Thursday, July 5, 2018



The first Indian English poet, by common consent, is Henry Derozio, who published his collection of Poems in Calcutta in 1827. But, perhaps, even this was neither as sudden nor dramatic as it may seem today. Indians had begun to lean English in earnest at least twenty-five years prior to that and some had ever.

M. K. Naik in his extremely useful History of Indian English Literature (1982) refers to Cavelley Venlcata Boriah's "Account of the Jains" published in Asiatic Researches (London, 1809) as the first substantial published composition in English by an Indian. This essay was actually written even earlier, probably in 1803. Boriah's essay, twenty-eight pages in length, uses translation, yet it retains a historical importance as the first sizeable piece of writing in Indian English. The credit for the first original English composition by an Indian goes to Raja Rammohun Roy, for his essay, A Defense of Hindu Theism 1517. Indian English poetry did not emerge suddenly, without any prior preparation; a community of Indians who knew and used English was necessary before it could be born. Indeed, in my Introduction to Indian Poetry in English (1993)


Before Indians could write poetry in English, two related preconditions had to be met. First, the English language had to be sufficiently Indianized to be able to express the reality of the Indian situation; secondly, Indians had to be sufficiently Anglicized to use the English language to express themselves" (1). Perhaps, we should spend some time trying to examine and understand these two preconditions. After Vasco da Gama came to Kerala in 1498, the trade routes to India over the high seas opened up. With trade, several Indian words made their way into Portuguese, thence into English, especially after the charter of the East India Company in 1600. The British presence in India, however, remained marginal for another hundred or 150 years. But towards the end of the 18th century, after the East Indian Company transformed itself from a trading company into an incipient empire, a number of Englishmen and women began to use the English language to express Indian themes and subject matter. It was the Battle of Plassey of 1757 which was the turning point in early colonial history because it gave the British virtual control of one of the richest and most populous provinces of India, Bengal. Soon, the revenue administration also passed into the hands of the British. This forced them to undertake a systematic study of land records and other official documents so that they could rule more effectively. This, coupled with a curiosity to understand a culture as rich and ancient as India's, gave rise to a whole tradition of British Orientalist scholarship.
Indian English Literature
Many of these scholars who were high-ranking British officials, well-trained in British universities, were assisted by native pundits and scribes in their efforts to understand and interpret Indian texts and traditions. The Asiatic Society in 1784, translated Kalidasa's Shakuntala in 1789, and demonstrated the remarkable similarities between Indian and European languages. Jones may also be considered as the "pitamaha" if not "father" of Indian English poetry because he published a series of hymns to Hindu gods and goddesses in English, thereby showing that the English language was suitable to express even such traditional Indian themes. These hymns to Caindeo, Prakriti, Indra, Surya, Lakshmi, Narayana, Saraswathy, and Ganga, though they sound quaint, bookish, and artificial today, may be considered as the real precursors to Indian English poetry.
Indian English Poetry, british indian poetry, english poetry, myexamsolution

The Anglicization of the Indians or, at any rate, of a certain section of the Indians which came into direct contact with the British, was an ongoing process, which grew in direct proportion to the rise of British power in India. In the beginning, the British tried to encourage traditional scholarship in India. Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, founded the Calcutta Madrasa for the teaching of Arabic and Persian in 1781. Similarly, Jonathan Duncan started the Sanskrit College in Benares in 1782. Those who favored the promotion of native education in the classical languages of India came to be called the Orientalists. But, by the turn of the century, the tide of public opinion had changed in England. The Conservatives lost power to the Liberals; utilitarian ideas were in the air. Ironically, Conservatives like Edmund Burke had a higher opinion of Indian civilization than Liberals like Macaulay. There was also a rise in Evangelical movements, which aimed at spreading Christianity in India.
The Liberals and the Evangelists, then, became unlikely allies in the mission Background of revamping Indian civilization. Both attacked Indian civilization and Hinduism, from secular and religious considerations respectively. Schools set up by the missionaries were already teaching English by the beginning of the 19th century; now the imperialists too began to champion the cause of English education in India. English was seen as an aid to establishing the empire. In the end, the tussle between the Orientalists and the Anglicizes resulted in the victory of the latter, signed, sealed and delivered, as it were, in the famous Minute of Macaulay of 1835. Let us look, briefly, at the background and the content of the Minute. In 18 13 the British Parliament passed an Act by which a sum of Rs. 1 lac was to be set aside "for the revival and promotion of literature and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the residents of the British territories."

Indian English Poetry : Macaulay

 Thomas Babington Macaulay, as Member of the Council of India, headed the committee, which looked into the question of how this money was to be spent. His Minute of 2 February 1833 was decisive in tilting the scale in favour of English education. Macaulay shows his poor opinion of Eastern civilization by declaring that "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia." Macaulay, quite truthfully, admitted that he had himself had no knowledge of Sanskrit or Arabic, but that he had formed this opinion, on the basis of the translations he had read and the learned experts he had consulted. At any rate, Macaulay's assertion reflects not only imperial arr6gance and self-assurance on an astonishing scale, but also his faith in the transformative role of English in India. He says that English can do for India what the revival of classical learning did for Europe during the renaissance or what the languages of Western Europe did for Russia. For him, English had civilizing and modernizing mission in India. Macaulay was already aware of the growing power and spread of the English language and almost anticipated its present eminence. He also observed that Indians seemed to have a special affinity for English, a language they mastered more easily than other Europeans themselves. He hoped that the new education system would "form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, morals, and in intellect." Macaulay was also an extremely practical man, who noted how scholars of Arabic and Sanskrit had to be paid to study these languages, while the demand for English was actually increasing day by day.

Macaulay, despite his imperial agenda, in fact had a good deal of support from Indians themselves. Rammohun Roy, one of the leading intellectuals and social reformers, had helped establish an Association to promote European learning and science as far back as 1816. The next year, the Hindu College, the first modem institution of higher education in India, was founded. When the debate over the future of education in India was raging, Roy wrote a letter to Lord Amherst, the then governor-general. In this letter of 11 December 1823, Roy protested against the establishment of a Sanskrit College in Calcutta and pleaded instead for "a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry and anatomy, with other useful sciences." Roy's letter, no doubt, had a profound and far-reaching effect because we find distorted echoes of his letter in Macaulay's minute itself. But a careful reading of Roy's submission shows that what he wanted was modem, technical education, and not necessarily English literary education. Roy, in fact, favoured primary and secondary education in the vernaculars, but also wanted Indians to learn English and progress in modem learning. What Macaulay delivered instead was a more textual and literary type of education, with very little emphasis on practical arts and technical subjects.
In 1857 the three universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, one in each of the three presidencies of the Empire, were established. With that, English education became deeply entrenched in India. As Macaulay had desired, a new class was created who were perfectly at home both in the English language and English culture. Naturally, it was from this class that Indian English writers came.

Social and Political Changes

The Portuguese intervention in India was essentially different from the British because it was, informed by a different type of imperial ideology. Military conquest, conversion, and profit-in that order--were its motivations. In other words, it was a more traditional form of imperialism. In areas such as Goa where Portuguese rule was consolidated, the native culture was altered more radically than where British colonization thrived. The Portuguese conquest of Indian territories was accomplished with much more bloodshed and naked violence than the British. What the Portuguese sought to do was to impose their own religion and culture on the Indians, so as to create a new kind of society in the East. In the ultimate analysis, their impact was limited when compared with the astonishing success of the British Empire that followed it. Background One reason for this is that the conquest of India could not be effected merely through an assertion of cultural or military superiority. When Britain conquered India later, it was not just another country or culture defeating ours; that is, it was not just the triumph of Britain or Europe, but of modernity. Britain won because it was, powered. By a different kind of engine and a different kind of energy. Ascendant Europe had learned to capture the hidden powers of nature itself; the Industrial Revolution of the 1780s and the years of preparation which preceded it, gave Britain a technological, military, and therefore cultural, advantage over India which was, perhaps, unprecedented. Though Portuguese rule gave way to British rule, it did make a significant impact on the mind of India and Europe. For nearly a 100 years, things Eastern in general came to Europe mediated through the Portuguese language and people, most early Indian lexical borrowings in European languages, including English. That is, the first Indian words in English came via the Portuguese language. But on the Indian side too, Europe, especially Roman Catholicism, came to be nativised in a unique new community in Goa. This community of Indian Christians played an important role in the modernization of India. Our first Indian English poet himself.

Indian English Poetry: Henry Derozio

Henry Derozio, belonged to this community. Derozio is probably a shortened version of Derozario, a common Portuguese surname, which several converted Hindus adopted. Francis Derozio, Henry's fither, is referred to as "a native Protestant" in Church records and also as a Portuguese merchant. Both these clues suggest that Derozio's father was a product of the Indo-Portuguese encounter. Other Indian English poets such as Dom Moraes, Eunice de Souza, and Charmayne D'Souza also belong to this community of Goan Christians.

Portuguese colonialism in India failed, or at any rate succeeded only partially. One reason for this was that it was very narrow-minded and limited in its approach and methods. In a sense, then, it a presented the conservative face of Europe. In Europe itself, the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, which had conspired to divide the vast territories of the New World, between two countries, Spain and Portugal, was being challenged. Both the Dutch and the English were challenging Spain, as the rising tide of Protestantism was challenging the Roman Catholic Church itself. The charter of the East India Company took place during the reign of one of Britain's greatest monarchs, Queen Elizabeth, as did the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 by Britain, which marked a decisive point in the rise of British power. Over the next 250 years, Britain would emerge as the greatest power not only in Europe, but also in the whole world. British imperialism backed as it was by a more modem and secular outlook, started by concentrating on trade. It had a policy of non-interference with the religious and cultural traditions of the people it conquered. Conquest itself was not the aim to begin with but was almost thrust upon the East India Company in its fight to protect its trade interests. The volatile political situation after the fall of the Mogul empire gave John Company (as the East India Company was popularly known) a unique opportunity to meddle in the affairs of the warring Indian princes. The Company Poetry used its leverage as a seemingly neutral outsider to its advantage. After its trading settlements in Surat and Hoogly were attacked, it began to fortify them and to arm itself. It raised an army mostly by recruiting local mercenaries and training them in modem, European methods of warfare.

The Battle of Plassey in 1757

The Battle of Plassey in 1757 in which a small but well-trained army of Indians, led by a small band of British officers under Robert Clive, defeated the huge but divided army of Siraj-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Bengal. The model of this battle can be seen in that uniquely Indian tribute to the Raj, the Victoria Memorial, in Calcutta. It has already mentioned how the Battle of Plassey inaugurated a series of military victories for the British, culminating in an almost unprecedented paramount over the whole of the Indian sub-continent. It was through this conquest that India bore the full brunt of Western or, more properly, modem culture. This impact was as extensive and thoroughgoing as entirely to transform Indian society. Such an upheaval, perhaps, had no parallel in Indian history. Even the impact of Muslim rule in India had arguably been less farreaching. It is not for us to analyses or describe this impact in great detail. That would not only be outside the scope of such a course, but also somewhat tangential to our central concern, which is with Indian English poetry. After all, you may say that Indian English poetry does not really engage directly with British colonialism or with several of its effects, which we have been trying to understand just now. True, there may be few poems exclusively about racism, imperialism, nationalism or what we may call the "master narratives" of our times. But nearly every poem in our course will deal with these issues, either directly or indirectly. For instance, there are a great number of contemporary poems on poverty, violence, the urban condition, and so on. Well, these realities arise partly out of our colonial heritage. In fact, the condition of India, which was and remains a major preoccupation of our thinkers, scholars, intellectuals, and artists, was very much on the mind of our first Indian English poet, Derozio.
 He wrote sonnets lamenting the fall of India. It is precisely this fall, from which we have yet to recover fully and which was the major outcome of the colonial intervention. Let me clarify that to regard colonialism from such a standpoint is by no means innocent. It is informed by its own politics, which to some may seem outdated or even dangerous. For a variety of reasons, it has become difficult to espouse a simplistic nationalism in these days. Indeed, that is not my intent.
In those days, there were many who agreed with the British that colonialism was a civilizing and modernizing force and therefore, ultimately, beneficial. In fact, there were many that tended to see in it not just a blessing in disguise but an act of providence. Some Hindu nationalists, for instance, were of the view that British rule saved Hindus from the domination of Muslims, allowed them to recoup their strength, and eventually regain their lost nation. There were and are what we may term as modernizers who also believed that British rule ushered in liberal values and helped us reform a corrupt and decadent traditional order.

Indian English Poetry : Gandhi

Gandhi believed that traditional Indian civilization, at least in its basic orientation, was not just sound and therefore worth conserving, but, in many ways, superior to modem civilization. Gandhi argued that our traditional civilization was essentially moral, or to use a more apt term, Dharmic, as such it gave its adherents a coherent way of life. Modem civilization, on the other hand, is inherently violent and materialistic. According to Gandhi, it encourages vice and selfishness. Furthermore, it had the, capacity for renewal and regeneration. As opposed to this, Rammohun Roy, in his letter to Lord Amherst. 

India was badly in need for modem, especially technical know-how from the West. While Roy's and Gandhi's views are not necessarily antithetical or mutually exclusive, clearly they show a different emphasis. For Gandhi, the primary yardstick of measuring the success or the merit of a civilization was the extent to which its inhabitants had achieved a high moral stature. Roy was more concerned with economic and technological advancement of the modem sort, what came to be known as development in 20th century parlance. The members of "Young Bengal," a radical group, mostly composed of students of Hindu College, many of whom, incidentally, were also pupils of Derozio, advocated the destruction of the older order that is of Hinduism itself, before anything new could come up in India. They saw India as totally insufficient if she had to rely only on her native sources.
Rabindranath Tagore offers yet another perspective in this debate. He advocated a more liberal, even cosmopolitan or Universalist approach. His views are often thought of as an. Endorsement of a synthesis between the best of the East and the West. However, as Sri Aurobindo clearly shows in Foundations of Indian Culture, a half-baked or weak- ' kneed synthesis is tantamount to capitulation. Later, of course, as British imperialism became more and more repressive, Tagore revised his opinions somewhat. Though he supported the national struggle for independence led by Gandhi, he differed with the latter on key issues. Both often aired their differences in public but never lost their love and respect for one another. Whatever view we may take on the Indo-British encounter, it is important to bear in mind that British rule in India was not just oppressive, but highly exploitative. It was an iniquitous system in which India's surplus wealth was systematically extracted and expropriated by Britain. The enormous inflow of capital from the colonies, arguably, helped in Britain's own process of rapid industrialization and development. India, as we know from our own personal experience, was impoverished, became within the space of 200 years, one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world. Not too long ago, it was one of the richest and most advanced. There may have been a variety of other factors, which contributed to India's impoverishment, but colonialism was the chief of these.
Indian English Drama
A simple proof of the horrors of colonialism is the fact that throughout the history of British rule, famines struck the country with predictable regularity, almost once in ten years. The most devastating of these, of course, is the great Bengal famine of 1943 in which more than 3 million people died. Ironically, this famine was not caused by drought or crop failure, but was entirely man-made. It was caused by the British war policies. Amartya Sen, the Nobel-prize winning economist, was growing up at that time; what he saw and experienced then. Influenced his career choice and work later on. Apart from the drain of India's economic resources, which resulted in a number of ' other side effects, British imperialism almost destroyed India's belief in itself, its self-confidence. It was as if the backbone of this ancient civilization was broken; it began to see itself as a hopeless failure, a miserable wretch.

A good deal of this inferiority complex persists to this day. India's poverty and cultural "cringe" also encouraged some of the worst traditions and practices to gather strength. The best example, perhaps, is Sati, which reached epidemic proportions in Bengal, precisely during British rule. Now, it is often thought that the British took great pains to abolish this evil and that we must be grateful to them for this. That is, the abolition of Sati is seen as the triumph of benevolent modernity, with its notions of human rights and equality, exemplified by British rule, over the irrational and inhuman customs of the Hindus, who therefore are superstitious and barbaric. But such a view begs the more fundamental question of which the incidence of Sati rose to such unprecedented proportions during the benevolent rule of the British. Nowjere else in India did the numbers even remotely resemble those of British Bengal. Again, before British ascendancy, Sati was not so prevalent even in Bengal itself. 

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