India After Partition and Independence

The history and the aesthetic formation of the subcontinent's English poetry are both inseparable from its geography and geopolitics. Between about 1757 and 1947, the subcontinent was coextensive with today's South Asia, and British India, which at its largest covered about one-third of the area, was divided into three Presidencies centred administratively around Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The remaining two-thirds of the subcontinent was made up of approximately 625 'native states', which retained their independent political status but gradually came under indirect colonial rule, as Britain asserted its paramountcy over the entire region. This geopolitical order meant that the Presidencies were more Anglicized than most of the native states, and within the Presidencies the cities were more Westernized than the countryside. Particularly between the so-called Mutiny of 1857 and the end of the Raj in 1947, indigenous literary culture in English emerged as a predominantly urban phenomenon, dotted across the subcontinent in a network of colonial cities, from Lahore and Delhi to Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.

This unity of Anglicized (as distinct from Anglophone) subcontinental culture was violently and irreparably fractured in 1947—8. When the British left, they divided the mainland into India and East and West Pakistan, with Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan as independent kingdoms, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a separate island-nation. The Republic of India emerged from this balkanization as a union of the old British Presidencies and 601 native states; in 1971 East Pakistan liberated itself from West Pakistan and became Bangladesh; and in 1982 India absorbed Sikkim for reasons of strategic defence, thus creating South Asia as it exists at present. The prolonged dismemberment and redistribution of the subcontinent into sovereign postcolonial nation-states has had far-reaching consequences for the region's literary cultures: what seemed to be a cohesive indigenous literary culture in English before 1947 has since been broken up into distinct national traditions, each with its own history, canon, multilingual and multi-ethnic socio-economic order, politics and aesthetics. Of these, the new canons of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have overshadowed the output of Nepal and Bangladesh, and Indian—English poetry has achieved greater international visibility than the poetry of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In the first two decades after Independence most Indian—English poets developed a depoliticized aesthetics, focusing strategically on self-expression or self-exploration and thematically on self, sensibility and personal experience, and hence turning away from the larger critical and self-critical positions of the nineteenth-century poets. However, attacks by Indian-language writers and nationalists on the foreignness, colonial complicity and cultural irrelevance of English forced many of them to reconsider their conceptions of Indianness. Between about 1960 and 1990 this reconsideration generated two important bodies of Indian—English poetry with distinct orientations toward India and Indian materials and themes, as reconceived critically in a postPartition frame of reference.

The first kind of construction of Indianness appears paradigmatically in the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel, which has affinities in this regard with the poetry of Dom Moraes, Adil Jussawalla, Keki Daruwalla, Eunice de Souza, Meena Alexander and Vikram Seth, among others. Ezekiel is practically monolingual in English and therefore has not been in a position to choose an alternative Indian literary language. As his Collected Poems (1989) show, after the late 1950s Ezekiel tried to invent ways of poetically representing India and Indians — characters, situations, motives, desires, beliefs, behaviour-patterns, and even speech — that are firmly anchored in actual individual and collective experience and, at the same time, accessible transparently through the medium of English. Such representations, however, cannot adopt a merely positive stance towards India and things Indian, since Ezekiel's monolingualism in English as well as his ethnic and social background tend to alienate him from his immediate environment: he was born into a prosperous, secular Bene—Israeli Jewish family in Bombay, was educated in philosophy and literature in England, and hence almost always views India from a cultural and intellectual distance, which is troped as irony and ambiguity in his poetry. The same is broadly true, with adjustments, of Moraes and de Souza, both of whom come from a Luso-Indian, Goan—Christian background; of Alexander, who is linked genealogically to an English-speaking community in Kerala converted to Christianity; and of Jussawalla and Daruwalla, both Parsis who are practically monolingual so far as their writing is concerned (though Jussawalla has collaborated on translations from several languages). Taken together, these poets appear to have limited access to the Indian-language worlds around them, and therefore have to construct ironic, ambiguous, even alienated visions of the subcontinent through the filters of their own monolingual, Anglicized sensibilities. In retrospect, the situations of these postcolonial poets seem closer to those of Derozio and Man-mohan Ghose than those of Madhusudan or Toru Dutt in the nineteenth century.

The second main type of construction of Indianness surfaces in the work of those post-Independence poets who actively read and/or write in English as well as at least one indigenous language. The paradigmatic position here is that of A. K. Ramanujan, who lived in the United States after 1959 (until his death in 1993) but cultivated a complex of literary languages: he wrote original poetry and fiction in English and Kannada, and extensively translated verse and prose from Tamil and Kannada into English as well as from English into Kannada. Other bilingual or multilingual postcolonial Indian—English poets and their respective indigenous languages include Kamala Das (Malayalam), Arun Kolatkar (Marathi), Dilip Chitre (Marathi), Jayanta Mahapatra (Oriya), R. Parthasarathy (Tamil), Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (Hindi), Mamta Kalia (Hindi), Agha Shahid Ali (Urdu), Vinay Dharwadker (Hindi and Marathi), Sujata Bhatt (Gujarati) and Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee (Bengali). Whereas Das, Kolatkar, Chitre, Mahapatra and Kalia are important writers in two languages each, the others practise their literary ambidexterity mainly in the form of translation into English.

Ramanujan's literate multilingualism — more complex than Madhusudan's in the third quarter of the nineteenth century — gave him remarkable access to Indian-

language sensibilities and experiences, enabling him to construct a poetic Indianness that was in much closer contact with subcontinental realities than the Indianness of, say, Ezekiel or Moraes. However, like the poets of the first postcolonial paradigm, Ramanujan did not merely celebrate an authentic, unmediated Indian national identity. Instead, as his Collected Poems (1995) indicate, his interest in and representation of Indianness were constantly modified by his long domicile abroad, which introduced a critical distance between his perceptions, feelings and emotions and his objects of poetic representation. This critical distance again manifested itself in the trope of irony, which ambiguated Ramanujan's attitudes towards Indian history, society and culture. A similar critical distance — expressed as doubt, scepticism and even aversion towards specific aspects of life in modern India — also asserts itself in Kolatkar's satirical and subversive poetry in two languages. Other bilinguals, however, prefer to represent their mother-tongues and native cultures more positively: Mahapatra, for example, mythologizes Orissa, whereas Parthasarathy nostalgically celebrates the precolonial Tamil world.

In contrast to the poets who concentrate on one or another version of Indianness, poets belonging to a smaller group have developed postcolonial critiques of their British-colonial heritage. Adil Jussawalla, for example, offers a comprehensive appraisal of the subjection of Indians in colonial as well as postcolonial regimes of power. In Missing Person (1976), a book-length sequence of political—psychological poems marked by the influence of Frantz Fanon, he attempts to dismantle the conventional (modernist and New Critical) aestheticism of his contemporaries to such an extent that he seems sometimes to lose sight altogether of poetry and the poetic. Risking an extreme form of political anti-poetry, Jussawalla constructs the postcolonial Indian citizen and intellectual as a 'missing person', who is missing precisely because his subjectivity and agency have been substantially evacuated by the colonial past and the postcolonial present. Jussawalla's anti-heroic persona or protagonist in the sequence experiences and represents himself, as well as his overall social and cultural situation, as a series of unrelatable, unrecoverable fragments. His mind, or the zone of postcolonial consciousness he represents as a type, has been reduced to schizophrenia, incoherence and possibly even madness. If this character is to restore himself to health, sanity and wholeness, then he can do so only by erasing the colonial and postcolonial conflicts and contradictions which have produced him and which he still embodies. In hinting at this strategy of hypothetical recovery, Jussawalla comes closest among the Indian English poets to representing a full-fledged anti-colonial postcolonialism of the kind familiar from African and Caribbean literature and theory, especially in Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Ngugi wa Thiongo', and the later Derek Walcott.

In contrast to Jussawalla, many post-Independence Indian—English poets view English and Indian—English writing as phenomena that cannot (and perhaps should not) be erased or reversed. For them, English in India has had a devastating and destructive effect on Indian culture but, at the same time, has also proved to be an undeniably productive influence. Since the late 1940s such poets have resolved the acute tensions within and around themselves between modernity and tradition, and between Westernization and Indianness, by adopting a manifold cosmopolitanism. This cosmopolitanism, which combines European, Islamic and Hindu cultural perspectives, opposes non-ironic forms of nationalism as well as unilateral and unambiguous forms of anti-colonialism. In the first quarter-century after Independence, such poets as Ezekiel, Ramanujan, Moraes, Jussawalla, Das, Kolatkar, Chitre, Mahapatra, Mehrotra, de Souza and Daruwalla represent a spectrum of cosmopolitan positions, in which numerous explicitly Indian elements interact with Western ones, and traditional subcontinental conventions and codes modify and are modified by modern ones.

Among the poets of the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, this cosmopolitanism is rarefied and aestheticized into a postmodernist internationalism from which national identities, nationalistic concerns, and Indianness sometimes vanish altogether. Thus, Vikram Seth, Agha Shahid Ali, Meena Alexander, Sujata Bhatt and Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee can write important poems that do not reflect in any way (except in their authors' obviously Indian names) on India or things Indian. Seth's self-styled 'pure poetry' in The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985) and in his Pushkinesque verse-novel The Golden Gate (1987), Ali's longing for a male American lover in A Nostalgist's Map of America (1991), and Bhatt's aesthetic exoticization of Europe - especially Ireland, Germany and Russia - in Brunizem (1988) and The Monkey Shadows (1992), for instance, do not question or explore their authors' national identities. In contrast to the older poets who seek to Indianize themselves or to develop a post-Independence anti-colonial stance, many of the younger cosmopolitans simply ignore the themes of colonialism, postcolonialism and anti-colonialism, and seem to accept, even celebrate, the world order that has emerged in the neocolonial global economy, without either criticism or self-criticism to ambiguate their positions.

The single most significant critical and aesthetic development in post-Independence India, however, may be the formation of a unique body of women's poetry in English, which has important parallels in the contemporary indigenous languages. In such collections as Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967) and The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973), Kamala Das sparked off a scandal by using free verse boldly to explore female desire within and outside a conventional arranged marriage, questioning male power as well as covert male bisexuality and homosexuality in the middle-class Indian domestic sphere, and playing simultaneously with female infidelity, women's bisexuality and lesbian identity. Between the 1970s and the 1990s the poetry of Eunice de Souza, Mamta Kalia, Melanie Silgardo, Charmayne D'Souza, Suniti Namjoshi, Sujata Bhatt and Imtiaz Dharker, among others, broadened and deepened the reach of women's experimentation, linking the female psyche to its economic and social conditions, re-examining the structures of Indian extended and nuclear families, raising questions about race and ethnicity in subcontinental society, exploring issues concerning property, law, motherhood, social class and religion, and renewing the gender-based solidarity among women writers and readers. De Souza (in New and Selected Poems, 1994), followed independently by Silgardo and D'Souza, has richly documented and dramatized the collective life of the Luso-Indian and Anglo-Indian Christian communities in the Bombay—Goa coastal region, improvising an unprecedented poetic dialect based on local creoles. Dharker (especially in Postcards from God, 1997) has devised a thicker, darker and more formal language for Muslim minorities and Muslim women on the subcontinent, without flinching from the psychic and public violence involved. In the diaspora, Namjoshi (who has lived in Canada and now lives in England) experiments with sexual identity, whereas Alexander (in the United States) and Bhatt (in Germany) explore the nature of female memory, both collective and individual, in relation to a range of disparate elements: cultural identity, homeland and migration, the complexities of assimilation in a foreign society, and the special pleasures of an unconstrained female cosmopolitanism.

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