BY Meenakshi Mukherjee

Franco Moretti‟s „The novel‟ consists of two volumes „History, Geography and Culture‟ and „Forms and Themes‟. The essays in these volumes are written by some of the leading contemporary critics. It is an attempt to understand the literary genre of novel across the world. Meenakshi Mukherjee, an eminent litterateur in her essay „Epic and Novel in India‟ traces the emergence of novel, pre-narrative discourses in India and the relationship between the early Indian and the western novels. Mukherjee begins her essay with the general assumption that the early English novels in India are a derivative discourse. After the mid nineteenth century these novels were evaluated in terms of western novels. But quite early in the essay she defies this general belief. She says that there are other determinants as well and emphasizes to go “against the grain” to examine the early novels in India. She also talks about the influence of the English education system which Lord Macaulay adopted for India. It affected the intellectual and literary developments of the country but Mukherjee asserts that it was not the only influence. She says that the early English novels shaped out of hybrid influences and indigenous genealogies. The realism from the western novels was taken up by several writers like O.Chandu Menon in Indulekha (1889). Though such writers declared the use of “things according to their true appearance”, Mukherjee says that the end of Menon‟s narrative is similar to that of puranas. “May god bless us and all who read this tale” Though this type of ending is very different from the realist western novels but the good hopeful endings were also found in many Victorian novels. Hence it is not an easy task to point out from where the influence of western novels starts. She further draws some more similar elements for example the use of rhetorical device of authorial intervention in novels like „Krishnakanter’s Uil’ (Bankim Chandra 1878), „Vanity Fair’ (William Thackeray 1847). But question that they are borrowed from the Victorian novels is not very simple because such devices were also present in the oral narratives of India. Mukherjee further talks about the co-existence of the devices of the English novels and the conventions of the storytelling in many of the writers. She cites the example of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee whose first novel was in English (Rajmohan‟s wife, 1864) but who then turned to writing in Bangla for the rest of his life. He was well read in English, Sanskrit and bangle literatures. However, the fusion of these cannot be exactly charted. Mukherjee then gives an insight into the pre-novel narrative forms in different parts of India. Describing the epics as „past continuous‟ she says that the themes used in the novels (later on) foreshadow in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Writers like Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s

Simhasana Battisi and stories like Padmavat. Sanskrit stories like Vetala Pachisi. Furthermore Mukherjee articulates the rise in the feeling of nationalism and credits it to the prescribed educational system which in turn gave rise to the dissatisfaction with the subjugated present and thus shaped the idea of India. Women together with land blend in a composite metaphor. She mentions Tagore who believes that it is only when people relate to each other they write down their history. Women are portrayed as powerless beings just to increase the stature of men. There was. 1881). Mukherjee develops that the novels in the mid nineteenth century in India which were intended to be a moral vehicle for the people but later history and fantasy got intertwined in these novels. Firstly. And that is why history interested many writers like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Harinarain Apte in the latter half of the 19th century. Though she says that the reasons of the emergence of the historical fiction in India and Europe are different but she does not hesitate to use some of the points that Lukacs makes. The reading of history in the classrooms led to the consciousness of their own history and the urge to write it themselves from the Indian point of view. Sole purpose of the Rajput men was to protect the dignity of the country and their women (Bankim‟s Raj Singha. Further. we see resolute Mukherjee when she says the reason Bankimchandra was given the title of „the Scott of India‟ (from Sir Walter Scott) was to impose the influence of Walter Scott on Bankimchandra totally ignoring the vast differences in the writings of the two writers. Very fine examples of such novels are Chandrakanta (1891) by Devakinandan Khatri and Romesh Chandra Dutt‟s Mahararashtra Jiban Prabhat (1878). Contesting this is the portrayal of the Rajput men in the popular fiction at that time. the consciousness of history and its effect on the life of common man. another paradigm to this portrayal of . Here. and Hatim Tai are some other sets of pre-novel narrative forms. Richard Orme who questioned the masculinity of Indian men deliberately to make them inferior to the Europeans. Mukherjee here asserts that writing history is never free from the biases but she maintains that partiality is way better than hostility. The first generation Indian novelists were well read in these forms before they started writing novels.2 Children) and Shashi Tharoor (The Great Indian Novel) have even deployed myths from these tales. This happened after the new systems came into existence in India and religion took a backseat. But there were also texts featuring veerangana stark opposite to these defenseless women (Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and Razia Sultana). Chandrakanta also brought the concepts of Tilism and Aiyyars which later merged into the detective of Jasusi Upanyas just as in Sir Arthur Conon Doyle‟s novels. Arabian Nights. But he also argues that history was recorded before this in Maharashtra at the time of Shivaji thus resounding what Lukacs says in his first point. as Mukherjee mentions. she agrees that the changes in political situations lead to the change in literary form and secondly. And so we can trace some marks of these stories in the early novels in India. Arabic storytelling style of Qissas and Daastans. Towards the middle of the essay Mukherjee mentions some of the English writers such as James Mill.

There was also the modernist movement where novelists experimented with the style and form of the novels. As discussed earlier in the essay. Mukherjee points out something interesting which is the portrayal of Britishers in the novels. Mukherjee then draws our attention to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee who shifted writing in his mother tongue from English but there are also writers like Kiran Nagarkar and Mrinal Pande who switched to English from their mother tongue. there is no apparent explanation of the portrayal of Muslims as the „other‟. She says there are not any absolute reasons for this shift. A woman was seen as the mother in terms of familial discourse. Instead she says. However. During the latter half of the twentieth century the notion of religion and nation changed and so did the construction of them in the novels like Raag Darbari and Maila Anchal.3 women. Furthermore. Gopinath Mohanty (Oriya). She says the Progressive Writers‟ Movement of the 1930s also contributed in the changing relationship between the Indian and the European novels. here also fiction gets merged with the history of the time.. In these novels the low caste people did not occupy much of the space and were mostly at the margins. and never canonized. Jochchna Kumari and Toba Tek Singh are some of the texts Mukherjee talks about in this relation. But there have also been a row of classic writers who were totally unaffected by the western writings. Towards the end of the essay Meenakshi Mukherjee comes back to the question of novel in India being a procured discourse. The idea of nation and religion was somewhat mixed at this time which is critiqued in two of Tagore‟s novels. Mukherjee concludes with many writers who claim to have been influenced by other foreign literature like American. satiric. “Early English novels were hardly noticed. It was mostly positive because many of the novelists were working as government servants and showing a white man in negative light would have brought adverse effects on their careers. comic or subversive. seldom discussed. These writers were leftoriented and tried to propagate the notion of equality. Amitav Ghosh‟s Shadow Lines (1988). alienation started to seep in the novels after the partition. Gora and Gharey Bairey. Tarashankar Bandhopadhyay (Bangla). European rather than the British literature. Mukherjee explains in detail how these two novels examine the concept of nationalism both depicting aggressive Hinduism versus the more rational concept of nationalism. She gives several reasons besides the adopted English education system.” The issues relating to identity. Mukherjee calls them “introspective. To name a few are Shivrama Karanath (Kannada). Mukherjee refutes to the idea of Shivrama Padikkal who believes that people (dominant group) construct reality considering the literary productions but says if that would have been the case then the early English novels in India would have got more importance.” .. of goddess for invoking Devi and the patriotism for the motherland.

. But somewhere it seems to be too much loaded with information and by the end of the essay you have a long list of novels with you! Mukherjee starts off with the common belief of early Indian novel being imported from the west. Thus the regional identity. Sinha. 1903) even valorized the imperial rule. Mukherjee remarks Salman Rushdie‟s Midnight’s Children as the landmark text of the Indian English novels. Women were instructed only through their mother tongue rather than English. Finally Mukherjee closes her essay by putting yet another thought in the minds of the readers. then coming back to the early Indian novels and relates it to the concept of nation and gender. then goes on to talk about various traditions in India. She maintains. And many novels like The Princess of Aryavarta (K. She says that it is not much investigated whether the audience of the Indian or English novels affected the style form and themes of the writing of the novels. mother and language seem to merge within each other making the Indian languages the vehicle of the regional nationalism. Coming back to the gender role.K. Indian women were not a part of the readership of the early English novels because education was only accessible to men. Mukherjee says that the mother tongue belonged to the women who were not corrupted by the western influence. The essay is written in jargon-free and comprehensible language.4 The English writers of that time deliberately depoliticized their novels because of the fear of installing sedition. though the number of publications in Indian languages is still larger than the English ones but its spread is limited to the region of the language. Comments: The novel has been a quintessential form of modern art and it actually can be quite interesting for the present generation to read the phases of the Indian novel carved out by Meenakshi Mukherjee in this essay.

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