A Wounded Literature

GANESANS at cl.uh.edu GANESANS at cl.uh.edu
Wed Aug 13 15:04:34 UTC 1997

I read an article from The Hindu. Here are some excerpts.
The arguments are forceful for putting more Western emphasis
on the literatures from modern North and South Indian languages.
For the complete article, see The Hindu website.

N. Ganesan

                             [THE HINDU]

                       Sunday, July 06, 1997

              The case of a wounded literature
              K. Satchidanandan

              The critical tools of the majority of our Anglophile
              critics, I fear, are hardly adequate to grasp the
              civilisational significance of hundreds of rich, complex
              and stimulating works of every genre in the Indian
              languages that they may choose to qualify, either as
              ''vernaculars``, a term with implied derision for the
              ''natives`` inherited from the colonial masters or as
              ''regional languages``, a term that vainly imagines the
              existence of some other ''Indian`` language and slyly
              hints at the pan- Indian appeal of Indian writing in
              English and silently asserts its hegemonic role. Let me
              make it clear that I have nothing against Indian writing
              in English which I consider a legitimate product of our
              historical and existential conjuncture, a genuine
              expression of our profound post-colonial civilisational
              crisis, for what can be a greater crisis to a
              civilisation than to have to seek articulations in the
              coloniser`s own tongue? Only I am unwilling to concede
              to it, the centrality it seems to claim: it is but a
              peripheral region of Indian literature and there is an
              obvious disparity between the publicity it attracts and
              its literary quality and ability to reflect our social
              as well as spiritual lives. It is the politics the
              power-knowledge nexus behind Indian writing in English
              that has attracted greater criticism than the writing


              The belief that subaltern can speak only in English or
              in Sanskrit (''The Encyclopaedia of Post-Colonial
              Literatures in English`` has a long entry on Sanskrit
              literature, but none on the living languages of India)
              is certainly more than a joke since it has disastrous
              political implications in our context which is a strange
              juncture of neo-colonialism and religious revivalism.
              That some academics like Harish Trivedi, Meenakshi
              Mukherjee and Arun P. Mukherjee have begun to realise
              these dangers is evident from their entries in the
              recently published collection of seminar-papers,
              ''Interrogating Post-Colonialism: Theory, Text and

              Colonial intervention had in fact been a major blow to
              Indian literatures in that it privileged Sanskrit and
              Perso-Arabic over the modern Indian languages. Earlier a
              poet like Kabir had found Sanskrit ''the stagnant water
              of the Lord`s private well`` while the spoken language
              was ''the rippling water of the running stream.`` This
              perception of the medieval saint poets many of whom were
              the founders of native poetic traditions was subverted
              by the British who drew on a completely invented
              ''tradition`` to legitimate and endorse
              ''modernisation.`` Lord Minto ignored all literatures in
              modern Indian languages to assert that science and
              literature in India were ''in a progressive state of
              decay.`` The General Council of Education in India found
              Indian literatures to be ''profane`` ''immoral`` and
              ''impure``, and Sir Richard Temple found them ''scanty``
              and ''obsolete.`` Thus began the colonial project for
              the creation of a ''national`` literature for India
              through translations of Sanskrit and Arabic classics
              into English and of English ''classics`` into Indian
              languages. Charles Trevelyan had found ''The diversity
              among languages`` to be ''one of the greatest existing
              obstacles to improvement in India.`` The British with
              their monolingual and monoreligious culture were unable
              to comprehend the multi-lingual, multi-religious culture
              of India.


              The insurrectionary Dalit writing, most visible in
              languages like Marathi and Gujarati and emerging into
              visibility in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, for example,
              attempts to define difference in terms of caste. Thirty
              centuries of silent suffering a whole ''culture of
              silence`` lie behind their articulations of indignant
              subalternity. They have succeeded in redrawing the
              literary map in their languages by exploring a whole new
              continent of experience as also by revitalising language
              with styles, tones, timbers, words and phrases so far
              kept out of literary use. They compel critics to
              re-examine their canons, challenge the fixed and stale
              social modes of looking at reality and ordering
              knowledge, beauty and power and subvert the age-old
              aesthetic principles of what they qualify as
              ''Brahminist poetics`` with dhwani, rasa and oucitya at
              the centre. They are ideologically heterogeneous as they
              have ambivalent relationships with Buddha, Gandhi and
              Ambedkar. Their poems and stories are invocations of
              cultural memory while their autobiographies unearth a
              whole buried realm of oppressive experience. The
              achievements of Dalit literature seem most evident in
              poetry as in the poems of Narayan Surve, Namdeo Dhasal,
              Keshav Meshram or Mallika Amar Sheikh of Marathi, Yoseph
              Macwan or Pravin Gadhvi of Gujarati or Siddhalingaiah of
              Kannada to cite only a few writers attempting to form an
              alternative aesthetics of social combat.


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