Friday, February 23, 2007

Relevance of English studies in India

"The old order changeth, yielding place to new".
The aforesaid expression of Tennyson is highly relevant to English academic circles of the country, because a debate is going on for the future of English Studies in India. The various English Departments of Indian Universities are agog with this issue.
One of the major issues discussed is that in the interpretation of English literary texts, we should come out of colonial mindset. In the dissection of the text readers, teachers, students and researchers should not employ Western critical tools like catharsis, fancy, imagination, Impressionism, Expressionism, new criticism, formalism, structuralism, neo-historicism, post-structuralism, deconstruction and reader response theory etc. Rather Indian critical theories like Rasa, Alamkara, Dhwani and Vakrokti should be employed for the close analysis of the English texts. The propagators of this logic base their arguments on Post-Colonial thought of Edward said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Gauri Vishwanathan.The supporters of Indian response to English Literature, in the manner of Edward Said, emphasize that there is a political subtext of the main stream western writing. Moreover, Foucoult's theory of power game shows that power strategies lie at the base of every text. Similarly Gramsci has also talked about western hegemony vis-à-vis literary texts. Prof MKNaik in his essay 'Searching For the Crow's Teeth: A critique of Nativism' has summarized Gramsci's concept of hegemony and thinks that it is "inducing the conquered to accept the ways of thought, beliefs, culture and the system of values of the conqueror". The concepts of Gramsci and Foucoult may be seen in the colonization of Indian mind.
This colonization of the Indian mind began with Macaulay's celebrated Minute which declared that it was necessary and possible "to make natives of this country good English scholars and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed". In the same vein Lord Bentick resolved that "the great object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India and all funds appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education alone".
So, it is obvious that European literary ideals were thrust on us and the need of the hour is to decolonise our English Studies by judging English literary texts not by European critical tools, but by Indian critical theories. Moreover, every western critical practise has its better parallel in Indian poetics.
Another major task of post-colonialists in India is to remove certain colonial English texts from the syllabi of Indian Universities, because these texts were used by the colonizer to subvert us, alter our thought-process and induce us into believing 'their' superiority and 'our' inferiority. Some literary texts are completely irrelevant to India. Take for example the licentious Restoration comedies of manners, obscene and vulgar novels of sex-maniac DH Lawrence and the fleshly poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites. These authors do hurt pious sensibility, still they are taught to the impressionable minds of Post-Graduate students of English Literature. The alien authors have no appeal for us; they do not affect our society. It shows that the colonial hangover is still not out. Then, certain texts do talk about English society of various ages. Why should we study about the legal system of England during the early twentieth century in the parochial works of Galsworhy? In place of these colonial texts, literature of the colonies should be promoted. Even regional Indian writers in English translation may be prescribed. Third world authors should be dissected. It will be the true unfurling of the tricolour, otherwise we will still be slaves after so many years of Independence. In fact, in place of English Literature (Literature of England), we should have Literature in English (Language).
There is another aspect of the colonized Indian mind. Works of original research are being produced by Indian scholars on English authors. But, the teachers, students and researchers are shy of quoting from them because of this subjugated mindset. For them AC Bradley's word on Shakespearean tragedy is final. What is it? Sheer colonization of the mind. So, Indian literary psyche needs to be decolonized.
But, there is another side of the coin too. Excessive emphasis on Indian or Eastern response to English literature should not make us less eclectic and more obscurantist. The world has become a global village, where all the cultures and nationalities do intermingle. In this age of globalization, this stress on ethnocentric or jingoistic national approach may create havoc for us, as new ideas from the west may not find a place in our hearts. We may become iron curtain civilization.
Moreover, Indian response to English Literature should not become just Hindu response. India is a cauldron of various cultures. 'Melting pot' or 'salad bowl' are the appropriate phrases for hybrid Indian diversity. So, this Indian response should include Islamic, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Dalit responses too.
GN Devy in his Sahitya Akademi Award Winning Book After Amnesia: Tradition and Change in Literary Criticism (Orient Longman, 1992) has focused the importance of critical tools of regional Indian languages. In this book, which may be called "the Bible of Nativism", GN Devy stresses on the significance of regional languages. So, Indian response to English Literature should be very broad and all inclusive.
In the end , we may say that for the proper enjoyment of literature, we should get rid of both Eastern and Western critical prejudices. A true devotee of literature should try to control his personal prejudices and cranks and endeavour for objective dissection of the "words on the page".
Besides, while the orientalists may stand against Literature of England,they can never do so against English language, because it is a world language. Without its study, we can not progress in the fields of science, psychology, engineering and economics etc., as the medium of all great research is English language . Shirin Kudchedkar in 'Introduction' to her book Readings in English Language Teaching in India (Orient Longman,2002) has outlined the importance of English Language teaching in these words:
...English plays a very important role in education, business and administration. It is the medium of instruction for higher education-both academic and technological. Those who seek jobs in private companies or professions must be proficient in English. It is recognized as an official language for purposes of administration at the national level. It would follow that it should be considered as a second language rather than a foreign language.
So, my final submission is that in Indian Universities, English should be taught without any western or eastern prejudices. Secondly, in place of Literature of England, the study of English Language should be promoted. For that purpose, language laboratories should be established in the colleges an Universities. These labs will teach the students the minutest intricacies of the language.

1 comment:

gaddeswarup said...

I agree with your final submission.
Domination etc may be temporary. The main gods for Aryans were supposed to be Indra, Agni etc but (assuming that Aryans came to India from outside), they became minor deities. Shiva does not seem to be in early Aryan literature but Pasupati type figures are in Harappa seals. Gramsci also said that there is no parthenogenesis in literature. Perhaps interaction of cultures and slow emergence of new forms without anybody being really in control is what happens. This is just a guess on my part.