English! Six-armed God,
Key to a job, to power,
Snobbery, the good life,
This separateness, this fear
— from “Diwali”, by Vikram Seth
In my previous post for the CASI Student Programs blog, I provided a brief outline of my research plan for the summer of 2020. Thanks to generous support from CASI, I’m happy to report that I’ve finished a draft of my chapter, titled “The Indo-Anglians in Search of the World”.
Broadly speaking, I had three objectives in mind when I began the summer project: i), to analyze themes of disillusionment and disappointment in Indian literature from the 1960s and ‘70s, using a multilingual framework; ii), to explore the impact of the Cold War on representations of India in world literature; and iii), to re-animate the linguistic debates of Nehruvian India, through a comparative analysis of the English and Hindi public spheres in the post-Independence period.
My original plan for the chapter pivoted around the 1970s as a moment of crisis in Indian modernism, across languages. But COVID-19 made it impossible to for me to travel to India or access archives in other parts of the US, leading to a change in emphasis. Instead of the ’70s, I ended up spending much of the summer thinking about the messy process of transition between the late-colonial and post-colonial periods, as I read novels by the likes of Flora Annie Steel, Rumer Godden, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Santha Rama Rau. Instead of discovering forgotten nuggets of Cold War history, I gravitated towards thinking about the more insidious ways in which the Cold War impacted India during the 1960s and 70s, beyond the proxy battles between intellectuals and artists sympathetic to the Soviet or Western blocs. Over the course of the summer, I became increasingly fascinated by writers who refused to become wholly “Indian” and remained stubbornly “foreign”, serving as disenchanted witnesses to the years of political turmoil and economic stagnation that followed the euphoria of Independence.
I’m grateful for the support and wisdom of the CASI community, whose insightful questions and feedback opened up new lines of inquiry for me. In my next and final report for this blog, I’ll provide a brief window into the characteristic themes and styles of the “Indo-Anglian” literary world that I have been researching this summer.