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Postcolonial Literary History and Indian English Fiction By Paul Sharrad ...

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Postcolonial Literary History and Indian English Fiction

Much that is here is so for the simple reason that it has given me pleasure as a reader or provoked my interest as a teacher interested in questions about the transitions in texts and cultures as former colonies establish their own national literatures in dialogue and conflict with the world of the coloniser, and simultaneously enter into global (post)modernity. It is this “postcolonial” dynamic that gives me a slippery grip on the texts considered here. The English language, both as imperial “heritage” and as globalised hegemony, is something I share with the writers and readers of these texts. However, as an Anglo-Australian, English is more of a legacy for me, since it has fewer associations of the “imposition” that it has been and still is for many Indians. As a secularised Protestant of rationalist sympathies, I may have many things in common with the class of people writing the texts here studied, but obviously I do not share as part of my upbringing in 1950s Australia the experience of a fully multilingual society in which the cultures of Islam and Hinduism play formative roles. Retailing some falsely exotic view of India is a charge commonly laid against Indian writers in English, especially those living and publishing abroad, and I acknowledge that from the foreign reader’s perspective, it is exactly the charm of the exotic that first attracts attention to their work. I merely hope that my commentary shows signs of pushing beyond the glossy veneer to point to literary qualities within the texts, cultural dynamics at play around and through them, and the limits—often productive—of the readings offered here and by others.

Such a productive limit is indicated in the title chosen for this collection. Famously coined by Salman Rushdie’s protagonist in Midnight’s Children, it summarises a preoccupation with history in much of Indian writing in English, perhaps especially so in works that seek to break the tyranny of historical realism. In his recent overview of critical responses to the three “father figures” of Indian English writing and of that fiction in general, Dieter Riemenschneider joins a now respectably long line of commentators who note the emergence of that writing from historical circumstances and its continued engagement with the idea of history—especially as it relates to the formation of India as nation (Riemenschneider, The Indian Novel in English 2–4).