset that dominates the governance machinery of the Indian state. Though such references might be all right in a critical essay on the colonial consciousness still active in the Indian psyche, they will be counted only as examples of rhetoric in poetry, unless the poet succeeds in assimilating such references into the form of the poem. This precisely is what Sankara Pillai does, especially in the poems published from the 1980s, where the reader would come across a new sense of history and location manifesting as aspects of the poem’s formal dimension. ‘Trees of Kochi’ is a poem that celebrates the ‘soothing cool of the past’ which, as the poet suggests elsewhere in ‘Sand Time’, can be experienced only in fits and starts (Sankara Pillai 2016: 43). The poem is an attempt to recreate the past of Kerala through a series of images that indicate its cultural health. There was a time when the road connecting the village of Thrikkakkara in the north of Kochi and the Cochin harbour in the south ‘exuded the faith and truth of a straight line’ and was lighted by ‘the adage-​like phosphorescence of moonless nights’. On either side of this road were rows of trees whose shady boughs ‘arched over wayfarers’ in the noontime, raising ‘the blessing hands of ancestors’ who included the icons of Kerala’s past cultural glory (Sankara Pillai 2016: 28). The poem becomes a lament on the cultural decay of contemporary Kerala, when the poet contrasts this idyllic picture with the picture of the present, dotted as it is with emblems of corruption and ruination: As chimneys belching smoke sprang up on either side of the road, fertilizer plant drug manufacturing plant

174  Under the Bhasha Gaze degree manufacturing plant plants for manufacturing literature dogma refining plant from the new stately mansions smoke rises away from the earth as apparitions of trees. (Sankara Pillai 2016: 30; trans. E.V. Ramakrishnan)

There are other poems like ‘Sand Time’, ‘Future Shade’, ‘Pray Thus, If You Must’, ‘The Path’, ‘A Sky Twisted and Folded’, and ‘Nostalgia: Feet Seen through a Pair of Socks’ that provide proof for the poet’s rootedness in his native culture and his land’s history. Sankara Pillai’s later poetry with its native and regional roots can perhaps be directly contrasted with the modernism dominating his early verse, marked by a distinctly nationalist perspective. ‘Bengal’ indeed is a worthy outcome of a nationalist perspective. What Sankara Pillai does in his later poetry is to harmonize his native vision with his nationalist outlook so that the two are held in balance in a unified force field that encompasses a country’s history and culture, not in the shape of abstractable content but in the shape of a captivating poetic form. Perhaps one could even see a little bit of the Northeast in this unified field. In the poem ‘Gorkha’, the poet, in a somewhat lighter vein, brings in a dreamy Gorkha security guard from the Northeast to talk about the pan-​Indian sense of insecurity that no guard on duty can put an end to. The land is in danger of being invaded by cultural dwarfs who, as in the story connected with the myth of Mahabali, Kerala’s much-​loved legendary king, might want to turn it into a cultural underworld. Sankara Pillai uses this myth in the poem ‘The Path’ and suggests that no security guard will perhaps be able to save the land from the invaders. Only speech, poetry, has that power. That is why in ‘The Path’, making a mute reference to the fall of King Mahabali, the poet says: I must recover my speech to repossess

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  175 the mythical king who fell to rise in our depths. (Sankara Pillai 2016: 103; trans. E.V. Ramakrishnan)

The speech that is sought to be recovered, moreover, is one that is linked primarily to the speaker’s countryside and the local culture. Sankara Pillai has a lot to say about the elements of this speech in some of his poems written specifically about poetry, which can be read as poetic retellings of tales connected with the local lore. As the sea wave in ‘Future Shade’ which longs to be the folk song of the countryside and which does not want to be ‘the epic/​that serves several worlds’ (Sankara Pillai 2016: 58), the poet does not assume an identity that transcends his local self. In the poem ‘Nostalgia: Feet Seen through a Pair of Torn Socks’, there is the description of a snobbish passenger who keeps to himself for the entire duration of his journey in an interstate train bound for Kerala. He never cares to look at the other passengers in the train, nor does he deign to talk to anyone. ‘A black palm tree on the move’ is how the poet describes the passenger. He appears to be a total stranger to the poet until the train crosses the border to touch Palakad, the entry station to Kerala, when he prepares to get down. As the passenger puts on his shoes, the poet gets to see a little bit of his foot through a small tear in his socks. What it reveals is: [ . . . ] a countryside familiar to me. The shadow of the local mango tree, more a grand uncle to children, on top of which the vulture lived the sweet white sand on which the nagayakshi danced in the moonlight. (Sankara Pillai 2016: 117–​118; trans. Prema Jayakumar)

This indeed is the uneasy celebration of a region with its own history and geography. The celebration is uneasy because one cannot be sure

176  Under the Bhasha Gaze when this history and geography would be eclipsed by the history and geography of the nation. Region or nation as nostalgia certainly is not a covetable state of affairs. What makes Sankara Pillai’s poetry important at the present moment is that, like most other specimens of poetry examined in this chapter, it functions as a discourse that unravels the troubled relationship between the region and the nation in a particularly productive way. The scenario of Indian poetry mapped above would point to cultural strengths that are unique to the individual bhashas constituting India. While these strengths might be a direct outcome of the nation’s bilingualism and its polyphony on one side and the region’s local ethos and its folk resources on the other, the specimens of poetry examined also shed light on the conflicted relation between the nation and the region as they interpenetrate each other in creating the poetic landscape of India. A comparable situation prevails in other genres too, as is indicated by the creative tension between the nation and the region obtaining in such novels as, to give representative examples from Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, and Tamil, Phanishwar Nath Renu’s Maila Anchal (1954), Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag ki Dariya (The River of Fire, 1859), O.V. Vijayan’s Khasakkinte Itihasam (The Legends of Khasak, 1969), and Perumal Murugan’s Madhorubhagan (One Part Woman, 3010). Social scientist Sanjay Subrahmanyam has, in a note on the relation between nation and region, argued that both concepts are equally legitimate in that they are both premised at a practical level on the principle of commonality in terms of ethnicity, religion, language, geographic layout or colonial administrative legacy, or a combination of these (Subrahmanyam 2014). Subrahmanyam of course is talking about the nature of the link between nations and transnational groupings such as ‘South Asia’, but the principle seems to hold good for sub-​ national groupings such as ‘Northeast’ as well, including sub-​national cultures constituted by bhashas. The bhasha poets certainly resist the idea of a monolithic Indian culture, both in theory and in practice. They see literary expression as a syncretic exercise, which draws sustenance from tradition and other internal resources inherent to the respective languages, but they also go beyond them in search of areas where historical and contemporary political connections

Region and Nation in Bhasha Poetry  177 persuade them to stay together intellectually and emotionally. It is in fact such historical, political, intellectual, and emotional coexistence that makes these writers representatives of discrete and regional bhasha literatures that come together to form a common national culture.

12 The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature Bilingualism and multilingualism are aspects of social practice that concern not merely the technical questions of linguistic communication, but a range of larger questions involving such diverse areas of knowledge as sociology, demography, politics, psychology, pedagogy, and, even, international commerce.1 These practices impinge upon language use both at the level of subject formation and at the level of nation formation. At the level of subject formation, multilingualism might manifest as a person’s proficiency in one or more languages other than her mother tongue. At the level of nation formation, it manifests in the shape of a social group’s proficiency in more than one language, which arises primarily from the contiguity of languages across a geographical area. Given the fact that the acquisition of additional languages is part of the declared educational policy of many state governments in the country, most educated Indians can be considered bilingual or multilingual by training. This perhaps is true of the people of several other non-​Indian cultures as well, especially in today’s context where it becomes almost unthinkable for people to live and work in monolingual environments. No civilized being will be able to sustain the ‘absolutization’ of perspective associated with single languages in the present-​day world, where most people are bilingual by default (Besemeres and Wierzbicka 2007: xiii, xiv). Though there is nothing particularly non-​European or Third World about bilingualism and multilingualism at the conceptual level, the fact remains that as language practice, bilingualism is almost the norm for several Asian and African cultures. Indian cultures have been unique in this regard, as historically India has been a multilingual society where 1 The terms ‘bilingualism’ and ‘multilingualism’ are used synonymously and often interchangeably in this chapter. Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0013

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  179 people belonging to different languages interact freely in all spheres of life and for diverse purposes. As historians of Indian languages point out, even during the days of the Sanskrit hegemony, the common people had their day-​to-​day intercourse in the languages of Prakrit and Apabhramsa, which were no single languages, but were large assortments of language clusters that ‘went on changing from region to region and from time to time’ (Jain 2004: 23). Ardhamagadhi, Sauraseni, Maharashtri, Paisachi, and Niya Prakrit, for example, are among the forms that Prakrit took in the Middle Indo-​Aryan period. This has continued to be valid for present-​day India too, where, as the data collected and collated as part of the latest (2011) Indian census on languages indicate, there are 1,369 mother tongues, each grouped under one of the 121 identified languages with more than 10,000 speakers, among them 22 scheduled in the Constitution of India. This is in addition to a large number of other languages, which are grouped under a separate category because they are each spoken by less than 10,000 speakers. In fact, the original ‘raw’ figure of mother tongues reported by the enumerators as returned by the speakers themselves stood at 19,569, a massive figure that represented the number of identifiable languages based on the speakers’ own nomenclature for them, and this was brought down to the present count after much linguistic scrutiny, evaluation, and correlation. It is against this general background of linguistic profusion and multiplicity that the concept of bilingualism in Indian bhashas is to be analysed. That bhasha writers by nature are bilingual has been stressed by several scholars. This is not merely because of India’s school and university curriculum, especially of elite institutions, where English figures prominently in the scheme of things. This is so more because of the contiguous nature of bhasha-​speaking regions that overlap one another on the linguistic map of India. Ananthamurthy’s remark in this regard, as already noted, suggests that people in India have always lived in an ‘ambience of languages’ (2014: 81). He gives the examples of philosophers Sankaracharya, Ananda Tirtha, and Ramanujacharya in the premodern times and Mahatma Gandhi in the modern era (to which could be added the names of Narayana Guru, Rabindranath Tagore, and B.R. Ambedkar), all of whom used more than one language in their everyday interaction with people. Most Indian writers in the modern period too are proficient in more languages than one, and several of them do

180  Under the Bhasha Gaze creative writing in two or more languages. This has been especially true of Indian English literature. Among the prominent bilingual Indian English writers past and present are—​to name a few who have excelled as creative writers in two languages—​Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Toru Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, K.M. Panikkar, A.K. Ramanujan, Kamala Das, Arun Kolatkar, Girish Karnad, Dilip Chitre, Aravind Krishna Mehrotra, Jayanta Mahapatra, G.P. Deshpande, Kiran Nagarkar, and Manoj Das. These writers indeed are part of an international fraternity of bilingual writers that include Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabakov, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Fernando Pessoa, Jack Kerouac, Czeslaw Milosz, Ngugi wa Thiong O’, Milan Kundera, Andre Brink, Ariel Dorfman, Eva Hoffmann, and Assia Djebar. This account, however, warrants a distinction to be made between two types of bilingualism (or multilingualism, as the case may be). The first is bilingualism that arises from the contiguity of natural languages across the land, which is the case with most bhasha literatures, and the other is bilingualism that emerges from a writer’s flair for a hegemonic language other than her native tongue, which is the case of Indian English literature. Though proficiency in two or more languages is integral to both types, the first type in practice comes close to the idea of linguistic hybridity that is shared to varying degrees by the members of a linguistic community, while bilingualism of the second type is to be deemed the subjective asset of a gifted writer who for personal reasons happens to be well-​versed in two or several languages. The former might often constitute the use of two or more languages in creatively enriching situations involving the common people, and bringing about radical shifts in the literary tastes of the speakers of the languages concerned. The latter, on the other hand, is never mass-​based, although, as Amiya Dev remarks, this type too remains ‘quite potent’ on account of its connection with the elite classes (2009: 65). One might remember in this context that the contesting claims of the practitioners of the two types have sometimes led to acrimonious debates on the language question in Indian literature. Looking at things in retrospect, we realize today that the two concrete moments in the recent history of Indian literature when bhasha scholars and Indian English scholars confronted each other head on were also moments of confrontation between the two types of bilingualism. One was

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  181 in the early 1960s, when bhasha writers, under the tutelage of Buddhadev Bose and others, crossed swords with Indian English writers on the appropriateness of English as a medium of creative communication for Indian writers. The other was in the 1990s when, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of India’s Independence, Salman Rushdie raised the issue once again by suggesting to the effect that the contribution by fictionists in Indian bhashas was minor and marginal in comparison with the substantial work done in the field of fiction by Indian novelists and short story writers writing in English. Bilingualism of the first type, it was noted, has always been an important aspect of the Indian literary mind from ancient and premodern days. The hybrid language of Manipravalam that dominated the literary culture of several premodern South Indian literatures, especially Malayalam literature, and the use of Prakrit as the medium of communication for women and the lower castes in classical Sanskrit drama are examples of this. There, however, is reason to believe that the second type of bilingualism connected with an author’s rootedness in two or more languages is linked intimately to the advent of colonialism and western modernity. It is the legacy of languages like English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese left behind by the erstwhile colonizer in the once colonized world spread across Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean islands that has given rise to contemporary instances of literary bilingualism. More recently, large-​scale migration of residents from the Third World leaving their country of origin in search of better employment opportunities, as well as the forced exile or emigration of citizens oppressed by fascist regimes, have added a new political edge to the problem. This indeed might be a factor that goes to make bilingualism in Indian English literature to be a great deal more relevant today to bhasha literatures, which were forced in the days of modernity to be satisfied with being subordinate players in the language game. One might also see this kind of bilingualism leading in some writers to the development of a forked tongue, an ingeniously divided perspective. The political dimension of bilingualism might prompt one to raise the question regarding its connection with the everyday, especially in the context of the bilingual tongue that proliferates among the common people. How can a writer hope to represent her intimate, everyday thoughts, and feelings through a language other than her first language?

182  Under the Bhasha Gaze This was a question that the bhasha writers put to their Indian English counterparts in the debates of the 1960s. For most of the Indian English writers mentioned above, English is a second language they acquired through conscious effort from schools and universities that could not be expected to extend the kind of creative freedom deemed indispensable for literary production. In talking about bilingualism and its operation in the Indian literary ethos, Ananthamurthy has made the fruitful distinction between an elite and aesthetically rich ‘front yard’ where people often use the hegemonic languages of Sanskrit and English and a politically rich, yet deeply disadvantaged, ‘back yard’ inhabited by the motley crowd of village women and others, each with a story of her own, narrated in the chirpy dialects and pedestrian registers of the several Indian bhashas (2014: 88–​90). Ananthamurthy has confessed that it was the backyard of his youthful experience that made a writer of him. As he remembers, there existed a sense of egalitarianism in this space, as caste and other social barriers were generally forgotten in the backyard, and the women would often confide to each other the secrets of their lives, down to the details of their private and intimate relations. Ananthamurthy says: ‘I heard a lot as a child about the sexual life of women, and about affairs in the village. So I knew that no matter what was presented in the front, that spiritual India, there was something else at the back, even in the village. This is how writers are made, in the backyard, not in the front yard of civilization’ (2014: 90). O.V. Vijayan too makes a similar confession pertaining to the ‘minor’ dialect of Malayalam (‘kochubhasha’) that he as a child heard the lower-​caste people in his village speak that inspired his creative talent (1989: 79). As Vijayan’s and Ananthamurthy’s testimonies indicate, the divide here is not merely between languages, though the hierarchy between languages indeed is an important dimension of the relationship being scrutinized. The inter-​relationship between elements within a given language too can be equally pertinent, especially when one is talking about languages going through phases of transition, as is the case with the Indian bhashas during the time of modernity. There is an interesting analysis of this with reference to the Bengali language in an 1883 essay written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, one of the pioneers of modern Bengali fiction who, as the author of Rajmohan’s Wife (1864), is also regarded as the founder of the Indian English novel. What Bankim Chandra discusses in

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  183 the essay, originally published in the journal Bengadarshan, is the change that happened to the mindset of Bengal’s reading public with the advent of modernity. Premodern written Bengali, a province largely of Sanskrit scholarship, was practically inaccessible to the illiterate majority of the Bengali population who were familiar only with forms of the spoken language. The Bengali of the learned and the Bengali of the popular which worked almost like ‘two distinct languages’ in the past, according to Bankim Chandra, undergo a process of radical churning with the arrival of new writers who are ‘well read in English [and are aware of] the power of the English language [and who wonder] why prose works could not be written with that Bengali which is in currency’ (Chattopadhyay 2014: 27). One might find a similar history of internal conflict between language varieties in other Indian bhashas too, especially in multilingual situations where, as Sisir Kumar Das points out, speakers of a particular language variant start challenging, to the chagrin of others, the ‘functional hierarchy’ existing between languages and language variants. In order to prove his point, Das cites the examples of the tension between Maithili and Hindi, between Asamiya and Bengali, between Bengali and Odia, between Kashmiri and Urdu, and between Tamil and Telugu at various stages of the evolution of each language (1995: 39). The above account of the linguistic situation in pre-​Independence India demonstrates the literary practitioner’s difficulty in dealing with the representation of the everyday in the language of literature. Both Bankim Chandra and Ananthamurthy recognize the complexities of the problem, as indicated by their repeated references to the everyday and the quotidian, indirect in the case of the former and more direct and consistent in the case of the latter. They do not use the terms ‘everyday’ and ‘quotidian’ with the methodological refinement we might associate with contemporary theorists of the everyday such as Lefebvre, but their discussions leave sufficient room for the terms’ extension and elaboration into new semantic environments. Referring to the altered approach of the radically minded modernists of his own day, Bankim Chandra says: ‘The Bengali language is that which is used in Bengali society, in which all the quotidian affairs of Bengal are carried out and which all Bengalis understand’ (Chattopadhyay 2014: 27). A similar reference to the everyday can be seen in Ananthamurthy’s accounts too. In the essay titled ‘Growing up in Karnataka’ (2014: 1–​27), he talks about Abbakka whom he often

184  Under the Bhasha Gaze met, once again invoking his pet spatial metaphor, in the ‘backyard’ of his childhood geography. Abbakka was a Tulu woman full of mystery who became possessed with spirits occasionally when she transformed herself into a ‘goddess’ and agreed to protect those who came seeking her protection from evil spirits and diseases. On other occasions, when she was normal, however, ‘she was a humble woman with her own everyday problems’, says Ananthamurthy (2014: 5; emphasis added). One might examine the problem in concrete terms by making a parallel reading of two fictional works that invoke the ideas of bilingualism and the everyday as they are articulated in Indian English writing on the one hand and bhasha writing on the other. The first work to be examined is Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Untouchable (1935), one of the founding texts of Indian English fiction, and the other work is Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s celebrated Malayalam short story ‘Janmadinam’ (The Birthday, 1945). Neither Anand nor Basheer is bilingual in the narrow sense of a writer practicing creative writing in two languages simultaneously. But the two writers are bilingual in that they both liberally employ code mixing in their writing and share in the divided perspective that is the hallmark of the Third World’s legacy of linguistic colonialism. The Hindi and Punjabi elements in Mulk Raj Anand’s English have been subjected to close critical scrutiny by enlightened readers of Anand. As for Basheer, he wrote his earliest fictional work originally in English, which he later translated into Malayalam. These writers raise bilingualism as an important principle of composition of the text, where it appears sometimes as a major thematic concern, at other times as an important element of its formal constitution. The works also demonstrate degrees of closeness to the concept of the everyday, both as a principle that structures the work’s unity (or its lack) at the formal level and as a vision that conditions the system of classification that defines what Jacques Ranciere calls the ‘distribution of the sensible’ across aesthetic and political domains (2006:7). Anand’s Untouchable is a classic novel, which firmly established its author as an iconic figure in the canon of Indian English fiction. Though the novel has been read from diverse critical perspectives, Anand’s standing as a Gandhian with Marxist leanings and as a founding member of the Progressive Writers’ Association has generally prompted critics to consider the novel as an expression of Indian nationalism in the unfolding context of social reform, liberal humanism, and colonial modernity. In

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  185 this reading, Anand arguably anticipates, along with other Indian bhasha writers of the period such as Shivaram Karanth (Chomana Dudi, 1933), Munshi Premchand (‘Thakur ka Kuan’, ‘Kafan’, 1936), Rabindranath Tagore (Chandalika, 1938), Sundaram (Piyasi, 1940), Saadat Hasan Manto (Teen Auratein, 1946), and Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (Thottiyude Makan, 1947), some of the positions which were to be articulated with greater authenticity by the Dalit and subaltern writers of the post-​1970s era (see, e.g., Bhattacharya 2007: x; R.M. George 2013: 92). Anand’s novel, to follow this argument, appears as merely expressing a kind of ‘impotent rage’ against an unjust social system, which Lakha, the father of the novel’s protagonist Bakha, is described as displaying when confronted with unfair social practices (Mulk Raj Anand 2001: 71). Untouchable nevertheless is one of the early Indian novels that not only partakes of the experience of the everyday but also weaves it into the formal structure of the novel. As in the case of such other western novels as James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Virginia Woolf ’s Mrs Dalloway (1925), Sandor Marai’s Embers (1942), Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano (1947), and Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day (1956), the events narrated in the novel pertain to the happenings of a single day. It is a day in the life of the 18-​year-​old boy Bakha that forms the substance of Untouchable. The novel’s truthfulness to the unpleasant reality that it perceived and its depiction of the disgusting aspects of life fetched for it the epithet of a ‘dirty’ novel from a section of contemporary readership. The opening passage of the novel itself, which describes the environs of the scavengers’ colony where the story is set, could have appeared greatly disgusting to readers used to specimens of literary writing that only presented the delectable aspects of reality: The outcastes’ colony was a group of mud-​walled houses that clustered together in two rows, under the shadow both of the town and the cantonment, but outside their boundaries and separate from them. There lived the scavengers, the leather-​workers, the washer-​men, the barbers, the water-​carriers, the grass-​cutters, and other outcastes from Hindu society. A brook ran near the lane, once with crystal-​clear water, now soiled by the dirt and filth of the public latrines situated about it, the odour of the hides and skins of dead carcasses left to dry on its banks, the dung of donkeys, sheep, horses, cows and buffaloes heaped up to be

186  Under the Bhasha Gaze made into fuel cakes, and the biting, choking, pungent fumes that oozed from its sides. (Mulk Raj Anand 2001: 1)

Depictions of poverty and hunger as well as references to filth, excrement, latrine, and other signs of the everyday are abundant in the novel. This must have been a somewhat novel experience for the readers accustomed to an aesthetic that took care to transform the emblems of the everyday into icons of beauty and visual pleasure. This is a matter concerning the evolution of subjectivity and historical consciousness in artistic and literary experience, which has been thoughtfully explicated by John Berger with reference to the development of gender consciousness in visual art. To go back to Berger’s example that was discussed in some detail in Chapter 2, the art-​historical shift from Titian’s nude paintings of the premodern period to Manet’s nude paintings of the modern period can also be described as an ideological shift that engenders the new female subject. The shift is from Titian’s un-​gendered and dehistoricized representations of women’s nudity to Manet’s representations of historicized women who look straight into the eye of the spectator. Manet’s women, according to Berger, appear to be self-​conscious subjects who are aware of their changed historical role. The spectator also learns to see them as women ‘beginning to question’ the traditional roles in which they are cast (Berger 1972: 63). This indeed is an instance of the incorporation of the everyday into the experience of art. Mulk Raj Anand seems to be employing a similar strategy, the naming and precise detailing of the items in the everyday physical environment of Untouchable allowing his characters historical and cultural identities that conventional aesthetics would certainly have withheld from them. This is not to suggest that Mulk Raj Anand has been completely successful in reinserting the historical experience of the everyday into the narrative of Untouchable. Though the novel might have succeeded in laying bare the historical processes of exploitation and caste oppression in the Indian society of Anand’s day, hindsight allows us to see that historically the novel has not been able to bridge the gap between narration and experience. There is a passage in the novel where Bakha ruminates on this gap in the context of Mahatma Gandhi’s call for the elimination of untouchability. Referring to his own personal encounters with the higher castes early in the day, Bakha wonders: ‘Now Gandhi Mahatma will talk

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  187 about us! It is good that I came. If only he knew what had happened to me this morning!’ (Mulk Raj Anand 2001: 132—​emphasis added). It is the quality of this ‘knowing’—​its aesthetics, which to be sure is related to its politics—​that elevates Untouchable as a work of art and, in the process, simultaneously defeats its purpose of representing the everyday. In view of the fact that Anand’s familiarity with Punjabi and Hindi has gone into the making of Untouchable, we might be justified in considering the novel’s linguistic structure to be an extension of bilingualism. However, a careful reading would reveal that Untouchable has not gained much from its author’s bilingualism. If we describe the novel as having failed in its endeavour to fruitfully represent the everyday, part of the reason for this is the narrative’s frequent lapse into a somewhat jarring language, which, strictly speaking, is not sustained by bilingualism, but is tainted by it. The novel’s language, one might say, cripples its perspective at crucial points in the narration, though literary bilingualism in itself would not be regarded as crippling by any account. The novel’s language does not allow the reader to ‘know’ authentically what the experiences of hunger and caste oppression really are like. Like the borrowed English clothes that Bakha flaunts, which he is described as ‘guarding’ from ‘all base taint of Indianness’ (Mulk Raj Anand 2001: 4), the knowledge of the everyday remains superficial, lingering on the periphery of the novel’s experience. This is because several passages in the novel, especially those reporting the conversations between the characters, read neither like translations of statements originally made in Hindi, Punjabi, or one of the other Indian bhashas, nor like statements made in the narrator’s English. Here are examples: ‘You annoy me with your silence, you illegally begotten! You eater of dung and drinker of urine! You bitch of a sweeper woman! I’ll show you how to insult one old enough to be your mother.’ (2001: 17) ‘You eater of your masters’, she shouted, ‘may the vessel of your life never float in the sea of existence! May you perish and die! You have defiled my house! Go! Get up, get up! You eater of your masters. . . .’ (2001: 63)

This language, akin to no language use arising from contiguous bilingual contexts of the first type—​of the two types of bilingualism that we

188  Under the Bhasha Gaze distinguished—​renders the experience narrated in Untouchable spurious and inauthentic. The language used here is more likely to arise from the translation practice of the speakers of the second type, which is linked to a great extent to the individual’s skilfulness and adroitness in language use. Translation, moreover, is deeply implicated in a people’s culture and it is the cultural and experiential resonances endemic to language that is mutilated in translation in some bilingual situations. The mutilation occurs when one tries to domesticate a cultural habit that is foreign to another reading community. There is this criticism raised against Indian English novels in general that their targeted readers are located outside the boundaries of India. Though Untouchable is an honest exception to this criticism, there is at least one instance in the novel where the author appears to interpret his material for a non-​Indian audience. This is where old Lakha in a jubilant mood quotes a popular proverb to ask his daughter Sohini for some bread and tea: ‘ “What is taste to the palate of holy men, let it come with cream”, the old man sang the familiar Indian proverb in reply’ (Mulk Raj Anand 2001: 74). This is not to suggest that this kind of crippling takes place only in Indian English literature or that the assimilation of the textures of Indian bhashas to each other or to English would invariably lead to such crippling. There could be occasions, as in the case of the writings of Jayanta Mahapatra, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, and others, where the Indian English writer proposes to develop a language that consciously embodies the rhythms and cadences of the bhashas. Mahapatra resented references to his poetry as Indian English poetry and wanted it to be designated Odia poetry written in English, and stated that one could as well treat it as translations (Sarang 1990: 32). Though the inherent cadences of the Indian languages could be a matter of strength for a bhasha work in English translation, its indiscriminate deployment could also prove disastrous. A comparison of Untouchable with a bhasha work will reveal the crippling noted above to be integral to aesthetics, though the kind of bilingualism connected with Indian English enhances the gravity of this crippling. It is true that bilingualism can also strengthen the English translations of bhasha writing, especially when the translation becomes an occasion for the English reader to get to know the cultural specificities of the region and the people in question, which can only be communicated through the cadences and textures of

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  189 the bhashas. The estrangement effect produced by the bhasha structures can also sometimes prove empowering in translation. This is not the case with most Indian English writing, especially of the pre-​Independence days, when the writer’s efforts to incorporate the textures of the bhasha often led to the kind of crippling that we noted in Anand. Integration of other ‘languages’—​which could mean not only formal languages, but dialects and registers as well—​into the narrative can certainly be energizing and refreshing. Basheer’s Malayalam short story ‘Janmadinam’, published within a few years of the publication of Untouchable, can be cited as an example for this. Though there is little to share between Basheer’s Malayalam and Anand’s English, as individual writers there are several things in common between the two. Both were products of the modernity-​driven Indian social renaissance of the early twentieth century. Both were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi as well as by the radical politics of the pre-​ Independence days. Both were stirred by the ideals of the progressive literary movement, though Basheer’s involvement with the movement was less tenacious than that of Anand. In matters concerning literature, both also shared a deep and abiding interest in the everyday. Both took pleasure in writing about the ‘dirty’ and ‘filthy’ aspects of life. One of Basheer’s early publications was a collection of short stories under the title Anchu Cheetta Kathakal (Five Bad Stories), which carried the fiction of some of the best writers of the day, including Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and S.K. Pottekkat. The work apparently was meant to provoke the traditionalists of the time. M.K. Sanu, critic and a biographer of Basheer, writes that Basheer faced stiff opposition from traditional writers and critics in the 1950s when his novel Ntuppappakkoranendarnnu (Me Grandad ‘ad an Elephant, 1951) was nominated as a textbook for school students. The reason cited for the opposition was the presence in the text of the word ‘kakkoos’, meaning latrine (Sanu 2007: 32). Like Anand’s Untouchable, Basheer’s ‘Janmadinam’ is a piece of ‘everyday’ fiction. Written in the form of a series of journal entries that provides an hourly record of real and imagined events, it is a story of hunger, poverty and egoism narrated from an autobiographical perspective. It is a day in the life of the narrator, a poverty-​stricken writer whose self-​respect does not allow him to let other people know that he is starving even on his birthday, is the focal point of the story. Through

190  Under the Bhasha Gaze the description of the trivial and insignificant events that happen around him, the writer throws open the world of the everyday before the readers, and then allows it to mingle with his own dark inner world, which is turbulent and imaginative at the same time. As in Untouchable, there is a perceived disparity between outward appearance and lived reality. Just as Bakha’s borrowed western outfit does not reflect his ‘true’ reality which is constituted by his everyday experience of insult and humiliation, the Basheer narrator’s white, homespun clothes and canvas shoes that allow others to regard him as a ‘bourgeois gentleman’ hardly represent his true personality (Basheer 2003: 19). The writer has not had a cup of tea even on this day, his birthday. His indigence forces him to meekly suffer the insults heaped on him by his landlord and the tea vendor as well as by the fellow residents at the boarding house where he lives in a cheap, makeshift room adjoining the kitchen. Barring an 11-​year-​old serving boy who offers to lend him whatever little money he has, no one recognizes him for what he in reality is, a starved and impoverished writer. However, there are no rhetorical flourishes in Basheer’s writing, and no stilted and formally pompous language that resembles the language of translation. This is in marked contrast to Untouchable, whose complex sentence constructions sometimes create an atmosphere of pedantry. Basheer’s Malayalam by contrast is simple and straight forward, his words and sentences often being rustic in origin and orientation. His biographer narrates an incident connected with the publication of his first novel, Balyakala Sakhi (Childhood Friend, 1944). The novel written in the writer’s racy and colloquial style was accepted for publication by a ‘major’ publisher in Ernakulam. When Basheer went to the press after a few days of the delivery of the manuscript to check the proofs, he found to his utter dismay his informal language neatly ‘corrected’ by the well-​ meaning compositors and proof readers at the press. Basheer writes that he had to draw on his considerable histrionics before he could bring the press people around to his own style of writing (Sanu 2007: 120–​ 121). In Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat, 1959) also there is a similar scene wherein the narrator’s grammarian brother seeks to correct his brother’s ‘bad’ grammar and rewrite his manuscript in ‘perfect’ Malayalam (Basheer 1980: 183–​184). It is true that unlike in Indian writing in English, bilingualism in the sense of a writer’s adherence to two natural languages does not come

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  191 into play in Basheer’s story. However, bilingualism in the sense of a divided perspective is important for Basheer also. Some of his earliest writings, as his translator R.E. Asher has pointed out in the introduction to his edition of Basheer, were in English (Basheer 1980: vii), and this could to some extent have conditioned his response to art and aesthetics. There is a point in ‘Janmadinam’ where the narrator tells his friends in the boarding house that there are other competent short story writers in Malayalam, some of whom would excel the fiction writers in English and other western languages (Basheer 2003: 23). It is possible that, like several other modernity-​inspired artists of his period, Basheer too was torn between the demands of the everyday and the dominant principles of aesthetics. One might note that here’s a graphic demonstration of modernity’s dialectic, which, as already indicated, engenders the category of the everyday as an inevitable aspect of modern culture even as it devises ways of exorcizing it from writing and imagination. True, one cannot in the present-​day world think of eliminating the icons of the everyday from one’s writing entirely, but the conventions of reading, especially in bilingual situations, would prompt one to transform the everyday into ‘all time’ and assign to it eternal and universal significance. Basheer was one of the few bhasha writers who consistently and creatively resisted this tendency of the dominant aesthetic to appropriate and control deviations of all kinds from the sphere of literary culture. ‘Janmadinam’ is a brilliant example of such an endeavour on Basheer’s part. The summary of the argument here is that the everyday and the divided perspective, in the case of Basheer, are not merely an extension of his thematic material, but are integral aspects of the form of his writing. That is why one finds it difficult to extricate them from the writer’s language. Though colloquialism might be an important element of this language, it is not through colloquialisms alone that Basheer works the atmosphere of the everyday into his writing. Even his occasional use of a relatively formal word or phrase contributes towards the creation of such an atmosphere. Here is a passage by way of illustration: 4 o’clock: I’m fed up with this country. There is nothing in this city that I find attractive. The same roads that I tread every day. The same shops, the same faces that I see every day. How sickening to see the same sights,

192  Under the Bhasha Gaze to hear the same sounds! I do not feel like writing anything! Or what is there to write? (Basheer 2003: 21)

Certainly, as we have seen, the everyday and the divided perspective are important for Anand’s Untouchable also, but the difference is that in Anand, language does not play the same pivotal role that it plays in Basheer in replicating the details of the everyday. The everyday in Anand is more a matter of his thematic content than of his language. There is a significant moment in Anand’s story where the narrator prepares to erase the signs of the everyday from the ‘map of his being’. This is how the novel describes Bakha in an introspective mood: For a moment he felt a compunction that he was trying to escape. But he had grown out of his surroundings and he just hated the thought of being in the neighbourhood of his mud-​house. Somewhere in him he felt he could never get away from it, but to the greater part of him the place didn’t exist. It had been effaced clean off the map of his being. (Mulk Raj Anand 2001: 90–​91)

This parallel reading of the fictional works by Anand and Basheer conducted against the background of bilingualism and the everyday would lead us to certain tentative conclusions regarding the relation between Indian English writing Indian bhasha writing. Perhaps it may not be difficult to explicate the relation by placing it in the conceptual framework of bilingualism, where the idea of the everyday could be shown to be linked to languages in a somewhat graded and hierarchical fashion. In comparison with Indian bhashas, English is the language of power, which predictably can have little interest in aligning itself with the everyday. One might throw further light on the relation by invoking the concepts of bhakti and vibhakti, terms which lexically mean ‘devotion’ and ‘erudition’, respectively. Bhakti in some sense is the everyday, the presence of God in the here and the now, experienced directly, without the mediation of any intermediary. It is immanent experience, related in some sense to the experience of art, which organizes itself, as in Basheer’s short story, as the discourse of literature that is received as such by the reader. Vibhakti on the other hand is transcendent experience that requires the mediation of a translator for its comprehension. One of the several legends connected

The Bilingual Everyday in Bhasha Literature  193 with the sixteenth century Malayalam poet Poontanam Nampootiri’s bhakti for Krishna places it in opposition to the vibhakti of his contemporary Sanskrit poet Melpattur Narayana Bhattatiri, known for his erudition and the social recognition he enjoyed. In comparison with Poontanam, a person of humble origins, Melpattur was a great scholar, far ahead of the other both in terms of social status and literary achievement. Poontanam’s Santanagopalam Pana in Malayalam and Melpattur’s Narayaneeyam in Sanskrit are both about the life of Krishna, though scholars are inclined to place the latter above the former in terms of their compositional qualities. But Poontanam had one quality which put him ahead of Melpattur—​his unflinching bhakti, which according to legend was acknowledged by Krishna himself through a disembodied voice that spoke in support of him from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple (Sankunni 1974: 265–​268; Nambisan 2009: 15–​16). The problem with the language of Anand’s Untouchable was interpreted in these pages as emerging from its proximity to the second of the two types of bilingualism. While this certainly is a valid approach one could adopt in looking at the question of bilingualism in bhasha literatures, one can also consider bhasha writing that is proximate to the first type of bilingualism to be more spontaneous and more closely connected with everyday experience. One might say that as contrasted with Indian English literature, the bhasha writing has the natural ease of a bhakta’s connection with his or her object of worship. If literature in the ultimate analysis is a matter of bhakti that implies experience as well as a vibrant and historically significant literary sensibility as against an elite and erudite vibhakti, and can be graded according to its proximity to the desired language, one can consider Indian English literature—​in opposition to bhasha writing—​to be a discourse steeped in vibhakti that constantly aspires to attain an ever-​elusive bhakti.

13 Modernity and Literary Historiography The terms bhakti and vibhakti, experience and erudition, were metaphorically used in the previous chapter in order to bring to light the invisible tensions between bhasha writing and Indian English writing.1 The terminology can indeed be further extended to the general social scenario to elaborate the troubled relation between modernity and literary history. Whether one considers literary history to be the gradual and progressive unfolding of a literary canon, or an account that charts the story of a text’s reception across history, or a narrative that explores the passage of a text across genres and locations within a literary tradition, or a description of the shifts in narrative conventions that accompany the transformations in the fate of an author over a period of time, or as the cultural articulation of the nationalistic aspirations of a people, the fact remains that the subjective dimension of literary experience, the moment of enlightened aesthetic communication, goes beyond the grasp of the literary historian. Reflections on the historical connections existing between literary works do not appear to have been a matter of concern for the premodern Indian poetic theorist, fully immersed as he was in the explication of an artwork’s immanent qualities proliferating in the moment of communication. The adoption of the western conventions of history writing by non-​western cultures certainly is a result of the colonial contact, and this is the reason why literary historiography, especially in Indian bhashas, is generally regarded as a modern phenomenon. However, there is also a sense in which one might consider modernity to be a concept that is incompatible with literary history or with any kind of reflective writing on literature. This was a point that Paul de Man made way back in 1970, when he wrote in the essay titled ‘Literary History and Literary Modernity’ that one cannot 1 An earlier version of this chapter was presented as a paper at the National Seminar on Indian Literary Historiography organized by the Sahitya Akademi at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, in September 2015. Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0014

Modernity and Literary Historiography  195 afford to ignore the inherent incongruity between literature and modernity and that ‘the spontaneity of being modern conflicts with the claim to think and write about modernity’ (de Man 1970: 384). What this implies is that bhakti and vibhakti, even in the metaphoric context of Indian literary history, cannot co-​exist on the same ground and are to be deemed mutually exclusive concepts. The period of modernity in Indian literature, however, witnessed the growth of new literary genres and thematic conventions, which it was the task of literary historiography to record, document, and interpret. These genres and conventions were no whole scale borrowings from western models, but often constituted a happy intermingling of indigenous and western forms, modes, and content. Though the new configurations deviated radically from the forms and genres followed in traditional literary practices, they are not to be considered mere replicas of western narrative configurations. Since the act of recording, documenting, and interpreting could not be fruitfully accomplished using the protocols in place for indigenous traditions, it was imperative to find new ways of talking about them, new modes of linking them to the historical process. A quick way of solving this was to borrow the colonial critical template designed for western genres and extend it to the newly created forms. To give an example, the term ‘novel’ was borrowed from western criticism in order to designate the kind of narrative that was newly formulated in Indian bhashas as a glorious intermingling of forms, modes, and materials drawn alike from indigenous traditions and western genres. This is also true of western terms like ‘romanticism’ and ‘modernism’, which, when extended to the corresponding Indian literary practices, do not truly represent the indigenous concepts and practices associated with the corresponding mindset. This practice indeed has given rise to a number of complex methodological problems in Indian literary history, entailing the need for conceiving an alternative literary historiography, a critical literary historiography. It will be interesting to examine some of these problems and explore the possibility of formulating a critical historiographical model that is not burdened with the colonial cultural baggage. M. Leelavathy’s literary historical account of Malayalam poetry, Malayala Kavita Sahitya Charitram (The History of Malayalam Poetry, 1980), is used for this purpose as a point of reference. The attempt is to critically rethink the use of

196  Under the Bhasha Gaze the western template for reading the literary history of Indian literature, especially as it is employed in narrating the evolution of phases such as romanticism and modernism in bhasha literary history. The shift from romantic literature to modernist literature is generally represented in western literary history as a movement from one completed state of sensibility to another that happened in literary culture at the dawn of the twentieth century. It is often regarded as marking the beginning of a new era of writing following the end of an outdated one, and is interpreted as the outcome of certain social and cultural developments within European modernity. Modernism in this view is treated as a peaking in the literary domain of certain aspects of the incomplete project of socio-​political modernity, and constitutes a rejection and superseding of some of the positions associated with romantic literature. It is this theory of sensibility change that has by and large been adopted, appropriated, and extended by Indian literary historians when they talk about a shift in bhasha literary history in the 1950s from the romantic phase to the modernist phase. Literary historians in Malayalam too have kept pace with these developments and have in general tended to view modernism in Malayalam, perceived to have happened in the late 1950s, as constituting a repudiation of the ideas of progress and romanticism that dominated debates in Malayalam literature in the 1930s through the 1940s. The distinction between socio-​political modernity and literary modernism has often been overlooked and the notion of progress bypassed in this narrative, though progress as a concept in fact has acted as a key factor that often mediated between the concepts of tradition and modernity in this development. The year of publication of Leelavathy’s literary history—​1980—​is significant in that it was a time when genre-​based literary histories were becoming popular in the language, after almost a century of production of histories that sought to grasp the literary universe as a comprehensive totality. There is a world of difference between looking at literature as a social totality and considering it as the manifestation of certain generic conventions. To look at literature as genre is also to take a somewhat narrow view of the literary field, in which the artwork is defined more in terms of its conformity to accepted forms of writing such as poetry and fiction rather than in terms of contextual and historical considerations. Published close on the heels of M. Achuthan’s Cherukatha Innale

Modernity and Literary Historiography  197 Innu (The Past and the Present of the Short Story, 1973), K.M. Tharakan’s Novel Sahitya Charitram (The History of Malayalam Novel, 1978), and G. Sankara Pillai’s Malayala Nataka Sahitya Charitram (The History of Malayalam Drama, 1980), Leelavathy’s history seemed to complete the first cycle of genre-​based literary histories that between them covered almost all major forms of canonical literature. This turn to genre-​based history, although inconsequential from the layman’s viewpoint, is important from the historiographer’s perspective because genre-​based histories came at the end of a long period of heated debates and discussions in the Malayalam literary field. Though these discussions over conceptual issues concerning literature’s ethics, politics, and aesthetics were generally confined to the literary and scholarly world, some of them were truly acrimonious in which the common man also participated. The question of value in literature and literature’s connection with the social world received focused attention in some of these debates. Among the other issues discussed by the literary scholar in the first half of the twentieth century included the role of sabdalankara in the poetic experience, popularly known as the prasa debate, the relevance of mahakavya in contemporary literary culture, which was initially raised by poet Kumaran Asan in his review of Vallathol’s Chitrayogam (1913), Kesari Balakrishna Pillai’s call for turning literary criticism into a scientific discipline, the controversies on the subject of progressive literature and the very idea of progress discussed during the 1930s and 1940s, the conflict between the aesthetic view of art and art’s social connection, the idea of formal coherence implied by Mundasseri’s concept of roopabhadrata, and the question of the relation between tradition and modernity discussed a little later, in the era of literary modernism. The critical world in Kerala appeared to be vertically divided on each of these issues, and the emergence of the genre-​based history in the end was almost like a vote given in favour of literature’s aesthetic autonomy and its formal value. These indeed are important questions in literature, which are of particular relevance to Malayalam literary history because of their entanglement with the concept of the ‘literary’ and the principle of hermetic aesthetic, which were getting consolidated in the language in the period under review. The debates mentioned in a sense are part of the long history of preparation that ultimately led to the formation of ‘the literary’ as

198  Under the Bhasha Gaze an autonomous realm of intangible experiences. This history, as is to be expected, has been implicated in the evolution of the idea of literary historiography. To go a little backwards into this history, Malayalam’s first literary history by P. Govinda Pillai (1881) was published at a time when large sections of the literate society in Kerala were convinced that the culture’s immediate need in the field of knowledge resources was not imaginative writing, but scientific writing. This perception ran deep in the ideology of colonial modernity, and was, as we have seen in some of the earlier chapters, integral to the logic that governed the cultural work and the pedagogic practice undertaken in Indian bhashas in the nineteenth century. But in the few circles where imaginative writing mattered, it still mattered as a holistic discourse, and scholarship was yet to recognize the literary as an exclusive domain of culture that stayed aloof from material and social practices. This broad-​based approach to literature is reflected in Govinda Pillai’s literary history, which was more of a cultural history of Kerala, even in its title where one would find no specific reference to literature. The development of literary historiography in Malayalam has been the story of a gradual evolution in which this broad-​based view gets slowly eroded after it yields ground in time to an esoteric view that is governed by the protocols of the hermetic aesthetic. This is a stage in the prolonged process of culture’s aestheticization in which the formal and generic aspects of writing take precedence over lived life and material reality. The shift to genre-​based histories in the latter half of the twentieth century in this sense is a major step taken by literary history in its march towards the hermetic aesthetic. This complex alternative history of the evolution of the idea of the literary in Malayalam has generally gone unrecorded by conventional literary histories. However, there are some literary histories that conceal this genealogy as a subtext within the main text, telling the alternative story in spite of themselves, so to say. Leelavathy’s history happens to be one such. On the surface, this history is not unlike any of the earlier literary histories in Malayalam. That literature develops chronologically within closed national boundaries is an assumption that it shares with conventional literary histories. It is unselfconscious writing that does not dare to interrogate the prevailing principles of aesthetics in any fundamental way. In this sense, Leelavathy’s history cannot be regarded as a critical history of Malayalam literature. As a work that predates what could be called

Modernity and Literary Historiography  199 the ‘cultural’ turn that happened to Leelavathy’s own literary criticism in the late 1980s, it cannot even be considered as a representative specimen of the current state of criticism in her language. The critical position expressed in the work represents the tenor of Leelavathy’s earlier criticism that has been somewhat indifferent to larger political and historical questions. The distinguishing aspect of her early work is an interest in science and scientific knowledge, and this indeed has gone into the making of this history too in the form of a concern for presenting facts objectively. An enthusiast of classical Sanskrit poetics, Leelavathy’s critical practice before the publication of Malayala Kavita Sahitya Charitram was centred on synthesizing the principles of Indian and western aesthetics, and this interest too has proved important in shaping the work’s general method. Leelavathy is also well-​known among Malayali readers as a practitioner of the archetypal approach to criticism, which she puts to great use in her interpretations of individual literary works, especially of poetry. Her literary history has certainly gained a great deal from her considerable interpretive skills. The above characteristics of Leelavathy’s criticism would perhaps prompt one to locate her history within the tradition of literary histories that generally promote the hermetic aesthetic. Indeed outwardly, her method of literary historical writing is not much different from practices that propose aestheticization of literary and historical knowledge as a teleological end. What is interesting about Leelavathy’s work, however, are the clues it provides for an alternative history of poetry that might in the end disrupt this teleology. This alternative history appears as a halting, discontinuous, and fragmented narrative lying dormant within the main narrative of the history. Leelavathy is indeed sensitive to the divergent functions of the critic and the literary historian, though she has been somewhat laconic in elaborating the difference. There is a brief reference to it in the preface where she says that while the perspective of a critic can be tainted by his or her personal preferences, a literary historian cannot afford to be purely personal (2002: 8). What she implies here is that the attitude of a literary historian can be subjective at the level of appreciation, but it should strive to be objective at the level of evaluation. It is subjective inasmuch as literature apparently is understood as an autonomous discourse and objective inasmuch as it is perceived as developing within shared historical and ideological systems. This means much

200  Under the Bhasha Gaze more than placing the literary text in a pretextual context, which used to be the method of doing literary history by past literary historians. In the altered environment, the literary historian perhaps will have to perform the function of an archaeologist also, retrieving a history from the details that lie submerged within the unconscious of individual literary texts. This is a new attitude to literary history, which does not seem to have been theorized much in any of the Indian bhashas, not certainly in Malayalam. Leelavathy too has not cared to articulate her practice as a conscious theory, though her method comes close to the idea of a critical literary historiography that recognizes the dialectical relationship between the past and the context of writing it. This can be illustrated by Leelavathy’s approach to the early history of the folk traditions in Malayalam literature. Diverging from the common practice of literary historians who invariably open their histories with long descriptions of the oral songs and folk literature dating from the first millennium of the Common Era, Leelavathy begins her history with an analysis of the long poem Ramacharitam composed in the twelfth century, which marks the beginning of written literature in the language. Not that her history does not include analyses of oral and folk literature, but Leelavathy reserves them for the respective periods in history when they appear in their extant, scripted forms. Her reason for adopting this method is clear and simple, and is one that would bring her close to the methodology of critical historiography. What she says is that one should take into account the time lag between an oral song and its transformation into a written composition (2002: 20). There is no point in insisting that a folk song belongs, for example, to the sixth century if it has been translated into writing six centuries later. It would be more appropriate to consider the piece as a twelfth-​century poem rather than a sixth-​century song. This is the attitude of a critical historiographer-​in-​the-​making, and the insights from this attitude can be seen to illumine several other parts of the history that she is mapping. Her interpretation of the implications of bhakti for the period of Ezhuttachan is another example of such critical insight (2002: 81). Yet, one might not be justified in calling Leelavathy a critical historiographer. One might not even consider her as a scholar with a sustained interest in the historical method. Even in her unpublished doctoral dissertation (1972), which is a descriptive analysis of the language of the Attaprakarams or the stage manuals used by

Modernity and Literary Historiography  201 the Kutiyattam performers, one would find history to be only of marginal significance to the project (Leelavathy 1972). To take a closer look at the history pursued in Leelavathy’s work is to get a clearer picture of this alternative narrative. Her recounting of a phase in modern Malayalam literary history which has received a great deal of attention in recent debates can be chosen for this. The phase pertains to the emergence of modernism as a new trend in Malayalam poetic history. Though the perceived role of specific writers and specific literary texts might vary, literary historians in Malayalam have in general tended to view modernism as constituting a repudiation of the ideas of progress and romanticism that had dominated debates in Malayalam literature in the 1930s through the early 1950s. As already noted, the distinction between socio-​political modernity and literary modernism is often elided and the idea of progress erased in this narrative. Although Leelavathy appears to agree broadly with this reading, her history leaves behind sufficient clues for the reader to put together and develop an alternative history that would allow one to imagine poetic modernism, often regarded by literary historians and critics as representing a clean break from the romantic ethos, as a continuation of the romantic sensibility. In the context of the different chronologies and shades of meaning associated with modernism, as well as in view of recent interrogation of the idea of a monolithic modernism, one might find it imperative to re-​ examine the utility of modernism as a critical term that can be of relevance to Indian literature.2 One early consensus on its meaning, however, was suggested by its putative rejection of the romantic temper that arguably dominated the spirit of nineteenth-​century western literature. Though no serious literary scholar would be willing to make a blunt statement on this today, in the light especially of the critical revisions that have happened across the past few decades, modernism’s distrust of the conventions of romantic writing is still a favourite topic of academic enquiry. Literary histories of the past have certainly helped perpetuate this story, wherein the shift to modernism is generally represented as a transition 2 The name and nature of modernism have undergone radical reassessments in the past three to four decades. Critics often use it today in the plural, as in the title of Nicholls (1995). That one has to make discriminations between modernisms was originally suggested by Kermode (1968) and this idea has been picked up by a number of recent critics including Perloff (1981), North (1994), and Matthews (2008).

202  Under the Bhasha Gaze from a completed state of sensibility to another that arose around the turn of the twentieth century. Articulated first in the literary critical writings of T.S. Eliot in the 1920s, this simplified view of literary evolution was picked up and elaborated, as is quite well known, by the New Critics of diverse persuasions. As a recent study of New Criticism has argued, it was Eliot’s consistent stand taken in essay after essay published between 1919 and 1923 against ‘the romantic celebration of the poem as the record of an exceptional person’s personality’ that set the tone for subsequent commentaries on modernism, written over the next three to four decades (Childs 2013: 1). Modernism, in this view, represents a peaking in the literary domain of certain aspects of the incomplete project of socio-​ political modernity, and constitutes a summary rejection of some of the positions associated with romanticism. It is true that things would never be phrased in the politically charged vocabulary furnished above, but would invariably be couched in the language of experience, as in F.R. Leavis’s pioneering Eliot-​inspired New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), which argues that modernist poetry steers clear of the pitfalls of the romantic tradition, partly by connecting itself directly with the metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. This western story replicates itself in the 1950s in India’s literary history, where the historian, showing a great deal of imaginative flexibility, adopts the term modernism and extends it, with considerable risk to the innate complexities associated with the evolution of specific literatures, to account for the emergence of novel trends in Indian bhashas. The phase prior to this in most bhashas is generally presented as a period marked by lyrical imagination, spontaneous passion, nationalistic fervour, and a concern for progress, all qualities identified as characteristic of European romanticism. Even a cursory look at the way Indian modernist writers are presented in historical accounts will prove this. The Bengali modernist poets coming after Tagore, according to Abu Sayyid Ayyub, deny unto themselves certain ‘eternal and essential’ aspects of poetry in their effort ‘to free themselves from the influence of romanticism’ (1995: 18). Sri Sri, one of the initiators of modernism in Telugu is represented in an account as a romantic who ‘revolted against the classical tradition’, a progressivist who ‘revolted against the romantic school’, and a radical who ‘revolted against the “progressive” establishment’, one following the other in succession (Anjaneyulu 2014: 472). Pudumaippittan, an exponent of

Modernity and Literary Historiography  203 modernism in Tamil literature, is described as a writer with a ‘passion for questioning and restating traditions’, much of which apparently is made up of the preceding romanticism (Holmstrom 2002: 14). Modernism in Marathi brought the language closer to a new set of western writers, as ‘the Victorian celebrities came to be gradually displaced as models by 20th century writers’, according to a history of Marathi literature (Deshpande and Rajadhyksha 1988: 132). The modernists in Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, and other languages, as E.V. Ramakrishnan remarks, considered poets like Vallathol and G. Sankara Kurup in Malayalam, Bendre in Kannada, Umashankar Joshi in Gujarathi, and the poets connected with the Ravikiran Mandal in Marathi and the Chayavad movement in Hindi to be the ‘embodiments of a reactionary poetic that had to be overthrown’ (Ramakrishnan 1995: 7). As was pointed out in Chapter 4, Sisir Kumar Das too agrees to this account of the development in his authoritative History of Indian Literature. Leelavathy agrees with this narrative in broad terms, and suggests that there arrived a clear shift of sensibility in the modernist period, which, according to her, was brought about by such poets as N.V. Krishna Warrior and Akkitham Achutan Nampoothiri (2002: 371). She is also of the view that prior to this was the age of romantic poetry, which arose as a reaction against the previous neo-​classical writing. Her view that romanticism had a nationalistic phase which came to fruition in the poetry of Vallathol too is in conformity with the general narrative. Nationalism, she suggests, is an integral aspect of the romantic temperament, and is inseparable from the idea of progress. After the romantic spirit in Vallathol was roused, says Leelavathy, he plunged into ‘a journey of the discovery of India’, translating ancient Indian classics into Malayalam and progressing steadily on the path of nationalism (2002: 196). She also states in no uncertain terms that Malayalam romanticism was an offshoot of the English romantic verse: ‘It was the disaffection for neo-​classical verse shown by poetry lovers who had already developed a fancy for English romantic poetry that led to the emergence of romanticism in Malayalam’ (2002: 176). Speaking specifically of the poetic experience communicated by Kumaran Asan’s poem Leela, she observes that it was Asan who for the first time in Malayalam articulated sentiments comparable to what the British romantics like Keats and others sought to create in their poems (2002: 181).

204  Under the Bhasha Gaze Although Leelavathy’s reading of the shift from romanticism to modernism appears to be precise and unambiguous on the surface, her endorsement for modernism as a valuable literary trend does not seem to be unqualified. It is true that she singles out individual modernists such as N.N. Kakkad, Madhavan Ayyappath, and Ayyappa Paniker, and praises them for their poetic strengths; but apart from doing that, Leelavathy does not seem to be overly enthusiastic about modernism as a new trend worthy of being celebrated on its own terms. There is a clear suggestion in her history to the effect that modernism, in the end, is nothing more than a tailpiece to the preceding romantic era. Her title for the chapter dealing with modernism is a cryptic and unelaborated ‘kalpanikatayude pinnilavu’, the afterglow of romanticism (2002: 370). Indeed in several parts of her history, one would come across descriptions of modernism as a literary interlude that merely intensifies certain key aspects of the romantic sensibility. In elaborating the poetry of Changampuzha, for example, Leelavathy points to the presence in the young romantic of the modernist elements of alienation, death wish, and life’s purposelessness (2002: 258). Ayyappa Paniker’s early poetry, likewise, is described as not much different from the poetry of Changampuzha in tone and tenor (2002: 371). Here Leelavathy also makes the important point that at the height of the romantic and modernist phases, we also witness the arrival of strong poets like Edasseri Govindan Nair, Vailoppilly Sreedhara Menon, and Vishnunarayanan Nampoothiri who refuse to be classified either as romantics or as modernists. These reservations and qualifications expressed by Leelavathy about the generally agreed passage from romanticism to modernism are only in the form of disconnected clues. One may have to subject these clues to a critical reading in order to reconstruct the outlines of the alternative history lying submerged underneath. This alternative narrative makes a great deal of sense when one remembers that in the wake of the new work being done in the area of modernist studies, the affiliation between romanticism and modernism is no longer the outcome of a quirky critic’s wild imagination, but is a critical position meriting serious analysis by the scholarly world. Critics in general are now willing to accept western modernism as an advanced phase in the evolution of a literary ideal that began with romanticism, indeed as ‘part of a continuum beginning with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads’ (Longenbach 1999: 100). The habitat that envelops this continuum is modernity, which, as we

Modernity and Literary Historiography  205 have seen, has a nuanced relationship with the Indian literary context. There has developed a rich corpus of critical scholarship on this question, where historians, sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, and literary critics demonstrate a new sensitivity to the need to evolve alternative interpretations that do not rest on the theory of a mute relationship between modernity and the Indian bhashas. The critical vocabulary usually deployed in discussions of European modernism is bound to receive new meanings in the altered context. An alternative context for the evolution of Malayalam modernism emerges from this narration, a context in which terms like ‘history’, ‘poetics’, ‘politics’, ‘aesthetics’, and ‘progress’, apart of course from ‘modernity’, would receive new resonances, which could lead ultimately to a remapping of the field of literary history itself. The new resonances surrounding the term ‘progress’ perhaps are the most important to reckon here. ‘Progress’ here is to be read as a literary attitude linked to the visualization of an egalitarian world and ‘progressive’ as an Indian variant of the romantic phase in the history of western poetry. Philologically and historically, one might remember, both the ‘progressive’ and the ‘romantic’ partook of the same environment of political and philosophical debate and both acquired their present associations of meaning as part of this debate in the early nineteenth century. For the critics who argue for modernism’s formal distinctiveness, however, progress is a non-​ literary word, indicative of the romantic sensibility’s infatuation with the political world. As a concept that refers to the possibility of the world becoming increasingly better in terms of quality of life, science and technology, and so on, progress does not seem to gel with the finer sentiments connected with literature. It could at best be treated as an extension of western modernity, defined especially as a function of Europe’s enlightenment rationality, and at worst as an element in the political propaganda of radical-​minded parties. This idea of progress to some extent was what was sought to be cultivated by the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) in most Indian languages in the 1930s. However, it is also clear from the debates that took place in the period among Indian intellectuals that there were scholars in PWA who were sensitive to the nuances of this concept that would in due course become pivotal for the evolution of artistic and literary modernism (Pradhan 1979). Progressivism after all is an aspect of the political temperament emerging from romanticism

206  Under the Bhasha Gaze in the age of modernity. This has been emphasized recently by Duncan Wu, whose definition of romanticism as the ‘unquenchable aspiration for universal betterment, the reclaiming of paradise’ can also be read as a statement on literature’s politically progressive function (Wu 1998: xxxv). This certainly can be extended to modernism too. There is an intimate connection between modernism and the idea of progress in the sense of a commitment to certain positive, life-​enhancing values. Geeta Kapur has talked about this connection in detail in her analysis of modernism in Indian art (Kapur 2000: 297–​324). Indian modernist art, according to Kapur, has evolved from the progressive art of the 1930s through a healthy assimilation of virtues that can be described as local or regional. As contradistinguished from western modernism, Indian modernist art is non-​formalist and content-​induced. This is what makes it progressive, a point that Kapur drives home, quoting Harold Rosenberg’s remark that Indian modernist art is more politically alert, but indifferent to the nuances of form. European modernism by contrast is less content-​oriented but more intensive in formal terms (Kapur 2000: 309). The flexibility that literary history allowed itself in its descriptions of romanticism and modernism noted in the foregoing discussion is not a casual affair. It is a pointer to the tentative and qualified nature of the critical vocabulary that was developed to talk about the trends and conventions that had constituted new configurations of experience through an intermingling of indigenous and western forms of writing. Critical terms are never value neutral; they all carry the baggage of ideological presuppositions that they have gathered from their cultures of origin. The literary historian will have to walk cautiously when employing them with reference to individual literatures. The alternative reading of literary history that was alluded to with regard to Leelavathy’s historical exegesis of Malayalam poetry is a reading that does not treat literary history as moving progressively from one completed sensibility to another, nor is it a history that is willing to use received critical vocabulary in a totally uncritical way. One can perceive the slow rise of the methods of a critical literary historiography here, which is sufficiently broad to accommodate the subjective dimension of literary experience as well. Individual bhashas in this view have a social power of their own, which vindicates their discursive autonomy and their status as languages geared to the vision of each society’s progressive potential.

14 A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction A standard, Orientalist myth about the Indian popular imagination suggests that the literary mind in India is generally prone to the magical and the fabulous. Though this could perhaps be an allusion to the practices of non-​linear narration and non-​realistic representation often adopted by Indian—​perhaps non-​western—​narratives of the premodern past, the myth seems to have acquired the status of received wisdom among scholars, especially western scholars, in the period of modernity. Although most Indian bhasha readers today may not be persuaded to accept the idea of the probability or possibility of magical and fabulous happenings in everyday life, a good many would recognize fantasy to be an important aspect of an individual’s historical experience, mediated as it is through the kaleidoscopic lens of spectacle and visuality in contemporary public life. This might be one of the reasons why fantasy literature—​going under such rubrics as surrealism, irrealism, fabulation, magical realism, and marvellous realism—​emanating in particular from the Latin American continent has been widely influential in Indian bhashas. Though it was as part of the literary modernist developments of the 1950s and later that most Indian bhashas started taking note of the new writing from South America, it was modernism’s political turn in the subsequent decades that led to massive efforts to translate the fiction of such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Jorge-​ Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julio Cortazar into bhashas. Indian critics are fond of attributing a Latin American flavour to the bhasha writers. the Indian English writers, and the English writers of Indian origin that they like. Among writers who are often described as being close in spirit to Latin American writing are Mahasweta Devi and Nabarun Bhattacharya in Bengali, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, and Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0015

208  Under the Bhasha Gaze Arundhati Roy in English, Uday Prakash, Pankaj Bisht, and Geetanjali Shree in Hindi, Girish Karnad and Prasanna in Kannada, Anand, V.P. Sivakumar, and Thomas Joseph in Malayalam, Bhalchandra Nemade in Marathi and Manoj Das in Odia. Malayali readers are particularly fond of Latin American fiction, a fact that has been playfully expressed in the statement made by a well-​known Malayalam fictionist that Marquez is the most popular Malayalam writer of today.1 Obviously, bhasha readers do not see the somewhat magical character of contemporary fiction as being out of tune with the demands of real history. This might force us to rethink the relation between history and fantasy in the context especially of narrative perspectives originating from the cultures of the global South. An exploration of the intermeshing of fantasy and the historical imagination in the cultural lives of India and Latin America could therefore provide a key to the intricacies of the ideological worlds that straddle the literary minds in these two cultures. One might do this through an analysis of select specimens of Malayalam fiction read in the ambience of the Latin American cultural impact and the general background of theoretical reflections on the interplay between fantasy and the historical imagination. Fantasy, whether Indian or Latin American, is a mode of non-​realistic narration involving forms of fiction, marked in most cases by a strongly ahistorical temper. Traversing a wide range and variety of literary genres including the romance, the fairy tale, and science fiction, fantasy is implicated in imagined worlds where magical or supernatural happenings are accepted as probable or possible.2 It is common knowledge that theories about fantasy and history for a long time partook of the assumptions of the age-​old doctrine of mimesis that posited, with rare exceptions as in the case of Erich Auerbach’s classic study of the representation of reality in western literature, a somewhat naive relation between narration and

1 This quip by the fiction writer N.S. Madhavan obviously is a light-​hearted reference to the popularity that translations of Latin American fiction enjoy among Malayali readers. While this comment can be said to have crept into the lore of Malayalam literary gossip, recently I came across a comparable statement from Bengali literature in a doctoral thesis on Latin American writing. The statement is by Arundhati Bhattacharya, Marquez’s Bengali translator, who describes Marquez as the Bengali author of Latin America (Yadav 2021: 130). 2 The body of literature discussing fantasy and the fantastic is massive. Works that have attained the status of classics in this tradition would include Brooke-​Rose (1981), Irvin (1976), Jackson (1981), Rabkin (1976), and Todorov (1973).

A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction  209 meaning. Narration or representation in this view is the simple act of meaning transfer from the realm of objective history to that of imagination. Fantasy, accordingly, is regarded as a representation of the eerie and the supernatural, which has the effect of bewildering the readers and confounding them as to the nature of reality. However, fantasy has also been one of the major elements of narrative fiction in Kerala and South America alike, even in the days when the perception that history ultimately is the fiction that we all live in real life was yet to capture the imagination of the writers. This is what we are to gather from the pervasive presence of the fantastic in one of the early novels in Malayalam, which is also the first ‘historical novel’ in the language, C.V. Raman Pillai’s Marthanda Varma (1891). This is a taut, densely structured novel composed in a style and a language that is more closely packed than some of the forests and fortresses depicted in it. The novel begins with an account of Pachavankadu, the mysterious and mystifying heterotopia of a dark forest, the description of which becomes a prelude to the seemingly impossible events recounted in the later sections of the novel. This is no less true of Latin American fiction, which at least from the time of Cuba’s Alejo Carpentier has been consciously cultivating the style of what has come to be known as magical realism. The story of a person who, after his death, returns to his mother’s womb perhaps can be narrated only in Carpentier’s magical realist style, which he deploys artfully in ‘Journey Back to the Source’ (1944). Interestingly, Carpentier too has, a little late in his life, authored a full-​fledged historical novel, El siglo de las luces (Explosion in a Cathedral, 1962), chronicling the French revolution’s impact on the Caribbean islands, which, like C.V. Raman Pillai’s historical novels, raises questions about history that cannot be answered in simple, monological terms. Several of Carpentier’s early works like The Kingdom of the World (1950) and the Lost Steps (1953) mingle fiction and history in their formal construction and would, like Marthanda Varma before them, illustrate the dialogic potential of fiction and the presence in history of the magical and the marvellous. Contemporary literary scholarship, as we know, has been quite articulate about this combination, in the context, especially, of perspectives that, on the one hand, look upon history as a narrative mediated through discursive practices related to questions of power, and on the other, regard fictional narratives themselves as providing a form

210  Under the Bhasha Gaze of knowledge that is not less significant than the knowledge gathered from history. The awareness indeed has been central to the literary sensibility of the two cultures, more particularly after the decline of the high modernist phase in Malayalam literature and the corresponding Boom phase in Latin America’s literary evolution. Modernism’s crypto-​colonial connection perhaps acted as a deterrent to the scholars of the two cultures from having this awareness for a long time. Carpentier’s ‘lo real maravilloso’ (the marvellous real), it is sometimes argued, constitutes a fusion of European colonial values and Latin America’s indigenous literary ethos (Swanson 1990: 5). Carpentier himself, like several other Latin American intellectuals of his generation such as Miguel Angel Asturias from Guatemala and Julio Cortazar from Argentina, was arguably a ‘Europeanist’—​his father was French and mother Russian, though he took pride in describing himself as a Cuban—​and had indeed spent a good portion of his creative life in Paris and other European cities. This might of course be true as historical facts, but it is also important to remember that most of his novels and short stories have a strong undercurrent of anti-​colonial and anti-​imperial fervour about them. A Third World reader can certainly empathize with Carpentier seeking to devise a Latin American way of eschewing reality, especially after he came into contact with Parisian Surrealism, and compare the endeavour with the efforts of the Malayalam fictionist Vaikom Muhammad Basheer of the same period, whose flights from real life, one might say, had taken him to Arabia and coastal Africa, and who is seen in one of his short stories to marvel at a character’s nose that perpetually grows in size. The reference is to Basheer’s short story ‘Viswavikhyatamaya Mookku’ (The World Renowned Nose, 1954), which can indeed be read as an artist’s tongue-​in-​cheek response to the day-​to-​day events of his day, a spoof on the anxieties of a history that refuses to dovetail into the stereotypes of realism. Basheer was one of the few Malayalam writers of his generation who recognized history as the fiction that he had been destined to live. His fiction came straight from life, as he chose not to maintain any clear distinction between history and fantasy. History was Basheer’s fantasy, a fact illustrated by the narrative of Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat, 1959), a novel that documents the details of his life in the company of his mother as well as his brothers and sisters and their families. There are several Malayalam critics who would equate the

A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction  211 incidents narrated in the novel with real-​life events in Basheer’s life. The events and figures described in his other stories and novels too are directly related to the history of Basheer’s youthful wanderings across India and abroad and the historical figures he associated with during his adolescent years while he was a political activist. But there is also ‘Anal Haq’, a story composed in the 1940s, but published much later, which gives us a clue to the kind of fantasy life that he lived in the early decades of the twentieth century. Here the reader comes across the restless figure of Mansur al-​Hallaj, a West Asian mystic preacher of medieval times, who, after a series of encounters with false saints and prophets in the course of his long and arduous journey in search of Truth, finally meets with death at the hands of religious fanatics who read signals of blasphemy in his doctrine of ‘anal haq’ (I am the Truth). The story could be a document of history, although the author attributes its source to legends that spoke of throwing the remains of the murdered Mansur’s body into the river Euphrates after dismembering and burning it. ‘The story of Mansur’s life’, says the narrator, is one that inspires ‘terrifying fear’ (Basheer 2004: 18). This is true not merely of the story, but of history as well inasmuch as colonial Kerala, striving hard in the early decades of the twentieth century to strengthen the fledgling spirit of democracy, was also waging a series of popular struggles against economic, social, political, caste, and gender oppressions involving the various segments of society. The times in which Basheer lived indeed inspired terrifying fear, and some of this terror and fear, expressed more or less directly with no support from fantasy, can be seen to enter the realistic stories that several contemporaries of Basheer, such as Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, K Saraswati Amma, Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varky, and Lalithambika Antharjanam wrote. In retrospect, today one might consider Basheer to have been treading a different path. As a writer who thought, along with Jorge-​Luis Borges, that ‘the everyday was marvellous’ (Borges 1970: 228), he would have felt somewhat uncomfortable in the company of most of his contemporaries, for whom reality mostly—​and sometimes only—​meant what could be perceived with one’s senses. That is why one feels inclined to see Basheer’s path as leading, in terms of sensibility, to the Latin American labyrinth, though his is only one of the coarse by-​lanes that might take one to that labyrinth. ‘Anal Haq’, at least in parts, would read like one of Marquez’s fictional adventures. The dismembering of Mansur’s body and ‘throwing

212  Under the Bhasha Gaze its remains into the Euphrates’ has about it a Marquezian touch, though Basheer himself does not care to develop that touch into something bigger like an embrace. That is why when Basheer decides to publish ‘Anal Haq’ in 1982, almost 40 years after it was originally written, in a footnote to the story, he states: ‘I wrote this story forty years ago. We are now in the year 1982. I believe that it is presumptuous for man, who is only one of God’s creations to say “anal haq” or “aham brahmasmi”. The story of Mansur is not based on historical fact. The whole thing can be treated as mere fantasy: anal haq’ (2004: 23). One might say that ‘Anal Haq’ is a fantasy that annuls its own history. On the other hand, one could also consider it to be a work of history that annuls the fantasy connected with it. This paradox is almost Borgesian in that one would be tempted to think through it to its logical, or illogical, extreme. Borges’s ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ is a short story about a writer who decides to write Don Quixote, not as a sequel to the original novel by Cervantes, nor as another novel of the same name, but as the original Quixote itself. ‘His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide—​word for word and line for line—​ with those of Miguel de Cervantes’ (Borges 1970: 66). Though Basheer’s and Borges’s stories are set in different narrative environments and narrate totally unrelated experiences, there seems to be some similarity between the two at the structural level. Is the similarity because of identical historical processes at work behind the formation of Indian and Latin American experiences? We don’t know. Perhaps Satya P. Mohanty’s remark on the Odia writer Fakirmohan Senapati’s narrative technique could be extended to Basheer, and both could be used to shed more light on the works of writers like Carpentier and Marquez, all of whom together throw a challenge to ‘the dominance of neocolonial power’ in their separate cultures (Mohanty 2011: 4). But, certainly, ‘Latin American literature’ is not very precise as a term to indicate the literary identity of a vast region consisting of a number of national communities, whose social, historical, political, and cultural antecedents are not uniform. As in the case of the Indian subcontinent, the constituent cultures of South America are in widely varying stages of development. Only seven or eight of the twenty republics in the region can be regarded as, to use a journalistic cliché, ‘politically and economically stable’. This keeps the region on par with India, where too, the uneven nature of development among

A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction  213 the constituent cultures occasionally creates tension at the political level. One might, in spite of all this, seek the reason for the structural correspondence between the fiction of Basheer and Borges not in the thematic material of the fiction, but in the form of their fiction, in the divergent ways in which the culture each writer is part of facilitates invention, rehearsal, and recovery of the writer’s cultural identity. In order to explore the diverse ways in which this invention, rehearsal, and recovery of cultural identities take place, let us look a little more closely at Malayalam fiction after Basheer, especially the fiction of the high modernist variety of the 1960s and 1970s. One certainly cannot undervalue the formal importance of the modernist fiction of O.V. Vijayan, Kakkanadan, Vilasini, K.P. Nirmal Kumar, Sethu, M. Mukundan, Anand (P. Sachidanandan), and several others written during that period. However, if one were to place this fiction in conjunction with the Latin American fiction of the corresponding period, that is, of the Boom years, one would not fail to notice a general lack of concern for the recovery of the cultural self of the artist in them. On the other hand, a random look at some of the titles from the Latin America of the Boom years—​Carlos Fuentes’s The Death of Artemio Cruz (1963), Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch (1963), Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Green House (1964), and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)—​would reveal that apart from the highly innovative style that each of these works developed for the representation of reality, they also paid due attention to the material dimensions of reality that were quintessentially local. While this focus on the local culture meant a creative concentration on the formal aspects of the fictional work, it also implied recognition of the nature of fiction as an organic being. Fiction and fantasy, whether historical or non-​historical, they knew, can grow only in their natural habitat. Interestingly, this recognition led the Latin American writers to a kind of self-​conscious fiction that presented the relation between fantasy and history from a somewhat metafictional perspective. A corresponding shift, however, does not seem to have taken place in Malayalam, at least in the high modernist period. It was modernism’s refusal to address this crucial cultural question that rendered it elitist in some respects. True, writers like Mukundan and Anand were in their later careers to recognize this weakness and attempt fictionalizing history in a more self-​ conscious manner. Mukundan’s Adityanum Radhayum Mattu Chilarum

214  Under the Bhasha Gaze (Adityan, Radha and a Few Others, 1993) and Anand’s Govardhante Yatrakal (The Travels of Govardhan, 1995) are two interesting works that can be mentioned in this context. Vijayan too in some of his politically oriented fiction, like Dharmapuranam (The Saga of Dharmapuri, 1985) and ‘Arimpara’ (The Wart, 1979), attempts to blend fantasy and history in a surreal fashion. Even M.T. Vasudevan Nair, who had never been enchanted by literary modernism in the past, is seen to write a fictional work in 1993 under the title ‘Sherlock’, which seeks to create a kind of magical realist atmosphere around it. While the Boom years in Latin American literature, in other words, promoted diverse perspectives on the world, the corresponding trend of modernism in Malayalam fiction only promoted the dominant way of looking at the world from a formally privileged position. Though the later Malayalam fiction gained immensely from the formal training that had been imparted to it by high modernism, it was only after the end of modernism in the 1980s, which also coincided with a flooding of the literary scene with translations from Latin American literature, that the history-​ fiction conundrum could be resolved. It is not the argument here that it has been resolved for good in Malayalam or that, if at all it has been resolved, it is a result of the lessons drawn from Latin American literature. The fantasy character of the Malayalam fictional tradition has already been alluded to, and it may not be fair to suggest that the ‘marvellous’ element in recent fiction has been derived from non-​indigenous sources. C.V. Raman Pillai and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer inaugurated a tradition of marvellous writing that is being continued by a number of fiction writers, both young and old, including Zacharia, Sarah Joseph, N.S. Madhavan, N. Prabhakaran, Gracy, C. Ayyappan, V.P. Sivakumar, Asokan Charuvil, Thomas Joseph, Subhash Chandran, Santhosh Echikkanam, V.J. James, S. Hareesh, and several others. There are certain major lessons for Indian writing to learn from Latin American fiction, and one of them is part of what the writers of the Boom themselves learnt from their predecessors belonging to other and earlier literary cultures. Carlos Fuentes, one of the major Boom writers, makes specific reference to the importance of one such precursor and says: Faulkner [ . . . ] has a great lesson for us and it is not only a formal lesson, of the modern use of the baroque, it is a profound historical lesson on

A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction  215 how to face defeat, to admit the tragic possibility in history; it is also a profound literary lesson, which is the discovery of the novel through the novel, the discovery of the story by telling the story, the discovery of the characters by letting the characters act [ . . . ]. (King 1987: 140)

Using the distinctions that Fuentes makes, one might suggest that, unlike the Latin American Boom writers, the Malayalam modernists learnt from their Anglo-​American models only the formal lesson of using the baroque and totally neglected the profounder lesson concerning the mutuality of literature and history—​the notion of ‘the tragic possibility in history’ juxtaposed with the concept regarding ‘the discovery of the story by telling the story’. If Malayalam modernism is seen as handicapped in relation to the Latin American writing of the same period, it is primarily a result of this crucial neglect. Fuentes’s reference to the ‘profound historical lesson’ in the passage is worth examining a little more closely. Indeed, if international modernism has been insensitive to the importance of the interface of fantasy and history, contemporary Malayalam fiction is deeply sensitive to this problem, and it is its heightened sensitivity to this that brings it closer to Latin American fiction. And unlike modernist writing, the new fiction is conscious of fiction’s politically subversive potential. Fantasy in the present scenario cannot be reckoned as the ‘other’ of history, but is an expression and extension of grave historical processes. Or, to borrow the vocabulary of Rosemary Jackson, fantasy is a ‘literature of desire’, as what it expresses is the desire of history and society’s political will. It is that which a culture experiences as absence and lack that is sought to be expressed through fantasy. According to Jackson, The fantastic is predicated on the category of the ‘real’, and it introduces areas which can be conceptualized only by negative terms according to the categories of nineteenth-​century realism: thus, the im-​possible, the un-​real, the nameless, formless, shapeless, un-​known, in-​visible. What could be termed a ‘bourgeois’ category of the real is under attack. It is this negative relationality which constitutes the meaning of the modern fantastic. (1981: 26)

Jackson obviously is thinking of fantasy not as a negation of history, but as an illumination of history, a making visible of what conventional realism

216  Under the Bhasha Gaze seeks to render invisible, and this is done with the help of metaphors that represent the unformalized systems of thought of the period in question. The telling of the story here becomes the story of the telling. Memory, likewise, becomes a kind of counter-​memory, and it is this magic that one often encounters in the Malayalam fiction written after the end of literary modernism. One might examine in some detail Anand’s long story Nalamathe Aani (The Fourth Nail, 1999) and Sarah Joseph’s novel Othappu (Temptation/​ Disgrace, 2005) as specimens of this fiction. Both works are located in the strife-​torn territory traversing the fantasy-​history interface and carry marks of the tension arising from the strife. Several of Anand’s works interrogate the processes of authentication connected with the representation of history as fantasy. In presenting historical characters as emerging from fiction and in narrating fiction within the referential context of historical facts, Anand’s stories echo the tone and tenor of the intriguing writings of Borges that veer constantly between fiction and non-​fiction. Nalamathe Aani derives its story from the legend current among European gypsies that Christ was crucified using three iron nails made by a gypsy blacksmith. According to the legend, the blacksmith did not make the fourth nail, as the Roman soldiers who ordered the nails on behalf of the King could pay only for three nails. The gypsy forgets about the iron rod for the fourth nail burning in the furnace, which, as soon as the crucifixion is over, runs in pursuit of the gypsy. This kernel of the legend is what Anand blends with fantasy to create the story. Contrary to the course of events in the biblical narrative, Christ did not die on the Cross in Anand’s story. The soldiers to whose charge he was put let him escape from the Cross, as they found it difficult to crucify him with just three nails. Though his disciples and followers saw him leave Golgotha carrying the Cross on his shoulders, no one recognized him as their leader. It is interesting to see how Anand narrates these details with a deadpan expression on his face, in the manner of a Borgesian chronicler who is recording the events of history objectively. This is how the narration is carried out in the second section of the story: After the departure of Jesus, Palestine was deserted by his disciples. With the change of their status from fishermen to fishers of men and from tax collectors to tithe collectors, they also built a church as hard as

A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction  217 the granite on which it was built and as strong as the fortress that surrounded it. They travelled northward crossing Galilee and Lebanon and westward beyond Philippe and Rome and enticed with the help of their miracles innocent people into their fold and built up the Holy Roman Empire. They made palaces, monasteries and temples and strengthened their army and weaponry. (Anand 1999: 18–​19)

Though this history of the institution of Christianity agrees outwardly with the official version narrated by historians of the Church, it is clear that Anand is telling a different story. Perhaps at heart it is the same story, but differs in the manner of telling it. As a character in J.M. Coetzee’s novel Foe (1986) says, it is not ‘the heart of the story’ that matters, but ‘the eye of the story’ (141), and when one descends into the eye of Nalamatte Aani, one becomes aware of a new history of the Church emerging from the diffuse aura of fantasy. The reader gets a new perspective and a different subject position to survey history from. This position is also one favoured apparently by the helpless figure of Jesus who has been made to wander aimlessly in the world, carrying the Cross on his back. The telling of the story here becomes a way of discovering a new story and an entirely new history. It is true that Anand’s story retains vestiges of the modernist worldview he once shared. This is evident in its lack of any connection with Kerala’s native life and culture, in spite of its deft craftsmanship. And it is here that one finds a comparison of Anand with Borges meaningful. Like Borges, Anand apparently is a subscriber to the belief in the circularity of time. In one of his notes on this subject (‘Circular Time’) dating from 1941, Borges says: ‘In times of ascendancy, the conjecture that man’s existence is a constant, unvarying quantity can sadden or irritate us; in times of decline (such as the present), it holds out the assurance that no ignominy, no calamity, no dictator, can impoverish us’ (1999: 228). Anand, like Borges, has no doubt that the present is a time of decline. But his difference with Borges, also implied by Nalamathe Aani, is that while the notion of the circularity of time provides Borges with some reassurance about the future, history does not seem to offer any reassurance to the pessimist in Anand. While Anand’s story cannot be described as indigenous in origin, Sarah Joseph’s novel Othappu is definitely so, and would indicate a

218  Under the Bhasha Gaze different relationship with the sensibility emerging from Latin American fiction. Though this novel also raises questions about the institution of Christianity, Othappu does not, unlike Anand’s work, articulate problems that are of universal significance, nor does it elaborate a thesis of the eternal repetition of history. As a novel rooted in Kerala’s culture, and more particularly in the culture of the Christian community living in and around Thrissur in Kerala, Othappu is what can be called a local colour novel. Through the narration of the story of Margalita, a nun-​turned-​social worker who leaves the convent after getting disillusioned with the ways of the clergy, Sarah Joseph is communicating the same historical message as that of Anand that the present is a time of decline. But the telling of the story, as stated earlier, also becomes a way of discovering history, and in the event, the story and the history that the narrator discovers at the end of the novel is greatly upsetting. Sarah Joseph’s novel can be described as a narrative about the body, about the female body. Inasmuch as one’s choice of career as a nun is a choice made by the individual on the relative value one assigns to the body and the soul, to the physical and the spiritual components of experience, Margalita’s decision to leave the convent constitutes a comment on the relative importance of the body in her scheme of things. Margalita wants to be honest to herself about the feelings that she has for other human beings around her. She does not find anything wrong in the physical attraction she feels towards the person of Father Karikkan. Indeed it is the question of the role of sexuality and physical love in human affairs that is being debated in the novel through the representation of the relationship between Margalita and Father Karikkan. Margalita is often visited in her dreams by fantasies that no nun can possibly have. It is quite profane for a nun to have the dream of giving birth to a baby. But Sister Margalita has such dreams: Margalita’s sins were her dreams. In her sleep, both at daytime and in the night, she had all kinds of dreams. Her sins sprouted and put out leaves and long shoots in the dreams. Once she had had the dream of being in labour and giving birth. There was no baby in the dream, but she knew she had given birth to one. (Joseph 2005: 53)

A Latin American Moment in Indian Fiction  219 Since Sarah Joseph’s story is so deeply rooted in her culture, one might find it difficult to translate her language. One could perhaps link this language with a magical realist idiom in one of the original senses in which the term was used. William Rowe and Vivian Schelling point out that when Carpentier, Asturias, and others used the term ‘magical realism’ in the 1950s, they made references to native and folk forms of knowledge, often categorized as folklore, but which could be more validly contrasted with western forms of rationality and progress. ‘Magical realist’ in this sense is a more localized, perhaps ‘magical’ and ‘premodern’, way of looking at and thinking about reality (Rowe and Schelling 1991). To translate Margalita’s dreams from a premodern idiom into the language of modernity is the difficult task that Sarah Joseph engages in. That this has remained a central concern for the novelist is suggested by other contrasts that are dramatized in the narrative, such as the one between the perfectly rational language of Atheist Thomas and the ‘magical’ language of Rebecca, and between the patriarchal, refined language of Yohannan Kasisa and the language of the female body emanating from Margalita. Fantasy, for Sarah Joseph, is a way of historicizing experience, a practice that simultaneously becomes a political gesture because of its strong feminist overtones. Magical realism is a kind of folk religion, and is to be viewed more as the expression of a people’s worldview than as a fictional technique. It is this aspect of Latin American fiction that Indian fiction has found engaging from the 1980s. The fascination that this writing has for Indian readers perhaps is an outcome of a shared folk imagination. The fascination could be a passing phenomenon. If the level and magnitude of translation can be regarded as an index of a literature’s changing popularity, one should assume that today magical realist novels from Latin America are not as popular among the international audience as they used to be a decade ago (Levine 2005: 314–​315). The lessons that Malayalam and other bhasha literatures have learnt from Latin American fiction, however, will continue to be of value in the progress of Indian bhasha literatures.

15 M.T. Vasudevan Nair Modernity as Expressive Realism

Novelist, short story writer, editor, and filmmaker, M.T. Vasudevan Nair (b. 1933) is an iconic figure in Malayalam literature. As a fiction writer, he has been uniformly popular with several—​four or five—​successive generations of readers. He came to the notice of the reading public with his first notable short story, ‘Valartumrigangal’ (Domestic Animals, 1953), and has since then published ten novels, 23 short story collections, a full-​ length drama, several volumes of memoirs, travelogues, screenplays, and other writings. Between the first short story, composed when he was barely twenty, and Varanasi (2003), the fictional work written almost half a century later, lies a vast landscape of active and sedulous imaginative application, in the course of which he has responded creatively to the countless twists and turns of the Malayalam fictional discourse. This period has been one of the radical sensibility changes, a period in which the putative romantic ethos of diverse strands which had been dominating the literary imagination of the pre-​Independence days yielded place to the non-​romantic and the anti-​romantic as well as the modernist attitudes of the 1960s and the 1970s, which too in turn become passé in the following decades. Vasudevan Nair does not seem to have been fascinated by any of the diverse fashionable literary trends of his time, some of them connected with the axiomatic principles of romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism, and some others which repudiated the precepts associated with each of the above. If there is any single principle that he can be said to have held close to his heart throughout his career, it is something that several humanist writers before him have credited literature for—​its truth value. ‘I credit poetry because credit is due to it, in our time and in all time, for its truth to life’, says Seamus Heaney in his Nobel lecture (1998: 450). This Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0016

224  Under the Bhasha Gaze is a statement that Vasudevan Nair would whole-​heartedly have endorsed with reference, in his case, to fiction. True, unlike most other practising artists, he has always shown a deep and abiding interest in theories of art, an interest that is linked more to a curiosity about the alchemy of writing than to any academic enthusiasm for art theory. The writer appears to be perpetually in awe of the artist’s inventive powers, like the Cardinal of Ferrara who, according to legends, wondered aloud to Ludovico Ariosto, his illustrious friend and the author of Orlando Furioso (1516), about the sources of the latter’s inexhaustible reservoir of stories. The art of storytelling has always been Vasudevan Nair’s pet theme of debate and discussion. He is deeply conscious of the complexities of the craft of fiction and can indeed talk authentically about them. He is one of the few writers of his generation to have thought aloud at length about the craft of fiction in the form of lectures, essays, and critical studies.1 Vasudevan Nair has also been greatly consistent in his theory of art across time. A perusal of Kathikante Panippura (The Storyteller’s Workshop, 1963), his early treatise on fictional theory, read in conjunction with his recent lectures and essays on the topic, would reveal that his views on the art of fiction, which are not markedly different from those held by conventional art theory, have undergone only minor changes over the years. He seems to have formulated those theories by blending his own intuitively derived insights on art and literature with ideas gathered from his reading of modern western art theories, most of them considering creative writing primarily as an inborn talent, which can be improved by consistent practice. The catchword to describe this theory of art would be ‘expressive realism’, which draws attention to the truth value of art that is captured skilfully in the literary text by an individual creative genius. In the words of Catherine Belsey, it is the theory that considers literature to be a reflection of ‘the reality of experience as it is perceived by one (exceptionally gifted) individual, who expresses this perception in a text which enables other individuals to recognize its truth’ (1980: 6). Given that the theory of reading underlying Vasudevan Nair’s views sees no major breach between reality and its fictional reconstruction, one can 1 Apart from the several lectures and interviews that discuss the theory of art, M.T. Vasudevan Nair has published three books in Malayalam that may be described as being theoretical in orientation. They are Kathikante Panippura (1963), Hemingway: Oru Mukhavura (1964), and Kathikante Kala (1984).

M.T. Vasudevan Nair  225 describe his attitude to fiction as natural and spontaneous. Literature, to follow this logic, is a transparent representation of the problems of the real world. A true artist is moved almost spontaneously to creativity when overpowered by an outbreak of emotions. The gap between emotional turbulence and its expression, in other words, is too small to allow for any serious formal or aesthetic mediation. Unlike his theory of art, however, Vasudevan Nair’s practice of fiction writing has gone through radical changes in terms of sensibility. Outwardly his fiction’s emotional core appears to have remained the same, but the delicate formal changes it has gone through over the years are substantial. It is true that its natural and spontaneous character has stayed. But beyond that, his fiction has responded positively to all the new social and literary developments that dominated Malayalam in the second half of the twentieth century. When he started writing in the 1950s, the fictional tradition in Malayalam was controlled largely by the ideology of what is called ‘renaissance fiction’, which modelled itself on the social realism of such nineteenth-​century European writers as Maupassant, Balzac, Zola, Flaubert, Dickens, and Chekhov. The writers who composed this kind of fiction were using the fictional medium to make a point or two about society. They belonged to the generation of Malayalam writers who were attempting to fictionalize truthfully—​to be ‘true to life’, in Heaney’s sense—​the impact of the social renaissance that had started blowing across the public life of Kerala a generation earlier. Providing a formal shape to the experience of the renaissance was for them also a way of coming to terms with its social and political energy. A number of writers, including Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Ponkunnam Varkey, Kesava Dev, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, S.K. Pottekkat, K. Saraswati Amma, T.K.C. Vaduthala, and Lalitambika Antarjanam participated in this great creative surge. It is important to remember that these writers are described as renaissance fictionists not because they brought about any radical change in the fictional style, but because of their participation in the renaissance ideology of humanism, in the ideology that prompted them to place an abstract entity called man at the centre of things. Certainly, each of them seemed to be distinctively individualistic in expressing his/​her response to man and the world, but as was mentioned in connection with the expressive realism of Vasudevan Nair, what bound them together as fiction writers was their seeming naturalness, which had

226  Under the Bhasha Gaze behind it the conviction that fiction represented an unmediated translation of experience from the domain of the worldly to the realm of the literary in the mediating presence of the creative artist. Vasudevan Nair certainly shared in this belief, though he has always been careful to distance himself formally from formulated theories of writing. His expressive realist view of fiction coincided with the theory of the social realism of his renaissance predecessors, who looked upon literary works as the creations of gifted individuals whose invisible presence in the works would invariably be perceived by the readers. The nineteenth-​century French novelist, Flaubert, had once drawn a parallel between the artist and God, the supreme creator, and had suggested that like the Almighty, the artist in his creation remains invisible, making sure all the same that the work is animated by the author’s unseen presence. In his theoretical work, Kathikante Kala (The Art of the Storyteller, 1984), Vasudevan Nair quotes Flaubert with approval and remarks that the writer’s pervasive but invisible presence in the story is what transforms it into a well-​written creative piece. A good work of art should appear spontaneous and natural, its ‘arty’ quality remaining subdued. This of course is not part of any art theory but is an offshoot of the writer’s unique creative power. Vasudevan Nair had seen this power working successfully for the Malayalam literature before his time in the fiction of Basheer, Pottekkat, Thakazhi, and others. While it was their adherence to the principles of social realism that had accelerated the creativity of the renaissance fictionists, what Vasudevan Nair did, then, was to render this realism more powerful by integrating into his works a new sense of the form of fiction, without, at the same time, sacrificing what constituted the element of fiction’s truthfulness to life. This in fact was his expressive realist contribution to the evolution of modern Malayalam fiction. In doing this, he was also discovering a new mode of articulating the mind and the mood of modernity without adopting the path trodden by the modernist writers of his day. Some writers of the earlier generation, such as Karoor Nilakanta Pillai, Lalitambika Antharjenam, and Uroob, as well as some of his own contemporaries like Madhavikkutty and T. Padmanabhan, had already started moving in this direction with their path-​breaking stories that probed the intricacies of the human mind. In a sense, what Vasudevan Nair did through his fiction of the 1950s and the 1960s was to lead the reader into

M.T. Vasudevan Nair  227 the inner life of the modern individual whose voice was seldom heard in renaissance fiction, its humanism notwithstanding. His fiction delved deep into the psychology of the individual and shed light into the human mind’s dark recesses that had not been thought to exist before. The human mind, as well as the psychology of the individual, was a relatively new discovery for Malayalam fiction, and it was primarily Vasudevan Nair who discovered it through his elegantly crafted fiction that told the stories of lonely and alienated individuals constantly at loggerheads with a society in decline, which was on its way to disintegration. Alienated individuals at loggerheads with a society in decline—​this would neatly sum up the semiotic kernel of much of Vasudevan Nair’s fiction. He has certainly deviated into other subjects like domestic strife, marital disharmony, hypocrisy in relations, and nostalgia for the past in the course of his evolution as a writer, but lonely individuals struggling hard for survival in a hostile environment have continued to fascinate him through his entire career. This has been the case right from his early short stories of the 1950s, which fictionalized the fears, agonies, and anxieties of hapless individuals who are the victims of an unjust social system. Works narrating such stories can be seen in his early collections, Ninte Ormaykku (In Your Memory, 1956) and Iruttinte Atmavu (Soul of Darkness, 1957). This thematic structure is repeated in the early novels Nalukettu (The Feudal Household, 1958) and Asuravithu (Demon-​seed, 1962), where too the plots revolve around the fates of individual protagonists who are victims of the system. In fact, most of Vasudevan Nair’s characters, starting from Appunni (Nalukettu, 1958), Vimala (Manju, 1962), and Bhima (Randamoozham, 1982) to Sudhakutty (‘Kazhcha’, 2000) and Sudhakaran (Varanasi, 2003), can all be read as variations on the lonely-​individual-​against-​society theme. If someone thought Bhima in the epic-​inspired narrative of Randamoozham was different, a closer examination of the novel would reveal this thought to be misplaced. Bhima indeed is presented as an alienated, outsider figure in Vasudevan Nair’s narrative. The author himself has referred to the organic connection between the story of Randamoozham and the rest of his fictional oeuvre by indicating that Randamoozham also narrates a story of ‘family breakdown and the fate of men involved in it’, with the difference that in this novel the story narrated is ‘of the family of an older period’ (Vasudevan Nair 1984: 300).

228  Under the Bhasha Gaze A substantial part of the material used for the fiction can be shown to have been drawn from the author’s own past, though Vasudevan Nair himself has been somewhat evasive when questioned about his fiction’s autobiographical connection. He was once asked whether Appunni of Nalukettu was a copy of his own past, to which he answered in the negative (Vasudevan Nair 2008: xi). Certainly, there must have been some tiny part of the author in the character of Appunni in the beginning, but he has been transformed beyond recognition in the course of his development, and this, in the expressive realist view, is the alchemy of creativity. Buttressing the tenets of expressive realism further, one might also suggest that much of the raw material assembled in the precreative phase of the fictions have come from Vasudevan Nair’s own early experiences as the member of a feudal joint family in the erstwhile Malabar region of colonial Kerala. Vasudevan Nair himself has acknowledged the autobiographical connection of some of the stories (Vasudevan Nair 2008: x). Several of his characters, including Appunni (Nalukettu), Sethu (Kaalam), Velayudhan (Iruttinte Atmavu), Govindankutty (Asuravithu), and Bhima (Randamoozham), share facets of his personality and his remembered past. That is why sometimes one finds it difficult, as if in corroboration of the ideology of expressive realism, to disentangle the narrative self from the personal self of the writer in some of the fictions. All this in the end devolve on the question of modernity of which expressive realism is only an ideological expression and extension. Even a casual glance at Vasudevan Nair’s fictional corpus would indicate that his creative practice, as well as his expressive realist ideology based on a mistrust of the ‘arty’ view of the world, has nothing to do with the ‘anti-​art’ approach practiced and perfected by several modernist writers of his day. Vasudevan Nair’s relation with literary modernism in Malayalam has always been a troubled one. He never denied that he was ‘modern’, but insisted on staying aloof from the philosophy of modernism. When asked by a journalist whether he was modern or non-​modern, his answer was somewhat equivocal. He was modern and very un-​modern at the same time, he said in the interview (1984: 60). In spite of his focus on alienated individuals and outsider figures in several of his writings, he would take care not to ally himself with the philosophy of modernism, which was also anchored partly on an individual’s anxiety about being an alienated outsider:

M.T. Vasudevan Nair  229 We are used to the practice of describing artworks as ‘modern’ and ‘modernist’. A well known critic elaborates this with the prefatory comment that it is easy to understand the two terms if we are willing to study the nature of a modern society. According to him, a society could be deemed modern if it is willing to inspire confidence in its constituents and grant them limitless mental liberty as well as tolerance and freedom of expression for divergent views. (Vasudevan Nair 1984: 60)

He is obviously talking here about the well-​known distinction between the worldviews connected with modernity and modernism, which is more of a literary trend than anything else. As a member of the civilized world, he could certainly be regarded as a modern writer, but in no case would he like to be known as a promoter of the narrowly conceived literary ideals of modernism. The theoretical distinction drawn between modernity and modernism could be extended to Vasudevan Nair’s writing practice as well. It was mentioned in these pages that the emotional kernel of his fiction had remained unchanged over a period of several decades, although the form of his fiction had gone through delicate, yet substantial, changes over the period. That is why in comparison with his earlier fiction, Vasudevan Nair’s later fiction appears to be governed by a new, and elaborately organized, sense of form. If modernism, among other things, implies an intensification of the form of fiction, we may have to agree that his later works are closer to the formalism of the modernists. Perhaps he is right about his views on modernism, after all! What really matters is the nature of the society one is part of, and not the kind of literary fashions one follows! A more focused examination of some of Vasudevan Nair’s fiction from the early days in comparison with the works written in the later period will prove the point we are trying to make. Let us look in some detail at the short stories ‘Chuvanna Manal’ and ‘Dar-​es-​salam’ from the early period, and place them in conjunction with ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Kazhcha’, which are among his more recent short stories, to illustrate this. ‘Chuvanna Manal’, translated as ‘Red Earth’ by V Abdulla, is a story that sheds light on the fictional technique of Vasudevan Nair which, paraphrasing Carlos Fuentes, who was quoted on this in the previous chapter, could be described as discovering the story in and through the process of narrating it. Summarizing ‘Chuvanna Manal’ is easy,

230  Under the Bhasha Gaze as it has only a simple plot line: it is about a young woman, a tourist to Kanyakumari, who allows herself to be seduced by an unscrupulous tourist guide on the beach. The woman has gone out alone, leaving her male companion behind in the hotel room she had checked into. While the story in this sense thematizes Vasudevan Nair’s pet subject of disharmony in domestic relations and marital infidelity, these thematic trappings appear to be inalienable from the surrounding natural world. There is a silent and unannounced pact between the human and natural worlds in Vasudevan Nair’s fiction. ‘Chuvanna Manal’s’ uniqueness comes from its lyrical language and its compressed narration, which cannot be disentangled from the narrated environment. The narration blends so perfectly well with the story’s setting that the two don’t appear to be non-​identical, the setting becoming the narrative and the narrative the setting as the story progresses. This perhaps is the pivot of Vasudevan Nair’s fictional technique, on which the whole ideology of expressive realism turns. ‘Dar-​es-​salam’, set in an old and unnamed city on the western seacoast, again, is about hypocrisy in relations. The narrator here is a 40-​year-​old medical representative named Jayadevan who, on a professional visit, happens to meet an elderly couple, Major Frederick Mukundan and Rita Mukundan, who had settled down in the coastal city after spending a lifetime in the city of Dar-​es-​salam in the African country of Tanzania. Jayadevan’s casual acquaintance with the couple, who appear to be deeply devoted to each other, soon develops into an intimate friendship. He makes it a point to visit the couple at their house—​also called ‘Dar-​es-​ salam’, which literally means ‘the abode of peace’—​each time he is in the city. Their friendship thickens, and unexpectedly one day, Jayadevan receives the startling news of Mrs. Mukundan’s sudden death. It is a terrible shock to Jayadevan, who remembers that her death had come at a time when he had started believing that he was in love with Mrs. Mukundan. He could not be in the city for some time then, and after a few months pays what he thought would be his last visit to Major Mukundan to share in his grief. And it is now that Jayadevan comes face to face with the truth about Mrs. Mukundan who had, while in Dar-​es-​salam, brought disrepute to the family by running away from her husband and living for a year with a European, to whom she also bore a child. Jayadevan learns that Mrs. Mukundan was not the icon of virtue that he had imagined her to be and that her devotion to Major Mukundan was all pretension. He

M.T. Vasudevan Nair  231 comes to know about all this from Major Mukundan himself, who in a fit of drunken fury shouts blasphemies against his dead wife. As a story, ‘Dar-​es-​salam’ certainly is a moving piece, but once again, as in the case of ‘Chuvanna Manal’, it is not merely because of its subject matter that the story is able to hold the reader’s attention. Its power also comes from the perfect union of the form of fiction and the fictional material that the writer has been able to bring about. Only a shrewd craftsman can achieve this union successfully, and Vasudevan Nair achieves this with remarkable success. However, the story also indicates that it still moves within the conventions of narrative realism. Though Vasudevan Nair is generally averse to breaking these conventions of writing, he is seen to do so in his later fiction, in some of the stories he wrote in the 1990s. We shall look closely at two such stories, ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Kazhcha’, both of which are important for the boldness and adroitness with which they organize their fictional material. These stories break the conventions of expressive realism to transform fiction into an experience involving the story’s language and its formal properties. ‘Sherlock’ narrates the story of a cat of that name, a kind of magic cat, whom the narrator, Balu, meets in the United States at his Chechi’s, elder sister’s, residence. Balu is on a visit to the United States on the invitation of Chechi who wanted to redeem him from the wild and anarchic life that he was inclined to lead back home in his Kerala village in the company of his unruly friends. Chechi was bent on reforming him and bringing him back to a disciplined life. She had grand plans for Balu, who she knew was intelligent, but lazy, and presently in poor health owing to his reckless drinking. A few days of rest in her U.S. house would help him regain his lost health, after which she wanted him to try for some fellowship and continue his education in the United States. But Balu finds life in America to be dull and monotonous, especially during day time when he would be alone with only the cat for company. As days pass, he realizes that the cat after all is not an innocent creature, but a mysterious animal that seems to spy on him to Chechi. Though this is the bare summary of the story, what is interesting about ‘Sherlock’ is the dexterous way in which Vasudevan Nair has succeeded in developing the cat into an elusive symbol that represents both the drabness of American life and its terror and ferocity. Mixing reality with fantasy, the author slowly builds up around the image of the cat, a bizarre sense of fear and mystery. As the story progresses, the

232  Under the Bhasha Gaze reader is made to feel the cat’s menacing presence as a potential threat to Balu’s freedom and his sense of personal security. The story epitomizes Vasudevan Nair’s deft craftsmanship, visible in his earlier work, but which reaches a new level of sophistication in ‘Sherlock’. This is repeated in ‘Kazhcha’, written a few years after ‘Sherlock’. ‘Kazhcha’ returns to the theme of disharmony in marriage, which, as we have seen, Vasudevan Nair has captured with success in some of his earlier works. The story relies for its effect primarily on its title’s suggestive semantic richness. ‘Kazhcha’ in Malayalam is the sense of seeing, but in this story, it directly implies the ability to see things in their true perspective and not necessarily a person’s power to see. Sudhakutty, a bank officer working in Chennai, is the central character here. She has taken a break from her heavy work schedule in the bank and has come back for a short holiday to her village home. Sudhakutty has just separated from her husband, and this is the time she expects support from her mother as well as from her friends and relatives in helping her tide over this critical phase in her life. Though she hasn’t broken the news of her impending divorce to any of them, she is surprised to see that they all already knew about it. Everyone wants to know the reason for the break-​up. No one is willing to see the matter from the perspective of a woman who has been subjected to domestic violence and abuse. They are all liberal in dispensing with their advice, which consists mostly of litanies about the sanctity of the marital bond. No relative in the family cares to see the real issues at stake, such as those connected with gender justice and woman’s identity. The only person in Sudhakutty’s extended family willing to ‘see’ the matter in perspective is a blind aunt who empathizes with her and tells her unambiguously that there is no point in continuing with a relationship gone sour. This is the point in the narrative where the title ‘kazhcha’ gains renewed significance. Sight also implies insight, and it is the blind aunt’s insight into things that allows her to see the truth about human relationships. Getting at the truth value of art is only a few steps away from this insight, which is captured with power by Vasudevan Nair in his fiction. There are no pretensions in any of the works about the formal coherence of the short story genre or anxieties about having to keep certain materials out of the narrative in order to maintain the structural sanctity of the short story form. The unarticulated intertextual relations that the stories invoke might even allow them to be placed in a discursive realm

M.T. Vasudevan Nair  233 where fiction meets history to produce unforeseen consequences. This is the crux of Vasudevan Nair’s expressive realism, which cannot be separated from the principle of art’s truth value, in celebrating which he would blissfully join hands with his distinguished Irish contemporary Seamus Heaney.

16 S.K. Pottekkat Modernity as Social Fantasy

‘Social fantasy’ is used in the title not in the sense in which sociologists and scholars of speculative fiction might define the term, but in the limited sense of social realism that is conscious of its romantic undercurrent. It is social realism that does not entertain illusions about its truth value. As a narrative mode, social realism, especially as it appears in the nineteenth-​century European realist novel, is intimately related to modernity. It is a product of modernity in that it articulates the concerns, anxieties, and desires of the modern individual in constant conflict with what is perceived to be an oppressive world. It is through this form of writing that western modernity transforms the nineteenth-​century novel into a complex cluster of genres, into what Raymond Williams calls ‘a whole literature in itself ’ (2001: 278), which is expected to reveal the truth of social life in its varied aspects. Pierre Bourdieu finds the structure of the social space in the French realist novel of the nineteenth century to constitute a replication of the ‘field’ in which the novelist himself or herself is located. In The Rules of Art, Bourdieu illustrates this argument with the help of passages from Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education (1869), a novel that deals with the romantic adventures of a young man growing up in and around the years of the failed European revolutions of 1848 (Bourdieu 1996: 1–​46). The same could be said of other nineteenth-​ century European fictionists, such as Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, the Goncourt Brothers, Anton Chekhov, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, all of whom thought of themselves as truthfully reproducing in their fiction the contours of the social space in which they lived and worked. Detailed documentation and honest reportage of the outer world is what makes the works of these writers social realist, although conceptualizations of the ‘field’ and the ‘social space’ are far too complex to be reduced Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0017

S.K. Pottekkat  235 to a way of representing a pregiven social totality. Contemporary literary scholarship indeed recognizes the inadequacy of looking upon realism in terms of a social reality that can be authentically and truthfully reproduced in fiction in total disregard of the formal conventions of the literary institution and the problems connected with the textual production of the real. Indian bhashas, however, came under the influence of the European realist tradition much before any re-​evaluation of the trend of the kind envisaged in Bourdieu’s theorization was possible. This is the reason why we find the modernity articulated by a considerable segment of the Indian bhasha writers of the early twentieth century to be coloured to a great extent by the belief that fictional realism is a narrative method that aims at a truthful delineation of the social world. The Malayalam fictionist and travel writer S.K. Pottekkat (1913–​1982) is modern to be sure in this primary sense, but in certain other senses as well. Pottekkat is one of the few authors of his generation whose works embody a steady and consistent evolution. In this, he is different from the common run of writers in most languages who generally belong to one of the two categories: one, the class of writers who demonstrate a flash of creativity early in their careers, produce an outstanding first work, have a meteoric rise in the world of letters, and then survive on the basis of the single work produced; and two, those who enter the world of writing with an unexceptional first work and then repeat themselves in work after work without any commendable evolution. Pottekkat is different from both these categories in that he is a gifted writer who represents, in terms of sensibility, a steady growth in his career, the fruits of which have been put to good use by the fictional tradition in Malayalam continuing from him. He presents the image of a romantic artist in his early writings, and acquires a strong streak of the chronicler of the age as he moves from the early literary pieces to the later writings. As a writer of travelogues, he is perhaps a pioneering figure who has laid the foundation for this distinctly modern genre of writing in any Indian language. More importantly, in a metaphorical sense, the idea of travel with the accompanying suggestions of mobility and a concern for the Other can be extended to his writing practice in general. Writing for Pottekkat is surrogate travel, perhaps an act of fantasy travel, which brings the writer and the reader together, and then drives both into contact with new and strange environments. In this

236  Under the Bhasha Gaze sense, Pottekkat is one of the earliest Malayalam writers to integrate modernity and its architectural context into his practice of writing. Pottekkat is a prolific writer who has authored in his active, creative career, spanning a period of four decades, ten novels, twenty-​four short story collections, and eighteen travelogues. He has also published three verse collections, four plays, and a few anthologies of non-​fictional prose. Though he had designated the short story as his most favoured medium of creative expression (Jayachandran 1986: 52), his posthumous fame has rested primarily on Oru Desattinte Katha (The Story of a Land, 1971), the novel that fetched for him the Sahitya Akademi award and the Jnanpith Award. From Natan Premam (Country Love, 1941) to Kabeena (1979), Pottekkat’s novels certainly are the articulations of a newly constituted reading community’s common desire for a social renaissance, but they also represent stages in the author’s progressive engagement with the art of storytelling, an activity that metamorphoses from the documentation of an individual mind’s subjective introspection in the early work into a social ritual of great symbolic value in the later pieces. This is the point in talking about his narrative progress from a romantic artist to a social chronicler. Oru Desattinte Katha represents the peak of this narrative journey. The progress here is also from a writer who consciously subscribes to the principles of the hermetic aesthetic to one who invalidates that aesthetic by facilitating a non-​esoteric and democratic textual practice. While the early novels like Moodupadam (The Veil, 1948) and Vishakanyaka (The Fatal Woman, 1948) are characterized by a concern for an aesthetic that would focus less on narrative practice and more on the story’s formal coherence, the later novels like Oru Theruvinte Katha (A Street’s Story, 1960) and Oru Desattinte Katha would delightedly celebrate the narrative dimension of the genre so as to make it conspicuously history-​and-​culture-​oriented. Pottekkat’s short stories also go through this narrative evolution. He has authored more than 170 stories, a majority of which are marked by their social reformist ardour tinged with an occasional touch of the romantic. In this, his writing seems to echo the general mood of the times. The literary renaissance of the pre-​Independence period, it may be remembered, was one of the rare moments in the history of modern India when the writer made conscious efforts to steer clear of elitism and adopt radical postures associated with the literature of social reform. The

S.K. Pottekkat  237 emergence of the progressive literary movement in bhasha literatures was part of this development. As already suggested, this pan-​Indian trend flourished in most Indian bhashas in the pre-​Independence days and had some of the very prominent Indian writers like Munshi Premchand, Sadat Hassan Manto, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Vijaydan Detha, Habib Tanvir, Amrita Pritam, and Mulk Raj Anand subscribing to its ideals. These writers could not escape the romantic ethos that energized their literary responses, even as they appealed to the less romantic, down-​to-​earth aspirations of the commoners. Pottekkat, an activist nationalist in the pre-​Independence days, was an early associate of the progressive literary movement in Malayalam, which also included stalwarts like Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Kesava Dev, and Ponkunnam Varkey. The all-​pervasive nature of the romantic ambience in the Malayalam literary scenario of the period is further illustrated by the dominant presence of a poet like Changampuzha Krishna Pillai who, though perhaps not as totally committed to the ideals of progressivism as the fictionists mentioned, was seen by the reading public as an icon of the romantic imagination’s natural alliance with the forces of social reform. Pottekkat’s novels and short stories, in other words, both partook of the mood of the romantic idealism and the radical social vision that were integral to the times. His fictional imagination is dominated by myths and fantasies and the magical atmosphere of Indian folk tales on the one hand and the exotic but crude material environment of European realist fiction on the other. The setting of the novel Vishakanyaka, for example, is the misty, desolate, and unexplored landscape of the mountainous terrain in the high ranges of the Malabar region of colonial Kerala, which for a person from the southern part of the province would be a slice of the terrifying, yet romantically alluring, exotic world in those premodern days. While it is the romantic element that is predominant in Vishakanyaka, the later novel Oru Teruvinte Katha goes to the other extreme in setting the story in a dingy city street, which is the dumping ground for all unwanted elements rejected by the city—​the urban waste along with the beggars, the sick, the lunatics, and other urchins thrown out of the ‘civilized’ world. Similarly, a good many of the short stories too are set in bizarre and mysterious landscapes across forests, wildernesses and uninhabited mountain valleys, or other foreign places. Stories, such as ‘Matruhridayam’ (A Mother’s Heart), ‘Keechakan’, ‘Pulliman’

238  Under the Bhasha Gaze (The Spotted Deer), ‘Jeevitam’ (Life), ‘Kadavuthoni’ (The Ferry Boat), and ‘Nishagandhi’ (The Night Queen Flower), bear witness to this. Mysterious human characters involved in unusual man-​woman relationships set in strange environments are legion in these stories. However, there are also stories that are fairly realistic in their portrayal of things, such as ‘Ottakam’ (The Camel) and ‘Timepiesinte Katha’ (The Story of a Time-​piece). The man nicknamed ‘Ottakam’ (literally, the camel) in the story of that title is presented as a strange but real-​life character. He gets his nickname from his camel-​like physical appearance, which the narrator describes thus: ‘Legs like long iron pillars, arms like crowbars and a chest like a cheenabharani with an elongated neck . . . [and] a head like a wilted coconut’ (Pottekkat 2019: 21). Ottakam is a rustic simpleton, a lonely, half-​crazy bachelor employed as a water carrier by the local hotel. His duty is to cart barrels of water from the nearby lake to the hotel, in return for which he is allowed free meals there. When not on duty, he lives in a world of his own, playing with the village urchins who are his constant companions. One day the roguish hotel manager contrives to get Ottakam to agree to his marriage—​only formal and nominal—​to Matha, the cook, who bears for him a baby six months later, though he has not been allowed to sleep with her for a single night. Ottakam does not bother about not being permitted to live with his wife, but is seen to care deeply for ‘his’ baby. The story ends on a tragic note when one day, Ottakam hangs himself to death, the baby held close to his chest. ‘Timepiesinte Katha’ is among the thousands of stories in the rich repertoire of a certain Kunhikoran Butler, who belongs apparently to the tradition of the oral storytellers of the premodern days. Kunhikoran Butler has worked under several Britishers as their personal assistant in the colonial days. Here the story is built around a hilarious event in the life of McCarthy, the Scottish manager of the British company in Wayanad in pre-​Independence India, under whom Kunhikoran Butler had served for a long time. McCarthy, who had earned the nickname of ‘Kirukkan Saiv’—​‘the eccentric white man’—​because of his strange habits, was quite unlike the other Englishmen who previously worked in the company. Unlike them, he mingled freely with the workers and the local people, who found his antics to be greatly entertaining. ‘Timepiesinte Katha’ is a retelling of Kunhikoran Butler’s narrative reconstruction of his boss’s

S.K. Pottekkat  239 antics to the narrator several years after McCarthy had returned to England. It pertains to a beautiful time-​piece that adorned McCarthy’s drawing-​room table. Kunhikoran Butler wants to steal the time-​piece from his master, who is known to be an absent-​minded person, given to losing things. The Butler knows that it is difficult for a male worker to pass the security check at the gate of McCarthy’s bungalow and make off with a pilfered object, and so he arranges for a female worker, Matha, to hide the time-​piece in her blouse when she leaves. As luck would have it, the moment Matha passes the gate with the concealed object, the time-​piece starts sounding a long alarm, and she is caught by the guard on duty. Matha is promptly brought before the Kirukkan Saiv who, however, chooses to take a lighter view of the matter, and keeping with his reputation of being an eccentric, instead of punishing her for her misdemeanour, proposes marriage to her. It is Pottekkat’s narrative interest in incidents and characters that stands out in the plot outlines of both ‘Ottakam’ and ‘Timepiesinte Katha’ summarized above. In this, he perhaps deviates radically from the classic model of the European realist short fiction, whose focus is primarily on the nature of the short story as an artifact, on the discrete and unified experience that is compressed into the compact form of the short story. Very few of Pottekkat’s stories follow this classic form. ‘Nadeeteerattil’ (On the Banks of the River) and ‘Upaharam’ (The Offering) could perhaps be cited as exceptions to this. Most of his other stories present everyday incidents with detailed descriptions of the environment and the background setting drawn on vast canvases, as well as characters who appear to resemble real-​life people one might come across in everyday life. There is a pronounced predisposition for realistic narration in Pottekkat’s creative personality, his romantic sensibility notwithstanding. He is always inclined to the drab, the banal, and the routine, and this inclination can be seen to become an obsession in some of his later works, especially in the novel Oru Desattinte Katha. His prototype for fiction writing, he has indicated in some of his interviews, is the series of letters that he as a young boy was asked to write on behalf of an unlettered woman in the neighbourhood to her husband living far away. Realism for him implies truthfulness to day-​to-​day experiences, which, as we know, is an important aspect of his creative practice. Pottekkat once estimated the proportion of truth and fantasy in his fiction to be 80:20, which, he was quick to emphasize, had

240  Under the Bhasha Gaze no chance of ever being reversed (M.M. Basheer 2013: 11). Like several western writers of earlier generations (e.g., Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Wordsworth), Pottekkat was in the habit of keeping a journal—​a writer’s notebook—​in which he regularly recorded his impressions of the quotidian world and the experiences he acquired in his day-​to-​day interaction with people. As noted above, Pottekkat is one of the earliest Malayalam fictionists to integrate the environment of modernity into the form of his fiction. He also belongs to a small group of Third World artists whose work is complicated by the contradictory pulls of modernity. His romantic worldview, his affinity with realism, his concern for the everyday, his interest in formal aesthetics, and the colonialist biases sometimes displayed in his attitude to the inhabitants of the non-​European world are all certainly aspects of modernity. Each of these characteristics is to be examined in detail in order to make a proper evaluation of Pottekkat as a fictionist. In ‘Ottakam’ and ‘Timepieisinte Katha’, as we have seen, his concern for the real is woven into the story’s formal structure. Realism for him is not a matter concerning the content of the artwork, but its formal structure as well. That is why he makes it a point to transform his fascination for realism into a question about form in his later writings, especially in Oru Desattinte Katha, which can be described as a novel that illustrates Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism. The passage from the romantic to the Bakhtinian, in the case of Pottekkat, seems to have been a smooth one, and is not separated, as is the case with some of his younger contemporaries, by a phase of modernism. Pottekkat was never enamoured of the modernist experiments of his younger contemporaries, but was aware obviously of the increasing obsolescence of the romantic worldview connected with his early short stories and novels. In a 1979 interview, Pottekkat acknowledges his difficulty with the language of the modernists, but recognizes at the same time that sensibilities and the whole literary environment have changed. ‘Changes can be seen in ideas, philosophies and ways of expression’, he says, and adds: ‘There is a total change in forms and themes. Fiction is now infected by the new energy transmitted by science and technology, by politics and journalism’ (Pottekkat 2013: 66). The romantic worldview nevertheless was deeply ingrained in the creative personality of Pottekkat, especially in his early writings, and it was

S.K. Pottekkat  241 perhaps as a romantic artist that he constructed his own self-​image. There is a reference in the travelogue, London Notebook (1970), to his meeting in London in the early 1950s with V.K. Krishna Menon, who was then India’s High Commissioner, to whom Pottekkat introduces himself with considerable self-​pride as a writer of romantic fiction (Pottekkat 2001: 28). While his romantic worldview must have inspired him to write some of his classic stories like ‘Pulliman’ and ‘Nadeeteerattil’, it also seems to have imparted to him a certain colonialist bias in his assessment of Africans and other non-​Europeans. He invariably refers to native Africans in his travelogues as an uncivilized ‘Kappiri’ (from the Arabic word ‘Kafir’, meaning ‘an infidel’), a ‘primitive’ being who can only look upon a person from the ‘civilized’ world with awe and wonder. Kappirikalude Naattil (In the Land of the Negro, 1951), it is significant to remember, is the title of his travel writing on Africa. Describing the puzzled expression on the face of a black African at the port watching the approaching ship, Pottekkat says: ‘He must have cast the same look of wonder at Vasco da Gama’s ship when it anchored off the coast of Africa in 1497. The wonder in his eyes remains unchanged even after centuries. That precisely is the reason why there is no progress for him’ (Pottekkat 2003: 13). The argument is not substantially different from the Euro-​centric argument proffered by the colonizer in his criticism of the ‘primitive’ state of affairs in India and other colonized cultures. This of course is an old story that had allowed the colonial powers to pursue seriously their civilizing mission in the colonized world. Pottekkat’s attitude to colonialism—​and modernity—​however, is to be considered ambivalent. This is because of the divergent positions he is seen to take in his writings. Though he echoes a conspicuously colonialist bias in the depiction of black Africans in his travel writings, he appears to take a different position on the question in his fiction. Look at the story titled ‘Quahe-​ri’ (Farewell), which provides the portrait of an Englishman, Sally, son of a rich British planter settled in Kenya, who falls in love with Africa and its culture, and becomes friends with the local people. His research on African dance takes him to the heartland of African rural life, which also enables him to delve deep into the African experience and meld with African folk culture. His proximity to the natives distances him from the members of his own community settled in Africa. Sally by nature is different from fellow Britishers who are arrogant and violent in

242  Under the Bhasha Gaze their dealings with native Africans. Sally wants his countrymen to treat the natives with love and respect. ‘Let no Englishman hope in vain to rule by the gun the Negro lands which the missionary Livingstone conquered by love’, he would say (Pottekkat 2019: 186). In fact, he demonstrates his love for the natives by marrying a black African woman named Kabeena, who had saved him earlier from an attempt on his life by some degenerate elements in the native community. The story ends on a disquieting note as reports arrive of Sally being shot dead by a fellow Britisher. ‘Quahe-​ ri’ in the title is the native expression for ‘farewell’, which is repeated in several contexts of leave-​taking narrated in the story: first, there is Sally taking leave of the narrator after their meeting in the train; then, there is Kabeena taking leave of Sally after he quits the village in the face of the threat on his life; and finally, at the end of the story it acquires a different meaning when the final farewell to Sally is announced. Pottekkat’s abiding interest in the narration of the real receives a fresh channel of creative expression in his short fiction work ‘Avalude Keralam’ (Her Keralam). This short story is interesting because this is one of the few literary works of the period that raise the question of nationalism in the context of the formation of Kerala as a federal state in the Indian union. The story is set in Malaysia and is presented as a fictional cogitation on the question of national identity. Kerala, which till 1956 had remained divided into the three separate regions of Tiruvitamkur (Travancore), Kochi (Cochin), and Malabar, is now united and turns into a constituent state of the Indian Union. This is the ‘new Keralam’ that becomes the focus of public debate in the period. The phrase, however, intrigues the teenager Prabha, a girl born to Chinese parents, but brought up as the daughter of a Malayali engineer working in Malaysia. Prabha has always considered Kerala to be her homeland, and is now greatly puzzled to see the map of a new region printed in a weekly magazine. What is this talk about a ‘new’ Keralam? Is there an ‘old’ Keralam as well? ‘From her earliest days of recall, the Keralam that dwelt in her mind was just one. Was it losing its identity?’ she wonders (Pottekkatt 2019: 89). There is a clear indication in the story that a nation is built in fantasy and imagination, in the language that the people speak, in their memories, and in the tales and stories that they narrate. Prabha with an adopted national identity has no problem, emotional or intellectual, in imagining herself to be a Malayali. A girl who avidly follows the literature of Kerala, she

S.K. Pottekkat  243 often exchanges books in the language with her Malayali friends. A few Malayalam books would keep her engaged for weeks together. She knew by heart several literary works, and even specimens of folk songs. As she states, her father had taught her ‘the nuances of the tunes and the specific ways in which these songs were to be sung’ (Pottekkatt 2019: 92). ‘Avalude Keralam’ can indeed be described as a provocative text that raises significant questions about the interplay of reality and illusion in the construction of the nation. That this was written years before Benedict Anderson (1983) came up with his influential thesis on the nation as an imagined community is greatly inspiring. One should also mention the question of the self that is sought to be negotiated by several of these stories. ‘Avalude Keralam’ certainly raises this question. So do many other stories and novels that attempt to make sense of this problem, the final flowering of which is to be located in Oru Desattinte Katha. Construction of the self, as we know, is also part of the process of the engendering of the modern individual. Fiction after all is a means of constructing the individual self through explorations into the landscapes of the mind, which open out into the landscapes of the external world. The only ethical reason for fiction’s continuing relevance as a cultural form, according to the German novelist Hermann Broch, is its ability to reveal ‘a hitherto unknown segment of existence’, that is, of the self (quoted in Kundera 1988: 5). As for Pottekkat, the writer of travel, both real and fantasy, his novels and short stories deal not just with one unknown segment of existence, but with countless segments which together may still not add up to the image of a well-​plotted landscape in which to travel. Whether the travel is real or fantasy, Pottekkat’s narratives are connected to a deeply fragmented world of experience. Perhaps the author of these works makes a virtue of his fragmented imagination, which allows for a variegated mix of disconnected stories to come into being. Pottekkat indeed is a successful storyteller, whose stories are not just amoral stories, but specimens of ethically dense fiction that would invariably lead, as Walter Benjamin suggested, to ‘the transmission of a moral message’ (1973: 87). Pottekkat’s novels and short stories realize the transmission of such a message by turning his texts into sites of textual and cultural practice. This perhaps is the reason why fiction’s narrative dimension overrides its other aspects such as formal coherence and structural unity in his definition of shot fiction. Narration perhaps is the

244  Under the Bhasha Gaze most important component not just of short fiction but of the fictional discourse in general. Pottekkat recognizes this, and that is why he seems to focus entirely on novel writing in the later phase of his writing career. His novel, Oru Desattinte Katha, as we have seen in Chapter 2, represents the peak of his narrative journey that began with the early short stories discussed here.

17 O.V. Vijayan Modernity as Ideological Vision

O.V. Vijayan (1930–​2005) was a bilingual writer, truly prolific in output. Six novels, twelve short story collections, eight essay collections, and two books of memoirs, all in Malayalam, three cartoon collections, several volumes of translations into English of his own work, three omnibus collections of his own fiction translated into English, a large number of uncollected essays and sketches: his creative life that spans a period of about 50 years is marked by commendable achievements. Both as fictionist and as cartoonist, he carved out a niche for himself in the world of art and letters. He added an identifiable personal signature to whatever he wrote and sketched. Although his political commentaries often generated controversies, no one familiar with his output had any doubts about the intellectual strength of his opinions. As a fictionist, he will be remembered for the deep philosophical vision that he brought to bear upon his novels and short stories. It is this quality of his fictions as well as the linguistic innovations that accompanied their composition that makes him a legendary storyteller of our times.

I For the readers of Malayalam literature, Vijayan is first and foremost the architect of fictional modernism in the language. He established himself as an outstanding fictionist with his very first novel Khasakkinte Itihasam (The Legends of Khasak, 1969). It put him firmly in the canon of Malayalam literature. The word-​magic that the novel represented in the language was enough to lure successive generations of readers to its mythic charm. The novels and the short stories that followed, most of Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0018

246  Under the Bhasha Gaze them dealing with a different aspect of the totality of human experience, only consolidated the position that he had earned with the first novel. Dharmapuranam (The Saga of Dharmapuri, 1985), Gurusagaram (The Infinity of Grace, 1987), Madhuram Gayati (Sweet Is the Music, 1990), Pravachakante Vazhi (The Way of the Prophet, 1993), and Talamurakal (Generations, 1997)—​these novels, along with Khasakkinte Itihasam and a large number of short stories written in different forms on a variety of themes, which together form the fictional oeuvre of Vijayan, constitute a corpus that is quite unsurpassed in terms of quality and variety in the recent history of Malayalam literature. These creative flights, these ingenious adventures on the magic carpet of the word, however, did not make of Vijayan an artist living in an ivory tower. He constantly interacted with the society he was part of by critically responding to the social and political issues of his day through his cartoons, essays, letters, lectures, and public debates. These interventions allowed his readers to see that what he wrote about in his novels and short stories were after all issues close to their own hearts. The questions of identity, self, power, religion, nature, culture, language, and caste—​these were some of the issues metaphorically debated in his fiction. He chose to discuss them in a more overt and direct fashion in his cartoons and essays. It is through them that the reader gains a clearer idea of Vijayan’s distrust of state power, his concept of individual freedom, his reflections on class, caste, and the self, and his analyses of communism, communalism, social justice, and religious fundamentalism. His creative writing and his political writing in this sense are intimately related. His open criticisms of state power signal the dissentient zeal in him. While this zeal might appear in the novels and the short stories as a concern with the question of power, it can also manifest as a lack of trust in traditional forms of fiction and the values that these forms embody. Though Vijayan has never deviated in his prose writings from a liberal humanist position, politically alert readers from his own culture might legitimately wonder whether he has not been too much of a liberal humanist. His liberalism, they might feel, implies aesthetic closeness to positions of narrative monologism. His novels and short stories of the post-​Dharmapuranam period have indeed been criticized for this. It is possible to talk about two Vijayans corresponding to two successive phases of his career, each marked by a distinct philosophy, a

O.V. Vijayan  247 distinct literary ideology, and a distinct formal patterning of the fictional text. The first phase consists of the novels Khasakkinte Itihasam and Dharmapuranam and a number of short stories. These works are characterized by their formal dialogism and polyphony as well as the tone of philosophical scepticism and uncertainty maintained by the author. But the novels coming after Dharmapuranam and the short stories collected in such anthologies as Kadaltheerathu (After the Hanging and Other Stories, 1988) and Kattu Paranja Katha (The Story Narrated by the Wind, 1989) are narratives that demonstrate a visible impatience with positions of dialogic pluralism. The Vijayan of this phase is philosophically less uncertain and is seen to flirt with ideas of spiritual and metaphysical certitude. To pursue the fictional personae of the two Vijayans a little farther is to acquaint oneself with two worlds of fictional experience. The first phase of his career represents the attitude of a materialist visionary who, in spite of the unmistakable spiritual drive that energizes his writing, is fascinated by the materiality of language and allows writing to be governed by the internal rules of the medium. It is an instance of what Seamus Heaney called ‘the government of the tongue’ (1988: 92) in which the author’s creative powers, coupled with the innate resources of language, exercise their authority over the text and create a regime of literary experience that is autonomous and self-​validating. The dialogic potential of the novelistic form is fully exploited by the writer in this phase. Though Vijayan’s meta­ physical proclivities can perhaps be seen in the novels and short stories of this period too, they never acquire the kind of pervasive dominance that they gain in his later work. There is an inherent uncertainty about his philosophical position in the fiction of the first phase. Though there are sporadic attempts to dehistoricize narration in some works of this period too, history is a key player in much of the writing, in the form, for example, of allegorical allusions to historical events in Dharmapuranam or of symbolic reconstructions of lived experience appearing in such short stories as ‘Arimpara’ (‘The Wart’, 1979). Apart from the two novels mentioned, several of the stories included in his first three short story collections—​Moonu Yuddhangal (Three Battles, 1958), Vijayante Kathakal (The Stories of Vijayan, 1978), and Oru Neenda Rathriyude Ormaykkayi (In Memory of a Long Night, 1979)—​can be seen to partake of the qualities outlined here.

248  Under the Bhasha Gaze Vijayan’s fictional writings of the second phase are marked by their tone of philosophical certainty. There is a sense in which Gurusagaram, Madhuram Gayati, Pravachakante Vazhi and Talamurakal all narrate the story of man’s quest for the final, absolute truth, each from a different perspective. Though the pursuit of truth is an important aspect of the narrative exploration conducted in the first phase too, there is no suggestion in the works of this phase of the existence of a version of truth that is valid for all times and for all cultures. ‘Satyam palathu’ (Truths are many) is a crucial statement that one of the characters makes in Khasak. Truth indeed is manifold, and Vijayan in his first phase was willing to recognize this fact, at least in practice if not in the precept. But Vijayan’s fictions after Dharmapuranam are marked by a visible impatience with positions of pluralism and relativity, where the author can be seen moving towards an attitude of affirmation and metaphysical conclusiveness. In doing this, Vijayan is also rejecting in a sense the tongue’s autonomy, allowing certain broad philosophical themes to govern the tongue rather than permitting it to govern itself. This was a danger to which Heaney had drawn his readers’ attention, especially in the context of attempts to make literature serve the designs of the state. Although Vijayan took a firm position against forms of state tyranny till the end of his life, the collusion between such forms and the philosophy of certitude did not seem to worry him too much. This tone of metaphysical conclusiveness in the later fiction also renders the second of the two Vijayans unhistorical. Vijayan’s earlier work is eminently historical in that it recognizes the role of the social imaginary in the shaping of the individual self and the fictional form. It is the historical rootedness of The Legends of Khasak that allows readers to approach it in diverse ways. Though Vijayan is seen to constantly rework the manuscript of the novel over the decade following the completion of its first draft in 1958, such reworking, as in the case of the successive versions of the Sakuntala myth that Romila Thapar in a related context discusses, is bound to illumine the historical location from which the story emerges (Thapar 1995: vii). The reworking of Khasak however stayed well within the ideological and discursive limits of the novel form, as Vijayan did not proceed to revise the novel after its printing in 1969. In the case of Dharmapuranam too, as we shall see presently, Vijayan keeps changing its shape till it is printed in the form of a book almost a decade after

O.V. Vijayan  249 its ‘original’ version was completed. The situation is not much different from how it is in other genres. A.K. Ramanujan has said that the history of a poem’s evolution continues until it gets into print, but comes to an end once it is printed (Ramanujan 2001: 45). The observation perhaps is truer of the novel form because of its ideological intermeshing with print capitalism. Vijayan thought of reworking Khasak again only in the early nineties at the time of the preparation of its manuscript for an English translation. By that time, however, he had perfected the art of textual revision, which involved tinkering with the novel in its successive editions with little regard for its identity as a finished artifact. The English translation of Khasak is an impressive example of the way in which the author makes sure that his newly developed metaphysical positions are duly echoed and even assertively incorporated into the translated text. That indiscriminate revisions of a published piece of writing can amount to violence perpetrated on literature will become clear from an examination of the revisions of Dharmapuranam, the work that marks Vijayan’s transition from the first phase to the second. Vijayan started writing this novel in 1971 and completed it in 1975, and it was due for serial publication in a prominent Malayalam weekly magazine in the same year. But the serialization was delayed because of the Emergency, and the magazine could publish it only in 1977. The image that the work had acquired by then—​as an anti-​establishment piece in scatology—​further delayed its publication in book form. Finally, when the book appeared in 1985, Vijayan had revised it drastically in order to bring its spirit in line with his new-​found enthusiasm for an ahistorical metaphysics. The version that is in circulation today is a reprint of the novel’s fourth edition (1988), which constituted, according to Vijayan himself, a radical recasting of the serialized version. The recasting involved stripping the novel bare of all historical references so that, cut loose from its political connection, the novel now became a lucid expression of what can be called a ‘guru’ philosophy—​a metaphysics based on the primacy of a timeless cosmic spirit—​that he was, at that point in time, in the process of refining. Vijayan’s subsequent writings can be seen to carry forward his guru philosophy to the disparate realms of personal, natural, social, and national life. In a note prefixed to the fourth edition of Dharmapuranam, he specifically states that it was his friendship with the sanyasi Karunakara

250  Under the Bhasha Gaze Guru that allowed him to portray the complexities of the spiritual personality of Siddhartha in the novel. The historical immoralities of an evil society, according to Vijayan in the second phase of his career, can be recognized only by isolated individuals with exceptional powers of insight. Siddhartha in Dharmapuranam happens to be one such individual, who partakes both of the grace of nature and of the elders. This is what permits him to act as a disciple to the spirit of nature in the world around him and, simultaneously, as a guru to the people of Dharmapuri. Dharmapuranam in its original version was written primarily as an allegory of power, but the later Vijayan was keen to present the guru philosophy as the primary organizing principle of the work. The novels coming after Dharmapuranam constitute a flowering of the guru principle. This is especially so in Gurusagaram, which as its title implies, provides an elaborate account of the infinity of the guru’s grace as it animates human relationships. This is extended to embrace animal and natural worlds, and even the machine world in Madhuram Gayati, where the guru is almost a pantheistic spirit. The ultimate message that the last-​ named novel conveys is that one will have to live in harmony with nature and the environment, if one is to hear the sweet music of the cosmic force. This conception of the guru in a sense paves the way for the next novel Pravachakante Vazhi in which the guru is equated with ‘prapancha guru’, the universal principle of human fellowship and well-​being. In this novel, which raises questions concerning national and communal identities, Vijayan is inclined to read the religious and linguistic strife in India and Europe as expressions of man’s deviation from the way of the prophet, which in the end is a manifestation of the failure of the guru culture. One might see the guru principle to be working at a subliminal level—​in the form of a concern with the values of tradition—​even in Talamurakal, Vijayan’s last novel that attempts primarily to make the reader sensitive to the metaphysics at work in the ideology of caste. This is true also of several of the short stories of the late seventies and the eighties that are marked by a submerged presence of the guru in them.

II Critics in Malayalam who do not see any rupture in Vijayan’s fictional career, however, never forget to mention the spiritual dimension of The

O.V. Vijayan  251 Legends of Khasak. Perhaps the manifest content of the story might gesture one towards a metaphysical reading of this novel too. The novel has about its elements that would make for an ideal metaphysical plot: with an ascetic yet anarchic central character born into an aristocratic family, who spurns love and life, and embarks on a long journey that takes him to Khasak, a kind of nowhere land potent with dreams, myths, and legends. The protagonist Ravi in the novel is bewitched by the scenes and the people around him—​by the rural beauty of the land, by its plants and flowers, by its ponds and fields, by the simplicity of the people of the village, by Alla-​ pitcha, the mullah who teaches at the local madrassa, by Nizam Ali, the self-​proclaimed Khazi of legendary Sayed Mian Sheikh, by Maimoona, the houri of Khasak, by tailor Madhavan Nair, Ravi’s comrade-​in-​arms, by Kunhamina and Appu-​Kili, students at the school where he teaches, and by several others. Ravi’s first-​hand experiences with the land and the people of Khasak form the core of the novel. These experiences come to an abrupt conclusion with the administration’s decision to close down the school in the face of a public outcry against the teacher’s anarchic ways. Ravi is back on his seemingly never-​ending journey, which comes to a sudden end with his death from a snake bite. Needless to say, this is a story that can be interpreted in metaphysical terms. What else could restless Ravi’s absurd journey through the land of Khasak, provoked as it is by guilt and despair, suggest to a casual reader? Given the fact that the lesson that Ravi draws from his mysterious experiences at Khasak is related to the understanding that there is no escape from the dictates of karma, Vijayan’s story is one that is significant for its spiritual meaning. It is easy enough to read Ravi’s journey as the epitome of a spiritual yatra, a sort of pilgrim’s progress in search of his karmic anchorage. But Khasak also provides an enchanting myth formed out of the reality of village life, of the natural environment emerging from its dense images, of the illiterate shamans and toddy-​tappers of the village, of the poverty-​stricken children attending the single-​teacher school, of the trade-​union workers and other maverick characters in the village, of their folk beliefs, customs, and rituals, of their love-​life and their little private quarrels and, ultimately, of the protagonist’s existential angst that drives him on his perennial journey. There indeed is sufficient room for the myth to be interpreted in a range of ways and this becomes possible because of the novel’s dense and evocative language that is full of images and dialects. The Malayalam language, as Vijayan was to recognize later,

252  Under the Bhasha Gaze was never to remain the same after this novel. The experience of Khasak taught him that ‘no language, however physically confined, however historically deprived, is left without springheads of regeneration’ (1994: 206). Khasak, in other words, is a text that is embedded in a mythic universe of great semiotic potential. History, politics, and language are equal partners in this universe. Vijayan has dwelt at length in his book of memoirs, Itihasathinte Itihasam (History of the Legends, 1989), as well as in the ‘Afterword’ to his translation of Khasak, both written after his change of heart, on the genesis of this universe. From the accounts given, we learn that the first draft of Khasak had been completed in 1958, when its author was not yet disenchanted with the ideals of communism. In fact, a section of the novel had appeared as a short story that year in the pages of the journal, Mathrubhumi. The novel in that version, according to Vijayan, told a ‘revolutionary’ story apparently in a socialist realist style. Had Khasak been published in that form, it would have been rated, in his subsequent estimate, as nothing more than another entry ‘in Marxism’s futile, repetitive bibliography’ (1994: 206). But that was not to be, and we see that Vijayan was constantly reworking the manuscript over the next decade. By the time the novel was published in book form in 1969, Vijayan had become a changed man in terms of his political positions. He had lost his faith in Marxism, and though he continued to be a liberal humanist, he had become a fierce critic of all totalitarian forms of government. If the history of this evolution is embedded in the context of Khasak, the politics of this context too is implicated in the text of the novel, and both are communicated through the polyphonic play of the dialects and languages used. Here indeed is an instance of a novelistic text assimilating its context and the context in turn merging with the text. What one can deduce from this is the fact that the alchemy of creativity is historically and materially constituted. This is the reason why it becomes impossible for one to extricate the experience of Khasak either from the language of the novel, or from the history of its evolution, or again from the vicissitudes in the political life of its author. This point can be illustrated with any number of examples from Khasak. Even the fantasies narrated in Khasak, as it turns out, have a genealogy quite unrelated to the metaphysical undercurrent attributed to them. Here for instance is the beginning of the second chapter, ‘The Second Coming’:

O.V. Vijayan  253 Seated in the madrassa, Alla-​pitcha the mullah taught the children of the Muslims the saga of Khasak. Long, long ago, in times now unknown to man, there came riding into the palm grove a cavalcade of a thousand and one horses. The riders were the Badrins, warriors blessed by the Prophet, and at the head of the column rode the holiest of them all—​Sayed Mian Sheikh. The full moon shone on the thousand steeds of spotless white. But the horse the Sheikh rode was old and ill. Each generation of young listeners would ask, ‘Why an ailing mount, Mollakka?’ And the mulla would repeat, ‘Where is succour for the old and dying except in Allah and his beloved Sheikh?’ (1994: 10)

Though Vijayan cites this as an example of what he is inclined to designate in his second phase as ‘the Upanishadic lessons of fantasy’ (1989: 20), there is little of the Upanishads and even less of fantasy in this passage. The passage on the other hand, and on his own admission, is linked to his childhood experience of listening to unending stories narrated by his grandmother as well as by his primary school teacher, Mohammed Haji Master. In these stories, the mature Vijayan detects the rudiments of a rustic wisdom that is hard to come by in more refined and cultivated academic environments. Had he been more cultured and exposed to the cultivated habits of trained academics, Mohammed Haji, Vijayan says, would not have been able to give his students lessons in history, theology, and natural history in the artless way in which he taught (1989: 20). Vijayan quotes from an earlier story in which he had fictionalized Mohammed Haji’s artlessness: Mohammed Haji was theologian, historian and scientist rolled into one. Everyday after scripture lessons he wrote out a few problems in arithmetic on the blackboard, and then moved on to history. History was a matter of conjecture and science daring discovery. Teaching science one day, Mohammed Haji asked: ‘What is this thing that you call air? You answer, Usman.’ ‘Wind,’ Usman said. ‘Can you see the wind?’ ‘You cannot.’

254  Under the Bhasha Gaze ‘Then listen to me. O child of the devil! You can see the wind. Go to the riverside at noon and slant your head and watch; you can see the wind rise up like flowers.’ (2004: 95–​96)

This indeed is a new way of looking at nature and the world. A new perspective on reality and a new perception of reality combine here to reconstitute the world anew. Though Vijayan’s literary interventions are often regarded as part and parcel of the emergence of modernism in Malayalam, the dominant view of the world promoted by literary modernism has little share in this new perspective. Modernism’s worldview, for all its formal radicalism, was geared less to the promotion of fantasy than of the underside of what was perceived as reality. Vijayan, on the other hand, applied on his experience of the world to a new perception of reality that simultaneously served as a ‘fantastic’ perspective. Instances of such perceptions and perspectives are aplenty in Khasak. Here, for example, is Ravi’s childhood memory of sitting on his mother’s lap and indulging in the pastime of sky watching: His most cherished memory was of the sky-​watch, a pastime in which his mother joined him, though not often, as she was big with child. She told him stories of the Devas. These dwellers of the sky drank the milk of the Kalpaka fruit, their elixir of immortality, and flung the empty husk down to the earth. If you gazed on the sky long enough, you saw the husks as transparent apparitions. The sky at noon was full of them. Ravi saw them slide over glistening cloud-​helms and pass softly over pine and rock and grass. He watched, leaning on Mother’s belly as she reclined on a couch. (1994: 4)

After quoting this passage from Khasak, Vijayan says in Itihasathinte Itihasam that right from his early childhood, he was used to the hallucinatory experience of seeing ‘swimming spots’ in the sky whenever he watched out for them. This could have been due to a minor visual impairment. It was not his mother, however, but his grandmother who made a myth out of this experience and linked it up with the story of the Devas drinking the milk of the Kalpaka fruit in the sky and flinging the empty husks down on to the earth. It is not clear whether his grandmother was aware of the visual handicap of her little grandchild. But one

O.V. Vijayan  255 might wonder how she could have been privy to young Vijayan’s hallucinatory experience. How was she to know what he saw in the sky? Or was she too in the habit of seeing swimming spots before her? Vijayan in the second phase of his career is inclined to invest his grandmother with the power of foreknowledge about things that the Indian metaphysical tradition attributes to the long and sanctified line of sages and religious saints (1989a: 23). Be that as it may, the way in which the alchemy of creativity transforms a minor hallucination into a colourful personal myth is something that might be of interest to literary scholars. As is quite clear, the myth has a history going back into the writer’s personal past, and this, though it is unsupported by scriptural texts, extends forward to the present in the form of a fantasy and performs for the modern reader the same function that ancient myths performed for the organic communities of the past. This is what one means by the historically and materially constituted alchemy of creativity. It is through this that the experience of Khasak becomes integrated with the language of the novel and the history of the novel’s evolution as well as with the vicissitudes in the political life of its author. There is an interesting observation by Vijayan in the pages of Itihasathinte Itihasam that suggests that the role of Edathatta Narayanan, the editor of Patriot, in giving shape to the final version of Khasak has not been insignificant (1989a: 109). It is quite unlikely that Edathatta Narayanan, the communist hardliner, could have read the draft of Vijayan’s novel or that he could have physically verified the draft and suggested modifications to it, especially because Vijayan had moved away from the orbit of Narayanan a few years before the publication of Khasak. What Vijayan means by his statement is Narayanan’s indirect contribution in restoring to him the freedom to think beyond communism by expelling the young Vijayan from the left-​wing newspaper organization where the latter worked at the time as a cartoonist. Narayanan’s act broke the spell that communism had on him, and with this, as Vijayan says, ‘the whole architecture of the novel changed’ (1994: 206). One need not agree with Vijayan on the nature of this architecture. However, we can be sure that the new architecture has helped to make the novel polyphonic and multi-​dimensional. This is indicated by the conclusion of the novel, which is open to multiple readings. There is nothing particularly metaphysical about the ending of the story, where the narrator

256  Under the Bhasha Gaze describes a snake slithering out of the rocks and sinking its tiny fangs into Ravi’s foot. The novel closes with the sentence: ‘Ravi lay waiting for the bus’ (1994: 203). The Malayali reader of the sixties must have found in the novel’s closing passage the attitudes of futility and absurdity enveloping human existence that several radical works of the time echoed. While such perceptions were tremendous leaps away from the social documentary style of writing that dominated fiction in the preceding era, Vijayan’s language was specifically suited to translate such attitudes at the level of sensibility. This indeed is the most important contribution of Vijayan, of the first Vijayan, to Malayalam modernism. The second Vijayan was not just satisfied with this contribution, but wanted the whole exercise to be reinterpreted in the language of the metaphysician. That was why he gave a new interpretation to the ending of Khasak in Itihasthinte Itihasam: Though Khasakkinte Itihasam smells of death, it does not end in death. The story comes to an end at the start of another journey. In it, the fire of snake poison is extinguished by timeless rain. Rain is death, but it is also cure and rebirth. One must be able to experience this triple principle in one’s own lifetime. The story ends in grief, in our inner life. Nevertheless, in its primitive humility, in its organic infancy, it looks out towards moksha with a great deal of hope. (1989a: 127)

III Compared to the dialogically dense Khasak, the later texts of Vijayan are somewhat monological in narrative orientation. It is with The Infinity of Grace that Vijayan’s narrative journey on the path of philosophical certainty begins. It tells the story of the Delhi-​based journalist Kunjunni’s tryst with his past as events persuade him to experience the transcendental within the mundane. Though the 1971 Indo-​Pakistan war connected with the liberation of Bangladesh is the background for the events recounted, it is really the inner conflict within the mind of Kunjunni that the novel tries to lay bare. The conflict pertains to his failed marriage with Sivani, who lives away in Calcutta with their daughter Kalyani. Sivani has deserted him for her lover Pinaki Bhattacharya, but Kunjunni’s fondness for Kalyani inspires in him the hope that his wife would someday come

O.V. Vijayan  257 back. It is in foolish anticipation of reviving the marriage that he agrees to go over to Calcutta to report the Bangladesh war for his newspaper. In Calcutta, Sivani avoids him, though he is able to spend precious time in the company of his daughter who dotes on him. But as fate would have it, in the midst of the victory celebrations succeeding the war, a grenade that is flung at him in the suburbs of Dacca sends him into a coma. When he regains consciousness after a few weeks, he is told that Kalyani, afflicted with cancer, is fighting for life in a hospital in Bombay. Kunjunni arrives in Bombay in time to see his dying daughter for the last time, but here he also comes face to face with the shocking revelation from Sivani that Kalyani, after all, was Pinaki’s, and not his, daughter. This in brief is the outline of the novel’s plot that does not rest on any manifest spiritual or metaphysical dilemma on the part of the protagonist for the progress of the story. But Vijayan raises questions of philosophical import through some of the subplots woven into the main story of The Infinity of Grace. The story of Colonel Balakrishnan who takes up sanyasa and adopts the name of Nirmalananda before starting an ashram called Muktidham in the sprawling farmland bequeathed to him by his deceased Punjabi wife is one such. Among those who persuade Kunjunni to revive his broken marriage is Nirmalananda, who is also Kunjunni’s childhood friend. Some of the other characters in the novel, like Lalita, Kunjunni’s stenographer at the office, and Shyamnandan Singh, his domestic help, also urge Kunjunni to go back to Calcutta and meet his wife and daughter. One’s bond with one’s offspring is an extension of the guru-​sishya relationship. This is what the novel’s prologue announces early enough by citing Upanishadic messages for good measure. Sivani shares her secret knowledge of Kalyani’s fatherhood with Kunjunni only when Kalyani is on her deathbed. This she does because she does not want Kalyani to die carrying the possible burden of Kunjunni’s unconscious curse. How can an ordinary father continue to love ‘his’ daughter after receiving the unwelcome knowledge that he has not fathered her? But Kunjunni, trained as he is in the culture of the guru’s unending grace, cannot bring himself to love his daughter any the less for his new knowledge. The guru is great, and as the prologue announces, ‘all things grow lucid and lustrous in the grace of the Guru, which wells everywhere’ (1996: 2). An interesting outcome of Kunjunni’s newly acquired knowledge regarding the real parentage of Kalyani is that he is now better placed to

258  Under the Bhasha Gaze hearken to the voice of the spirit within him. This is the grace of the guru. Guru here is the voice not only of the elders, but of tradition and nature as well. That is why after he returns for good at the end of the novel to his native village on the bank of the river Thootha and sits alone on the verandah of his ancestral home, his back against the teak pillar on which are carved scenes from puranic legends, Kunjunni hears the voice within in the form of a verse from the Upanishads: ‘May the Absolute protect us. May we enjoy the fruit of our endeavours. We, guru and sishya, shall strive together without bitterness. May the light of Brahman illumine us’.1 This is a gloriously ennobling experience that can transform a person into a mystic eagle or turn a wretched stream into the sacred river, an experience that can bring one close to the great luminescence in the space of Brahman. Kunjunni has had such experiences earlier, both in Bombay and in Delhi, experiences that enabled him to come to terms with the death of Kalyani with ease. In Bombay: When his inner eyes fluttered open, the Serpent and He who slept upon it were gone. Then, wave and ocean were gone, gone was the rider on his back, gone were his wings, his beak and talons, gone were his eyes. (1996: 154)

In The Infinity of Grace Vijayan describes this as an advaidik experience whereby Kunjunni gets the feeling of being transformed into the eagle Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu (1996: 170). He has a similar, but somewhat loftier, experience again after Kalyani’s death: He came to the side of a little stream. Nameless it bore the slime and filth of the city into obscurity. Above him the twilight became turbid. Kunjunni stood there beside that wretched stream. Gazing at its changing colours, its darkness he grew rapt in dhyana. This stream is you, he said, my sacred Bhageerathi, immortal Ganga. From your breasts once flowed the living waters which brought salvation to the ancestral manes. Bless my daughter’s journey. [ . . . ] When he came back, he was at peace with himself. (1996: 159) 1 The Upanishadic verse starting ‘Om sahanavavathu’ is quoted at several places in Gurusagaram. The translation given here is Vijayan’s own rendering of the verse in The Prologue.

O.V. Vijayan  259 Nirmalananda in Gurusagaram is a guru-​figure whose image does not conform to the usual image of religious heads. Like Tadrupananda, the ascetic who initiated him into the life of a sanyasi, Nirmalananda too is fascinated by the idea of human life as sustained by a long tradition of guru figures. A wealthy and high-​ranking army official, he had opted for the life of a sanyasi not out of any frustration with worldly life. He was giving heed to his inner call when he did that. Even while in the army, it was the image of the Dogra sepoy Beliram who had died in his arms that would come to his mind whenever he thought of his first guru. Death indeed is the greatest teacher. Nirmalananda is of the opinion that since he has learnt something from every person he has met, everyone known to him can be considered his guru. The battles that he has fought as a soldier too have taught him things. War in a sense is the unknowable guru that causes the jungle trees to stand up like sentinels above the soldier’s paths. The novel describes Nirmalananda’s garden as ‘a wild pantheon of many gods, where you could choose any deity to worship’. The garden is described as ‘spread in a profuse and disordered spontaneity of flower-​beds, wild flowers, tangled shrubbery, fruit trees and the little grasses that were the children of the forest’ (1996: 12). Human and natural identities merge in Nirmalananda, who is seen simultaneously as an isolated ascetic and an indivisible part of the cosmic order. Nirmalananda’s friendship has the effect of turning Kunjunni into ‘a pulsing luminescence, at once an infinitesimal seed and the infinite universe, as he flew through the spaces of the Brahman’ (1996: 154). In sketching the figure of Nirmalananda, Vijayan obviously was influenced by the new friendship he had struck up with the sanyasi Karunakara Guru of the Shantigiri Ashram at Pothecode in Thiruvananthapuram. Both Gurusagaram and its English translation are dedicated to this friendship. In a brief non-​fictional account of the experience of his relationship with Karunakara Guru, Vijayan insists that it is difficult to talk about this experience in ordinary language. The language of logical reasoning is incapable of capturing the spiritual energy surrounding his relationship with the Guru, he states. In this relationship, he counts himself as merely a small, inconsequential fish that has strayed into the vast ocean of spirituality (1999: 10). It was after writing the first draft of Dharmapuranam that his first ‘providential’ meeting with the Guru took place and this transformed him radically. It was an altogether new experience for a

260  Under the Bhasha Gaze writer who till then had thought of himself as a materialist. The experience provided him with a new revelation and a new insight into the reality of human nature. Glimmerings of this new insight, according to him, are visible in the later drafts of Dharmapuranam. Vijayan has specifically stated that it was his contact with Karunakara Guru that opened before him the complexities of the guru culture, which had also urged him to make major revisions to the later drafts of Dharmapuranam (1999: 39). He tinkers with this idea in some of the short stories of this period too. But it is in The Infinity of Grace that Vijayan makes a sustained effort to provide a fully developed fictional articulation of the guru cult. It is not merely in the depiction of yogic experiences that the guru figure becomes important. The grace of the guru can be seen at work in material contexts as well. The Infinity of Grace has such contexts charted out through the stories of the several revolutionaries such as Tapasachandra and Chinnettan dotting the narrative. Tapasachandra is Kunjunni’s elderly Bengali friend Niharika Didi’s 18-​year-​old son who, sacrificing his professional career, goes underground after joining the revolutionary movement. Kunjunni has tender feelings for Niharika, part of which he transfers to young Tapas. He attributes to the young boy both ‘the tranquillity of tapasya and the soft serenity of the moon’ suggested by his name ‘Chandra’ (1996: 65). Tapas’s commitment to the cause of liberation reminds Kunjunni of his elder brother Chinnettan who had laid down his life for the same cause a few decades earlier. For Kunjunni, Tapas and Chinnettan represent the inherent ‘risks of the Veda of revolution’ (66). These risks again are related to the grace of the guru. That is why the voice of the guru that once allowed him to image himself in the shape of the eagle of Vishnu also imparts to him the profound understanding that liberation after all is not outside the guru cult. ‘You once sought to know what liberation meant. Have you understood now?’ Kunjunni’s unarticulated answer to this question from the guru within is the profound sense of peace that he enjoys (154–​155). The yogi and the commissar, one might say, meet in the later Vijayan. The Infinity of Grace is a vindication of this fact.

18 Rajelakshmy Modernity as Gender Trouble

The phrase ‘gender trouble’ is not used here in the specific sense in which Judith Butler, who coined it, used it in her influential 1990 work of that title. What Butler means by gender trouble is the fear one feels of losing one’s place in the heterosexually structured social order and the ensuing ‘crisis in ontology’ that arises from the possibility of being expelled from the normative framework of the gendered world (Butler 1999: xi–​xii). Rajelakshmy (1930–​1965), the Malayalam fictionist, does not seem to have confronted any such crisis, though it is undeniable that gender trouble in the conventional, commonly accepted sense of discrimination that a woman faces in public places in the patriarchal world must certainly have agitated the mind of this sensitive writer, as it has affected the minds of several other female writers of the period from other Indian bhashas.1 Rajelakshmy has not left behind any substantial record of this agitation in the form of discursive essays or autobiographical writings. But the fiction that she composed in her brief creative career spanning the few years of her adult life is sufficient to throw light on the depth of the gender trouble that she experienced internally. In this, perhaps the fiction is to be considered more trustworthy than any autobiographical narrative. ‘Never trust the teller, trust the tale’, D.H. Lawrence is famed to have advised fellow artists and writers in the course of a discussion on writing.2 Whether Lawrence

1 Women writers from Indian bhashas belonging to Rajelakshmy’s generation and the generation preceding hers who were sensitive to the question of gender include Aparajita Devi, Shailabala Ghoshjaya (Bengali), Kamalalaya Kakati (Assamese), Kuntal Kumari Sabat (Odia), Tattam Ranganayaki (Tamil), Anasuya Shankar Triveni, Anupama Niranjana (Kannada), Lalitambika Antarjanam, Saraswati Amma, and Madhavikkutty (Malayalam). 2 Though this is the form in which Lawrence’s dictum is often phrased in critical debates, what he actually stated in the opening pages of Studies in Classic American Literature (1923) was: ‘Never trust the artist, trust the tale’ (Lawrence 1969: 2). Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0019

262  Under the Bhasha Gaze intended it or not, the maxim has often been proffered as a hermeneutic comment on an artwork’s creative potential to communicate hidden layers of truth which may not be immediately perceptible to the artist. An artwork has a history of its own, a deeply troubled history perhaps, which however cannot be reduced to the biography of its creator. The ‘biography’ of Rajelakshmy’s fiction, the history of its reception across generations of readers, is truly significant in any consideration of the quality of her writings, because of two significant reasons. First, Rajelakshmy is one of the few authors of her generation who have left behind practically no serious account of her past worth repeating. We don’t know much about her cultural and intellectual background or her literary antecedents. The only personal statement that she had made about herself in the 35 years of her life was a terse suicide note, which merely stated that were she to live, she would live only as a writer and that she was leaving because she did not want to appear to be continually hurting others through her fiction (Rathi Menon 2002: 23). For long after her death her biography, or what passed for it, contained scant information about her life and her family, or about her own self. From the blurbs printed on her books, we learn that she was born in 1930 to middle-​class parents in a village in Palakkad, that she had her university education at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, from where she obtained a postgraduate degree in Physics, that she worked for brief spells of time as a lecturer at the Nair Service Society (NSS) colleges at Peruntanni, Pandalam, and Ottappalam, that she received great acclaim for the little that she had published in her short life, that she was the first woman writer to win a Kerala Sahitya Akademi award which was for her novel Oru Vazhiyum Kure Nizhalukalum (A Path and Many Shadows, 1958), and that a new novel was being serialized in a Malayalam weekly magazine when she took her life in 1965. Her laconic biography provides little beyond these sparse details about her personal life. Secondly, the Malayalam critical establishment has not been very sympathetic towards her work both at the time she was alive and in the long period after her death. Critical accounts of her work were few in the last century, and even after two or three decades following her death, very few book-​length studies on her life and work had come out. This certainly has exerted its impact on the critical reception of her work, which has started showing the signs of a revival only

Rajelakshmy  263 recently.3 One may therefore have to subject the texts of Rajelakshmy’s fiction to what literary theorists call a symptomatic reading in order to reconstruct the hidden contours of her creative personality. This also implies that we might of necessity scrutinize the ‘biography’ of her fiction a little more closely than is usually done before we can pass any critical judgment on its author and the quality of the fiction. Rajelakshmy’s total oeuvre, some of them published after her death, is very limited. It includes two novels, a fragment of a novel, about a dozen pieces of short fiction and a couple of poems. These constitute the total output of a writer whose creative life lasted for about 10 years in a brief life of 35 years. The fact that her works were chosen for publication by some of the prestigious journals of the period such as the Mathrubhumi weekly and the Mangalodayam monthly, which maintained the highest standards of literary quality in each of the works they carried in their issues, points both to the quality of her fiction and the great esteem in which the reading public might have held them. It was with the short story ‘Makal’ (The Daughter), published in the Mathrubhumi weekly in 1956 that Rajelakshmy first came into the limelight of the literary world. It was an invigorating experience to read such a remarkable story written by a gifted woman writer, as some of its early readers felt. Scholar N.V. Krishna Warrior who was the editor of the weekly at that time, writes in a posthumous tribute to Rajelakshmy that reading ‘Makal’ in the manuscript form was an exciting experience. The story appeared to announce the arrival of a new voice in Malayalam fiction, a voice that was both confident and authentic. Warrior says: ‘I have read somewhere about the thrill that an astronomer scanning the vast skies experienced at the sight of a new star moving towards him in the telescope. It was a similar thrill that I, a journalist leading an otherwise dreary existence, experienced on reading Rajelakshmy’s outstanding work’ (qtd in Rathi Menon 2002: 45). Her two novels, Oru Vazhiyum Kure Nizhalukalum and Njanenna Bhavam (Self-​conceit, 1965), as well as some of her other short stories were also 3 Things have changed after the turn of the century, especially after the new-​found scholarly interest in women’s writing in Malayalam. A comprehensive study of the writer and her work in the Sahitya Akademi series on ‘Makers of Indian Literature’ was published in 2002 (Rathi Menon 2002), and this was followed by a few other accounts, including a new biography (Gramaprakash 2013).

264  Under the Bhasha Gaze published in the Mathrubhumi weekly. Her novel Uccha Veyilum Ilam Nilavum (The Noontide Sun and the Tender Moonlight), which was serialized in the Mathrubhumi weekly, remains fragmentary only because the author recalled the manuscript midway through its publication from the weekly’s office in 1960 and set fire to it. The critical establishment in Malayalam, as we noted earlier, has generally been quite unsympathetic towards Rajelakshmy’s work. It has taken one of the following approaches in its assessment of Rajelakshmy’s creative endeavours. One of these is to view her as a gifted writer of the generation of M.T. Vasudevan Nair, T. Padmanabhan, Kovilan, and others, with the qualifying proviso that she could not, however, attain the creative heights of these other writers because of a deep flaw in her personality that ultimately drove her to suicide. Her great promise remained unrealized owing to her untimely death. Critic D. Benjamin, for example, argues that in terms of craftsmanship, though Rajelakshmy’s stories cannot ‘claim the structural compactness of the short stories of M.T. Vasudevan Nair or T. Padmanabhan, they are remarkable for their spontaneity of self-​ expression’ (George 1998: 274). Benjamin perhaps is only echoing and extending here the very graceful and charitable words that Vasudevan Nair himself uttered about Rajelakshmy after her death. In a commemorative essay that he wrote in 1965, Vasudevan Nair remarks: ‘Rajelakshmy was a talented and ingenious short story writer of my generation’ (Rajelakshmy 1993: xi). The argument has been repeated by several other writers and critics of subsequent generations. One of these is K.P. Appan, the self-​ styled advocate of literary modernism in Malayalam and very popular among young readers of the 1970s and 1980s. The argument of Appan and other critics is that though Rajelakshmy’s works are expressive of subjective emotions and experiences unique to her personality, they lack refinement because of the author’s temperamental insufficiency and her inability to connect with the external world. She is a solitary traveller, an ‘ekanta pathika’, which incidentally is Vasudevan Nair’s title for the commemorative piece that he wrote on her (Rajelakshmy 1993: xi–​xvi). What is repeatedly invoked in all such writings is the image of a solitary traveller treading a secluded path that is cut off from the social world. This image recurs again and again in the discussions of Rajelakshmy’s works, though it is patently clear from the little information that is available on her biography that there is no material evidence to corroborate it. M.T. Vasudevan

Rajelakshmy  265 Nair indeed recognizes that Rajelakshmy’s stories are affirmations of life. But several of her critics would not agree with such readings. They would insist that her stories are examples of life-​denying fiction that alienates the reading subject from the world of positive experience. According to them, Rajelakshmy’s fiction is morbid and unpleasant and emanates from a sick mind. It forebodes death, if one is to believe what Appan says. Appan uses the phrase ‘death’s heart-​rending forebodings’ to describe the bleak and sombre atmosphere that allegedly pervades Rajelakshmy’s fiction (Appan 1994: 167). There is a second, and more flexible, approach to the writings of Rajelakshmy, which is favoured by critics like M. Leelavathy (2008). These critics would prefer to consider Rajelakshmy as a sober representative of the tradition of women’s writing that was slowly emerging in Malayalam literature in her time. The word ‘sober’ is important here because in the history of Malayalam women’s writing, Rajelakshmy comes close on the heels of Saraswati Amma, the militant feminist and the author of a number of short stories that aggressively pursued the idea of gender equality in a male-​dominated society. Saraswati Amma had just stopped writing in the decade that Rajelakshmy entered the literary scene. It was as though the older author was passing the baton on to the younger to carry the race forward. The race, in the case of Malayalam, had begun much earlier and had, as indicated by the early writings on gender by women from Kerala put together by J. Devika (2005), received great impetus from the social renaissance initiatives of the late nineteenth century. These writings throw light on a context of public debate in which the idea of renaissance is linked with issues such as gender equality, women’s education, widow remarriage, voting rights for women, and women’s space in the public domain. It is not merely the objective world that is affected by these debates. Literature too is integral to these debates, a fact that is proved by the huge reception accorded by the reading community to Chandu Menon’s Indulekha (1889), which brought some of these issues to the public world. The short stories of K. Saraswati Amma and of Lalitambika Antarjanam, who had entered the world of literary writing a little before Saraswati Amma, obviously arise from this larger context of debate. The legacy of late nineteenth-​century women writers such as Kuttikunji Thankachi and Thottaikat Ikkavamma, who had to fight for recognition as writers in a space occupied largely by male writers, seems

266  Under the Bhasha Gaze to have merged with this context and taken a strident shape in the writings of Saraswati Amma. The readers of the 1940s, used as they were to the humanist and quasi-​sentimental literary appeal of the patriarchal variety found in the social realist fiction of Thakazhi, Kesava Dev, and others, must have been shocked by the brazen and harsh-​sounding tone of Saraswathi Amma’s grating feminism. It is not very clear why Saraswati Amma stopped writing fiction, but it is sure to have some link with the context of public debate on gender mentioned. We have no way of deciding whether Rajelakshmy was personally interested in this debate. There is no firm evidence to prove her feminist connection, though there are pointers and subtle suggestions in her fiction to indicate that she was sensitive about the question of gender justice in public and private places. M.T. Vasudevan Nair likens Rajelakshmy to Virginia Woolf. This was a very insightful comment to make on Rajelakshmy at that particular point in time. According to him, both Virginia Woolf and Rajelakshmy suffered a feeling of ‘spiritual isolation’ arising from their conflicted relationship with the social world (Rajelakshmy 1993: xii). The heart functioned as a lonely hunter for both, and the pangs of creativity shattered them both as individuals at the psychological level. Interestingly, Rajelakshmy herself seems to have been conscious of the commonality of identity that she as a woman writer shared with Virginia Woolf. A rare set of draft notes titled ‘Changalakal Pottikkan Iniyum’ (More Chains to Break), which Rajelakshmy apparently prepared for a lecture, and which was recovered after her death from among her papers, begins with a reference to Woolf ’s radical essay, A Room of One’s Own (1929), which raised serious questions about the unjust way in which patriarchal societies treated women writers. We know that today A Room of One’s Own is regarded as a classic in feminist scholarship, but it must have been a strange text for a Malayali writer to consult in the early 1960s, a period in which people in Kerala interested in literary matters were talking excitedly about such fashionable philosophical theories as existentialism and phenomenology and such exotic writers as Albert Camus and Jean-​Paul Sartre. Gender justice was not yet a distant star on the horizon of the Malayali literary imagination when Rajelakshmy chose to talk about Woolf ’s tract on feminism in preference to Woolf ’s more celebrated short stories and novels. Her assessment of A Room of One’s Own is precise and to the point: ‘This book is more

Rajelakshmy  267 interesting than some of Woolf ’s novels and short stories. Even if her short stories are set aside, she can take pride in having written this single piece’ (1993: 164). It is perhaps not so much an elevated sense of spiritual isolation as a more down-​to-​earth feeling of material isolation that binds her with Virginia Woolf. Rajelakshmy’s reading of Woolf ’s diagnosis of the social malaise affecting the patriarchal order of her day is realistic and sensible. She agrees with Woolf on the basic requirements of a woman writer—​a room of her own and a steady income. Alluding to the inevitability of having better material conditions for the birth of good literature in her own culture, Rajelakshmy says: The social condition today is such that one cannot hope to earn a decent living by creative writing alone. One has to have a second job, a bread-​ winning job, which naturally will have a better claim over the writer’s physical and mental resources. This lands the writer in the paradox of having to employ her creative energies in a somewhat stealthy fashion and to consider her real occupation, the act of writing which is part and parcel of one’s innermost being, as a kind of clandestine activity. (1993: 165)

Reference was made above to Rajelakshmy’s limited literary output, limited in terms of quantity. The few short stories and novels that she produced in her brief career, however, are important both for their value as literary artifacts and as works that convey a strong ‘message’ to the reader, message concerning the human condition and gender relations. Certainly, as artworks, they attempt to weave the author’s vision of life into textures of words that can be accessed textually by the reader. But future generations of readers are likely to value these works more for the way in which they lay bare the working of a woman’s mind in a critical period in Kerala’s history, at a time when its social formation was being subjected to radical reorganizations in the era following Independence. Writing as a texture of words is particularly important in the novel Oru Vazhiyum Kure Nizhalukalum (A Path and Many Shadows), which draws heavily on language’s immanent resources for communicating shades of meaning that are linked to the subjective realm of social life. Language here functions not as an instrument to communicate experience, but as experience itself, to narrate which one has to shed one’s personal self and

268  Under the Bhasha Gaze allow oneself, unconsciously, to take possession of the self of the object of narration. The detailed descriptions of the physical landscape that forms the setting of Rajelakshmy’s novel are not to be seen as a ploy to set the material background for narration. In fact, what Rajelakshmy does through these descriptions is to capture in meaningful images the many shadows from the past haunting the path of human life that in the end cohere themselves into a unified narrative. What is imperative here is to reconstruct reality from the plethora of inchoate feelings that lie dispersed in the heap of shadowy, ill-​defined impressions crowding the mind of the novel’s protagonist Remani. As in the novels of Thomas Hardy, C.V. Raman Pillai, D.H. Lawrence, Gopinath Mohanty, and others, even nature acquires a new identity and functions like a human character in A Path and Many Shadows. It is through precise and graphic descriptions of the natural environment surrounding the subjective, emotional world of the protagonist that the author succeeds in communicating vividly the dim and nebulous aspects of subjective experience. Look, for example, at the following description of the natural world given in the first chapter of the novel: There were two crevices running diagonally across the hilltop, looking as though the body of the earth had cleaved again. She jumped carelessly over both and continued on her way. The kaavu was on the other side of the hill. There was no inner sanctum or even a roof. Right in the middle of the four outer walls was a huge bunyan tree. Beneath it sat the vengeful Vanadurga, exposed to rain and sun. After lingering here and there, she finally reached the kaavu. A little way off from the temple there was a small house thatched with hay [ . . . ]. (Rajelakshmy 2016a: 154; trans. R.K. Jayasree)

What is interesting about this description is that it succeeds in establishing a sort of experiential continuity between the girl flitting around the barren hilltop and the objects of the natural world such as the crevices running diagonally across the hill, the kaavu on its side, the huge banyan tree right inside the kaavu, and the small house with thatched roof a little away. Each of the images used has a materiality about it that makes sure that the objects described are presented to the reader in tangible and

Rajelakshmy  269 graphic terms. Hence the reference to the materiality of the words and their texture that imparts to them an unusual, life-​like quality. This is important in defining the linguistic felicity of Rajelakshmy’s writing, which her short stories can also be seen to partake of. The question of gender and woman’s subjectivity raised by Rajelakshmy’s fiction is equally important. A Path and Many Shadows is significant in this regard in that it is about the relatively limited range of options that are available for a woman who aspires to improve her station in public life. The novel narrates the story of the growing up of Remani, a sensitive young girl, who stumbles through a life that in her perception has consistently been unkind to her. Both as a child at home and later as a college girl, she is thrown into environments that are inherently hostile to her. They seek to curtail her freedom and slash her innate spirit of individuality. A comparison with the novels of Rajelakshmy’s contemporary M.T. Vasudevan Nair will be in order here. There is a remarkable similarity between the domestic environments appearing in the works of the two writers. The disintegrating feudal household described in A Path and Many Shadows is comparable in several ways with the environs of the Nair tharavad in decline, sketched in some of Vasudevan Nair’s fiction. The protagonists of both writers are lonely and frustrated individuals fighting large alienating structures, both within the family and outside it. They are also hunted by their own lonely hearts. There however is an important difference. The difference is that Vasudevan Nair’s male protagonist, in spite of all the reverses he may have suffered in the initial days, wins the ‘battle’ in the end, whereas Rajelakshmy’s female protagonist chooses the path of defeat, even as she knows full well that she has other, better options ahead of her. The heart turns out to be both the hunter and the hunted in her case. That is why at the end of A Path and Many Shadows, Remani turns down the marriage proposals of some of her better-​placed male acquaintances and resolves to choose a lover afflicted with tuberculosis as her life partner. This is also true of her second novel, Njanenna Bhavam, which provides a rare insight into the working woman’s subjectivity through an exploration of the inner world of the central character, Ammini Oppol. Patriarchy is the unnamed physical agency that appears as the villain in most of Rajelakshmy’s short fiction. Her stories depict the agonies of being a woman in contemporary Kerala. ‘Makal’ (The Daughter), her

270  Under the Bhasha Gaze first published short story, is about an educated woman who finds her womanhood to be a curse in the patriarchal social order. The story here is that of Sharada, a young woman lawyer, who finds her domestic environment utterly alienating and suffocating. The only earning member in a family of eight children, she considers it her responsibility to take care of her aged parents and her siblings. She is perpetually torn between self-​interest and her sense of filial duty. Her self-​centred father, once a Gandhian political activist, lives in a strange world of futile idealism that is related more to the distant past than to the immediate present. Nothing matters to him except the memories of his activist days and the newspaper with limited circulation that he has started in order to propagate his outdated principles. There arises some possibility for Sharada to escape from this stifling atmosphere through her friendship with Bhaskara Menon, a colleague who offers to marry her and take her away to Delhi. Though she has tender feelings towards Bhaskara Menon, she spurns his love for the simple reason that he happens to be the son of Damodara Paniker, her father’s friend-​turned-​rival. Her father dies under the shock that she inflicted on him by refusing to marry a cousin he had chosen for her. The story ends with Sharada’s crucial decision to put an end to her domestic strife by leaving for Goa, where she plans to join the national struggle to liberate the territory from the political control of Portugal. The conflict between lust for life and the social compulsion to renounce it is an important theme in ‘Makal’ This perhaps is the running theme of Rajelakshmy’s fiction in general. The tension between individual desire and patriarchy’s attempt to frustrate it recurs in several of her short stories such as ‘Oru Adhyapika Janikkunnu’ (‘A Teacher Is Born’), ‘Sundariyum Koottukaarum’ (‘A Pretty Girl and Her Friends’), and ‘Paraajita’ (‘The Defeated One’). All these stories certainly have some connection with the life of a woman, sometimes of an eccentric woman. Rajelakshmy herself is sometimes accused of being eccentric in her ways, a point tacitly acknowledged when one agrees to consider her fiction as contributing to her biography. Some of her critics ascribe suicidal tendencies to her. While this was the thrust of Appan’s critical evaluation of her, in another sense, as feminist critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar would argue, the eccentric persona appearing in women’s fiction could be regarded ‘the author’s double, an image of her own anxiety and rage’ (1979: 78). Feminists, however, would not interpret this as the symptom

Rajelakshmy  271 of an individual’s shortcoming, but would rather choose to consider it as a culturally acquired characteristic that comes from society’s gendered division of labour. Rajelakshmy’s ‘Aatmahatya’ (‘Suicide’) could be read as providing an illustration of this. ‘Suicide’ narrates the story of Neeraja Chakravarthy who, along with her husband, a top-​ranking officer in the navy, had lived as a neighbour in the rented house next to the narrator’s. She lived there only for a short while, as she had to vacate the place and leave for home for her confinement soon after. But during the short period that they were neighbours, Neeraja had become friends with the narrator and had started treating her almost like an older sister. Neeraja had never discussed her marriage, but the narrator sensed that hers was not a happy one. ‘She never said anything. She never used to talk about her family. But you can always make out if anything is amiss. I read a tale of sadness in every movement of hers and even in her intimacy with me’ (Rajelakshmy 2016a: 17). Now, after Neeraja’s departure, the narrator says that she feels unnecessarily apprehensive about Neeraja whenever she hears people talk about suicides. ‘Every time I come across a news item about someone committing suicide, I cannot rest till I have read the person’s name’ (Rajelakshmy 2016a: 15). ‘Aatmahatya’ is a story of understatement, and inasmuch as understatement characterizes the language of feminism, one might consider the short story to be a classic statement on the plight of a woman in the present-​day world. ‘Aatmahatya’ is also a story that a feminist scholar might use to illustrate a theory regarding the correspondences between fictional and autobiographical discourses and between real and imagined subjects. Arguments concerning the ‘subject in process’ as extended to literature can certainly be substantiated with the help of the story (Mary Eagleton 1986: 351). An individual’s subjectivity after all is not to be considered as a discrete, unitary, and fully constituted phenomenon that constantly sits in judgment on the events regularly unfolding before it. Rather than treating it as constituted by the objective world, it would be more appropriate to consider it as constitutive of the world of experiences, including that of fictional experience. Rajelakshmy’s younger contemporaries in Indian fiction like Shashi Deshpande knew this. That is why some of Deshpande’s women characters, such as Jaya in That Long Silence or Urmila in The Binding Vine, are seen to be perturbed constantly by the Borgesian double bind of their real and imagined lives. These instances reveal reality’s subliminal

272  Under the Bhasha Gaze layers that are contiguous with the archive of what might be called the fictional unconscious. Did Rajelakshmy know that there was no material basis for treating her personal self as an entity more real than the several selves that she acquired in fiction? Did the artist in her care to plumb the creative depths of the long and periodic spells of silence that the materialist in her forced on herself? Did she know where the biography of the teller deviated from the archaeology of the tale? There seems to be no ready-​made answers to these questions in conventional literary histories. Perhaps her critics who recognized that the tale was more reliable than the teller knew. That was why some of them decided that a short story like ‘Aatmahatya’ should be read as offering an early premonition of the author’s eventual death by suicide.

19 Ayyappa Paniker Modernity as Critical Humanism

The phrase ‘critical humanism’ is not used here in the ‘technical’ sense in which it is sometimes deployed in such diverse fields of knowledge as posthumanism, critical humanities, and pedagogic studies. The phrase is used with reference to the writings of K. Ayyappa Paniker (1930–​2006) as a qualification and extension of an aspect of modernity that places a great deal of emphasis on individualism, creativity, and human agency. Ayyappa Paniker is a critical humanist in that he looks upon literature to be an area of critical knowledge that allows the creatively inclined person to resist inhuman and authoritarian practices that often assail the individual. The essentialistic humanism acquired from western modernity combines with a critical impulse that is specifically Indian to produce in him a cynical personality that has come to characterize expressions of radical thought in the modern period. Early in his life, he came under the spell of M.N. Roy’s radical humanism, which also seems to have given a critical edge to his sensibility. A bilingual writer, Paniker was instrumental in radicalizing the poetic sensibility in Malayalam literature at two crucial moments in its history: first, in the early 1960s, when he acted as a pioneer in the evolution of poetic modernism, and then again in the 1980s, when, in the face of a declining modernism, he helped refurbish the sensibility by giving it a new, what could be described as postmodernist, turn. On both occasions, even as he promoted literary practices that would enrich Kerala’s native and indigenous culture, he also participated in a range of activities connected with theatre, cinema, and the arts in general that went a long way towards knitting contemporary Malayalam literature with the best specimens of international culture. Regardless of his deep passion for all branches of writing, including translation, aesthetics, drama and theatre, literary history, folklore, art Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0020

274  Under the Bhasha Gaze theory, literary criticism, and culture studies, Paniker’s primary claim to recognition in Malayalam literature is as a poet. He entered the stage of Malayalam poetry in the early 1950s with his poems that adopted a decidedly anti-​romantic tone. Coming in the wake of the progressive disintegration of the realist and romantic ambience of the previous decades, the 1950s were a period marked by counter-​romantic trends in Malayalam, pioneered by such poets as N.V. Krishna Warrior and M. Govindan, who had started moving in that direction from the late 1940s.1 This was quite natural, because the romantic sensibility that was ushered in in the early twentieth century through the poetry of Kumaran Asan, after going through a series of metamorphoses and leading up to the best writings of poets like Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer, Vallathol Narayana Menon, G. Sankara Kurup, Edappalli Raghavan Pillai, and Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, had almost worn itself out by the time Paniker entered the poetic scene. If one were to name an icon who perfectly voiced the mood and sensibility of the poetry of the pre-​1950s period, it would be Changampuzha, whose lilting, though often morbid and somewhat solipsistic, romantic verse turned poetry into a casual art, especially in the hands of his numerous adulators who were captivated more by the charm of his lyricism than by the gravity and authenticity of his experience. As Paniker himself points out in an early review, the time was when every literate person fancied himself or herself to be writing poetry by stringing together clichéd, sweet-​sounding words culled from the poems of established writers (1985: 34). Changampuzha, whose influence on Paniker is considerable, was a spontaneous poet. An anarchist in personal life, he seemed to combine in him all the elements deemed to make one a ‘typical’ romantic. For the Malayali readers of the period, he was the inspired and secluded artist, the mythical image of the bard in frenzy that appeared in western accounts of romanticism, especially of poets like Shelley and Byron. To be sure, Changampuzha’s rapport with the common reader was perfect, and this enabled him to transform poetry into a mass art in pre-​Independence days. Coupled with this was the critical and ambivalent support he extended to the progressive literary movement, which in the 1930s and 1940s had produced some of the best specimens of fiction 1 For more on this background, see P.P. Raveendran (2017b: 3–​17). Some of the ideas discussed here are developed from the analysis carried out in that essay.

Ayyappa Paniker  275 in Malayalam. P. Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkey, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, and S.K. Pottekkat, all masters of fiction, were actively associated with the progressive movement in their early days, a fact that appears to have played a vital role in shaping the real-​ life environment of early twentieth-​ century Malayalam fiction. Changampuzha’s poetry with its rich and sonorous word music and an emotionally surcharged diction seemed to complement contemporary fiction’s focus on the external world of unjust and iniquitous social relations. Poetic romanticism and fictional realism blended together, turning literature into a space that many thought was reeking of morbidity and sentimentality. It was in the general literary environment outlined above that the 1950s poets started taking a robustly anti-​romantic stance in their writing that ultimately gave rise to poetic modernism. Warrior and Govindan, as noted above, had already, in the late 1940s itself, started sensing the air of decay surrounding much of the romantic verse and were thinking of alternatives. The scholar poet Warrior seems to have sensed this much earlier than anyone else. In opposition to the glossy idiom of the romantics, he developed a poetic language that was ironic, objective, rough-​cut, and deliberately anti-​romantic. As the well-​known avant-​garde playwright and critic C.J. Thomas writes in his introduction to one of Warrior’s early poetry collections, in their effort to move away from the prevailing poetic environment, Warrior’s poems of the 1940s redefine the concepts of ‘progress’ and ‘romantic’ in radical ways (Warrior 2006: 749–​756). In such of his poems as ‘Madirasiyil Oru Sayahnam’ (An Evening in Madras) and ‘Kochuthomman’, Warrior gives vent to his frustration with the romantic rhetoric by devising a language that can be read as a parody of the poetic idiom of Changampuzha and others. Poet M. Govindan, better known as a free-​thinking intellectual espousing the political theory of M.N. Roy, anticipates poetic modernism not only in his distrust of the romantic rhetoric, but in the way intellectualism becomes an important aspect of the poetic experience. The specific thrust that folk poetry receives in his poetic practice is also important. Though vigorously anti-​ romantic in thinking, he does not seem to have succeeded in stripping his language free of the mellifluousness generally associated with a romantic worldview. More than anything else, Govindan seems to have acted as a powerful propagator of ideas connected with modernism, which he did

276  Under the Bhasha Gaze by initiating debates on diverse topics connected with the discourse of poetry through his informal interaction with young writers and through a series of little magazines that he launched, starting with Navasahiti in 1950. Warrior’s and Govindan’s anti-​romanticism is only one aspect of the general environment that produced poetic modernism in the 1950s, though it is important to remember that the ideology of modernism cannot just be reduced to the anti-​romanticism of these poets. It is to be pointed out also that from a certain perspective, neither Warrior nor Govindan can be considered a typical modernist. In fact, Paniker finds Warrior’s poetry to be deficient in some crucial respects. What he says is that this poetry, in spite of its cerebral content and its affinity to the real world, is ‘lifeless’ inasmuch as it fails to make the reader part of the emotional flow originating from the poem. ‘Poetry’s life consists in its music that flows, at times rhythmically and at other times breaking the rhythm, in step with the flow of emotions’, says Paniker (1985: 35). Music here functions as a major constituent of modernist poetry’s form. Though Paniker is also providing a blueprint of his idea of poetic modernism through this, his views on Warrior cannot be treated as representing a full-​fledged modernist assessment. Modernism in fact is multivalent in import and is to be understood as a term that frames, among other things, a certain international literary sensibility that contains within itself a number of conflicting and contradictory positions.2 Basic to it is, apart from a rejection of the romantic aesthetic, an emphasis on the form of writing, an emphasis that can simultaneously cover a number of diverse elements including language, textuality, aesthetics, figuration, self-​ reflexivity, historical sense, creative freedom, autonomy of the word, and the idea of sensibility-​as-​tradition. There certainly is, at least in theory, an enhanced commitment to history, which is understood in formal terms rather than in terms of themes and ideas. This was what N.N. Kakkad, one of the early exponents of modernist poetry in Malayalam, meant when he talked about tradition as something that impels one to thwart customs and rituals that are out of tune with contemporary times (Kakkad 2 A perusal of any representative anthology of documents pertaining to modernism would prove this point. See, for example, the selection of manifestos of the European modernist movements included in section II b in Kolocotrani, Goldman, and Taxidou (1998: 249–​316).

Ayyappa Paniker  277 1984: ix). This implies a new sense of history, which Kakkad succeeds in integrating with the inner core of his own modernist poetry. The poems in Kakkad’s Salabhageetam (The Song of the Butterfly, 1959) reinterpret past history in such a way as to make it fuse with the present. He lauds Ayyappa Paniker for producing a similar effect in the poem ‘Kurukshetram’ (Kakkad 1984: 85–​92). There were other poets such as Akkitham Achutan Nampoothiri, Attoor Ravivarma, and Madhavan Ayyappath who also played pivotal roles in the emergence of modernism by composing poems that were simultaneously personal and impersonal as well as national and international in sensibility. Certainly, they had all learnt their art from the European modernist practice of transforming experience into images and word pictures drawn from everyday life through such techniques as collage. Here indeed was a new kind of anti-​romantic poetry in the making, but it was not an extension of the anti-​romantic verse practised by Warrior. In fact, unlike the modernists, Warrior had never intended aesthetic intensification to be a preferred object for poetry. His poems spoke to the reader directly, without the support of any ‘aesthetic’ mediation. The modernist poems, on the contrary, were built around commonplace images whose evocative force came primarily from their aesthetic contexts. Kakkad makes this point with specific reference to Madhavan Ayyappath’s poems included in his early collection, Jeevacharitrakkurippukal (Life Sketches, 1969) (Ayyappath 2010: 256). Malayalam modernism was born when poets like Kakkad, Akkitham, Madhavan Ayyappath, Attoor Ravivarma and, of course, Ayyappa Paniker started writing poetry that recreated personal experiences from refreshingly novel perspectives. In the analysis above, we quoted Paniker as using the image of the ‘flow’ of music and emotions with reference to literary traditions. However, Paniker would also say that the idea of a literary tradition is better expressed by the image of a ‘chain’ rather than that of a ‘flow’ (1985: 37). A chain formed by the interlinking of a number of small rings simultaneously evokes the idea of a tradition coming into being as an interconnected thread of trends and developments. If this demonstrates what it means to be a modernist in the Indian literary context, Paniker’s modernism also represents a kind of literary cynicism that even as it upholds the basic tenets of modernism, chooses to unearth the paradoxes in the modern mind, some of which are left undocumented by dominant

278  Under the Bhasha Gaze versions of modernist writing. Even the anti-​romanticism of Paniker is a great deal qualified, as his modernism does not represent a denial of the fundamental romantic impulse in poetry, but is an extension and renovation of that impulse from a new terrain. This can be seen in his evaluation of Kumaran Asan who appears again and again as an echo in his poetry and more directly in his prose writings. One significant point that he makes in a study of Asan is that one should not assess the greatness of Asan, as is usually done, on the basis of ‘what he wrote about’, but on the basis of ‘what he wrote’ (Paniker 2017: 4). This indeed is a modernist way of reading poetry, a way that Paniker pursues in his assessment of Changampuzha too. Paniker knows where precisely Changampuzha’s strong point as a poet lay—​in his felicitous idiom. It is this knowledge that emboldens him perhaps to add music to his own verse, where necessary. His admiration for the British romantics, who appear repeatedly in his critical essays, is also remarkable. What this implies is that in spite of his quarrel with a decaying romantic tradition, the spirit of romanticism goes deep into his literary sensibility and his practice of writing. The first significant poem that Paniker wrote in the modernist style was ‘Kurukshetram’’, a work that seemed to flout all conventional norms of good poetry. It was first published in 1960 in the little magazine called Desabandhu, edited by the theatre activist C.N. Sreekantan Nair. Paniker had sent it earlier for publication to the journal Mathrubhumi, which apparently found the poem to be a little too radical for the taste of its conservative readers and rejected it. Paniker indeed was not unknown to the editor of Mathrubhumi, as the journal had earlier carried his ‘Oru Surrealist Premaganam’ (A Surrealist Love Song, 1952) and ‘Neeyum Poroo’ (Come Along, You Too, 1955) in its past issues. The experience must have taught Paniker a major lesson concerning the growth of new sensibilities in a language. Established publication channels, burdened with the dead weight of the past, would hardly care to support new tastes. Paniker’s espousal of the little magazine culture starts here. Already he had lent his support to M. Govindan in launching the first little magazine in Malayalam, Navasahiti, in 1950. Other magazines such as Gopuram (1957), Sameeksha (1963), Kerala Kavita (1968), Yugarasmi (1968), Jwala (1970), and Aksharam (1973) soon followed, all of which functioned as modernism’s unofficial mouthpieces for about two-​and-​a-​half decades. Paniker patronized most of these magazines by contributing poetry,

Ayyappa Paniker  279 translations, and critical essays to them. A founding editor of Kerala Kavita, he continued to edit it, though not without interruption, almost till the fag end of his writing career. Little magazines were not meant for casual readers. They were for serious, careful readers for whom poetry mattered, and who were willing to read poems paying attention to their minute details. Paniker’s poetry too is not for the casual reader. He talks about its gravity in ‘Ente Bhittimel’ (On My Wall), one of his early poems, which is printed as the introductory piece in the first volume of his collected poetry: Take a look at this picture, The one I painted on my wall. Why do you stare? Look carefully, you fool.3 (Paniker 1981: 29)

The dauntless attitude of daring challenge directed at the reader embodied in ‘Ente Bhittimel’ is typical of Paniker’s modernism, which manifests in a crystallized form in ‘Kurukshetram’. ‘Kurukshetram’ is not a poem with an extractable content that can be paraphrased easily. As in ‘Ente Bhittimel’, it sometimes addresses the reader directly and demands her active participation in the activity of textual production. There are several instances in the text where the poetic experience is engendered in the interspace between the experiences of the speaker and the reader. As in the case of western modernist poems such as Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, to which ‘Kurukshetram’ has often been compared, sometimes in uncharitable ways, it is the despair of a generation of readers that is sought to be expressed through the poem.4 The despair indeed can be linked to a number of historical causes, arising from people’s disenchantment with the political system in the wake of the country’s Independence. The corruption and inefficiency that gripped the administration led to a

3 Ayyappa Paniker’s poetic oeuvre in Malayalam consists of four volumes of Ayyappa Panikerude Kritikal (collected works), arranged chronologically, published in his lifetime. The poems written from 2000 to 2006 were put together and published posthumously as Ayyappa Panikerude Kavitakal 2000–​2006. 4 Ayyappa Paniker, incidentally, has translated ‘The Waste Land’ into Malayalam (see Paniker 1990b: 229–​250).

280  Under the Bhasha Gaze general crisis in values among the citizens and unrest among the youth, especially in the face of burgeoning unemployment and the sense of insecurity felt by large segments of the population. The increasing commercialization of culture and society was another aspect that drove the idealists among the educated out of public life. The crisis found an echo at the international level in the discontent expressed by the western modernists in the post-​First World War era and the philosophical anguish theorized a little later by the European existentialists. The poet perhaps cannot quarrel with these issues overtly, but can communicate the experience of fear and despondency that the situation created through images, paradoxes, word plays, and other verbal figures. This precisely is what ‘Kurukshetram’ seeks to achieve, as the following section from Part II indicates: Are you aware, reader, Of the grief that fills within me When a culture perishes Setting on fire all its orchards Of dark blue clouds? Dreams gone astray In the unholy hour Of an eclipsed mind, Dead dreams clad in the shroud of memory, Cradled corpses Waiting to be startled to life (Paniker 1981: 150)

Images such as ‘orchards of dark blue clouds’ set ‘on fire’, ‘dreams clad in the shroud of memory’, and ‘cradled corpses waiting to be startled to life’ were all quite novel for the Malayalam literary landscape of the time, and it is this novelty of imagery that made Paniker’s poetry both obscure and endearing to the readers at the same time. They were forced to participate in the process of making poetry, an event that was to move from the metaphorical to the material plane over the decade, when poetry readings became big public events involving large audiences across the length and breadth of Kerala.

Ayyappa Paniker  281 Though ‘Kurukshetram’ is perhaps Paniker’s most widely discussed poem from the early phase, a number of other poems from the period are equally important inasmuch as they reveal diverse dimensions of his modernist poetic. Some of his pet images, such as the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the sea, the fire, the cloud, and the twilight get elaborated in poem after poem composed during this period. Examples are ‘Purooravas’ (1959), ‘Agnipooja’ (Fire Worship, 1962), ‘Mrityupooja’ (Hymn to Death, 1967), ‘Kudumbapuranam’ (The Family Saga, 1968), ‘Pakalukal Raatrikal’ (Days, Nights, 1969), ‘Passage to America’ (1969–​ 1970), ‘Maharaja Kathakal’ (The Maharaja Stories, 1975), ‘Cartoon Kavitakal’ (Cartoon Poems, 1977), ‘Kutirakkompu’ (Horse Horn, 1976), ‘Hooghly’ (1978), and ‘Gopika Dandakam’ (A Dandakam on Gopika, 1980). What is significant about these poems is the systematic way in which Paniker deploys ancient myths in contemporary contexts, giving them humanistic interpretations. Contemporary myths take precedence over the ancient ones in some pieces like ‘Pakalukal Ratrikal’, which is a philosophical meditation on the futility of life written in the form of a diary. ‘Passage to America’ perhaps is less philosophical, but that too deals with questions of life and death, in the specific context of American culture. ‘Maharaja Kathakal’ and ‘Cartoon Kavitakal’, written in the time of the dark days of the Emergency, are especially important as Paniker’s response to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial tendencies. Paniker’s modernism, however, is only a qualified version of the international trend. This is primarily because Paniker is too much of an individualist to allow himself to be integrated wholly into any collective sensibility, whether it is romanticist, modernist, or postmodernist. That is why on reading Paniker’s modernist poetry one gets the uneasy impression that this poet perhaps does not fully endorse the core tenets of modernism. To give an example, his definition of anti-​romanticism as ‘philosophy that lies undissolved in poetry’ is one that may not receive wholehearted approval from the modernists (1985: 95). Paniker’s own assessment of his poetry as having moved into the phase of postmodernism in the 1970s is an indication of his uncertainty about the nature of his verse. This assessment comes in an essay that he wrote in 1979, where he considers the general state of contemporary Malayalam poetry. Looking specifically at the evolution of his own verse, he describes the transition from ‘Kurukshetram’

282  Under the Bhasha Gaze to a later poem, ‘Hooghly’, as constituting a shift from modernism to postmodernism, represented as a change from a concern with ancient myths to a desire to forge contemporary myths (Paniker 1985: 142). The new style, according to him, is characterized by an endeavour to make myths out of everyday life. Though the feasibility of Paniker’s argument above with reference to Malayalam poetic history in general is debatable, it is undeniable that Paniker’s poetry undergoes a radical transformation in the early 1980s. One certainly can see signs of the change in the poem ‘Hooghly’ (1978), but it is in the poems written in the 1980s and later that the new style becomes part of a systematic poetic practice. Making myths out of everyday life would indeed be an aspect of this transformation, but its more eloquent testimony would be provided by language itself, whose bhasha dimension receives a new thrust in Paniker’s later poetry. Perhaps it is now that Paniker’s critical humanist spirit asserts itself stridently in his creative practice. Broadly speaking, one might say that while the poems of the earlier period are characterized by an over-​ refined, heavily Sanskritized language, poems in the 1980s and after are distinguished by a language that is more prosaic, dialectal, folk-​based, and closer to the common man’s language. A preponderance of irony, parody, and dark humour seems to be an important dimension of this language. With regard to the material for poetry, there also seems to be a general shift in this period to little traditions and local and personalized myths. This is what Paniker means when he refers to the myths of the present that the poets focus on in the postmodernist phase. Perhaps Paniker’s new interest in Tamil literature and Dravidian aesthetics in the second half of his writing career can also be linked to this development. Some of the poems that could be mentioned in this context are ‘Gazalukalude Ratri’ (The Night of Ghazals, 1984), ‘Gotrayanam’ (Southbound, 1985–​ 1989), ‘Kolkata-​ Thiruvananthapuram’ (1990), ‘Ketto Prabhakara’ (Hear This, Prabhakaran, 1991), ‘Chilambinte Gatha’ (The Lay of the Anklet, 1995), ‘Dinosaur’ (1996), ‘Kettukazhcha’ (Spectacle, 1996), and ‘Anchu Vachana Kavitakal’ (Five Vachana Poems, 1997). One can have an idea of the distance that Paniker has travelled in moving from his early poems to the later ones by comparing the lines from ‘Kurukshetram’ quoted above with the following passage, which is from ‘Chilambinte Gatha’:

Ayyappa Paniker  283 Are you the fateful, tragic memory of the love-​story that went up in flames faraway at renowned Madhurapuri? All was lost, but you remained, sheen intact: the tinkle of an anklet throbs of the deity’s presence in the new city? (Paniker 2000: 178)

Although Paniker is first and foremost a poet, it is in his prose writings, especially in his essays in criticism and literary theory, that his critical humanist spirit manifests most tellingly. Though he may occasionally use the posthumanist Barthes to make a point or two about the reader’s role in the construction of a text’s meaning, a close reading of Paniker’s prose writings would reveal that he does not care for the Barthesian position that considers theory as an exclusive domain of knowledge. Literary theory exists for him only as a tool for critical analysis. He is willing to ascribe value to theory, whether it comes in the shape of ancient Indian poetics or contemporary western literary theory, only to the extent that it can be of use in reading present-​day literature. This indeed is part of his broad critical humanist vision, which he makes clear in the opening paragraph of an essay on Indian aesthetics: ‘What is to be realized while examining the present day relevance of these philosophical ideas on literature is the extent of their influence on contemporary literary appreciation, as well as on creative and critical writings’ (Paniker 2017: 89). If there is one concept that he has borrowed from western literary theory and assimilated into his own literary criticism, it is that of reading which, as we know, has been central to Indian aesthetic traditions too. The quality of reading, Paniker seems to suggest, is what appears as textual difference. ‘The reader can arrive at the front yard, announce his business and go away; or he can squat on the veranda and gossip; or he can step in and heartily enjoy the hospitality before leaving’, all of which are legitimate dimensions of

284  Under the Bhasha Gaze text effect, masquerading as ways of reading (Paniker 2003a: 5). The distinction that he draws between ‘antassannivesam’ (interiorization) and ‘uparisannivesam’ (exteriorization) is one of reading. Though Paniker does not explicitly say so, his book on Antassannivesam (2000), where he elaborates this distinction, is a work that provides a theory of reading, and which perhaps can claim status as a global theory of literary interpretation. Interiorization, in fact, is built on a conceptual mix of Indian and western theories of reading and intertextuality. That is why Paniker’s long essay on ‘Prekshakan’ (spectator) (Paniker 1990a: 229–​250), which takes up the salient aspects of the readerly function with reference to the Indian traditions of dramatic theory, can also be read as a foreword to his book on Antassannivesam. Paniker’s broad humanism and the critical dimension of his thinking become most visible in his general attitude to reading, particularly from a practical angle. He appears to be very flexible and liberal-​minded in his use of theoretical concepts. In extending a theory to his own work, whether creative or critical, he would never insist on applying it only in the way it has been conceived by the ‘original’ formulator of the concept. He does not seem to believe in theoretical purism. Theory would take on new avatars as it travels from one place to another. That is why he celebrates any deviance from the norm when it appears as part of the grammar of literature. He is of the opinion that improprieties and ungrammaticalities are not to be frowned upon in literature and literary criticism. Though experts in literary theory might find structural improprieties unpalatable, Paniker would maintain that it is deviance from the norm that makes way for creativity. In an essay written under the title ‘Vilakshanatayum Yatibhangavum’ (Impropriety and Misplaced Caesura), he says in a tone of mocking irreverence: ‘It is possible that scholars who are used to reading and enjoying structured interpretations of structured works might develop indigestion when faced with structural impropriety. This indeed is a sign of pedantry. Even non-​pedant formulators might feel some shock when faced with a situation where they find norms and definitions flouted even before they turn away from the books of eternal norms and definitions that they have authored’ (Paniker 2005: 205). Paniker’s irreverence here is not only towards the conventions of art but also towards the idea of authority implied by art theory. The theory of ‘interiorization’ in a sense exemplifies this irreverence too,

Ayyappa Paniker  285 as what it essentially points to is the text’s possibility of having a version other than the one that has been authorized by those in power. Indian Narratology (2003b), Paniker’s study of the Indian narrative imagination, also shares an aspect of this irreverence connected with the absence of authorization. Antassanivesam, as Paniker elucidates in parts of the book, can also mean the unconscious presence of the other in a word or a phrase that the writer uses, and insofar as the other’s presence in a narrative can manifest as generic features that are alien to the form one practices, it can lead to a flouting of the form’s conventions. In his Gopinath Mohanty Memorial Lecture, Paniker cites Raja Rao’s Kanthapura and The Serpent and the Rope as providing examples of narratives that create such flouting (Paniker 2017: 204), but what Indian Narratology indicates is that the Indian narrative imagination as a rule represents an alternative paradigm of narration with a set of narrative traditions where such flouting becomes the norm. Inasmuch as translation is to be regarded primarily as a practice of reading, Paniker’s translations from Indian and foreign languages into Malayalam could also be seen as partaking of the critical humanist spirit informing his interpretive essays and literary criticism. Though his love for ‘pure’ literature has sometimes prompted him to lend his support to projects such as the translation of the complete plays of Shakespeare into Malayalam, the radical sensibility that informs his choice of works and authors for critical analysis can also be seen to govern his selection of material for translation. In fact, Paniker’s translations from African, American, Asian, British, and European writing can be said to have played a crucial role in steering Malayalam poetry through a series of sensibility changes since the 1950s. Some of the authors he translated into Malayalam during this period such as the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen and the Bengali poet Jibananada Das were his near-​contemporaries, so that by translating them, he was in effect making Malayalam contemporaneous with world literature. This becomes significant when we remember that earlier writers such as Kesari Balakrishna Pillai and Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, who had contributed significantly towards the growth of Malayalam literature through their translations of world literature, had done so by translating works that belonged primarily to the nineteenth century. Indeed Paniker has also translated works from earlier periods, such as the Vachana verse from twelfth-​century Kannada, Kanami

286  Under the Bhasha Gaze Kiyotsugu from fourteenth-​century Japanese, Guru Granth Sahib from sixteenth-​century Gurumukhi, and Gurajada Apparao from nineteenth-​ century Telugu. His choice of texts in these instances indicates a conscious effort to promote a tradition of writing that does not see aesthetics as opposed to ethics. Some of the other writers he chose for translation such as Pablo Neruda (Chile), Bertolt Brecht (Germany), Jean Toomer (America), Vladimir Mayakovsky (Russia), Nizar Qabbani (Syria), and T.S. Eliot (England), also demonstrate in their writing a broad humanist vision which they all consider to be an integral dimension of great literature. It is Ayyappa Paniker’s wholehearted endorsement of such a vision through his own writings that would continue to make his works relevant for several generations of readers. Though we described Paniker’s critical personality as an extension of his poetic persona, the perfect rapport between the two aspects of his self will have to be examined in some detail. It is true that he does not see any conflict between these two selves to confuse his writing, as he sees happening in the case of some other writers like N. Krishna Pillai (Paniker 2005: 143). Paniker has stated that one cannot be a successful writer if the poet within is not held in balance by the vigilant presence of an inner critic. One can appreciate the art work only when one develops ‘a perspective that can look upon the creative work and the critical spirit that propels it’ with the same sense of detachment (2005: 201). Paniker’s choice of authors and trends for critical analysis made in his literary critical essays certainly reflects his personal preferences and tastes, but it also indicates an initial attempt at building up a tradition of writing from the premodern period that really matters in the modernist—​that is, bhasha modernist—​scheme of things. In this, Paniker seems to be taking a leaf from the critical book of such English authors as T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis, who had in their day made similar efforts to construct a canon for English literature that would help them justify their somewhat partisan positions on British modernism. Paniker’s ‘canon’ indeed is a personal canon, but the important point is that it gels with the bhasha modernist idea of the Malayalam literary canon as it came to be established subsequently. This is equally true of the selection of trends and writers from Indian and world literatures. What is noteworthy here is Paniker’s seminal role as a propagator of new ideas that helped enrich Malayali readers’ radical, yet

Ayyappa Paniker  287 humanistic, sensibility. His discussions from outside Malayalam cover a range of topics and include Tholkappiam and Dravidian aesthetics, Aurobindo’s postcolonialism, Sartre’s existentialism, African and Afro-​ American writing, Greek drama, Japanese drama, the epic tradition in the West and deconstruction. In all this, his effort has been to refurbish the Malayalam tradition and integrate it with the best cultural practices pursued globally.

20 Madhavikkutty Modernity as Divided Self

Madhavikkutty (1934–​ 2009), known as Kamala Das and Kamala Surayya by the non-​Malayali readers, is a bilingual writer whose works in Malayalam range from short stories to essays, from memoirs to novels, and from dramas to life writing. She reserves the English language for her poetry, while Malayalam is the preferred language for her fictional and workaday reflections. Though it is possible that she consciously cultivates, for practical reasons, a generic division that goes parallel with her bilingual personality, bilingualism and genre-​crossing also happen to be the key principles of her aesthetic, which is one based on the immanence of experience and the materiality of the body. Madhavikkutty’s bilingual work in the areas of poetry, fiction, and self-​writing done in the 50 years of her active, creative career unravels her aesthetic, which in some respects testifies to its contiguity with a poststructuralist understanding of the act of writing. Her poems on love, self, body, and the female identity written from the 1950s, her short and long fiction that radically redefined the grammar of Malayalam writing in the era of literary modernism, and her memoirs, jottings, and autobiographical essays that provide an innovative concept of the self—​all point to the radical nature of this aesthetic. Coupled with this is her studied disregard for the principles of generic purity, which is also linked to her liberal and creative attitudes to translation, her use of language with a rustic and dialectal flavour, her representation of memory which is entangled with her experience of language, and her complex relationship with feminist thought, all of which imply a radical politics of experience underlying the aesthetic. As a writer, Madhavikkutty is a materialist. Her attitude to experience, which she sees as an entity related to the present and the immanence of the present, is an outflow of her materialism. This might appear to be a Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0021

Madhavikkutty  289 paradoxical statement to make in the case of a writer who in real life was known to be a devout practitioner of religion. Whatever be her position on this at the level of ritual practice, in writing, she has always sought this-​worldly solutions for emotional and spiritual conflicts. It is in this sense that literature and writing become material practices for her. She has stated in her autobiography Ente Lokam (My World, 2015), a sequel to the better known Ente Katha (My Story, 1973), that the paradise that religious pundits dream about is no world that comes after earthly life, but is one that exists in this world itself: ‘Paradise is the healing drink of this earthly life which, though a little bitter, I shall have to drink to the lees in order to become a perfect human being’ (Madhavikkutty 2015: 23). Her materialism manifests both at the micro and the macro levels: at the micro level as an attitude to experience and at the macro level as a general commitment to the tenets of a broad humanism. Perhaps it was as a secular human being that she defined herself first and foremost. That is why she constantly talks about the ancient religion of love, ‘older and more sacred than the creeds associated with Hinduism, Christianity and Islam’ (Madhavikkutty 2015: 101). No personal and family relationships matter to her when human life and human dignity are at stake. A writer’s primary commitment is to humanity, to his, or her readership. This was suggested to her early in life by the writer Aubrey Menen, who also advised her not to pay heed to considerations of blood ties in writing (Madhavikkutty 2015: 25). That is why she is fiercely honest in her criticism of those close to her when it comes to demonstrating her spirit of humanism. After narrating the cruel treatment that the feudal ancestors of her husband’s family in the past meted out to the miserable village folk living lives of servitude under them, she says in one of her memoirs: ‘From this I realize that people with a dark complexion are always at the receiving end wherever they are. The fair-​skinned have no scruples about beating them up and inflicting pain on them’ (Madhavikkutty 1993: 18). Perhaps this comment has an autobiographical angle as well when read in the context of the racial prejudice that she suffered at the English school at Kolkata she attended as a girl in pre-​Independence India. She remembers that her brother was ridiculed and tortured by his white classmates on account of his dark skin. Whenever a white dignitary visited the school, the few brown-​skinned children in the school were

290  Under the Bhasha Gaze ‘discreetly hidden away’ and told to ‘wait in the corridor behind the lavatories’ till the visitor left (Kamala Das 2003: 3). The idea of the immanence of experience, of experience as an extension of the present, is of greater significance in defining Madhavikkutty’s materialism. This is a question relating to the constitution of the self in her, especially in defining her attitude to the body as represented in her poetry. The immanent knowledge connected with the body, for Madhavikkutty, is a spiritual experience. This is what brings her descriptions of the body close to what D.H. Lawrence, following Walt Whitman—​who incidentally happened to be a writer Madhavikkutty too greatly admired—​ describes as ‘the poetry of the immediate present’ (Lawrence 2007: 147). Lawrence’s ‘poetry of the present’ is verse that he would associate with the ‘unrestful, ungraspable’ poetry of Whitman, a poetry that does not strive for perfection or consummation, but is vibrant with the spontaneity of the moment. Contrasting this verse with the verse of perfected moments of the past and the future, Lawrence observes: In the immediate present there is no perfection, no consummation, nothing finished. The strands are all flying, quivering, intermingling into the web, the waters are shaking the moon. There is no round, consummate moon on the face of running water, nor on the face of the unfinished tide. There are no gems of the living plasm. (2007: 148)

The mortal body shaped by the immediate present, for Madhavikkutty, is the site where she would happily position her subjective self. For example, in poems like ‘The Suicide’ and ‘Composition’, the body and the soul engage in a kind of competition to enter the ‘vortex of the sea’, the vortex perhaps of a Lawrentian ‘unfinished tide’, to arrive finally at a quiet reconciliation. The songs of the soul, all said and done, are in essence the songs of the body. That is why the ‘skin’s lazy hungers’ (‘The Freaks’) turn out to be points of reference for poetic experience in Madhavikkutty/​ Kamala Das. It is the sensory experience connected with the body, which has no transcendental value that becomes the receptacle for love and self-​ articulation in her poetry. Words are not purveyors of any spiritual message, but are material forces and palpable emblems of a physical sensation. As she remarks in an interview, she would use a word in her poem only if it passes her litmus test on it, which is a test of its poetic effectiveness.

Madhavikkutty  291 A word is poetically effective only if it is capable of arousing gooseflesh in her. If it fails this test, she would not ‘touch’ it, she says (de Souza 2010: 25). This is what makes her a writer of everyday events narrated in an everyday language, as she remarks in the poem ‘Composition’: ‘What I narrate are the ordinary/​events of an/​ordinary life’. Poetry in the end does not come out of grand, glorious, and other-​worldly events but from non-​events of quotidian origin. The observation is true not only of Madhavikkutty/​ Kamala Das’s poetry, but of her fiction as well. However, it is Madhavikkutty’s life writings that truly vindicate the above observation. An interesting aspect of her life writings is that she evokes the complex, but ordinary, life of a whole society in them. They often cross the boundary between fiction and historical, sociological, or autobiographical documentation. Among her life writings, fictionalized or otherwise, are Ente Katha (My Story, 1973), Balyakala Smaranakal (Childhood Memories, 1987), Varshangalkku Munpu (Years Ago, 1987), Neermatalam Pootha Kalam (When the Pomegranate Bloomed, 1993), Ottayadippatha (The Narrow Path, 1997), Januvamma Paranja Katha (The Story Told by Januvamma, 2002), Ee Jeevitam Kondu Itra Matram (All That This Life Means, 2007), and Vishadam Pookkunna Marangal (Trees That Bloom in Grief, 2007). Other personal narratives she has written include Bhayam Ente Nishavastram (Fear, My Nightdress, 1986), Dayarikkurippukal (Notes from a Diary, 1992), Ente Pathakal (My Paths, 1999), Snehattinte Swargavatilukal (Doors to the Heaven of Love, 2001), Anuraginiyude Padachalanangal (Footfalls of a Woman in Love, 2007), and Ente Lokam (My World, 2015), the last one an autobiographical piece that was written in the late 1970s.1 As writings that rely primarily on history and memory for their construction even as they tinker with them creatively in diverse ways, these works, some of them notified by the publisher as fiction, linger on the fringes of hardcore fiction and raise 1 Most of these works in Malayalam remain untranslated, except for Ente Katha (Madhavikkutty 1973), which has been translated with several modifications as My Story (Das 1977) by Kamala Das herself. Parts of Balyakala Smaranakal (Madhavikkutty 1987) and Varshangalkku Munpu (Madhavikkutty 1989) have been put together in English translation as A Childhood in Malabar: A Memoir (Kamala Das 2003). Januvamma Paranja Katha (2002), though grouped here along with the works that are primarily autobiographical, stands apart from the other autobiographical pieces in the sense that it is notified by the publisher as a sequence of fictional pieces, and therefore a work of long fiction. Insofar as the characters in this fiction are thinly disguised figures appearing in some of her memoirs, one is at liberty to read the entire piece as memoir as well.

292  Under the Bhasha Gaze questions about the interrelationship between history, memory, and fantasy. One might say that history and memory are the common sources of almost all of Madhavikkutty’s writings, including poetry, fiction, and memoirs. Madhavikkutty does not seem to have been seriously bothered about such theoretical conundrums. She, however, comes close to making an honest assessment of the complexity of the situation while responding to a question on this in an interview: There are so many complaints that I sell the same stuff as poetry, as story and as essay. And since I am the same person and have got to write of what happens to me, I cannot help it. I can only write about my personal experiences, and being versatile, I see poetry in an experience, and then see good prose coming out of the same experience. (Raveendran 1993: 149)

She is talking here basically about personal experiences, which take multiple shapes as they are articulated through diverse modes of writing. Seeing an experience also implies an attitude to history, which in the case of most of Madhavikkutty’s life writings is marked by an obsessive negation of the contours of a linearly structured history understood in positivistic terms. She does not seem to be enamoured of the idea of history as a narration of ‘real’ events. Dates and chronology are of little consequence to her, because they pertain somewhat to the physical, objective world. Her works would prompt one to suggest that it is not the temporality of an experience but its spatiality that interests her. Look at the opening of Varshangalkku Munpu or Neermatalam Pootha Kalam or Dayarikkurippukal, autobiographical works in which one would expect to read temporally ordered descriptions of events. While there is a chronological dimension to narration in these works, what would really capture the reader’s attention is a thickening of space happening in each. Varshangalkku Munpu, for example, opens with a chapter that describes her grandmother’s effort to make homemade soap about which she has read in a weekly magazine. The grandmother and her assistants and other hangers-​on assemble in the veranda of the nalukettu whose geography seems to stand out prominently in the scenario that is being described (Madhavikkutty 1989: 9). The opening paragraph of Neermatalam Pootha

Madhavikkutty  293 Kalam, by the same token, is a detailed narration of the varieties of flora that surround the Nalapat house (Madhavikkutty 1993: 7). In both these instances, though the writer does not abandon chronology altogether, there is a sense in which time description becomes secondary to space description. One can perceive in these passages the slow development of a spatial imagination that can be pitted against the dominance of the temporal sensibility in her short stories. Perhaps it is this spatial imagination that comes to fruition in her paintings, especially those that were done in the latter phase of her career. Madhavikkutty, it may be remembered, does not seem to have been very meticulous about arranging pieces in her poetry and short story collections in a precise chronological order and, in the few cases where they appear to be rigorously organized so, the arrangement to some extent appears to be the work of her compilers and publishers.2 If what appears in most of the above works is a somewhat liberal and relaxed attitude to temporality, one might detect a more definite shift away from the temporal imagination in the later autobiographical pieces. Indeed, Madhavikkutty is not in the habit of making any statement on the compositional aspects of her work, either in the form of a preface or an introduction, in such a way as to allow the reader to make inferences regarding the relation between the real and the fictional. The real, as far as conventional fiction writers are concerned, is what they discuss in the ‘outwork’, in the prefaces, and notes which are assumed to have a temporal relationship with the fictional core embedded in them. Madhavikkutty, however, would not allow her reader the pleasure of ferreting out some ‘real’ information tucked away in an obscure part of the ‘outwork’ that is pre-​fixed to an ‘unreal’ story. According to her, a writer deals simultaneously with a real world and an unreal world. ‘If I feel that my life is inadequate in some sense’, she says, ‘I try to fill that. I try to perfect my life by adding things which may not really have happened. But for me they are real; they have happened’ (Raveendran 1993: 150). The idea becomes clearer in her elaborations of her approach to translation. Recollecting her experience of translating other people’s work, she says that she can translate a writer 2 The present writer personally knows this to be true of several of the poems included in The Best of Kamala Das (Kamala Das 1991), which he edited. Her lack of interest in chronology and temporal imagination can be interpreted as an important aspect of the spontaneous nature of her creative personality.

294  Under the Bhasha Gaze only if she is assured of a lot of freedom. That is why she finds translating her mother’s Malayalam poetry easy. But when it comes to other poets who do not allow her the same freedom, the translation invariably falters. She cannot manage a translation without adding a little to the original or subtracting a little from it. The work will have to be ‘reconstructed’ in translation before she can think of giving it a place in the new language (Raveendran 1993: 153). Madhavikkutty’s attitude to translation expressed here can indeed be treated as an allegorical way of talking about the relation between experience and memory. If one is willing to use translation as a metaphor for the syncretism associated with the reconstruction of the past in the form of memory, one would instantly realize what Madhavikkutty means when she talks about the writer’s creative amalgamation of the real and the unreal. How the memory of an event gets translated in the form of a narrative is the crucial question here. Memory need not always serve people true; it could be evasive, slippery, and unreliable. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has, in his prologue to one of his short story collections, expatiated on this issue to great effect. Speaking on the origin of the stories collected under the title Strange Pilgrims, Marquez talks about his revisit to the European cities of Barcelona, Geneva, Rome, and Paris that had formed the original background for the stories. Though his purpose in writing the stories was to recreate his initial impressions of those cities during his first visit made 20 years earlier, he finds to his dismay on his revisit that his memory had betrayed him at crucial points in the narration. In writing the stories, he certainly was not placing on record what could be described as true memories of an experience in the past. Marquez says: ‘True memories seemed like phantoms, while false memories were so convincing that they replaced reality. This meant I could not detect the dividing line between disillusionment and nostalgia’ (1993: xii). Marquez is talking about the distorted recollection of experience, which often replaces reality in real-​life situations. In some sense, the distorted recollection of reality perhaps is preferable to reality per se. ‘Reality is very drab’, Madhavikkutty once declared, ‘as drab as white khaddar’ (Raveendran 1993: 150). As a person who lived major portions of her adolescent and adult lives in such cities as Kolkata, Mumbai, and Delhi, Kamala Das could have felt trammelled by the hectic pressures of a drab urban existence that promised little fulfilment to her desire

Madhavikkutty  295 to live a raw, rich life. The remembered village at Punnayurkulam in Malabar, where she spent her childhood, on the other hand, seemed to offer possibilities of such a life, lived perhaps in fantasy, and unreal in terms of its closeness to the lived, everyday world. There is a chapter in Varshangalkku Munpu where V.M. Nair, Madhavikkutty’s affluent and influential father, captivated as he was by the ways of city life, is presented as a comic figure walking the country roads of Punnayurkulam in the white colonizer’s exotic outfit. He has come to take his daughter away to Kolkata where a proper English education awaits her. Everything in the city is larger-​than-​life as he sees it. In his view, the simple charms of the village pale into insignificance beside the grand allurements that the city can provide. Even the circus in the city is far more charming and sophisticated in comparison with the cheap ‘string dance’ practiced by the village buffoons in Punnayurkulam (Madhavikkutty 1989: 41–​46). The young Madhavikkutty, however, has only revulsion for the promises held out by the city. ‘At that point in time I felt contempt for everything connected with the city, for its culture as well as for its circus’, she says (Madhavikkutty 1989: 45). This indeed is the spirit that animates her memoirs such as Balyakala Smaranakal, Varshangalkku Munpu, and Neermatalam Pootha Kalam. These are works through which a sensitive person, tired of the drudgery of city life, pieces together a colourful image, howsoever distorted it might appear in ‘real-​life’ terms, of her own childhood and in the process constructs a rich past of vigour and vitality for herself. It is the art of narration that helps her rediscover her past. In the epilogue to A Childhood in Malabar, after recalling the pervasive culture of storytelling that enveloped her girlhood days in Kolkata, Madhavikkutty/​Kamala Das says: Much later, when my friend Ramanlal Patel asked me to try to recall my childhood, the voices of these story tellers began to resound in my ears again. I began to fit the fragments of dialogue I recaptured into patterns like one fits together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They provided rich and varied material for my imagination to work with, to extend and enlarge. I discovered that the world they came from, the world of my own childhood, remains a treasure-​house of memories from whose inexhaustible depths I can still invoke tale after wonderful tale. (Kamala Das 2003: 216–​217)

296  Under the Bhasha Gaze Approached from the above perspective, Madhavikkutty’s life writings can indeed be treated as the writer’s explorations into the idea of the narration of history and memory as they impinge upon questions of truth, fantasy, and the everyday. There is at work in her writings a self-​conscious fascination for life, history, truth, and the self that makes her memoirs and autobiographical narratives a class by themselves. Her first attempt at writing an autobiographical narrative was Ente Katha (1973), the Malayalam original of My Story. There was a disarming candour about the way the self of Kamala Das spoke in this narrative, and its frankness earned for its author an audience for whom literature was a matter concerning bold and authentic self-​revelation. She was honest enough to admit later that everything one might find described in that book did not really happen to her personally and that by writing the way she did she had deliberately exaggerated things somewhat. She wrote that book, she said, because she had ‘thought she was on her deathbed’. ‘I needed to be remembered as one who led a spectacular life’, says Kamala Das (de Souza 2010: 25). The book seems to have been a great learning experience for her. It not only imparted to her important lessons in audience behaviour but also gave her some training in handling the complex activities going on in the subjective dimension of her personality without making it appear overtly fictional. All that a writer writes need not be true to one’s lived life. There is a reference in one of her short stories—​‘Kaalocha’ (The Footfall)—​to the writer–​narrator’s relationship with a recently deceased elderly gentleman, which, as it turns out, was a purely platonic one, but which the artist demon in her often portrayed as one based on carnal desire. ‘How vivid were the descriptions that my false pen made of the many scenes of lusty carnality enacted between the two of us! And what was the truth? Did he ever treat me otherwise than as a daughter? Never, never in reality’ (Madhavikkutty 2003: 486). This is the experience of fantasy in real life and this seems to have been significant for Kamala Das in writing Ente Katha, and certainly the several volumes of memoirs that she attempted in Malayalam after Ente Katha. None of her memoirs narrate her life story in a linear fashion as in Ente Katha. She practices a great deal of genre-​crossing in both Ente Katha and My Story, with the latter rearranging the subject matter of the original and incorporating into the text material from some of her published fiction and poetry, thus raising further questions about translation. Perhaps Januvamma Paranja Katha

Madhavikkutty  297 of later years, classified as a fictional work, is the best product of Kamala Das’s imagination that does not pay homage to the conventional generic distinction between fiction and autobiography. Her memoirs take genre-​ crossing to a new level by turning the narrative into vignettes that are simultaneously poetic, fictional, and autobiographical. They partake of the formal qualities of the genres of poetry, fiction, and autobiography and provide, through their peculiar language, a new narrative strategy for recovering and reinscribing memory. Madhavikkutty’s memoirs provide no linear representation of her life or narration of events as a continuous and unbroken chain. Though she has stated that the events depicted in the memoirs are all ‘real’ and that ‘there is no fiction’ in them (Raveendran 1993: 155), the specific style of narration and the generic issues raised turn them into extended exercises in narrative elaboration.3 She has described them as part of an ‘experiment’ unheard of in any other language: ‘I wanted each piece in it to stand apart as a short story, and yet I wanted the truth to be told, as far as I could remember it’ (Raveendran 1993: 154). The memoirs blend the genres of poetry, fiction, and autobiography in the context of recollected memory. Though she is mistrustful of the usefulness of the methods of conventional historiography in recording experience, one might argue that history as a formal element has been integral to her writings irrespective of genres. Madhavikkutty/​Kamala Das has described her memoirs as ‘experiments’ that she undertook to see if one could recollect the past in the form of snippets that would simultaneously act as vehicles for ‘truth’ (Raveendran 1993: 154). The experiments embody a whole spectrum of conceptual positions ranging from the historical to the mnemonic or, to paraphrase Catherine Belsey’s formulation of the typology of texts on the basis of their discursive function, from the ‘declarative’ to the ‘interrogative’ (Belsey 1992: 42). At the heart of history is a kind of fetishization of fact and knowledge, while memory is overloaded with contradictions. Belsey’s declarative text imparts ‘knowledge’ to the reader while 3 The formal, generic, and ‘contentual’ connection between My Story and the memoirs deserve to be studied in detail. In an essay written in Malayalam, Udaya Kumar has raised some interesting questions about the nature of Madhavikkutty’s memoirs and their generic connection with the autobiographical form. His basic argument is that the internal logic of memoirs is different from that of autobiography and that as a form of self-​writing, the former is more suited for the self-​articulation of the female subjectivity in contrast to the somewhat male-​oriented form of autobiography (Kumar 2011).

298  Under the Bhasha Gaze the interrogative text engages her in ‘contradiction’. Extending the distinction specifically to the domain of life writing, one might suggest that the declarative text is closer to the positivistic notion of autobiography as the story of the development of the writer’s cohesive personality, in the formation of which the division between the real and the unreal is of crucial significance. The interrogative text, on the contrary, can be understood as recognizing the fissures in the writer’s self, which is conceived as a product of the contradictory pulls and pressures constituting experience, in which history becomes interwoven with fiction, and memory with fantasy. Though, as we have seen, the mutual interpenetration of the real and the unreal is an important dimension of Madhavikkutty’s writings in general, one might argue that My Story is a kind of declarative text that nevertheless strives constantly to jettison its own declarative status. In its currently available English version in print, the book is a tidily organized narrative that provides the story of Madhavikkutty’s growth from an innocent rustic girl, the darling of her puritanical grandmother, into an experienced and liberated woman, quite at ease with the ways of the world, who however is also ashamed of displaying her newly earned status as a liberated woman before her grandmother. The development of Madhavikkutty’s self from her formative days in Kolkata to her sojourns through the rural environs of Malabar as well as through the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, where she finally comes face to face with possibilities of disintegration is narrated with a measure of objectivity in this autobiography. Temporal markers that indicate precise historical locations of events are important here. Thus we know that ‘Mahatma Gandhi’s influence was at its highest’ when Kamala Das’s parents got married in 1928 (Kamala Das 2009: 4), that ‘the British still ruled India’ when she was ‘a little child growing up in Calcutta’ (2009: 1), that ‘when the Second World War threatened to grow into an interminable horror’, her father decided to shift his children from Kolkata to Malabar (2009: 11), and so on. Inasmuch as My Story’s basic purpose is to reconstruct the past in such a way as to invent a coherent self for its author, its method is historiographic, while what dominates the texts that follow My Story is the notion of an inchoate, slippery, and constantly evolving, yet spatialized, memory. ‘Memory is life, always embodied in living societies and as such in permanent evolution, subject to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of the distortions to

Madhavikkutty  299 which it is subject, vulnerable in various ways to appropriation and manipulation’, says Pierre Nora, the French historian who has written a great deal on the question of memory (1996: 3). What My Story—​in spite of its doubts and uncertainties—​declares on the surface is that ‘Madhavikkutty alias Kamala Das’ is a cohesive personality with an identifiable past and an inner self that can be revealed through narration, is shaped by certain external circumstances, is presently in control of her memory that is contingent solely on the past and on her ability to retrieve it, and is moving towards a consciousness of the future that is subject to the laws of the physical world. It is this knowledge that persuades her to assert that My Story was written admittedly ‘with a purpose’ and that it was prompted by ‘somebody very close’ to her (Raveendran 1993: 149). Whether the work ultimately served its intended purpose or not, it helped create an undivided self and personality for its writer, which by turns both enthused and repelled Kerala’s somewhat patriarchal and middle-​class reading public of the 1970s. The declaration however is undermined by the digressive way in which the narrative moves forward, the several by-​lanes of narration leading to worlds of fantasy, often fusing fact with fiction, reality with unreality. The life-​writings that followed My Story, often described as memoirs rather than autobiography, are less declarative and can together be seen as moving progressively towards an interrogative text, which in the process also reveals her ‘true’ personality: a divided and fragmented self. Madhavikkutty’s memoirs coming after My Story are extensions of memory, a faculty that in her case does not have an existence outside the practice of fictional narration. This is true especially of Balyakala Smaranakal, Varshangalkku Munpu, and Neermatalam Pootha Kalam, works that describe the story of her growing up, but which also provide a great deal of material for her imagination to work with. She is very specific about one aspect of the sources of these memoirs: ‘I grew up listening to stories: stories that Amma selected from European literature and narrated to me and Ettan, stories the grandmother used to tell us at dusk from the Ekadasi Mahatmyam, Bharatam, Bhagavatam and Ramayanam, stories that took shape when Cheriyamma recited narrative poems to us, Kumaran Asan’s Nalini, Leela and Karuna’, she states in the epilogue to A Childhood in Malabar (Kamala Das 2003: 216). Memory is not a well-​ formed individual faculty here, but is something that is evolving, always in process. It is not structured to produce a cohesive and autonomous

300  Under the Bhasha Gaze personality knitting together the elements of experience. The structure—​ or its conspicuous lack—​repeats itself in the narrative pattern of the memoirs, each of which is designed as a collection of stand-​alone ‘stories’. What binds these stories together is the invisible presence of the village as an integral part of them, a metaphoric village where innocent gossip and prolixity become the order of the day, as one might come across, for example, in Amartya Sen’s ‘argumentative’ India (Sen 2005) or in the ‘backyard’ of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s domestic geography (Ananthamurthy 2014: 89–​ 90). The village here is an icon of everydayness. There is no sense of romantic nostalgia or sentimentalism associated with this icon. The village clings to Kamala Das’s self as an aspect of her day-​to-​day experience. She herself recognizes this and talks about it in My Story using an image that is stark and unromantic: ‘The little village called Punnayurkulam which I had left behind clung to me like dirt under my finger nails’ (Kamala Das 2009: 114). To examine in some detail one of Kamala Das’s later texts, Januvamma Paranja Katha, often regarded as a piece of fiction, represents in some sense the apogee of the writer’s self-​writing practice. Januvamma Paranja Katha is a sequence of 22 sketches of everyday events in the life of a village woman named Januvamma, a former au pair, now grown old, who in her younger days used to help the author with housework and take care of her children. The sequence could have been the product of a prolonged creative contemplation on the part of Kamala Das, as Januvamma is a character who appears in some of the short stories that she wrote in the 1960s and 1970s.4 Though the events in Januvamma Paranja Katha are narrated by Januvamma in her own inimitable idiom and in a dialect of Malayalam that is commonly used by the unlettered villagers of Malabar, they pertain mostly to the everyday life of Madhavikkutty and the world around her. It is Madhavikkutty’s own criticisms of the world that are expressed through the acerbic tongue of Januvamma. There are frequent references to ‘Kamalutyema’ (Kamala Das), her mother ‘Balamanyema’ (Balamani Amma), father ‘Madhavannayer’ (V.M. Nair), husband 4 There are four short stories with Januvamma as the narrator in Madhavikkutty’s collected short stories (Madhavikkutty 2003), three of them dating from 1966 and the fourth from 1974. They are ‘Janu Paranja Katha’ (The Story Narrated by Janu), ‘Janu Delhiyil’ (Janu in Delhi), ‘Januvammayku Oru Veedu’ (A House for Januvamma), and ‘Januvammayumayi Oru Abhimukhasambhashanam’ (an interview with Januvamma).

Madhavikkutty  301 ‘Dasammenon’ (Madhava Das), and her children in the work. Several historical characters, including Kerala’s political leaders and former Chief Ministers E.K. Nayanar, K. Karunakaran, and A.K. Antony, figure in the narrative. So do writers Paul Zacharia, Balachandran Chullikad, and Vijayalakshmi, the filmmaker Jayaraj, the actor Sukumari, and the social activist P.N. Panikkar as well as several other lesser-​known figures. Another frequent presence is that of Jayachandran Nair, the former editor of the Malayalam weekly magazine Samakalika Malayalam, who is presented as an interlocutor in some of the sketches. There is a suggestion in several pieces that Januvamma is being paid handsomely by Nair’s magazine for her weekly contributions of stories narrated orally to the editor. There are also references to Januvamma receiving accolades for the stories, including the Vayalar Award which Madhavikkutty/​ Kamala Das had received a few years earlier for her book of memoirs Neermatalam Pootha Kalam, a connection that might help one to see some continuity between the earlier work and Januvamma Paranja Katha. The stories also provide occasions for the narrator to ridicule and criticize men and matters. Though Januvamma Paranja Katha represents the culmination of the trajectory of the positions on history and memory embodied in Madhavikkutty/​Kamala Das’s life writings beginning with My Story, structurally it is different from My Story in two basic respects. First, as life writing, it shifts the onus of narration from Kamala Das’s self to Januvamma, an alter-​self of the author. Second, the personality of the narrator is formed exclusively through language understood in pure discursive terms and there is no conspicuous attempt on the part of the author to intervene and promote an extra-​discursive personality for her. Pure narration is what gains significance in the work, as our impressions of Januvamma and the world she describes arise directly from language and the textures of the Malabar dialect employed by the narrator. In this sense, these stories emerge from and merge into the tradition of storytelling that Kamala Das mentions as a source for her memoirs. The work’s problematic generic status is underlined by this important narrative connection on the one side and by its continuity with the real world through the horde of real-​life events and characters that people its pages on the other. Even events like Kamala Das’s conversion to Islam come in for

302  Under the Bhasha Gaze light-​hearted chastisement in the text. At a certain point in the narrative, Januvamma says in her untranslatable language: I used to visit and stay with Kamalyuttema every now and then. Not these days. Hasn’t she turned into a Muslim, giving no thought to the consequences? I hear she has changed her name too. Surayya they say is her new name. I was reduced to nothingness when I heard this. Who made her do this? Whoever did this, I’m sure he will be punished by my Narayanankulangara Bhagavathi. (Madhavikkutty 2002: 10)

‘I was reduced to nothingness when I heard this’ is an expression that repeatedly appears in the pages of Januvamma Paranja Katha. While this is a stock phrase in the north Malabar dialect employed in the work, one might also argue that it metaphorically points to the general dissolution and dissemination of self that happens in this narrative. In a conversation with the writer M.N. Karasseri, Kamala Das has remarked that Januvamma is not modelled on a single character, but represents a confluence of three characters who worked as au pairs with her at different stages of her life (Madhavikkutty 2002: 115). Januvamma in some sense is a concretization of Kamala Das’s memory which, even as it remains an individual faculty, is also a collective attribute that reminds one of the inevitable social context—​ discordant, multiple, and fragmented—​ in the present from which it emanates. This context is contrasted with the remembered metaphorical village of her childhood. Her act of remembering things ‘mistakenly’ becomes a deliberate comment on this context with its set of accepted social conventions.

Epilogue Crisis in Indian Modernity

These are difficult times for Indian bhashas, poised as they are between the forces of globalization that tend to homogenize cultures on the one side and the forces of a hegemonic nationalism which try to suppress regional cultures in the name of tradition, national pride, and cultural unity on the other. The gravity of the situation was underlined by the severe sense of unrest and insecurity that the pronouncement in September 2019 by a minister in the Union Cabinet on Hindi’s possible role as the ‘unifying language’ of India created in the non-​Hindi speaking states, more particularly in the southern states where the principal medium of communication is one of the Dravidian languages. Though a quick recant by the political leadership saved the situation from drifting into another state of crisis comparable to the one that had developed in Tamil Nadu and parts of southern India during the anti-​Hindi agitation of the 1960s, the development served to reveal the chink in the veneer of linguistic bonhomie that appears to cover up the bhasha scenario in India. The avowals in the name of bhasha nationalism, like the demonstration of other forms of hyper-​nationalism, is not merely a matter concerning the inter-​relationship between the languages constituting the nation, but is linked intimately to the crisis in Indian modernity and the politics surrounding it. The seriousness of the crisis was illustrated by another event reported in November 2019 from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), an educational institution established in 1916 by the nationalist leader Madan Mohan Malaviya, with the active support of liberal-​minded social reformers such as Annie Besant, and in that sense a direct offspring of the colonial modernity project. The report pertains to the selection and appointment of an assistant professor in the Sanskrit faculty of BHU who was compelled to switch departments because of opposition from a Under the Bhasha Gaze. PP Raveendran, Oxford University Press. © PP Raveendran 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192871558.003.0022

304  Under the Bhasha Gaze section of the academic community that did not want a non-​Hindu to be teaching in a department that dealt with Sanskrit-​based ‘dharm vigyan’ (scriptural knowledge).1 Certainly, some reports also speak of the saner voices of a strong contingent of students and faculty who, in support of liberal values and secular principles, backed the appointment of the new teacher. Though we frequently come across such open conflicts between the forces of modernity and orthodoxy at the level of social and institutional behaviour, things turn more or less fluid when it comes to the question of the experience of modernity, with all its contradictions, as a life practice. This indeed is the point in talking about the crisis in Indian modernity. This, to be sure, has a secularist dimension, as the bhasha question in India is intricately interlinked with questions of caste and religion. This is because in India, as Asha Sarangi remarks, cultural regions are often defined in terms of ‘the territorial location and distribution of castes and languages’ (Sarangi 2010: 7). Changes in attitudes to the problem of linguistic ethnicity today, according to David Washbrook, might even compel one to think of societies of ‘language jatis’ in place of the old societies of ‘caste jatis’ (quoted in Sarangi 2010: 6). Washbrook perhaps is overstating his case, though his statement points to the complexity of multilingualism in India. As an irreducible dimension of the political reality, India’s multilingualism can in fact be deployed in one of two possible and contradictory scenarios. One of these is the possibility wherein, in the absence of a national language, there is a healthy interaction between different bhashas that ‘live together separately’, to adapt the title of a published book on the subject (Hasan and Roy 2005). This is a primary aspect of liberal democracy as practiced in India during the initial decades following Independence, which was characterized in these pages as an important dimension of Indian modernity. Chapter 3, for instance, described nineteenth-​century prose as becoming secular in several Indian bhashas through public education and social and language reform and

1 The case pertains to the appointment of Feroze Khan, a Sanskrit scholar, to the Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan (SVDV) department of the university. A section of the students and the faculty reportedly opposed his selection on the ground that the appointment of a non-​Hindu to the department militated against the traditions and established norms of the university. For details, see the news reports published in The Hindu and The Times of India for December 10, 2019 at: and

Epilogue  305 linked it up with M.N. Srinivas’s conception of secularization as a process of ‘differentiation’ in which the diverse non-​religious aspects of society, such as the social, the economic, and the juridical, become ‘increasingly discrete in relation to each other’ (Srinivas 2009: 126). The formal use of language, which was once reserved exclusively for religious and ritualistic purposes, is now extended and deployed in discrete spheres of activity of a non-​religious kind, generating models of secular language that are also extended to the writing of novels, short stories, and other literary narratives in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is this tradition of secular language use that continues to be important in post-​Independence India, helping the multilingual society to ‘live together separately’ and to thrive in an environment of cordiality and mutual tolerance. This environment of cordiality and mutual tolerance, however, stands threatened by a second scenario, which to be sure is a possibility that can be envisaged for a multilingual society. Bhashas are invariably conceived of as part of a hierarchical system in this situation. The object here is not to create an environment where different bhashas ‘live together separately’, but to develop a strong and unified polity in which a unifying language will act as the ‘language of command’. India’s multilingualism, in this view, is not seen as the nation’s strength, but as an element that has the potential of weakening its authority. Insofar as a common, dominant language can act as the pivot of a powerful nation, the call for a single, unifying language coming from the hyper-​nationalists in India today can thus be regarded as a linguistic justification for a strong nation with imperial designs. Past histories of empires such as the Ottoman, the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the English inform us that they are also invariably linked to the dominance of master languages. This has theoretical support too in the form of a statement by Otto Jesperson, the linguist, who defined the nation primarily as a ‘linguistic unit, a linguistic community’ (quoted in Sarangi 2010: 5). This knowledge about language seems to have unconsciously guided the principle of census operations in independent India, which over the past decades have demonstrated a somewhat ugly zeal in persuading powerless languages to describe themselves as variants of a master language. Asha Sarangi quotes successive census figures in post-​Independence India starting from the census of 1951, and states that ‘the number of mother tongues was decreasing rapidly because of the census practice of clubbing and conjoining minor and smaller

306  Under the Bhasha Gaze languages into the dominant and well-​known ones’ (Sarangi 2010: 16). Languages were also sought to be ‘sanitized’ to make them conform to the Two-​Nation theory that acted as a basis for partitioning the country into India and Pakistan at the time of Independence. This is what accounts for the pedantic academic practice of bringing Hindustani, a language close to the heart of Mahatma Gandhi, proximate to Hindi on the one side by Sanskritizing it and to Urdu on the other by Persianizing it, about which David Lelyveld has written at some length (see his essay in Sarangi 2010). The crisis in Indian modernity, in other words, is also a crisis in secularism. Scholars have been vocal about this at least from the days of the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. Scholarly debates on this question have been quite extensive, and have uniformly located the crisis in the period following the Emergency of the mid-​1970s, leading up to the Masjid demolition and the Gujarat riots of 2002, culminating in the rise to political power of the right-​wing forces that are accused, at present, of dividing the country along communal lines (see, e.g., some of the essays in Needham and Rajan 2007).2 The crisis in secularism, to be sure, has its origin in the colonial days, as colonialism was primarily responsible for restructuring religious and community identities in India into politically significant categories. Indeed, the coming to power of liberal forces in independent India created the illusion that the country had at last arrived into the era of ‘true’ modernity and ‘true’ secularism that did not discriminate between people on the basis of caste and religion. The illusion was especially strong in the first two decades following Independence, when Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of a secular polity that insisted on a separation between religion and the state-​dominated public life and political culture. Rationality was an important principle of social behaviour, and polyphony, inclusion, and tolerance were held out as keywords of the social ethos of those days. However, the spread of

2 The essays in Needham and Rajan (2007) were merely pointing to the possibility of a threat to secularism in the wake of the general rightward shift of the Indian polity over the few decades before the book’s publication. The atmosphere has become more pronouncedly non-​secular since then, especially after Hindutva’s consolidation following the electoral win of the National Democratic Alliance a second time in May 2019. A good deal of work has been done on this question in the form of publications in the past decade, which include book-​length studies such as Chowdhury and Keane (2021), Jaffrelot (2021), and Joseph (2021). Between them, these books can be said to update on the socio-​political situation in India obtaining after the publication of Needham and Rajan (2007).

Epilogue  307 rabid communalism in recent times and the incidents of violence on the minorities as well as instances of irrational views being expressed even by those in positions of authority point to the unfolding of an environment of intolerance and unreason that is quite out of tune with the concept of a modern democracy. The nation is heading towards what some people call an ‘ethnic democracy’ (Jaffrelot 2021). The enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which for the first time in modern India’s history linked citizenship with religion and patently discriminated against Muslims, triggered widespread protests from students, civil rights activists, and left and liberal intellectuals from all over India. Coupled with these are reports about onslaughts on artists, academics, and intellectuals in different parts of the country and attempts to restrict the freedom of expression in diverse ways, whether they are in the form of controls sought to be enforced on the media or of censorship on films and documentaries that feature issues inconvenient to the state. There is a slow erosion of liberal values from the social world and a gradual conquest of the public space by an exclusivist mindset. The increasing rhetoric of nationalism, sometimes emerging from the corridors of power, and the symbolic violence perpetrated in the name of faith, portend the emergence of a disciplinary regime that is impatient with dissent. There indeed is a shrinking of the public sphere of debates and discussions and a pervasive obsession with, and a fear of, the Other, a trend that is most visible in the kind of controls that are sought to be imposed on the culture of debate and critique.3 It is not the case here that modernity represents a perfect state of affairs. As was argued earlier, modernity is a historically constituted way of thinking and living, and is liable to be assailed when it fails to articulate the views and aspirations of the newly emerging sections of a society that might find its ways oppressive and overbearing. There indeed are a number of problems connected with modernity that the world might find undesirable today. Fredric Jameson in his critical account of modernity denounces it specifically for its ‘asceticism’, its ‘phallocentrism’, its ‘authoritarianism’, and its ‘repressiveness’ (Jameson 2002: 1). Equally 3 Examples of the trends mentioned here are legion and can be collected from the media reports of the past few years. Some of them are discussed in detail in Chowdhury and Keane (2021), Jaffrelot (2021), and Joseph (2021).

308  Under the Bhasha Gaze important is its pragmatic conservatism, which could be described as modernity’s major handicap in carrying forward its radical reform agenda in the Third World. In fact, modernity in India, as scholars like Partha Chatterjee and Meera Nanda have pointed out, has often been used in such a way as not to destabilize too drastically conventional belief systems connected with a Hindu nationalist worldview (Chatterjee 1997; Nanda 2016). As a complex concept that carries within itself both positive and negative values simultaneously, modernity cannot always be treated as indicating an absolutely healthy state of affairs. The path beyond modernity, therefore, could be taken only after the gains heralded by it have been thoroughly consolidated. Certainly, the modern values that we identified as Indian and non-​European will be counted as vital for such a consolidation. That would also include factors that might contribute to the eventual and inevitable decline of modernity, though it is important to remember that modernity’s decline, if it leads to a restor­ ation of the premodern conditions of irrationality, casteism, oligarchy, and despotism, can only prove disastrous for the entire society. Such a disaster indeed is looming large before the country today with the rise to social dominance of the right-​wing forces, which are bent on wrecking the ethical foundations of modern Indian polity. A new regime has taken the place of the old, liberal, and modern regime that took pride in remaining connected to the democratic and enlightened vision of modernity. The celebrated idea of an alternative India built upon the values of pluralism, liberalism, and democracy—​which appeared to have supplanted Max Muller’s ‘idea of India’—​is sought to be replaced by a powerful state with dictatorial propensities in the new regime. The erosion of civil liberties in present-​day India is a matter of concern, a fact that received international attention through the recent news report that described the country’s alarming fall over the year 2019 in the ‘democracy index’ prepared by the intelligence unit of the UK-​based journal, The Economist. As a state, is India turning unmodern, illiberal, and undemocratic? Predictions could turn out to be false, but all the constituent elements are in place, elements that would perfectly fit each other into making what Umberto Eco has described as ‘Ur-​Fascism’ in the larger, international context. What Eco means by ‘Ur-​Fascism’ is not fascism in its classic form, but a formation with fascism’s ‘archetypal foundations’, which can sustain its present-​day survivals characterized by specific ways

Epilogue  309 of ‘thinking and feeling’ and ‘cultural habits’ (Eco 1995). These survivals, according to Eco, stalk the world like a ghost, like a haunting shade of its pre-​Second World War original. Eco in fact was writing this in 1995, in the European context of the rise and development of new right-​wing parties that were determined to control the political processes there. In identifying the ideological traits that would allow him to explain the reappearance of totalitarian tendencies in contemporary Europe, Eco hits upon characteristics that are surprisingly akin to what have been identified in the Indian context by some of the writers included in an anthology of edited essays published under the title Words Matter (2016). In fact, the anthology’s editor, K. Satchidanandan, in his introduction to the volume, himself mentions Eco’s analysis in passing, and notes how the social symptoms identified by Eco can be discerned in the scenario visualized by the present regime (2016: 14). Eco refers to a number of fascist tendencies that resurfaced in the European popular imagination in the 1990s in veiled forms. These include the cult of tradition, irrationalism, fear of criticism and dissent, appeal to a frustrated middle class, the cult of the machismo, hero worship, an obsession with sexual normativity, an exacerbated fervour for nationalism and a dependence on what George Orwell called ‘newspeak’ (Eco 1995). But overriding all this is the fear of modernity, which runs as a common thread connecting most of the traits identified. Eco says: ‘The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-​Fascism can be defined as irrationalism’ (Eco 1995). The reference to 1789 and the French revolution in Eco’s statement above is significant because this was the major event that brought into prominence such values as liberty, fraternity, equality and, of course, democracy, which together formed the ethical foundations of European modernity. Modernity in the positive sense constitutes a celebration of these values and the emergence of a new world order that supplanted the European ancien regime built around bonds associated with tradition and a sense of eternity, prefeudal and feudal loyalty, religious obscurantism, a parochial village life, and an irrational belief system. A new set of values premised upon change and newness, secularism, universality, transience of life, urban and industrial culture, reason, and the primacy of the

310  Under the Bhasha Gaze individual mind come in their place. The change can be seen dramatized in the literary and political writings emerging in the nineteenth century. Goethe’s theorization (1827) of world literature, for example, makes references to the literary system of an international order, which Marx and Engels incorporate into the Communist Manifesto published 20 years later to elaborate a parallel system of economic production and consumption that is of global significance (Eckermann 2006; Marx and Engels 1967). The Manifesto states: The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country [ . . . ]. All old-​established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed [ . . . ]. In place of old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes [ . . . ]. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. National one-​sidedness and narrow-​mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature. (Marx and Engels 1967: 83–​84)

Observations on social changes brought in by urbanization and revolutions in science and technology are also abundant in both Goethe’s and Marx’s works. While these statements on modernity allude in a broad way to some of the attributes normally conditioning the physical architecture of modernity, such as the conflict between nationalism and internationalism, between the rural ethos and the industrial culture, between the precapitalist mode of production and the capitalist mode of production, and between parochialism and universality, the creative endeavours of the period also illustrate modernity’s subtler impact on the human sensibility, thus allowing one to talk about the specific mental architecture designed and designated by it. Baudelaire’s poetry of the period is often cited as an example of this impact, but more to the point would be his essay titled ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1859–​1860) on the artist Constantin Guys, whose paintings are described, on account of their attention to ‘the transient, the fleeting and the contingent’, as marking an important moment in the history of the emergence of the modern (Baudelaire 1992: 421).

Epilogue  311 Modernity’s seamy side has been discussed at length in some of the chapters here. To recapitulate the main arguments, the dominant narrative on modernity, pertaining especially to the social sciences, has also, sometimes knowingly, but often unknowingly, promoted a certain subject position that is today being increasingly recognized as Eurocentric. This has been the case right from the inception of the narrative, when it presented the French revolution, for example, as the inaugural moment of modernity. This is also evident in the primacy that events like the European Renaissance and Enlightenment received in modernity. These certainly are significant, but more significant, as Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, is the mythical Europe, the ‘imaginary figure that remains deeply embedded in clichéd and shorthand forms’ in some of our day-​to-​day habits, which also invariably affect our discussions of modernity (Chakrabarty 2001: 4). Just as Europe is graphically depicted as occupying the focal point on the earth in traditional cartography, this mythical Europe occupies the centre of discourse in such modern disciplines as history, sociology, anthropology, and political economy. So that, when modernity describes itself as a universalizing process, what it, in effect, does is to Europeanize the rest of the world. This is why attempts to universalize local cultures turn out ultimately to be exercises in the erasure of everything local. Ngugi wa Thiong’O has been greatly critical of such exercises in the context of African culture which, as he demonstrates, has been swamped by icons of European culture in the time of modernity. European works, according to Ngugi, merely reproduce the European experience of history and foist it on the African people in the name of universality. The universal man that modernity fosters in the end is a vintage European, who speaks on European experience to European subjects in European languages. This has no relevance whatsoever to African cultures (Ngugi 2007: 22). This is true of other non-​European cultures too, which feel justified now in thinking that one will have to ‘provincialize’ the mythical Europe and exorcize the Europe of the mind, before the meaning and significance of indigenous cultures and the modern elements in them could be recaptured and brought to proper focus. As stated in the previous chapters, this has prompted Indian bhasha writers like Bhalchandra Nemade (2009) and U.R. Ananthamurthy (2014), for example, to talk about indigenous versions of modernity in bhasha literatures that do not follow the protocols set by western modernity. The layered, dynamic, and complex

312  Under the Bhasha Gaze social processes connected with modern developments cannot just be reduced to inert philosophical categories, often binary, that appear in theorizations of European modernity. Perhaps one will have to consider modernity to be a more culture-​specific phenomenon, and therefore definitions that link modernity to a suspicion of tradition will themselves be suspect. As Ananthamurthy states, one cannot be truly modern if one fails to assimilate the traditional into the modern. This, according to him, was what Blake meant when he stated that ‘this is mine, yet not mine’, suspending the creatively modern between the personal and the impersonal (Ananthamurthy 2014: 95–​96). While modernity’s value as a mindset promoting liberal, reasoned, scientific, and secular vision is important, it is also equally important to recognize that India has a long tradition of thinking along liberal, secular, reasoned, and democratic lines, on which Amartya Sen has written at length in The Argumentative Indian (2005). Modernity certainly is not a western import for the Indian mind that has a long history of radical, reasoned, and argumentative culture, constituted by positions associated with such diverse strands as the Indian system of logic, the Lokayata, the Buddha, Tiruvalluvar, the medieval Bhakti poets, and premodern visionaries like Jnaneshwar. Several modern Indian social reformers of the colonial period—​e.g., Jothiba Phule, Sri Narayana Guru, and Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naickar—​can in fact be said to have drawn upon some of the above in elaborating their conceptual paradigms. Whatever be the way in which we understand modernity and its implication for the Indian tradition, it is undeniable that the culture of debate, dissent, criticism, and inclusiveness has been of paramount significance in the constitution of the modern Indian polity. This has been so because, as Amartya Sen states, much of India’s past ‘heritage’ has been dialogic, rational, and materialistic rather than spiritual. Amartya Sen’s words make a great deal of sense in the present-​day context: The nature and strength of the dialogic tradition in India is sometimes ignored because of the much-​championed belief that India is the land of religions, the country of uncritical faiths and unquestioned practices. Some cultural theorists, allegedly ‘highly sympathetic’, are particularly keen on showing the strength of the faith-​based and unreasoning culture of India and the East, in contrast with the ‘shallow rationalism’ and

Epilogue  313 scientific priorities of the west. This line of argument may be sympathetic, but it can end up suppressing large parts of India’s intellectual heritage. (Sen 2005: xiii–​xiv)

Amartya Sen here is referring obviously to the Orientalist scholarship on India, which worked in tandem with the nationalist project towards developing much of the cultural iconography that is being feted today as the monuments of India’s past glory—​‘the wonder that was India’, to adopt the phrase that has been popularized by the Orientalist historian A.L. Basham’s book of that title, a wonder that was waiting to be discovered by the nationalist Jawaharlal Nehru through his celebrated monograph, The Discovery of India.4 Orientalism, an aspect of modernity, and nationalism are intimately connected with each other, and the two cannot be detached from the cultural context of colonialism. Colonialism promoted modernity-​related reform in Indian society, but it certainly did not want the reform to be of such magnitude as to annul the effects of colonialism. As postcolonialist critics have often pointed out, the Orientalist scholarship perhaps allowed both the colonialist and the nationalist forces to arrive at an informal arrangement, whereby colonialism would celebrate the glories of ancient India even as the nationalists left unquestioned, at least in practice, the colonizer’s superiority over the native in modern India. What this indicates is that nationalism can always be a double-​ edged weapon, cutting both ways, allowing the user the freedom to wield it either in support of modernity or, when the occasion demands, in opposition to it. The communalist forces in India today feel that this is the right occasion for them to use nationalist slogans to undermine the spirit of modernity and dissent. Anyone who disagrees with the narrow and narrow-​minded practices of the right-​wingers is branded a traitor. Umberto Eco anticipated such a scenario when he stated: ‘No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and distinction is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-​Fascism, 4 This, needless to say, is a figurative statement, because Nehru’s book was published a few years before Basham’s. (I owe the connection made between Nehru and Basham to a passing comment made by my friend K.T. Rammohan.)

314  Under the Bhasha Gaze disagreement is treason’ (Eco 1995). The analytical criticism that Eco mentions here is related to diversity and difference, which is an integral aspect of Indian modernity. The diversity is visible even in ‘the wonder that was India’, in the epics and puranas such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which Ananthamurthy would describe not as epics but as ‘languages’ constituted by an immense variety of dialects and registers. These indeed are the bhashas. A.K. Ramanujan spoke about the existence of 300 Ramayanas in an essay that had to be withdrawn from the undergraduate syllabus of Delhi University after its inclusion was stoutly opposed by the communalist forces (Ramanujan 2001). In fact, the number of Ramayanas in circulation in the world today is much, much larger than Ramanujan’s count of 300. The spirit of debate and dissent, however, cannot be eliminated from the Indian public sphere, for reasoned debate is at the heart of any public culture. The public sphere by definition is linked to modernity inasmuch as it functions as a system that critically monitors the working of state authority and carries out reasoned debate on all public issues (Habermas 1991). India’s social renaissance from the second half of the nineteenth century has certainly been marked by the development of a culture of public debate, though the arrival of colonial modernity alone cannot claim credit for its advent. The debates between Christian missionaries and Indian Sanskrit scholars, some of which are documented in the pages of the periodical Vidyasamgraham (1864–​1866), may be cited as instances of this. The trend has continued into the twentieth century in the form of debates between missionaries and Hindu scholars under the aegis, sometimes of the ruling king, as in the case of the Maharaja of Baroda, for example, who supervised such debates in his princely state. These debates themselves can be considered as a sequel to the environment of public debate that was developing in the whole of India since the Bengal Renaissance on such contentious issues as Sati, casteism, widow remarriage, the gender question, and the use of English for public education. It is this environment that extends into the twentieth century in the form of critical debates between political leaders and social activists, some of them connected with the nationalist movement, some others working for social reform. The nationalist movement in itself can be deemed to be a replica of the public sphere, constituted as it was by a wide array of activists representing a range of political positions, such as the

Epilogue  315 conservatives, the liberals, the radicals, the communists, the extremists, and so on. The fierce debates carried out between Gandhi and Ambedkar on the one hand, and between Gandhi and Tagore as well as between Gandhi and Nehru on the other, on diverse issues pertaining to society, culture, and the polity are particularly significant to this context. Though the public sphere has been shrinking in parts of the country in recent days, liberal and left-​wing sections in Indian society, including the members of the academic community, have been vociferous in their defence of this sphere of cultural interaction. Secular India in general has aggressively cared to nurture and preserve this sphere, which faces threats from unmodern and undemocratic forces today. Bhashas gain significance in this scenario for the simple reason that a language is also the site of real and symbolic power—​more symbolic than real—​that often serves to reinforce prevailing social relations. In situations where cultural identities are structured largely in symbolic terms, the power of languages and linguistic cultures in fabricating the identities of individuals, communities, and nations is of paramount importance. Historically too, languages in India, especially the dominant language of Sanskrit, and later on, English, have invariably participated in the constitution of the hierarchies of power that dominated the country in the precolonial and colonial periods. As is quite well-​known, nation-​building, especially from a European perspective, involves the institution and consolidation of such hierarchies. A nation, in the western context, is marked by the presence of a hegemonic language that constitutes it, while in India, the nation is distinguished by its multilingual ambience that does not promote, in the name of nationalism, the imperialism of one single language. However, in a period marked by the return to public life of the old hierarchies, sometimes in overt, but more often in covert, forms, the danger of a single language’s power exerting undue influence on the unconscious of the people appears to be real and imminent. This indeed is the ideological basis for the bhasha nationalism that is being increasingly raised by the political right in India today. Inasmuch as this implies a dissolution of linguistic democracy and polyphony that can ultimately drive the country into a new state of subjection, this can be described as a major crisis in Indian modernity. Language’s symbolic power, in this context, acts complicitously with the illusions of the citizens who need not be aware, as Bourdieu has pointed out, that ‘they [too] are subject to

316  Under the Bhasha Gaze it’ (1991: 164). Bhasha nationalism that militates against the inbuilt polyphony of the Indian linguistic mind can become a ruse to perpetuate new forms of unreason. This perhaps would explain why an otherwise ‘subaltern’ bhasha like Hindi, in spite of its inferior status in the premodern hierarchy of Sanskrit imperialism, appears to extend the prospect of functioning as the language of power in the new ‘anti-​modern’ regime visualized by right-​wing and conservative forces in India.

Under the Bhasha Gaze: Modernity and Indian Literature PP Raveendran https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192871558.001.0001 Published: 2023

Online ISBN: 9780191967801

Print ISBN: 9780192871558


Bibliography  Published: February 2023

Subject: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) Collection: Oxford Scholarship Online

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Under the Bhasha Gaze: Modernity and Indian Literature PP Raveendran https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192871558.001.0001 Published: 2023

Online ISBN: 9780191967801


Index  Published: February 2023

Subject: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) Collection: Oxford Scholarship Online

Print ISBN: 9780192871558

331Index For the bene t of digital users, indexed terms that span two pages (e.g., 52–53) may, on occasion, appear on only one of those pages. Aadim Basti (Manprasad Subba) 160–62 Aag ki Dariya (Qurratulain Hyder) 176–77 Aalmaraattam (Kalloor Ummen Philipose) 8490 ‘Aatmahatya’ (Rajelakshmy) 270–72 Abdulla, V. 229–30 Achuthan, M. 196–97 Adam, Villiers d’Isle 92–93147–48 Adhyatma Ramayanam 81–82 Adorno, T.W. 18–193347–48130–31146–47 Aeschylus 108–9121–22 aesthetics 13–41920–2224–2530–3234–358488–90106–7120129–30134–36161186188–89190– 91197198–99205–6240273–75276–77285–86 Dravidian 282286–87 of immanence/art of the present 144145–46148–49192–93288–90 Indian/Sanskrit poetics 1999–100141–42198–99283–84 and politics 195–96186–87 Ahmed, Aijaz 109 Akananuru 107–8 alchemy of writing 223–24228252254–55 Alexander, Meena 59–6099–101111–12 Althusser, Louis 54–55 Ambassadors (Henry James) 107–8 Ambedkar, B.R. 128–29136179–80314–15 Amma, Balamani 300–1 Amma, K. Saraswati 210–11225–26265–66 ‘Anal Haq’ (Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) 210–13 Anand, Mulk Raj 35128–30134–36184–85186–87189–90192–93236–37 Anand (P. Sachidanandan) 207–8213–14216–18 Ananthamurthy, U.R. 4–5124–25131–32154–56179–80181–84299–300311–12313–14 Anderson, Benedict 47–4849–50242–43 Anderson, Perry 2–3152–53153n.1 Andreyev, Leonid 92–93147–48 Anjaneyulu, D. 63–64202–3 Antassannivesam (Ayyappa Paniker) 283–84 Antharjanm, Lalithambika 210–11225–26 anthropology 139141–42 Antony, C.L. 45–46 Ao, Temsula 139 Apabhramsa 78–7999–100178–79 Appachan, Poikayil 48–49 Appadurai, Arjun 3 Appan, K.P. 70–71264–65270–71 Apparao, Gurajada 130–31286–87 Aranyak (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) 151–52 Argumentative Indian, The (Amartya Sen) 154–55311–12

Arnold, Matthew 64–65115n.1 Arthasastra 4–545–4680–81 Asad, Talal 87–88 p. 332

Asan, Kumaran


Asher, R.E. 190–91 Asiatic Society of Calcutta 20–21 Assamese (Asamiya) bhasha/literature 98128141157–60182–83 Asturias, Miguel Angel 209–10219 Attaprakaram 45–46200–1 Auerbach, Eric 208–9 Aurobindo 286–87 autobiography/ autobiographical writing 38–3948–49228261–62271–72288–90291–93296–97298–99 ‘Avalude Keralam’ (S.K. Pottekkat) 242–44 Ayyankali 48–49148–49 Ayyappan, C. 214 Ayyappath, Madhavan 70–71204276–77 Ayyub, Abu Sayyid 202–3 Babel, Isaac 141–42 Babri Masjid 306–7 Bagchi, Yesodhara 22–23 Bailey, Benjamin 47–48 Bakhtin, Mikhail 3887n.195–96240 Balakrishnan, P.K. 44 Bal, Nanda Kishore 141 Balyakala Sakhi (Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) 129–30190 Balyakala Smaranakal (Madhavikkutty) 291–92294–95299–300 Balzac, Honore de 3392–93108–9147–48225–26234–35 Banaras Hindu University (BHU) 261–63303–4 Bandopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan 134–36151–52 Bandopadhyay, Manik 128–30 Barbusse, Henri 128–29 Barthes, Roland 283–84 Basavanna 16 Basham, A.L. 313 Basheer, M.M. 239–40 Basheer, Vaikom Muhammad 3594–95129–30134–36184188–91192–93209–11212–13214225–26236– 37273–75 Bassnett, Susan 54–5589–90116–19120–21 Baudelaire, Charles 3–432–33145–46310 Beckett, Samuel 95–96179–80 Bel Ami (Maupassant) 92–93 Belloc, Hilaire 89–90 Bellow, Saul 185 Belsey, Catherine 224–25297–99 Bendre, D.R. 62n.3202–3 ‘Bengal’ (K.G. Sankara Pillai) 172–73174 Bengali bhasha/literature 9–1063–6482–8398112124–25128–30131–32134–36141151–52156–57159165– 68182–83202–3207–8285–86 Benjamin, D. 70–71264–65

Benjamin, Walter 17–183336–3764–6576–77111–12130–31146–47243–44 Berger, John 33–34186 Besant, Annie 303–4 Bessiere, Jean 116–18 Bezbarua, Lakshminath 141 Bhabha, Homi K. 101–2 Bhagavad Gita 80–81 Bhagavatam 80–81299–300 bhakti 2–343–4481–82192–93194–95200–1 bhasha canon 798196–97 Bhasha Bhushan (Jaswant Singh) 4–5 Bhashakautaliyam 4–545–4680–81 Bhashanaishadham Champu 4–5 bhasha nationalism/ bhasha nationality 98100–1303–4315–16 Bhaskaranunni, P. 48–49 Bhattacharya, Amitava 166167 Bhattacharya, Nabarun 207–8 Bhattacharya, Nandini 129–30184–85 Bhattatiri, Melpattur Narayana 192–93 Bhattathiripad, V.T. 48–49 p. 333

Bible translation


bilingualism 34–59–10124–25154–57159176–77178–82184187–89190–91192–93245273288 See also multilingualism biopolitics 123 Bisht, Pankaj 207–8 Blackburn, Stuart 41–4249–50123 Blake, William 311–12 Bloch, Ernst 146–47 Blok, Alexander 95–96141–42 Bloom, Harold 107–8 Blooming Breath, The (N. Gopi) 156n.3169–72 Bombay Literary Society 20–21 Boom, the Latin American 209–10213214 Bordoloi, Rajanikant 128 Borges, Jorge-Luis 64–6578–7995–96207–8211–13216217 Bose, Buddhadev 4–5124–25142–43180–81 Bourdieu, Pierre 359–6064–65109–12234–35315–16 Brahmandapuranam Gadyam 45–4680–81 Brecht, Bertolt 3395–96108–9121–22130–31146–47285–86 Brecht-Lukacs Debate 130–31146–47 Brink, Andre 179–80 Broch, Herman 243–44 Browning, Elizabeth Barrett 31–32 Buddha, the 2–316311–12 Butler, Judith 261–62 Byron, Lord 68273–75 Calvino, Italo 102–3 Camus, Albert 95–96266–67 canons of the Synod of Diamper 45–46

capitalism 15–1625–2629–3047–4950–51101–2103–4108–10123128–29308–9310 Carlyle, Thomas 104–5 Carpentier, Alejo 207–10212–13219 caste 26–2741–424469–7073–74149–50151–52156–57168181–82186–87210–11246250304–5306–8314– 15 Castoriadis, Cornelius 59–60 Catallus 94 census of India 2011 178–79 Cervantes, Miguel de 212–13 Chakrabarty, Dipesh 316311 Cha Mana Atha Guntha (Fakirmohan Senapati) 126–27131–32 Chandalika (Rabindranath Tagore) 184–85 Chandran, Subhash 214 Charuvil, Ashokan 214 Chattambi Swamikal 48–49 Chatterjee, Partha 322–23131–32307–8 Chattopadhyay, Bankimchandra 128141179–80182–84 Chayavad 202–3 Chekhov, Anton 92–93147–48225–26234–35 Cherusseri 43–44 ‘Chilambinte Gatha’ (Ayyappa Paniker) 282 Childs, Donald 201–2 Chintavishtayaya Sita (Kumaran Asan) 68–69 Chitrayogam (Vallathol Narayana Menon) 197 Chitre, Dilip 179–80 Chomana Dudi (Shivarama Karanth) 134–36184–85 Chopin, Kate 141–42 Christianity, history and culture of 217–18 Chullikkad, Balachandran 300–1 Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) College 20n.222–23 ‘Chuvanna Manal’ (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 229–30231–32 Cilappatikaram 107–8 cinema studies 118–19 ‘Circular Time’ (Jorge-Luis Borges) 217 Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 306–7 classical drama 181 classicism 61–6263–64104–5 p. 334

Cli ord, James


Coetzee, J.M. 217 Cohn, Bernard S. 22–2342 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 161–62 Collins, Mrs 2124–2582–83 colonialism 115–1617–1821–2241–4247–4850–5174–7582–8384–858791–92101–2103108–9121–22125– 26146147–48153–54173181240241–42306–7313 linguistic/internal 159184 Colonialism, Modernity and Literature (Ed. Satya P Mohanty) 126–27 Come Out, Sandrembi (Y. Ibomcha) 156n.3163–64 Communist Manifesto, The 101–2309–10 community narratives 134–36

comparative cultural studies 118–19 comparative Indian literature 9–10118–19124–27 comparative literature 4–59–10103107–8115116–27 crisis in 116 death of 116–18 Comparative Literature Association of India (CLAI) 116–18 ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ (F. Moretti) 101–2 Conrad, Joseph 179–80 Conversations with Goethe (J.P. Eckermann) 101n.1106 Cortazar, Julio 207–8209–10213 cosmopolitanism 100142–43 ‘crisis in ontology’ (Judith Butler) 261–62 crisis in representation 25–28 critical humanities 273 Critique of Everyday Life, The (H. Lefebvre) 29 Critique of Judgment (Kant) 106–7120 Croce, Beneditto 141–42 cultural pluralism 718–192358–6073–74118–19124–25139152–53154–55156–57308–9 cultural studies 4–5100–1118–19126273–75 culture industry 50–51 Dalhousie, Lord 173 dalit/dalit writing 18–197794–95134–36166168184–85 Dalmia, Vasudha 41–4249–50123 Damrosch, David 102–3 D’Annunzio, Gabriele 141–42 ‘Dar-es-salam’ (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 229230–31 Darwish, Mahmoud 95–96 Das, B.K. 129–30 Das, Jibanananda 285–86 Das, Kamala/ Madhavikkutty 179–80288–302 Das, Madhav 300–1 Das, Manoj 179–80207–8 Das, Sisir Kumar 4–543–4460–61626399–100129–30134–36141151–53182–83202–3 De Certeau, Michel 44–45 ‘declarative text’ (Catherine Belsey) 297–99 decolonization 787–8891–9294–95 Deleuze, Gilles 122–23 Delhi University 313–14 democracy/democratization 35054–55126–27304–5306–7308–10315–16 De Man, Paul 194–95 De Nerval, Gerard 104–5 De Quincey, Thomas 32 De-Sanskritization 53–54 De Souza, Eunice 290–91296–97 Descartes, Rene 122–23 Deshpande, G.P. 179–80 Deshpande, Kusumawati 202–3 Deshpande, Prachi 125–26 Deshpande, Shashi 271–72

Detha, Vijaydan 35236–37 Dev, Amiya 6–7124–25180–81 Dev, Kesava 35134–36210–11225–26236–37265–66273–75 Devasia, Anitha 89–90 Devi, Mahasweta 118–19139207–8 p. 335

Devika, J.


Devy, G.N. 6–716131–32 Dharmapuranam (O.V.Vijayan) 245–47249–50259–60 Dhvanyaloka 107–8 D’haen, Theo 116–18 dialogic/dialogism 38209–10240246–47256–57 Dickens, Charles 33108–9225–26234–35 Discovery of India, The (Jawaharlal Nehru) 313 Disraeli, Benjamin 89–90 ‘distribution of the sensible’ (Jacques Ranciere) 184 Djebar, Assia 179–80 Don Quixote (Cervantes) 212–13 Dorfman, Ariel 179–80 Dostoevsky, Fyodor 108–9 Duggal, Kartar Singh 128–29 Duravastha (Kumaran Asan) 68–69 Durkheim, Emile 116 Dutt, Michael Madhusudan 179–80 Dutt, Toru 179–80 Eachikkanam, Santhosh 214 Eagleton, Mary 271–72 East-West relations 142–43152–53 Eaton, Richard 125–26 Eckermann, Johann Peter 104–5309–10 Eco, Umberto 308–10313–14 Eisenstadt, S.N. 2–315–16 Elden, Stuart 30 Eliot, T.S. 115n.1141–42160201–2278–79285–87 Embers (Sandor Marai) 185 Emergency, the 249280–81306–7 Engels, Frederick 101–2309–10 English literature 66–6768–69146–47154–56 Enlightenment 115–1622–2354–55107134308–9311 ‘Ente Bhittimel’ (Ayyappa Paniker) 278–79 Ente Katha (Madhavikkutty) 288–90291n.1291–92296–97298–99See also My Story (Kamala Das) Ente Lokam (Madhavikkutty) 288–90291–92 ethnic democracy 306–7 Euro-centrism 2–317–1841–42103108–9120–22240–41311 everyday/ everydayness 13–46–79–1017–1819252930–373839–4044–45465465–6669–70128134– 36144165–66179–80181–82183–84185–86187189190–91192239–40276–77281–82290–91299–301 existentialism 266–67278–79286–87 experiential or imaginative surplus 68–6971–7274–7581–82 expressionism 94–95144–45146–47149–50 Ezhuttacchan, Thunchath 43–4480–82200–1

fabulation 207–8 Faiz, Faiz Ahmed 35236–37 fantasy 6–726–27207–9210–11212–14215–16217219231–32239–40242–44254–55291–92294–95296– 99 Faulkner, William 214–15 feminism/ feminist 18–197794–95265–67270–71288 ctional form 213229231–32248–49 ‘ eld of literary production’ (Bourdieu) 59–6096–97110–11 Fitzgerald, Edward 54–55 Flaubert, Gustave 225–26234–35 Foe (J.M. Coetzee) 217 folklore 52–5388–89131–32141–42155–56219273–75 formalism 172–73229 Foucault, Michel 354–55123 France, Anatole 92–93147–48 Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) 107–8 French Revolution 104–5208–9309–10311 Freud, Sigmund 29122–23141–42 p. 336

‘front yard’ and ‘backyard’ (U.R.Ananthamurthy)


Fuentes, Carlos 207–8213214229–30 Futurism 94–95144–47149–50 Galeano, Eduardo 2–3 Gandhi, M.K. 37–38128–29136179–80186–87189305–6314–15 gender 68–7073–74118–19123156–57168232–33265–67314–15 gender trouble 261–62 Genette, Gerard 118–19 Genet, Jean 95–96 genre crossing 288296–97 George, R.M. 184–85 Ghatak, Ritwik 134 Ghosh, Amitav 188–89207–8 Giddens, Anthony 2–3 Gide, Andre 239–40 Gilbert, Sandra 270–71 Gitagovida (Jayadeva) 4–5107–8 Gitagovindam Bhasha 4–5 globalization 25–2627–28103–4110–11 and internationalization 109–10 Godaan (Premchand) 129–30 God of Small Things, The (Arundhati Roy) 25–28 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 94100–2103–5106–7110–11309–10 Goncourt brothers 234–35 Gopi, N. 156–57169–72 Gora (Rabindranath Tagore) 124–25 Gorky, Maxim 108–9121–22128–29134 Gotrayanam (Ayyappa Paniker) 282 Gourmont, Remy de 116141–42 ‘government of the tongue’ (Heaney) 247 Govindan, M. 68–6974–75273–77278–79

Gracy 214 Great Train Robbery, The (E. Porter’s lm) 33–34 Gregson, Ian 61–62 Grossberg, Lawrence 2–316 Guber, Susan 270–71 Guha, Ranajit 77 Guillen, Nicholas 95–96285–86 Gujarati bhasha/literature 128–29131–32134–36184–85 Gulistan (Sa’adi Shirazi) 107–8 Gundert, Hermann 47–4851–5488–89 Gunjikar, B.R. 128 Gurumukhi bhasha 285–86 Guru Grantha Sahib 285–86 Guru, Karunakara 249–50259–60 Guru, Narayana 48–4968131–32179–80311–12 Guru culture/guru philosophy 249–50257259–60 Gurukkal, Rajan 16 Gurusagaram (O.V. Vijayan) 245–46248256–58259–60 Guys, Constantin 145–46310 Habermas, Jurgen 3314–15 Habib, S. Irfan 88–89 Habitus 359–60 Ha z 94 Haiku 94 Hamburger, Michael 32 Hardy, Thomas 267–68 Hareesh, S. 214 Harijan (Gopinath Mohanty) 134–36 Hasan, Mushirul 304–5 Haydon, Benjamin Robert 31–32 Heaney, Seamus 58–59223–24225–26232–33247248 Hedda Gabbler (H. Ibsen) 107–8 Hegel, G.W.F. 29 Heine, Heinrich 94 Hemingway, Earnest 239–40 Henrietta Temple (Benjamin Disraeli) 89–90 Herbert, Zbignew 95–96 hermetic aesthetic 171920–2225–273031–3234–3639–405489–9192–9394–95120197–98199–200236 Hikmet, Nazim 95–96 p. 337

Hindi bhasha/literature


8305–6315–16 Hindi heartland 156–57 Hindu College, Calcutta 22–23 Hindustani bhasha 305–6 historical ction 122–23208–10 historical poetics 8795–97 historical sense 13207–8210–11212–13215–16276–77 History of Indian Literature (S.K. Das) 129–30202–3 History of Phulmoni and Koruna, The (Catherine Hannah Mullens) 2182–8385–86

historiography 16 Hobsbawm, Eric 104–5109–10 Ho mann, Eva 179–80 Ho meister, Gerhart 104–5 Holmstrom, Lakshmi 202–3 Holy Roman Empire 104–5 Homer 90 ‘Hooghly’ (Ayyappa Paniker) 280–82 Horkheimer, Max 18–1947–48 Hugo, Victor 93–95 humanism 15–1694–95103107108–10184–85225–27246–47252265–66273284–86288–90 critical 273282283–84285–86 radical 273 Hungry Generation poets 166 Hyder, Qurratulain 176–77 hypernationalism 9–10100–1303–4305–6 Ibomcha, Yumlembam 156–57162–64 Ibsen, Henrik 92–93107–8147–48 Ichmati (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) 134–36 Idea of India, The (Max Muller) 152–53 Ideology 36–733–3435–363847–4854–5581–8287–88109119143155–56225–26 literary 1920–212530–3134–3582–8389–91120246–47 Ikkavamma, Thottekkat 265–66 imagination, the discourse of 20–2225–263239–4054–5582–8384–85123197–98 Imagined Communities (Benedict Anderson) 47–48 India as idea 152–53 Indian English literature 9–1025–2859–60108–9111–12128–30153–55179–83184–85188–89190–91192– 93194–95207–8 Indian Ideology, The (Perry Anderson) 152–53153n.1 Indian literature 16–79–1017–183557–58629899–100109111–12126–27130–31134–36152153–54155– 58180–81201–2214 Indian modernity/ bhasha modernity/ desi modernity 2–34–571617–1821–2259–6098–99131– 32134136141154–55205–6303–5313–14 crisis in 303–4306–7315–16 Indian Narratology (Ayyappa Paniker) 284–85 Indian philosophy 68 Indian Progressive Writers’ Association (IPWA) 9–103561–6273–74128–29134136137184–85205–6236– 37273–75 Indian theatre 142–43144 Indology 76–77142–43 Indulekha (O. Chandu Menon) 21–2224–2527–2884–8689–91265–66 In nity of Grace, The (O.V. Vijayan). See Gurusagaram Insane City, The (Debi Roy) 156n.3165–68 interiorization 283–85 International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) 116–18 ‘interrogative text’ (Catherine Belsey) 297–99 intertextuality 232–33283–84 Introduction to Modernity (H. Lefebvre) 29–30 Ionesco, Eugene 95–96

p. 338

Iphiginia (Goethe)


Iruttinte Atmavu (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 227228 Itihasattinte Itihasm (O.V.Vijayan) 252254–56 Iyer, Ulloor S Parameswara 66–68273–75 Jackson, Rosemary 215–16 Ja relot, Christophe 306–7 Jain, Jagdish Chandra 99–100178–79 James, Henry 107–8 James, V.J. 214 Jameson, Fredric 16108–9307–8 ‘Janmadinam’ (Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) 184188–91 Januvamma Paranja Katha (Madhavikkutty) 291–92296–97300–2 Jayadeva 4–5107–8 Jayakumar, Prema 175 Jayashree, R.K. 328 jeevalsahitya 69–70149–50 Jesperson, Otto 305–6 Jnananikshepam 52–53 Jnaneshwar 311–12 Joseph, Sarah 207–8214216217218219 Joseph, Thomas 207–8214 Joshi, Umashankar 202–3 Joyce, James 185 Jyeshtadeva 1645–46 Kabeena (S.K. Pottekkat) 37–38236 ‘Kadalteerath’ (O.V. Vijayan) 254 ‘Kafan’ (Premchand) 184–85 Kafka, Franz 92–9395–96141–42179–80239–40 ‘Kafka and His Precursors’ (Jorge-Luis Borges) 79n.2 Kakkad, N.N. 70–71204276–77 Kakkanadan, G.V. 213 Kalidasa 80–8190 ‘Kalocha’ (Madhavikkutty) 296–97 Kannada bhasha/liteature 43–4463–64124–25128–30131–32134–36141184–85207–8285–86 Kant, Immanuel 106–7120 Kanthapura (Raja Rao) 284–85 Kanyasulkam (Gurajada Apparao) 130–31 Kapur, Geeta 205–6 Karanth, Shivarama 128–29134–36184–85 Karasseri, M.N. 302 Karnad, Girish 179–80207–8 Karuna (Kumaran Asan) 67–69299–300 Kashmiri bhasha/literature 98182–83 Kathasaritsagara 107–8 Kathikante Kala (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 226 Kautilya 4–580–81 Kaviraj, Sudipta 125–26165–66 Kawabata, Yesunari 95–96 Kazantzakis, Nicos 95–96

‘Kazhcha’ (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 227229231–33 Keats, John 6894203 Kelkar, N.C. 141 Kerala Kavita (little magazine) 278–79 Kermode, Frank 77n249n Kesavan, C. 48–49 khandakavya 67–68 Khasakkinte Itihasam (O.V. Vijayan) 93–94176–77245–47248–49250–52254–57 Khayyam, Omar 54–5594 Kire, Easterine 139 Kiyotsugu, Kanami 285–86 ‘Kochuthomman’ (N.V. Krishna Warrior) 275–76 Kolatkar, Arun 100–1179–80 Koshy, Archdeacon 84 Kovilan 264–65 Kramadeepika 45–46 Kumar, K.P. Nirmal 213 Kumar, Udaya 297n.3 Kundalata (Appu Nedungadi) 84 Kundera, Milan 38–39179–80243–44 Kunhambu, Potheri 64–65 Kuprin, Alexander 141–42 Kurukshetram (Ayyappa Paniker) 276–77278–79280–82 p. 339

Kurup, G. Sankara


Kurup, O.N.V. 74–75 Kutiyattam 45–46200–1 Kuttanimata (Damodar Gupta) 79–80 Lacan, Jacques 68–69 ‘language of command’ (Bernard S. Cohn) 22–2342305–6 language’s symbolic power 111–12 Larsen, Neil 25–27 Latin American writing 9–10130–31207–10212–13214215219 Latour, Bruno 2–3 Lawrence, D.H. 261–62267–68290 League against Fascism and War 128–29 Leavis, F.R. 201–2286–87 Leela (Kumaran Asan) 68–69203299–300 Leelatilakam 45–46 Leelavathy, M. 70–7274–75195–97198–201203204–5206265–66 Lefebvre, Henri 3–42932–3444–45183–84 Legends of Khasak, The (O.V. Vijayan) 93–94176–77245–47248–49250–52254–57 Lehmann, Ulrich 32–33 Lele, Jayant 43–44 Lelyveld, David 305–6 Leonidas 94 Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) 93–94 Levine, S.J. 219 life writing/self-writing 288291–93296–99300–2 linguistic ethnicity 304–5

linguistic imperialism 9–10 Literary Cultures in History (Ed., Sheldon Pollock) 126 literary historiography 9–1085–86194–95 literary history 725–2659–606263–6568–7071–7274–7587–88115195197–203205–6273–75282 alternative/critical 9–10195–96197–200201204–6 Indian 253560–61126152–53 Malayalam 43–4460–6164–65141–42201 ‘Literary History and Literary Modernity’ (Paul de Man) 194–95 literary reception 60–6166–67110–11115194–95262–63 little magazine 52–53278–79 Livingstone, David 241–42 Llosa, Mario Vargas 64–6595–96207–8213 local colour novel 217–18 Location of Culture, The (Homi K. Bhabha) 101–2 Lokayata 311–12 London Notebook (S.K. Pottekkat) 35–36240–41 Longenbach, James 204–5 Lorca, Federico Garcia 95–96 Lowry, Malcolm 185 Luhara Manisa (K.C. Panigrahi) 134–36 Lukacs, Georg 146–47 Lyrical Ballads 204–5 Mackintosh, Sir James 55–5682–83 Madhavan, N.S. 93–94208n.1214 Madhavikkutty/Kamala Das 9–10226–27288–302 Madhorubhagan (Perumal Murugan) 176–77 ‘Madirasiyil Oru Sayahnam’ (N.V. Krishna Warrior) 275–76 Maeterlinck, Maurice 92–93147–48 Mahabharata, the 78–7980–82299–300313–14 mahakavya 67n.5197 Mahapatra, Jayanta 179–80188–89 Mahapatra, Sitakant 139 Maila Anchal (Phanishwar Nath Renu) 132–36176–77 Maithili bhasha 182–83 ‘Makal’ (Rajelakshmy) 263–64269–71 Malaviya, Madan Mohan 303–4 Malayala Bhasha Charitram (P. Govinda Pillai) 43–44 Malayala Kavita Sahitya Charitram (M. Leelavathy) 195–96198–99 p. 340

Malayalam bhasha/literature


99200–1202–3206208–9210–11213–14219223–33234–44245–60261–72273–87288–302 Malayala Sahitya Charitra Sangraham (P. Sankaran Nambiar) 64–67 Manet, Edouard 33–34186 Mangalodayam (magazine) 263–64 Manipravalam 4–54479–81181 Manipuri bhasha/literature 157–58162–63 Manto, Sadat Hasan 35184–85236–37 Manushyakathanugayikal (Joseph Mundasseri) 67–68 Manvini Bhavai (Pannalal Patel) 134–36 Mappila, Kandathil Varughese 90

Marai, Sandor 185 Marathi bhasha/literature 43–446063–64124–25131–32141202–3207–8 Mardhekar, B.S. 62n.3 marginality/marginalization 3–46–729–3054–5563–6477129–30139158159169 cultural 156–57160 Marquez, Gabriel Garcia 95–96130–31207–8212–13294–95 Marthanda Varma (C.V. Raman Pillai) 130–31208–10 Marx, Karl 30–31101–2101n.2103–4128–29136309–10 materiality /material practice 192531–3234–3577–7889–90120148–50197–98247252271–72288–90 of the body 288 of writing 77–7892–93247252254267–69288–90 Mathan, George 50–5355–56 Mattoli (Joseph Mundasseri) 67–68 Maupassant 92–93147–48225–26 maverick writers 71–7274–75 Mayakovsky, Vladimir 92–9394–95147–48285–86 Mayookhamala (Changampuzha Krishna Pillai) 94 Meghasandesa (Kalidasa) 80–81 Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna 179–80 Menen, Aubrey 288–90 Menon, Nalapat Narayana 92–96141–42 Menon, O. Chandu 21–2224–2554–5564–6584–8688–90265–66 Menon, Rathi 263–64 Menon, Vailoppilly Sreedhara 74–75204 Menon, Vallathol Narayana 66–6893–94197203273–75 Menon, V.K. Krishna 35–36240–41 meta ction 38–39213–14 Milan Scrolls 45–46 Milosz, Ceslaw 179–80 mimetic representation 129–30 Mishima, Yukio 95–96 Misra, Tilottama 157–58 ‘mobile privatization’ (Raymond Williams) 123 Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) 120–21 modernism 1925–26333857–5960–6263–6471–7273–75142–43146–47160166172–73174183–84195– 96197201–3204–6209–10213–14215223–24228229240245–46254–55264–65273275–77278–79280– 82286–87288313–14 in Indian art 205–6 p. 341



74777882–838485–8690–9192–9399–100103107108–9111–12125–27128131–36139140141145–46149– 50153–54182–83189190–91194–95196197–98201–2204–6207–8219226–27228229235–36240241– 42273303–4306–10311–12313–14 aesthetic 25–26 alternative 3–415–16131–32139 colonial/western 6–79–101620–2324–2527–2830–3141–4247–4854–5559–6084–8689–91103– 4108–9132–34137138–39140141181184–85303–4314–15 dialectic of 18–192331–3235–36190schism in the modern and linear time 50 multiple 2–359–60

versus the new (Kesari) 146 and tradition 2–3 modernity studies 32–33 modernization 17–182327–28146 Mohan, Chandra 116–18120–21 Mohani, Hazrat 128–29 Mohanty, Gopinath 9–10128–39267–68 Mohanty, K.K. 168 Mohanty, Satya P. 126–27129–30131–32212–13 Moretti, Franco 101–2103–4 Mortgaged Man, The (Pitambar Tarai) 156n.3168–69 Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf) 185 Mudaliar, Chidambaranath 141 Mukherjee, Meenakshi 4–5129–30 Mukherjee, Sujit 4–5 Mukundan, M 213–14 Mullens, Catherine Hannah 2124–2582–83 Muller, Max 152–53308–9 multilingualism 4–59–1091–92154–55178–79180–81304–5315see also bilingualism Mundasseri, Joseph 3567–69136–37 Murasaki, Lady 107–8 Murugan, Perumal 176–77 ‘mysti cation’ (H. Lefebvre) 44–4546 My Story (Kamala Das) 288–90291–92296–97298–300301–2See also Ente Katha (Madhavikkutty) Nabokov, Vladimir 179–80 ‘nadu’ versus ‘desa’ 151 Nagarkar, Kiran 179–80 Naicker, E.V. Ramaswamy 311–12 Naidu, Sarojini 128–29 Nair, C.N. Sreekantan 278–79 Nair, Edasseri Govindan 74–75204 Nair, M.T. Vasudevan 213–14223–33264–65266–67269 Nair, V.M. 294–95300–1 ‘Nalamathe Aani’ (Anand) 216–17 Nalini (Kumaran Asan) 68–69299–300 Nalopakhyanam 45–46 Nalukettu (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 227228 Nambiantamizh 45–46 Nambiar, P. Sankaran 64–6669–7073–7494 Nambisan, Vijay 192–93 Nambudiripad, E.M.S. 26–2748–49 Name Me a Word (Meena Alexander) 99–101111–12 Nampoothiri, Akkitham Achuthan 70–71203276–77 Nampoothiri, Poonthanam 192–93 Nampoothiri, Vishnu Narayanan 204 Nanda, Meera 307–8 Naneelu (poetic genre) 169–70 Naneelu (N. Gopi) 169–70 Narayan 139

Narayan, R.K. 128–29 Narayanan, Edathatta 255 nation 6–79–1017–1830–313547–4850100–1104–5148–49151–52155–57158159165167–68169170– 71175–77178242–43305–6315–16 nationalism 347–485057–5963–6494–95100–1103104–5115142–43151153–54159174184–85202–3236– 37242–43303–4306–7308–9310313314–16 nativism 131–32 Navalokam (Kesari A Balakrishna Pillai) 92–94145147–48 Navasahiti (journal) 275–76 Needham, Joseph 306–7 p. 342

Neermatalam Pootha Kalam (Madhavikkutty)


Nehru, Jawaharlal 306–7313314–15 Nemade, Bhalchandra 6–716131–32207–8311–12 Nepali bhasha/literature 157–58160–62 Neruda, Pablo 95–96285–86 Nerval, Gerard de 104–5 New Bearings in English Poetry (F.R. Leavis) 201–2 New Criticism 201–2 New Historicism 118–19 ‘newspeak’ (Orwell) 308–9 Ngangom, Robin S. 162–63164–65 Ngugi wa Thiong’O 108–9121–23179–80 Nicholls, Peter 61–62 Niranam poets 80–81 Niranjana (K. Shiva Rao) 128–30 Niranjana, Tejaswini 87–8891–92 Nivartana movement 148–50 Njanenna Bhavan (Rajelakshmy) 263–64269 Nora, Pierre 298–99 North, Michael 61–62 Northeast Indian literature 9–10112156–58174176–77 Ntuppappakkoranendarnnu (Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) 189 Odia bhasha/literature 9–10126–27128–39141156–57159168–69188–89207–8212–13 Olympia (E. Manet’s painting) 33–34 On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (Schiller) 106–7 On the Aesthetic Education of Man (Schiller) 106–7 One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez) 213 Orientalism 87–88111–12142–43152–53207–8313 Orientalism (Edward Said) 87–88 Orlando Furioso (Ariosto) 223–24 Oru Desattinte Katha (S.K. Pottekkat) 39–40236239–40243–44 Oru Teruvinte Katha (S.K. Pottekkat) 36–37236237–38 Orwell, George 308–9 Othappu (Sarah Joseph) 216217–19 ‘Ottakam’ (S.K. Pottekkat) 237–38239–40 Oru Vazhiyum Kure Nizhalukalum (Rajelakshmy) 262–64267–68269 Pacha Malayalam 53–54 Padmanabhan, T. 226–27264–65 ‘Painter of Modern Life, The’ (Baudelaire) 32–33310

Pali bhasha 126 Pamuk, Orhan 95–96 Panigrahi, Bhagavaticharan 134 Panigrahi, Kalindi Charan 128–29134–36 Paniker, Ayyappa 4–59–1070–7293–94131–32204273–87 Panikkar, K.M. 2–3179–80 Panikkar, K.N. 77131–32 Paraja (Gopinath Mohanty) 9–10128132–34136–39 Patankar, R.B. 16 Patel, Pannalal 128–29134–36 Pathummayude Aadu (Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) 190210–11 patriarchy 39–40269–71298–99 Pattu tradition 79–81 Paul, M.P. 35129–30141 Pauma-chariya (VimalaSuri) 78–79 Pauma-chariyu (Swayambhu) 78–79 Pavangal (Victor Hugo) 93–94 Pavithran, P. 68–69 Paz, Octavio 95–96 performance studies 118–19 Persian cosmopolis 125–26 Persian poetics 141 Pessoa, Fernando 179–80 Philipose, Kalloor Ummen 8490 Phule, Jothiba 311–12 Phulmoni o Korunar Bibaran (Catherine Hannah Mullens) 2182–8385–86 p. 343

‘Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote’ (Jorge-Luis Borges)


Pilgrims’ Progress (John Bunyan) 61–62 Pillai, Changampuzha Krishna 71–7292–9394–96204236–37273–76285–86 Pillai, C.V. Raman 64–65130–31208–9214267–68 Pillai, Edappally Raghavan 71–72273–75 Pillai, G. Sankara 196–97 Pillai, Karoor Nilakanta 226–27 Pillai, Kesari A. Balakrishna 9–103592–9394–96149–50197285–86 Pillai, K.G. Sankara 73–74156–57172–76 Pillai, Kuttippuzha Krishna 93–94 Pillai, N. Krishna 286–87 Pillai, P. Govinda 43–4464–65197–98 Pillai, P.K. Narayana 67–68 Pillai, Thakazhi Sivasankara 35132–36189210–11225–26236–37265–66273–75 Pirandello, Luigi 92–93141–42 Piyasi (Sundaram) 184–85 Poe, Edgar Allan 32 Poetics of Dislocation (Meena Alexander) 99–100 ‘poetry of the present’ (D.H. Lawarence) 290 ‘poetry of witness’/ ‘poetry of survival’ (R.S. Ngangom) 162–63164–65 ‘political modernity’ (Dipesh Chakrabarty) 46–47 Pollock, Sheldon 98–100126 polyphony 34–56–79–1037–3891–92102–3124–25152176–77246–47252255–56306–7315–16

Poontanam 192–93 Pope, Alexander 84–85 popular literature 118–19 Porter, Edwin 33–34 positivism 54–56137 postcolonialism 4–56–791–92118–19159160286–87313 post-humanism 273 postmodernism 757–5960–6263–6470–71223–24273281–82 postmodernity 16 Pottekkat, S.K. 9–1035–40134–36141–42189225–26234–44273–75 Potti, C.S. Subramanian 94 Prabhakaran, N. 214 Prabodhakan (journal) 148–49 Pradhan, Sudhi 134137205–6 Prakash, Uday 207–8 Prakrit 4–578–7998–100178–79181 prasa debate 197 Prasanna, A.N. 207–8 Premchand, Munshi 35128–30134136184–85236–37 Primitive Village and Other Poems, The (M. Subba) 156n.3160–62 print capitalism 741–4247–4850248–49 print culture 232441–4247–5188–89123 Pritam, Amrita 35236–37 progress 9–1061–6271–7273–74128134–36137143167196197201202–3205–6219240–41275–76 progressive literary movement 35145See also Indian Progressive Writers Association progressive literature 73857–5860–6263–6467–6869–7071–7273–74134–37149–50189197 prose 31–3241–4244–4751–52548493–94 and linear thinking 42 missionary 20–2145–4653–54 pre-modern Malayalam 45–46 ‘prose of the world’ (Hegel) 2944–45 Proust, Marcel 141–42 public sphere 306–7314–15 Pudumaipittan 128–30202–3 Pulleli Kunju (Archdeacon Koshy) 84 Punjabi bhasha/literature 128–29184187 Punnayurkulam 294–95299–300 p. 344

Qabbani, Nizar


‘Quahe-ri’ (S.K. Pottekkat) 241–42 Rajadhyksha, M.V. 202–3 Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder 306–7 Rajeevan, B. 131–32 Rajelakshmy 9–10261–72 Rajmohan’s Wife (Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay) 182–83 Ramachandran, R. 74–75 Ramacharitam 43–4480–81200–1 Ramakrishnan, E.V. 116–18132–34174175202–3 Ramakrishnan, Kadammanitta 73–74 Raman, Pallath 94

Ramanathan, Ramu 159161 Ramanujan, A.K. 4–56–724179–80248–49313–14 Ramayana, the 43–4468–6978–82299–300313–14 Ranciere, Jacques 184 Randamoozham (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 227228 Rao, Raja 284–85 Rao, Velcheru Narayana 49–50123154–55169–70 rationality, discourse of 315–1620–2224–2631–324251–5254–5580–8182–838485–8688–8990– 91134205–6219306–7 Rati Samrajyam (Nalapat Narayana Menon) 141–42 Ravivarma, Attoor 70–71276–77 reading 9–10233377–78102–3126–27128190–91224–25255–56283–86 realism 9–101633–3435–3774–75128129–32146–47162–63210–11215–16226–27231–32234–35239– 40273–75 classical 33130–32239–40 expressive 224–27228229–30231–32 ctional 90–91 magical 130–31207–9213–14219 social 129–30225–26234–35265–66 socialist 252 Red eld, Robert 98–99 region/regional culture 9–1017–1830–313541–4268–6998–100116–18125–26131–32151–52156– 58160161164–66167169–71174175–77178–79188–89205–6 Remak, Henry H.H. 120–21 renaissance, Indian 1643–4447128–29189226265–66314–15 renaissance ction 225–26 Renu, Phanishwar Nath 132–36176–77 resistance 341–42116–18125–26128–29156–58160162–63 Rilke, Rainer Maria 66–6795–96100–1 Rodney, Walter 2–3108–9 Rolland, Romain 128–29 romanticism 1931–3235–373861–6263–6567–6870–7273–75195–96201–3204–6223–24234–37240– 41273–78281–82 Room of One’s Own, A (Virginia Woolf) 266–67 Roopabhadrata 197 Rosenberg, Harold 205–6 Rout, Biswanath 169 Routroy, Satchidananda 134 Roy, Arundhati 25–2627–28188–89207–8 Roy, Asim 304–5 Roy, Debi 156–57165–68 Roy, M.N. 273275–76 Rubaiyat (Omar Khayyam) 54–5594 Rules of Art. The (P. Bourdieu) 234–35 Rulfo, Juan 95–96207–8 Rushdie, Salman 112n.7153–54180–81188–89207–8 Ruswa, Mirza 128 Sahitya Akademi 154–55 Said, Edward 387–88

Sakuntala (Kalidasa) 53–54 Samadarsi (journal) 148–49 p. 345

Sameeksha (journal)


Samkshepa Vedartham (Clement Peanius) 45–46 Sangari, Kumkum 55–5693 Sankunni, Kottarathil 192–93 Sanskrit 5–64453–5491–92111–12120–21126142–43146–47155–56 ‘cosmopolis’ (S. Pollock) 98–100111–12 drama 143–44 hegemony (also, Sanskrit imperialism) 4–598–99154–55178–79181–82315–16 poetics 198–99 ‘Sanskritization’ (M.N. Srinivas) 53–54 Sanu, M.K. 189190 Saramago, Jose 95–96 Sarang, Vilas 188–89 Sarangi, Asha 151–52304–6 Saraswativijayam (Potheri Kunhambu) 64–65 Sarkar, Sumit 50 Sarma, Dibyajyoti 158 Sarma, R.N. 170171 Sartre, Jean Paul 95–96266–67286–87 Satchidanandan, K. 73–74308–9 Schiller, Friedrich 94106–7 schism in the modern 9–1017–1830–32141See also dialectic of modernity Schnitzler, Arthur 141–42 science 20–23323852–5354–5682–8384–8588–89134137 science ction 208–9 ‘science of administration’ (James Mackintosh) 55–5682–83 scientism 54–56 Scott, Sir Walter 104–5 secularism/secularization 3715–1617–1846–4850–54148–49154–55304–5306–7309–10311–12 Seize the Day (Saul Bellow) 185 Selected Poems (Sananta Tanty) 156n.3158–60 self 17–1838–4084–85118–19122–23125–26156–57158160161170175228243–44246248–49267–68271– 72286–87288290296–99301–2 Sen, Amartya 154–55299–300311–12313 Senapati, Fakirmohan 126–27128129–34212–13 Senghor, Leopold Sedar 95–96 Sentimental Education (Flaubert) 234–35 Sethu 213 Seven Years’ War 104–5 Shakespeare, William 90–91108–9285–86 Shelley, Mary 107–8 Shelley, P.B. 6894273–75 ‘Sherlock’ (M.T. Vasudevan Nair) 213–14229231–33 Shirazi, Sa’adi 107–8 Shree, Geetanjali 207–8 Shulman, David 126 Singer, Isaac Bashevis 179–80

Singer, Milton 98–99 Singh, Jaswant 4–5 Singh, Namvar 4–5 Singh, T.B. 163164 Singh, Thakur Jagmohan 128 Sinhalese 126 Sister and Other Poems (S. Thiyam) 156n.3164–65 Sivakumar, V.P. 207–8214 Slayer Slain (Mrs. Collins) 2182–83 sociality 323 social commitment 134–36145 ‘Social Condition of the International Circulation of Ideas’ (P. Bourdieu) 66–67109–11 social exclusion 128–29 social fantasy 234–35 social imaginary 13718–1958–6063–6674–7577–7880–81248–49 social reform 162541–4246–49546884–85184–85236–37304–5307–8313314–15 social space 234–35 socialism 94–95 p. 346

Sontag, Susan


Sophocles 108–9121–22 Soyinka, Wole 95–96 Spandikkunna Astimadam (Changampuzha Krishna Pillai) 94 spatial imagination 292–93 ‘specialization’ (de Certeau) 44–45 speculative ction 234–35 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 107–8116–19 Srikantayya, B.M. 141 Srinivas, M.N. 53–54304–5 Sri Sri 202–3 Stanislavsky, Konstantin 141–42 Stendhal 92–93147–48 Strange Pilgrims (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) 130–31294 Strindberg, August 92–93147–48 Subaltern Studies 77 Subba, Manprasad 156–57160–62 subject/subjectivity 6–733–3439–4063–64123178186267–68269271–72290–91296–97 ‘subject in process’ (Mary Eagleton) 271–72 Subrahmanyam, Sanjay 176–77 Sukumaran, Jaya 112 Sukumaran, Tatapuram 141–43 Sukumaran, T.P. 144146–47 ‘Sundarakala: Paschatyavum Paurasthyavum’ (Kesari) 142–43 Sundaram 184–85 surrealism 144209–10 symbolism 32 symptomatic reading 262–63 Tagore, Rabindranath 100–1103107–8124–25128–29142–43165–66179–80202–3314–15 Tagore, Soumendranath 128–29 Tale of Genji, the (Lady Murasaki) 107–8

Tamil bhasha/literature 43–446098107–8112124–25128–30141146–47154–55176–77182–83202–3 Tanty, Sananta 156–57158–60161 Tanvir, Habib 35236–37 Tarai, Pitambar 156–57168–69 ‘Task of the Translator, The’ (Walter Benjamin) 76–77 Tasso (Goethe) 104–5 taste 84–8688–89102–3131–32180–81 Taylor, Charles 359–60 Taylor, Ronald 33146–47 technologies of the self 123 technology 15–1620–212338465082–83123134137310 and art 123 Teen Auratein (Sadat Hasan Manto) 184–85 Telangana movement 169–70172 Telugu bhasha/literature 9–1049–5063–6498123124–25128130–31154–55156–57169–72182–83202– 3285–86 temporal imagination 292–93 Tennyson, Alfred Lord 94 text and paratext 118–19 textuality 77–78276–77 ‘Thakur ka Kuan’ (Premchand) 184–85 Thampuran, Keralavarma Valiyakoyi 50–5153–5464–65 Thankachi, Kuttikunji 265–66 Thapar, Romila 324248–49 Tharu, Susie 89–90 Third World/ Third World writing 1934–36120–21146–47178–79181184209–10307–8 Thiyam, Saratchandra 156–57162–63164–65 Tholkappiam 286–87 Thomas, C.J. 275–76 Thomas, P.J. 45–46 Thottiyude Makan (Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai) 134–36184–85 Tibetan bhasha 126 Tieghem, Paul van 120–21 ‘Timepeesinte Katha’ (S.K. Pottekkat) 237–38239–40 Tipu Sultan 45–46 Tirumalesh, K.V. 129–30 Tiruvalluvar 2–316311–12 p. 347



Tolstoy, Leo 108–9 Toomer, Jean 285–86 totalitarianism 252308–9 ‘Towards a Leftist Cultural Politics’ (Lefebvre) 29 tradition 2–36–715–164263–6466156–57172–73176–77194–95196197202–3250257–58303–4308–10 alternative 95–96 European literary 31–32108–9 great and little 193598–99 of knowledge 142–43 literary/cultural 193557–5894–9598104–5128129–30142–43152169–70276–78285–87 marga and desi 3598–99100–1108–10

and modernity 15–1641–42 narrative 130–31 native 41–42112 translatability 76–77111–12 translation 4–5724–254650–5177–8687–97104–5115116–18120–21141–42187–89190214249273278– 79285–86288293–94296–97 as ‘afterlife’ 76–7796–97111–12 and modernity 76–7787–88 as re-writing 78–8184 of Shakespeare 8490–91 traditions in bhashas 78–79 travel writing 35–36235–36240–42 Trees of Kochi and Other Poems (K.G. Sankara Pillai) 156n.3172–76 Trivedi, Harish 116–18 Tsveteyeva, Marina 100–1 Tukaram 16 Two-Nation theory 305–6 Uccha Veyilum Ilam Nilavum (Rajelakshmy) 263–64 Ulysses (James Joyce) 185 Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry) 185 under development 108–9 Ungaretti, Guiseppe 95–96 universalism/ universality 98–99103104–5107109120–23309–10 University of Cambridge 152–53 Unnuneelisandesam 80–81 Untouchable (Mulk Raj Anand) 129–30134–36184–90192193 Upanishads 254257–58 ‘Ur-fascism’ (Eco) 308–9 Urdu bhasha/literature 63–6498128–29176–77182–83184–85305–6 Uroob (P.C. Kuttikrishnan) 226–27 Vachana verse 285–86 Vaduthala, T.K.C. 225–26 Vaisikatantram 79–80 Vajrasoochi (Aswaghosha) 52–53 Valmiki 78–7981–82 Valsala, P. 139 Varadarajan, Mu 129–30 Varier, Ramapurath 67–68 Varkey, Ponkunnam 35134–36210–11225–26236–37273–75 Varma, A.R. Rajaraja 67–68 Varma, Vatakkumkur Raja Raja 67–68 Varshangalkku Munpu (Madhavikkutty) 291–93294–95299–300 Vartamanapustakam (Paremakkal Thoma Kathanar) 45–46 Veeresalingam, Kandukuri 128 Vellayude Charitram (Vella Nampoothiri) 45–46 Venus of Urbino (Titian’s painting) 33–34 Verlaine, Paul 94 vibhakti 192–93194–95 Vidyasamgraham (journal) 20–2324–2552–5355–5682–8385–8688–89314–15

Vijayalakshmi 301–2 Vijayan, O.V. 9–1093–94109176–77181–83213–14245–60 Vilasini 213 Vinayachandran, D. 73–74 p. 348

Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947-1997, The (Ed. S. Rushdie and E. West) Vishakanyaka (S.K. Pottekkat) 36–3738236237–38 ‘Viswamanav’ (Tagore) 107109–10 Viswasahitya 103107109–10 Viswavikhyatamaya Mookku (Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) 210–11 Voznesenski, Andre 95–96 Vyasa 78–79 Wain, John 61–62 Warrior, N.V. Krishna 74–75203273–77 Washbrook, David 304–5 Wassermann, Jakob 92–93147–48 Waste Land, The (T.S. Eliot) 278–79 Wellek, Rene 116 Western Canon, The (Harold Bloom) 107–8 western theatre 142–44 What Is World Literature? (D. Damrosch) 102–3 Whitman, Walt 290 ‘Why Write’ (Ayyappa Paniker) 71–72 Wilde, Oscar 239–40 Williams, Raymond 27–2861–62123134–36234–35 women’s studies 116–18266–67 Woolf, Virginia 185239–40266–67 Wordsworth, Dorothy 239–40 Wordsworth, William 31–32 worldliness/ this-worldliness 3–418148–49160 world literature 6–798–99100–12116–18121–22309–10 Wrenn, C.L. 120–21 Wu, Duncan 61–6271–73205–6 Yuktibhasha (Jyeshtadeva) 1645–46 Zacharia, Paul 214301–2 Zacharia, Scaria 45–46112 Zahir, Sajjad 128–29 Zepetnek, Totosy de 118–19 Zola, Emile 33225–26234–35


About the Author P.P. Raveendran, bilingual critic, was formerly Professor and Director, School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. He is the author of, among others, Texts Histories Geographies: Reading Indian Literature (Orient BlackSwan, 2009), Kamala Das (Sahitya Akademi, 2017), and the co-​ edited volume, The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Malayalam Literature (Oxford University Press, 2017). He was for long the editor of the literary journal, Haritham. His most recent study in Malayalam is a critique of contemporary cultural theory titled Marxezhuttum Tutarchakalum (Writing: by Marx and after Marx, 2022) and a study of Pierre Bourdieu titled Pierre Bourdieu: Prayogattinte Siddhantam (Pierre Bourdieu: Theory of Practice, 2019). His work in Malayalam titled Adhunikatayude Pinnampuram (The Backyard of Modernity, 2017) won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Literary Criticism for the year 2018.