About the Book
The Perishable Empire provides a fresh perspective on Indian writing in English from its nineteenth-century beginnings through its development in the twentieth century. The insightful essays relate Indian English texts to texts in other Indian languages and see this phenomenon as part of a composite cultural mosaic. The Perishable Empire is especially useful for students, researchers, and lecturers of Indian writing in English, regional Indian literature, and cultural studies.
About the Author
Meenakshi Mukherjee was formerly Professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her publications include Elusive Terrain (2007) and Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India (1999). Her book in Bangla, Upanyase Ateet: Itihas 0 Kalpa-itihas (2003), looks at the use of history and imagined history in fiction.
When Thomas Babington Macaulay spoke of ‘the imperishable empire of our arts and literature which would outlast the sceptre, he could not have anticipated the way history would rewrite the terms of this continuity. The present volume is an attempt to consider the complex and evolving relationship between English and India through literary texts that emerged out of this contact from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the millennium. I have tried to take into consideration in this study the layered context of the other Indian languages surrounding English, and the intricate socio-economic pressures that impinge on literary production.
The essays are arranged chronologically, the first section dealing mostly with the nineteenth century and the second with the present. Except for four essays which are new, and written specifically for this volume, the other essays, or their earlier versions, have been published in different places within the last decade. But a continuity of concern runs through them. I am grateful to my friend Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan who first pointed this out to me and insisted that I bring them together. My thanks are also due to many others, too many to list here, who have helped me with my work at various stages by getting rare documents photocopied, by sharing books and information, contributing ideas and commenting on earlier drafts. I specially mention Shubhendu Mund who has most generously shared with me all his research on nineteenth-century Indian writing in English even before his own book on the subject came out; Priya Joshi who made available to me a lot of material from her own archival work; Rebecca Douglas who sent me photocopies of crucial parts of old novels and offered to do more, an offer I failed to take up; Supriya and Sukanta Chaudhuri whose invitation to visit the English Department at J adavpur University enabled me to spend a month reading old books in the National Library; G.J.V. Prasad who acted as the sounding board for many of my ideas and helped me to untangle certain knots; and Harish Trivedi arguing with whom on different issues has helped me more than he knows. Finally, to Sujit Mukherjee for support as well as criticism and for his timely reminder that completing a book is more important than attending conferences.
The essay 'The First Indian English Novel' has been reworked from the Foreword and Afterword I wrote for the reprint of Rajmoban's Wife (New Delhi: Ravi Dayal Publisher, 1996). 'Defective Acoustics in Colonial India' was presented at a conference at Birkbeck College, London, and has appeared in Womens Poetry, Late Romantic to Late Victorian: Gender and Genre, 1830-1900 edited by Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain (London, Macmillan Press, 1999). 'We Say Desh: The Other Nirad Babu' combines two essays, one published in Nirad Chaudhuri: The First Hundred Years edited by Swapan Dasgupta (Delhi: Harper Collins, 1997) and the other presented at a University of Hyderabad conference on 'Nirad 100; India 50' in 1998. 'Maps and Mirrors' was included in the CULT edition of The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh (Delhi:Oxford University Press, 1995). Two different versions of the essay on Haroun and the Sea of Stories were published in The Postmodern Indian English Novel edited by Viney Kirpal (Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1996) and in Ariel (vol. 29, no. 1, January 1998). 'The Anxiety of Indianness' was published in Economic and Political Weekry, November 1993.
Some of the essays published for the first time in this volume have been presented in their earlier avatars in different conferences and seminars in the University of California at Berkeley; at Montreal (a conference on Postcolonial Translation organized jointly by the University of Concordia and the University of Montreal); at University of Canberra, Delhi University, Asiatic Society (Mumbai), Dhvanyaloka (Mysore) and Osmania University (Hyderabad). I have benefited from the discussions that followed and acknowledge my debt to those who offered comments and raised questions.
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