Article : Colonial Influence On Literature And Indian Response


Colonial Influence On Literature And Indian Response


Alstyne Victor K.

India, with its colonial history and contemporary postcolonial culture, offers a rich site for the study of both influence and literature. Through the rise of “Orientalism”, it was India which first exercised a literary influence on the West, an equation that was utterly reversed later through colonial intervention. Though some Indian critics have been only too keen to acclaim or denounce the influence of the West, the discriminating response of Indian writers offers more complex examples of both influence and intertextuality as forms of reception. In fact, not many Indian critics have been able to command the long perspective in which to view steadily and whole the older constitutive and shaping influence of Sanskrit literature on the literature of the modern Indian languages as well as the newer, the unsettling and transformative influence of Western literature. In as balanced an assessment of the matter as perhaps any critic has achieved so far, Sri. Kumar Das, in his magisterial History of Indian Literature, speaks not only of “Western Impact” but equally of “Indian Response”, which was often resistant and antagonistic, and of a sense not only of excitement at the new exposure to Western literature but also of a recoil to the old Sanskrit sources of traditional sustenance Though the Indian writers borrowed from Western literature several new literary genres and forms such as tragedy, the novel, and the essay, they still resisted such works in English. The attraction for the new was “at times hesitant and cautious, at times impetuous and uninhibited”. Even where the novelty of what came from the West was blinding, as in the case of the novel, the Indian exponents of this new form did not “lose their links with the katha and akhyan and dastan” – the older forms of narrative available from the Sanskrit as well as the Perso-Arabic literary traditions. Similarly, the induction of tragedy – inconsistent with the invariably restorative and harmonising happy endings of Sanskrit drama – brought with it “a new vision which could not be easily reconciled with a world-order regulated by the doctrine of karma” and again required a tough balancing act. Indeed, a direct consequence of our encounter with the West was that we went back to look again at what we already had and to reassess its worth and value. “Never in our literary history, were there so many obsessions with the past, such glorification and defence, such criticism and introspection.”

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