What is Indian in Indian literature? 

Today, in our so-called globalised world, we are again facing the threat of homogenisation.
What is Indian in Indian literature? 

BENGALURU : As an Indian writer, I have often asked myself this question: What is ‘Indian’ in Indian literature? Yes, like many other South Asian nations, we have had a painful colonial past. Our cultural identity is linked to this history of resistance and the search for political and cultural selfhood.  But somewhere along the way to  their literary identity, Indian writers, like writers from many other South Asian cultures, came under the powerful influence of Western modernism. Existentialism, theatre of the absurd, poetry lamenting the sterility of contemporary existence — we mimicked all of it.  But how much of this new wave writing and art could reflect our post-colonial realities?  

Today, in our so-called globalised world, we are again facing the threat of homogenisation. We reel under the hazards of cocoa-colonisation and a consumer economy which attempts to subsume the South Asian worlds within the grand narratives of development and progress. Should we move away from our pasts, histories, and cultures to join, often as late comers, this hegemonic narrative of global development? Surely not! It is this resistance which must form the basis of our literary and cultural productions.  

This resistance must spring from an understanding of what makes Indian cultures and literature(s) different from Western literatures. The first step would be to try to recover the literary traditions, cultural ethos, political and historical experiences, and our many language traditions. Today, Indian writing also includes Indian English writing. Despite all the diversity, what really brings our literatures in these multiple languages together? I think it is this: we are mainly story-tellers. I am a writer who draws upon the rich folk traditions of North Karnataka in Southern India. Beginning from the old epics to new genres like the novel, we have always been predominantly story-tellers.

 What is more, we are known for our collective and community cultural ethos. For example, in Kannada writing, both oral and written literatures reflect this. Starting from the vachana writers in the 12th century to the poets of the bhakti movement all over India, they all addressed God in the form of a dialogue. They were a devotional community. Their poetry upheld human bonds — bonds that even humanise god and make him a part of this community. But the modernist sensibility we borrowed from the West in the 20th century was centered on the individual. 

However, our popular and traditional art forms like Yakshagana and Harikatha, or even our films still find their inspiration in the plural Indian traditional and native sources. Our contemporary Indian writers are already rejecting the Western models and incorporating the native literary traditions and mythologies into their work.  These developments are heartening. In this instance, as the president of the Sahitya Akademi, I am striving to make possible meaningful interaction and conversations among Indian languages, literatures, and cultures.  My vision of Indian literatures is characterised by this multiplicity, as well as this uniqueness of our native Indian ethos!(Translated from Kannada by Krishna Manavalli)

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