Gems, rare and otherwise, of Indian-English prose, finally in one place

‘The Book of Indian Essays’ traces the evolution of the transplanted language, collects old favourites together

GN Bureau | February 9, 2021


#Literature   #essays   #books   #Rabindranath Tagore   #Jawaharlal Nehru  


The Book of Indian Essays: Two Hundred Years of English Prose
Edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Black Kite in association with Ashoka University and Hachette India, 446 pages, Rs 699

In the 1990s, the English-language publishing in India was yet to go in the overdrive, and it produced many gems that made a special place in the hearts of many readers. They remain attached to these works affectionately. Possessively too, since many of these works are out of print. Much of these writings do not get talked about today. Some of the authors are no more, so no tweets, no litfest presence, no media interviews.

Sheila Dhar, for example, wrote short pieces about family, cooking, music and so on, with a idiosyncratic wit and sensibility. Two compilations were later put together in a volume, ‘Raga’n Josh: Stories from a Musical Life’ (Permanent Black: 2005). New readers, however, may not have heard the name and remain unfortunate in depriving themselves of a rare pleasure. They can do themselves the favour of sampling her heart-warming prose, and many other now-lesser-known gems in ‘The Book of India Essays: Two Hundred Years of English Prose’, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (Black Kite in association with Ashoka University and Hachette India: 2020). Apart from Dhar’s ‘Baua’, there are 44 more prose pieces to dip into. Plus, there is a fine introduction by the editor himself.

The collection – the first of its kind, and filling a sore gap – is also the story of evolution of Indian English, the transplantation of a tongue. It begins at the beginning in early nineteenth century, with Derozio. Then comes Tagore, Nehru, Nirad C Chaudhuri, G V Desani and R K Narayan among others – but also Amrita Sher-Gill and F N Souza, as well as Dharma Kumar and Madhur Jaffrey. Some of those better known as public intellectuals or academics or novelists (or all three) – Amitav Ghosh, Mukul Kesavan, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ramachandra Guha – have given us memorable essays too, which find place in this volume.

Essay, of course, is the most open-ended literary form: a fine piece of academic writing is also an essay, and so is a well-crafted political speech. The editor has chosen not to include the political prose, though Tagore’s ‘Nation’ makes the cut. Any selection is by definition subjective, yet some reader may complain about non-representation of Arundhati Roy’s non-fiction. The same goes for the work of M K Gandhi, with literary sensibilities properly fine-tuned.

Another restriction is in the subtitle: this is not a book of Indian essays but of Indian-English essays. Indian languages have a robust tradition of essay writing. In Marathi, to take one example, essay is a form as popular as novel or poem, thanks to literary essays by Pu La Deshpande, Kusumagraj, Vinda Karandikar, Manik Godghate (who wrote under the penname ‘Grace’) and others. Their fans can make an argument about these works being on par, if not above, in quality. However, majority of Indian essays in regional languages remain untranslated.

The two pointers in no way take away from the achievement that this treasure trove is – and from the reader’s joy and gratitude for it.

Comments

 

Other News

Remove unauthorized constructions without pressure: Thackeray to BMC

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has instructed the Mumbai civic authorities to take immediate action on unauthorized constructions on war footing. In a virtual meeting held on Wednesday, Thackeray said no illegal construction will be tolerated in Mumbai and called upon the BMC to

Covid norms relaxed; Mumbai restaurants, shops to remain open longer

After extending timings of shops and restaurants as well as the reopening of cinema halls and theatres under specified SOPs from October 22, in view of the festive cheer, the Maharashtra government has allowed restaurants and eateries to remain open till 12AM and shops and establishments to function till 1

Global Hunger Index data collection flawed: Arvind Panagariya

Rubbishing the recently released Global Hunger Index 2021, wherein India has slipped to 101 position to be placed below Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, Arvind Panagariya, professor of economics at Columbia University and former vice chairman, NITI Aayog, has said that data collection and methodologies used

‘Blue Zones’ concept of healthy living and its relevance in India

A long life span free from diseases and disability, the so-called healthy aging, has been a matter of prime interest to humanity. It is widely held that the life expectancy is a function of interplay between various genetic and environmental factors. There is scientific evidence to support the fact that on

Motilal Nehru too had petitioned for release of his son: Vikram Sampath

Defence minister Rajnath Singh’s statement, that Mahatma Gandhi had asked V.D. Savarkar to file a mercy petition before the British, has ignited a debate. Vikram Sampath, a historian and author of a recent biography of Savarkar, says two weeks after Jawaharlal Nehru was lodged in Nabha jail, his

Gati Shakti: The National Master Plan

The launch of the Gati Shakti master plan will be a booster dose for India growth story. The plan, as the name indicates, will ensure Gati, i.e., speed and Shakti, i.e., empowerment to the ₹1 trillion national infrastructure pipeline. The plan will break inter-ministerial silos. For examp

Visionary Talk with Dr Arvind Panagariya, Professor, Columbia University & Former VC, NITI Aayog



Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter