The ‘Indo-Anglians’ in Search of the World

Hello! My name is Vikrant Dadawala, and I’m a Ph.D candidate in English and Cinema Studies. My areas of interest include science fiction, the global Cold War, middlebrow cinema, South Asian literature, and South African literature. I’m currently employed as a Summer Instructor and Critical Speaking Fellow at Penn. Before moving to the U.S for graduate school, I’ve worked as a journalist in Mumbai and as a volunteer social worker in rural Jharkhand.

My doctoral dissertation, ‘The Decades of Disillusionment: India and the World, 1960-1990’, analyzes themes of disappointment and heartbreak in modern Indian literature and cinema. Part I of the project focuses on the literature of moha bhang [Hindi: ‘broken love’, ‘disillusionment’] from the period between the death of Prime Minister Nehru and the declaration of the Emergency (1964-1975) — a time of war, famine scares, and political turmoil. Part II turns to Indian New Wave cinema to chart the slow unravelling of “Nehruvian socialism” in the period between the Emergency and the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992. Drawing on literary sources and archival research, my work offers a new perspective on topics such as the cultural Cold War in India; socialist intellectual culture in the Hindi belt; structural transformations in the English and Hindi public spheres post-Independence; and the rise of Hindu nationalism.

This summer, supported by a research grant from CASI, I will be working on the third chapter of my doctoral dissertation. The chapter, tentatively titled ‘The Indo-Anglians in Search of the World’, is a critical reflection on the legacy of the first generation of postcolonial Indian writers in English — writers like Santha Rama Rau, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Dom Moraes, and Adil Jussawalla — whose itinerant lives and melancholic temperament made them invaluable witnesses to the period that I call India’s “decades of disillusionment”. Over the next two months, as the chapter takes shape, I will be sharing snippets of my research on this blog. More soon!

For now, here’s a brief introduction to some of the figures I will be writing about:


Ram Manohar Lohia (1910-1967). Perhaps the most important socialist intellectual of his time, Lohia was resolutely opposed to the continued use of English as a language of governance and power in postcolonial India, and was the intellectual and ethical force behind the anti-English movement of the early 1960s in north India. Lohia famously characterized English as a samanti bhasha (or, ‘feudal language’) in the Indian context: functioning as a kind of jadu tona (‘black magic’) through which a minuscule Anglophone elite ruled over a vast body politic. According to Lohia, there could be no real democracy in India until English was phased out as a language of administration. Image source: The Print.

santha rama rau_ getty images

Santha Rama Rau (1923-2009). An American writer of Indian-origin, Rau was born into a family of English-speaking elites — her father was a high-ranking civil servant in British India, and mother an important figure in the women’s movement — and grew up in England. After moving to to the US in the 1950s, Rau briefly became the best known South Asian writer in the country, but has been largely forgotten since. I will be writing about an obscure early novel by Rau, titled Remember This House (1956) — a swan-song to colonial Bombay and the ‘Indo-Anglian’ way of life. Image Source: Getty Images.

Dom Moraes Caravan

Dom Moraes (1938-2004; the handsome young man on the right). Like Rau, Moraes was born into a family of English-speaking elites, and spoke English as his mother tongue (indeed, in his first autobiographical memoir, Moraes would write about a childhood memory of his father being reprimanded by Gandhi for neglecting to teach Dom any Hindi or Konkani). While still an undergraduate at Oxford, Moraes won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize, and was quickly recognized as one of the most promising British poets of his generation. Though he had famously destroyed his Indian passport on live television in the early 1960s, Moraes moved back to India later in the decade, just as racial tensions in the U.K reached their boiling point. Moraes’s best writing embraces the paradoxes of the ‘Indo-Anglian’ condition — privileged, marginal, cosmopolitan, and provincial — all at once. Image Source: The Caravan.

ruth jhabvala outlook India

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013). Born to a Jewish family in Cologne, Germany, Jhabvala (née Prawer) moved to England as a refugee in 1939. After falling in love with an Indian architect, Jhabvala moved to India in 1951, and lived in the country for the next twenty four years, before moving to New York after winning the Booker Prize for Heat and Dust (1975). Unfairly dismissed by Indian critics in her own time, Jhabvala’s fiction offers us a uniquely bleak vision of middle-class life in the newly Independent nation, from the point of view of a detached and cynical outsider. Image Source: Outlook India.

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About Vikrant Dadawala

I'm a doctoral candidate in English and Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation project is a study of themes of disillusionment and heartbreak in modern Indian literature and cinema. Other broad areas of interest include science fiction, South African literature, the global Cold War, and middlebrow cinema.