Origins of Indian English Literature
All of us, who like to think of ourselves as cool and contemporary, either like or detest brands like Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Chitra Banerjee Dibakaruni, etc. But we silently ignore the people who are responsible for initiating the era of Indian English literature. When we discuss Indian poets who express their imagination in English, we conveniently forget people like Sarojini Naidu. It is true that we know about her, and have read her poems at some point of time, but we ignore her over the cups of coffee while delving into blank verses. She, and the likes of her, are confined to the literature syllabus.
All of us have a craving for appreciating that which is not understood by many. Perhaps we neglect the romanticism of the earlier era because we, in our scholastic naiveté, ridicule the appreciation attained in a pedantic manner. And in the process we neglect the beauty that is obvious. The simplicity of the early English writers from India carry that beauty in their works.
To begin at the very beginning, the contributions of Bankimchandra Chatterjee and Toru Dutt cannot escape our attention.
Bankim’s contribution was the first English novel by an Indian, Rajmohan’s Wife (1864). A novel where the female protagonist’s (Maatangini) romanticism is snatched away and she is punished for her personal revolt against the mundane life and its meaningless shackles. An extremely modern novel of it’s times – the plot and it’s message remains socially relevant even today. This article by Makarand Paranjape is an excellent discussion of Bankim’s works and their social and national consequences.
Perhaps the best article on Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is this one: Rishi Bankim (by Sri Chinmoy).
Toru Dutt (1856 – 1877), virtually unknown during her short life of 21 years, made her mark posthumously in the world of literature by sheer purity of the spirit in her writings. Her most famous novel, Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, was published from Paris in 1879. The following is one poem from the impressive creations of art she left behind:
Our Casuarina Tree
LIKE a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
And oft at nights the garden overflows
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.
When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter,—on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.
But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
It is the tree’s lament, an eerie speech,
That haply to the unknown land may reach.
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:
And every time the music rose, — before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose, —
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!
Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees—like those in Borrowdale,
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
“Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse.
Origins of Indian English Literature by
Ritwik Banerjee is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
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