Book ReviewIndian Writing in English: Voices from the OblivionChhote Lal Khatri, Ed.. Book Enclave, Jaipur Pages: 227, Price: Rs.525, ISBN: 81-8152-070-X [Archives:2004/780/Education]

October 11 2004

By: Anil Kumar Prasad, PhD, Associate Professor & Head,
Department of English, Faculty of Arts,
Ibb University, Republic of Yemen.

“Let us consider the critic, therefore, as a discoverer of discoveries”
– Milan Kundera

Indian Writing in English:Voices from the Oblivion is a new critical anthology with a difference. It has attempted to “rediscover the past”, the hidden gems of literature and to put “Bihar's contribution to Indian English literature” in a historical perspective as the editor, Dr Chhote Lal Khatri, convincingly claims in the “Introduction”. But it is certainly not an exercise in “signing the praises of a single Indian state” rather it should be taken as Shashi Tharoor (see India: From Midnight to the Millennium, 1997, 2000: 77) has brilliantly put (in some another context), “The central challenge of India as we enter the twenty-first century is the challenge of accommodating the aspirations of different groups in the national dream”.
The insightful and well-researched critical essays, it is hoped, will inspire, the future researcher scholars, teachers and other perceptive readers to read, understand, enjoy and reassess the works of such authors as Rajendra Prasad, Avadh Behari Lall, Raghubir Narayan, R.K.Singh, Amarendra Kumar ( who taught at Thamar University, Yemen), Ravi Nandan Sinha, Prabhat K Singh, C.L.Khatri, Sumirasko, Tabish Khair, Ramchandra Prasad (see The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature, 1970: 735), S.D.Singh, Murari Madhusudan Thakur, J.P.Singh, Raj Kamal Jha, Shashi B Sahai, Badruddin Ahmed, Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen, K.K.Sinha and the “real voices of the oblivion”: the student-poets of the college magazines and souvenirs of the Patna Women's College (and some names like the name of Amitava Kumar, the Ara-born author, who grew up in Patna and teaches English at Pennsylvania State University, is noticeable by its nonappearance!) This critical anthology is a beautifully planned book and in its dedication mentions two distinguished scholars in the field from Bihar: Prof Meenakshi Mukherjee and Prof Shaileshwar Sati Prasad. In the 10-page “Introduction” the editor calls this book” a surprise, a revelation, full of news to the readers as it was to us when we discovered and discerned gem after gem from the deep bed of the ocean of oblivion”. And the news of literary achievements of writers “stays” as it transcends the boundaries of time and space with the disinterested endeavours of the literary critics.

The book begins with a critical study of the writings and speeches of the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad underscoring their literary values. Citing extensively from the letters and speeches of Dr Rajendra Prasad, Tara Sinha has successfully shown the relationship between the man and his style and urged the readers for a “detailed study of his writings” for his contributions as an Indian Writer of English has hitherto been ignored by even such critics as Iyengar and Naik. Shaileshwar Sati Prasad's paper, who deserves the epithet “Sarathi” (see Preface: vii), explores the politico-socio-cultural milieu of the 19th C India with particular reference to Avadh Behari Lall, the first English poet from Bihar, is indeed a laudable piece of re-search. He has critically examined the poet's deep nationalist concern for his country and the deep loyalty to the British rule. Besides, the poet's “pleasure in poetic pains/which only poets know has immense potentialities for a researcher to delve deep into the “occupations of the poet's mind”. Kumar Chandradeep's short but highly insightful tribute to Raghubir Narayan has placed him “in a tradition of Ramantic School in Indian English Poetry”. Indeed, there is a need to compile the works of Avadh Behari Lall and Raghubir Narayan and “make them available to the readers.
I.H.Rizvi's, D.C.Chambials's and R.S.Tiwari's critical evaluations of R.K.Singh's poems are praiseworthy. For R.K.Singh, as Chambial comments, poetry is a prayer “in life's vicissitudes”. But unlike Chambial, Tiwari evaluates R.K.Singh's “reflective and serious” poetic muse by referring copiously to some of the famous Saskrit and Hindi writers like Magh, Matiram and Behari.
Stuti Prasad's “The Maiden Sensibility” is an excellent piece of research and literary criticism. Perhaps, her use of the word “maiden” has a two-fold semantic connotation: firstly, the maiden attempts of the student-poets and secondly, as she perceptively affirms, “In all these (poems) gender remains an unavoidable factor”. This paper makes the book unique in its attempt to analyse the experience of a generation for whom “Life is a fragile dew-drop in bright sunlight”.
“Poetic Corpus of Amarendra Kumar” by Parshu Ram Singh has thrown light on “the variegated hues of human life, mirth and melancholy, varied range of themes – both temporal and universal as expressed in the poetry of Amarendra Kumar. Basavraj Naikar's paper on Prabhat K Singh's So Many Crosses places the poet as one of the significant “young voices” being “added every year” to the galaxy of poetic talents of contemporary India. R.S.Tiwary takes a “peep into C.L.Khatri's Kargil” and is impressed by the “sincerity and transparency” of the poet's muse. “Monomania”, “Garden of Gods” and “Khajuraho” and many other poems of Khatri support Tiwary's view: “Dr Khatri is possessed of the potentiality of a genuine poet”. Kameshwar Prasad's “Sumirasko: A Mystic Poet” is an objective assessment of a young poet whose poems do not “fit in the contemporary poetic trend”. His poems, as Prasad has candidly put forward, “are a remarkable achievement of self-educated youth, living in the heartless environment of modern decayed city”.
Tabish Khair (an associate professor in the Department of English at Copenhagen University), “a man coming from a small town in Bihar” is “doing his own thing, learning his craft”. Arvind Joshi has analysed why Tabish Khair “has failed in raising a storm in the literary cup” with his Where Parallel Lines Meet. In a review published in The Hindu, Sunday, October 15 2000, Manohar Bandopadhyay calls Khair's poetry as “confessional poetry” and his poetry with the publication of this anthology has “moved into new grounds”. Joshi has also rightly commented on the “courage” with which Khair's poetry “resists the temptation of feeding the contemporary hunger for novelty”. Khatri's comments on Ramchandra Prasad's “first and only novel in English, The Mahatma”, are full of revelations. He has compared him with Colin Wilson and D.H.Lawrence and pointed out the author's use of Indian words and the novel's potentialities for “imparting sex-education”. Laxmi Kumari Sinha has evaluated the full merits of S.D.Singh's novels. Ravindra Rajhans' two essays on Murari Madhusudan Thakur are good in introducing two important authors in Bihar. His analysis establishes J.P.Singh's Curfew “as an important sociological document on the predicament of the teaching community”.
R.B.Singh's “The Blue Bedspread: Spreading Incest” and “The Curfew” in which he deals with the novelistic techniques and the thematic nuances of Raj Kamal Jha and J.P.Singh respectively. The publication of The Blue Bedspread has been hailed as an “international literary event” and John Fowles connects it with something “remarkable almost coming-of-age of the Indian novel”. And many others have compared Jha's “spare and straightforward” prose with American realists like Raymond Carver and Don DeLillo and contrasted with the “exotic” prose of Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. What is remarkable in R.B.Singh's paper is to establish The Blue Bedspread as “a thought-provoking novel” that grows out of the hidden violence and the perverted eroticism of an overcrowded old city, “a city of twelve million names”, and “it could have been any city”. Besides, his paper “B.Ahmed: Playwright and Prose-writer” brings to the fore the merits of a writer who has significantly contributed to the development of a genre not much being paid attention to in the contemporary Indian Writing in English.
The assessment of Indrani Aikath-Gyltsen by Shyamla Narayan, a well-known critic, has given the author her due place as a woman whose fictions present “an authentic picture of sections of Indian society, with a woman's sensitivity”. G.P.Sharma's “The Discovery of the Past” has rightly placed K.K.Sinha 'as a historical novelist with a nationalistic bias”.
Indeed this anothology of critical essays on Indian writers and their works is a “groundbreaking work”. It is an exploration, assessment and revaluation of writers and their enduring works. This book will save some of the writers like Rajendra Prasad, Avadh behari Lall, Raghubir Narayan, Ramchandra Prasad, and Sumirasko among others from being forgotten and help get them retrieved to be shining on the book shelves once again. For they belong to the main stream of the Indian Writing in English.