Themes in Indo-Anglian literature 3 editions
“Themes in Indo-Anglian Literature “ by Dr. Murli Das Melwani is a slender volume studying broadly the existing situation in Indo-Anglian writing and indicating lines for its future development. Published by Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly, the book carries a Foreward by Dr. Amaresh Datta, Professor and Head of the Dept. of English, University of Gauhati. The book has modest aspirations; the author claims nothing extraordinary; the work is journalistic in approach but is a compendious estimate of the contributors to Indo-Anglian Literature, And for the directions the author gives for the future the book has a value of its own.
Indo-Anglian Literature for all the initial resistance it met with from critics has now come to stay though it may still have a long way to go to crystallize itself. The failure to create “Indigenous” Indo-Anglian Literature is largely attibutable to the difficulty in depicting a people in a language not spoken by them. This, points out Dr. Melwani, should explain the tendency to narrate and describe rather than dramatize and portray. However, the paradox of the Indian situation is that even in these days of falling standards in English “more English is being written by Indians than before”. Why does the Indian choose to write in English when he has his own languages that have a long, unbroken literary tradition? T.S. Eliot in “Poetry and Poets” remarks that “one of the reasons for not acquiring a new language instead of our own is that most of us do not want to become a different person.” This argument may be granted but the Indian situation is peculiar due to historical circumstances and we may also apply to other forms of literature what Amalendu Bose says, answering the question why Indians choose to write poetry in English: “The only thing to say about an Indian Poet’s choosing English as his medium in preference to his mother tongue is that he has knowledgeably chosen to walk along the razor’s edge.” In chapter 15 of his work, Dr. Melwani deals briefly with the question of the place of English in India and describes the opposition to English as stemming from a sense of perverted nationalism. To those who doubt the Indian competence to use English for creative literature, Dr. Melwani provides an answer rather too easy nevertheless appealing to common sense. “Writers choose a media”, Dr. Melwani points out, “in which they are facile and if they prefer English it is only because they do not consider it as a hindrance to expression.” “The proudest achievement of Indian writing in English,” he goes on to say, “is that such work is the window through which the world looks into India.” Analysing the recent trends in Indo-Anglian fiction and poetry, Dr. Melwani observes that the trend in fiction is towards greater introspection and in poetry a marked departure from Victorianism, tradition and a going towards more personal and social themes. But repetition of themes, metaphors and vocabulary are some of the short comings of Indo-Anglian poets and their indifference to rural India is one more. Dr. Melwani finds the poetry of Indo-Anglian women poets lacking in variety and maturity. Their common themes are “thwarted desires, frustrations of living in a male-dominated world, sex and love.” Dr. Melwani suggests that these poets will find maturity when they present themes in greater depth, broader imagination and imagery and become bolder in technique. Dr. Melwani’s studies of the Indo-Anglian drama and short story are by far the most interesting chapters of the book. If there is comparatively a small output of Indo-Anglian drama, he blames the privileged image that the western play still holds on the Indian mind To quote Dr. Melwani,” a western play has a snob value in India. Foreigners attend its performance and except the minority of serious play goers, sophisticated Indians are flattered to be seen in their company.” As an extra-literary reason it is a pointer, however unpalatable. As regards the literary reason, the type of play offered is not generally suited to the stage though during the last decade and a half plays written have lent themselves to easier actability. But here again Dr. Melwani finds, “the stigma of unreal theatre attaching to all Indo-Anglian drama” making it difficult for the Indian audience to establish any identity with the play. Dr. Melwani commends the efforts of Nissim Ezekiel whose plays are a refutation of Dr. Srinivasa Iyengar’s contention “that it would be difficult to make dialogue between Indians in English sound convincing.” Another playwright the author mentions appreciatively is Asif Currimbhoy whose plays, like those of Nissim Ezikiel, are also eminently actable. Dr. Melwani believes that Indian history provides a vast resource ground for themes. He writes “Asoka awaits the treatment that Robert Bolt gave Thomas More “ and making a reference to the resource possiblitties of the contemporary political situation, Dr. Melwani observes that “the clash of personalities in Indian politics is as tempting as Julius Ceasar and his contemporaries must have appeared to Shakespeare”. Dr. Melwani attributes the neglect of the short story to the attitude of the publishers who have an eye only on business returns and to the magazines and weeklies that have a surfeit of politics. (But the tide is turning; of late almost every magazine and weekly carries a regular short story feature). The author also notes the rise of pulp literature in recent years (prominent among these being Nargis Dalal, Sashti Brata, Mayah Balse), in contrast to writers till the seventies like Raja Rao, R.K.Narayan and Malgaonkar. He is sympathetic to this literature as it has promoted an extension of themes, provides a cathartic release and has lifted Indo-Anglian Literature out of the drawing room. The writer’s predilection towards English is seen through this work, and, justifying pulp literature, he says that the rise in popularity of this literature fortifies the claim of English to be regarded as one of the languages of India. The book has a select bibliography listing 36 works. Though the study or individual authors is peripheral and sketchy, it is sufficiently well written to arouse interest in the problems and future possibilities of Indo-Anglian literature. (Broadcast on AIR Bombay on 25.3.1977 . Review by Prof V. Rajaraman
Review in The Assam Tribune
Dr Melwani states in his Introduction that his task in these essays has been “to analyse the existing situation, to examine factors hindering the development of a particular form, and if possible, to make suggestions. “ From this point of view, his essays, “Paucity of Indo-Anglian Drama”, “Indo-Anglian Neglect of the Short Story”, “Indo-Anglian Novelists and Their Critics” are good essays. The problems faced by the types of drama, short story and novel of this branch of Indian literature in English, as pointed out by the author, are however mostly of the nature of writers’ or critics’ neglect or indifference and the publishers’ or readers’ apathy. This shows that Dr. Melwani is mostly concerned with the immediate problems of this literature, not with the remote but more serious ones like socio-cultural or socio-economic ones. The author does this consciously so that his essays may be “both readable and of interest.” That he is free from any pretence of a serious critic is clear from his own words: “I have been describing these pieces as literary criticism when I should have been using the term journalism.” But that the author has the ability of a serious critic also as can be seen from an essay like “The Compassionate Critic.” Dr. Melwani has chosen to remain aloof from “academic criticism” because to him, “we will be able to afford this luxury a decade hence” He describes his concern as “the practical aspect of literary criticism.” “He seems to suggest by this that Indian English Literature is still at a stage where it needs careful nursing, not pruning. Surely many will not agree with Melwani here. Also whether development of a literature is possible simply by extra-literary analysis and discussion, keeping aside serious criticism of value judgement, is a question many would like to ask. Such criticism of value judgement based on a plausible standard is certainly not a “luxury” as such criticism is not mere academic criticism.
Happily Dr. Melwani himself has tended towards this sort of criticism in a few essays. Even then he keeps an eye on the practical problems of the genre in the present day India. “Recent Trends in Indo-Anglian literature”, “The New Awareness of the Indo-Anglian Writers”, “Indo-Anglian Criticism Still Tied to the Past” are the examples of his two-pronged approach. But even in such essays the author does not reveal any sign of his acceptance of an ideology or philosophy as his criterion for evaluation or judgement a method so necessary for a serious literary critic. As a critic concerned with the development of Indian English literature, Dr. Melwani is rightly interested in the emerging writers of this literature. Hence his individual essays on Arun Joshi, Saros Cowasjee and Asif Currimbhoy. There are also observations on up and coming authors like Jai Nimbkar. Dr Melwani’s boldness and good taste as a critic as well as his deep love for this branch of Indian literature is illustrated when he vigorously defends C.L. Nahal’s first collection of short stories against a blatantly wrongful attack by an irresponsible and uninformed reviewer. Dr. Melwani can condense his thoughts and views and convey much in the fewest of words. Yet these words are never uninteresting. He can detect flaws in the language of the authors he studies and locate the areas of richness of Indo-Anglian literature with confidence and ease. All these are signs of a promising critic. As Dr. Amaresh Datta rightly remarks in the Foreword: “His critical vision is clear and writing competent and he knows very well what he is talking about.” Such being his talent, Indo-Anglian literature will find in him a very worthy critic when he chooses to adopt a definite approach of literary criticism.
Gobinda Prasad Sarma,
Professor, Department of English, Gauhati University
And author of Nationalism in Indo-Anglian Fiction
Review in Hindusthan Times dated 3.7.1977.
Criticism like drama has never been a strong point of Indo-English literature. Expectedly Melwani is critical of the Indo-English critical standards; some of which he rightly dismisses for their sheer irrelevance. He pleads for a practical criticism, a term not to be confused with Richard’s practical criticism. His practical criticism is a sort of workshop criticism-the poet’s criticism seeking to spell out the specifics which must govern any approach to, and assessment of his poetry. The first beneficiary of such criticism, we are told, should be the writer. So he dismisses much of the criticism put out by scholars like Srinivas Iyengar as academic and, therefore, barren. His qualified approval of David McCutchion implies the same critical assumption. The ideal critic, argues the author, would do the extra-literary jobs which means he would go around ascertaining the “attitudes of publishers and the eccentricities of magazine editors.”
A chapter of apologetics outlining the credo and rationale of Indo-English writing must needs figure in every such book and this logic here confounds us. He says English has been retained for administrative convenience (“Why can’t it be for a less prosaic purpose, creative writing”?) Such arguments, one cannot help observing, imply a total non-recognition of the role historically assigned to creative language in all literatures. If in Indian fiction it goes prosaic, as indeed it does in Chaman Nahal’s, he finds fault with the critics who expose its prosiness. In the same sequence when he comes to examine the non-existent Indo-English drama, he attributes Asif Curimbhoy’s ineffectiveness to his mishandling of the language. Does language along distinguish the dramatic? Did not Nissim Ezekiel exploit the language to give his audience some jolting comic effects? And yet have they, I mean Asif and Nissim between themselves, given us any drama comparable to our achievements in fiction and poetry? The Indo-English drama did not bother to draw upon the Indian stage experience such as Deshpande in Marathi, Adya Rangacharya and Karnad in Kannada and Mudra Rakshas in Hindi. These achievements are pointers to certain definite trends: The playwright must evolve a vernacular, a dramatic idiom to dramatize a personal realization of the larger questions plaguing a concrete social reality at a given time. Otherwise, it will preserve at any cost the illusions its own snobbery generates. And so drama lacking, we have to make do with, at best, conversation pieces. The book offers rich indications to the complex problem inherent in Indo-English criticism and to the extent the book is an attack on the sterile and irrelevant Indo-English criticism being put out by academics, it is likely to stimulate further inquiry. Reviewed by V.N.Chhibber
REVIEW Broadcast over AIR, Shillong on 29.8.1977
Dr. Melwani’s book is a collection of articles which are, on the whole, a critical survey of the Indo-Anglian Literature. It also contains an interesting account of Ceylon’s contemporary literary scene. Dr. Melwani holds the view that the Indo-Anglian literature has an independent existence. He fervently maintains that it is a “new literature”, and not a “hybrid”. The lead in this respect is evidently suggested by Prof K.R Srinivasa Iyengar’s “Indian Writing in English”. In another article, “English in India”, Dr. Melwani seeks to justify the claim of Indian writers to writing in English. In his article on the recent trends in Indo-Anglian literature, Dr. Melwani examines the themes in the Indo-Anglian novel and poetry. He records significant developments in the novel, in respect of themes and technique; and he cites evidence of a break with tradition in the sphere of poetry. In an article on the “paucity of Indo-Anglian Drama”, Dr. Melwani deplores the dearth of Indo-Anglian drama. He is puzzled by the retardation in its growth, in a situation in which (he claims) favourable conditions have always existed. He then suggests the reasons responsible for such retardation. In an article on “Indo-Anglian Women Poets” be discusses, with a keen insight, the respective strength and weakness of women poets – each in her own sphere of activity. Dr. Melwani’s aim in criticism, as clearly stated by him in his Introduction to his book, is “to analyse the existing situation, to examine the factors hindering the development of a particular form, and, if possible, to make suggestions”. This aim is evidently prompted by his dissatisfaction with the present state of literary criticism which (he thinks) is “casual, haphazard, and partial”, and is purely academic. He therefore insists on “practical criticism”. His account of the success (or failure) of the contemporary drama, for instance, is based on the practical consideration of stage effects; and, also, with an eye to stage production. This inevitably eliminates the “drama of ideas or problems” from the field of the drama. The neglect of the short story, likewise is attributed (among other things) to the lack of encouragement on the part of magazine editors and publishers. Dr. Melwani suggests that the test of a good short story is the extent to which it accommodates itself effectively to the limited space allotted to it in a magazine. He asserts that it is essential for a short story to make its debut in a magazine before its final appearance in book form. This statement probably rests on the assumption that a short story, by being published in a magazine, stands a better chance of a wider attention or appeal. However, one wonders whether popular appeal is a safe criterion by which the worth of a short story (or, for that matter, any other piece of writing) is to be judged. The same practical consideration must have prompted Dr. Melwani’s “defence of what he calls, “pulp literature”, or “lower level of literature”, which (he claims) “provides a cathartic release”. To what extent such contention in favour of “pulp literature” is true, remains to be seen. At any rate, one cannot but apprehend a general degeneration in taste and consequent lowering of standards. Dr. Melwani’s articles are, on the whole, too brief to afford detailed criticism of any particular writer and his works. But, where a more or less detailed treatment permits, as in his article on the fiction of Khushwant Singh and the novels of Arun Joshi, the salient features of the writers and their works are brought into clear focus. Dr. Melwani’s approach to literary criticism reflects an original and critical mind; but the standards that he sets for other critics seem too high to be attainable. For instance, a critic is expected to exercise strict mental discipline, to have a broad mental outlook and wide sympathies, and an open mind, together with a sense of obligation towards a writer, in addition to his function of serving the interest of the readers. Dr. Melwani’s style of writing is clear and straightforward, and is accessible even to general readers. In its own right, the book is a remarkable contribution to literary criticism; students of the Indo-Anglian literature will find it immensely helpful. Mr. E. M. Sohkhlet, Head of the English Dept., Synod College, Shillong.
Broadcast over AIR, Shillong on 29.8.1977
3 editions First published in 1976
1976, Prakash Book DepotThemes in Indo-Anglian literature
in English - 2d ed. --
1976, Prakash Book DepotThemes in Indo-Anglian literature
in English - 2d ed.
1977, Prakash Book DepotThemes in Indo-Anglian literature.
in English - 2nd ed.