The declining decades of the 20th century witnessed discussion of various issues pertaining to colonialism, postcolonialism, literary criticism arid aesthetics in India. The present book in its four parts “Word, World and Perception”, “Colonialism and After”, “Literature and Theorizing in India”, and “Criticism and India” deals with them and ancillary issues; and in the process of revisiting them not only critiques their constructs but also proposes alternative constructs in the context of Indian realities and their manifestations in creative and critical terms.
Avadhesh Kumar Singh is Professor and Director, School of Translation Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Prior to the present assignment, he was Vice Chancellor, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University, Ahmedabad (2006-2009), Convener, Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat, Government of Gujarat, Gandhinagar (Gujarat), and Professor and Head, Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Saurashtra University, Rajkot (Gujarat). Since 1994, he has been Editor, Critical Practice, a biannual journal of literary and critical studies.
Before I acknowledge my gratitude to individuals and institutions that supported me during the course of writing the book, Revisiting Literature, Criticism and Aesthetics in India, I must share the cause(s) that went in its making.
The book is a consequence of my engagement with a few disturbing questions that I faced about India, its literature, culture, knowledge systems, their reception and representation in India and beyond, particularly in the English-speaking world. Since I am a product of India, I have my emotional attachments to it, yet I strove with full sincerity to be objective by exorcising them. The questions by their enormity and ubiquity encompassed various disciplines, and my limitations as a student of literature limited my responses, though my exposure to and practice of comparative study of literature arid poetics helped me.
The questions included: What are Indian literary, critical and cultural realities? How has Indian culture survived? Why should there be single language/literature departments in a multilingual society like India in which almost everyone can operate in at least more than one language or dialect? What was the impact of colonization on Indian consciousness? What were the strategies of colonizers? How did India resist them? How should postcolonial India respond to new categories, floated either to measure or subsume it in the era of globalization? How should India reorient literary studies in it in consonance with its linguistic and literary realities? Why have Indian knowledge systems in general and language of knowledge or learned composition, i.e. Sanskrit in particular, been expelled from the mainstream education system?
What have been its consequences? What happened to the symbiotic relationship between oral and written literature, and Sanskrit, and Prakrt (natural) dialects and language? Why did a system building civilization like India not have aesthetics and ethics? Was there no formulation of theories of the creative process in India that can boast of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata?
Is it not ironical that the scholars of Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Sanskrit and other Indian languages are at least aware of Western literature and critical theories but do not read or even know their sister literatures and critical traditions, for instance Tolkappiyam in Tamil? Is there some truth in the pronouncements like the end, death, or amnesia of/in Indian critical tradition? How should we respond to the proliferation of Western critical theories? How can and should we receive them? Can we theorize our own versions of Western critical theories like feminism or post-colonialism? If so, then how? How can we write/right them in India?
All four sections of the book “Word, World and Perception,” “Colonialism and After,” “Literature and Theorizing in India” and “Criticism and India” deal with these questions. In the process of responding to these questions I consciously related them to Indian realities. During the period, I encountered many trapped between those who at best were ignorant and indifferent and at worst contemptuous of Indian knowledge systems in general and Indian critical traditions in particular. Ironically, most of those, I realized later, who were lavish either in their appreciation or vituperation, did so on the basis of reading about them, without reading texts or verifying facts about them.
Two basic premises that formed the backdrop of my interaction with these issues were: India’s rich cultural and knowledge traditions and its colonization which impacted it during and after. India is one of the world’s foremost knowledge civilizations. There have been other knowledge civilizations in the world as well, but they, i.e. Greek, Arab, Chinese, Mayans and Incans among others, were either annihilated or converted into new folds. The consequent conversion did change the attitude of their inheritors towards knowledge and its construction and particularly towards
the others. Indian tradition survived, perhaps, because it allowed questions from within and prestiged and prioritized learning to teaching so much so that there is no word for teaching in most of the Indian languages in which the word for teaching is made after transforming the word for learning into the causative. Hence, the Indian civilization was a knowledge civilization because it was a learning civilization. But what happened to the culture of learning in it?
System-making came naturally to Indians. Indian culture had a natural wont for constructing Sastra (system), for there are Sastras in it for almost every activity - human and animal - things in motion and motionless. Critical thinking prospered in India for centuries much before colonization, till non-native traditions in the form of the Greek, the Muslim, and the Christian civilizations of knowledge intervened in it. The first was a fleeting interface of the cultural kind, the second had socio-political, religious and cultural connotations, but the last had the most lasting systematic political, religious, cultural and intellectual (academic) impact, as the Indian encounter with the British was a clash of two knowledge systems, if not civilizations, for it would be a gross over-estimation to term British/English culture as civilization. In the book, colonization emerges as the Iynchpin around which, i.e. before, during and after it, responses revolve. But whatever happened to system building during and after colonization?
Colonialism, all its evils notwithstanding, had at least one positive attribute in it. It yoked different nations and continents, different civilizations and cultures, knowledge systems as well as literary and critical discourses together in an unprecedented manner in human history. Apart from being a clash of civilizations and different knowledge systems, it led to a new synthesis of cultural and critical discourses as a consequence of the confluence of two antithetical discourses. In the case of India, colonialism expanded and consolidated itself in the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, though the declining years of the second quarter of the twentieth century witnessed the melting of the empire coinciding with the end of World War II.
During the initial phase of the rule of the East India Company in India, the Orientalists/Indologists appropriated India’s intellectual and cultural resources to their advantage before their influence waned, and the advocates of Anglicization of India led by William Wilberforce and Thomas Babington Macaulay took over. The establishment of universities in India and emergence of a new class of educated people (mostly in the Western mode) and writers facilitated interaction between the Western/English and Indian critical traditions. In collaboration with other factors, the new generation resisted colonization through violent and nonviolent ways and India attained its political independence. Its intellectual independence, however, is yet to take place. If it has not till now, none other than Indians, their disorientation from their traditions and uncritical acceptance of other traditions are, to a good measure, responsible. Human history has lessons of hope for it, as R.W. Emerson pronounced intellectual independence of America in his lecture “American Scholar” on 31 August 1837 at the Phi Beta Kappa Society after its political independence in 1776. Freedom is a prerequisite for liberation - political, cultural, intellectual and spiritual. “Indian Scholar” will follow it. And all “scholars” put together would lead to the formation of the United Nations of Scholars without super powers.
Before I conclude, I must express my gratitude to individuals and institutions that helped me during the course of my study and provided space for interaction with scholars. Their interventions and observations deserve my sincere gratitude, as they enriched my understanding. Countless as they are in the form of my colleagues and students at the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Saurashtra University, I must mention, among them, the names of Hans Breunig (Magdeburg), Sridhar Rajeshwaran (Mumbai), Subha Dasgupta (Jadavpur), Sunil Sagar and Maulik Vyas (Rajkot) in particular for going through the manuscript in parts at different points of time. The University Grants Commission, New Delhi supported the project and the publication of the book in particular. Shri Susheel Mittal, D.K. Printworld, has earned my gratitude for his keen interest in the publication of the book and its issues.
Moreover, I must state that my responses to the questions enumerated above were spread over a period of time. Different occasions necessitated use of the same argument for related frames of thought. I have retained them for the sake of continuity. If it leaves a jarring effect at times, I seek forgiveness for my indulgence. The institutions that provided space for me to share with them included Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla (Himachal
Pradesh); Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi; Centre for Languages and Cultural Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Jadavpur; Banaras Hindu University, Varansai (UP); Department of English University of Pune, Pune (Maharashtra); Department of English University of Mumbai, Mumbai (Maharashtra); and Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Saurashtra University, Rajkot (Gujarat). I express my gratitude to all of them for giving me an opportunity to present my arguments before distinguished scholars of the country. Also my sincere acknowledgements are due to Professor K.D. Verma, Professor Rajnath, Professor Kapil Kapoor, Professor Makarand Paranjape, Professor Subha Dasgupta, Professor Jasbir Jam, Professor Chandrakala Padia, and Professor B.L. Chakkoo, the editors of various journals and anthologies in which my responses appeared from time to time in the form of papers. Apart from them, I have tried to acknowledge the source wherever needed. But more often than not I realized that whatever I thought as mine or new was what I had learnt from others. In the process I heard more and read less. And it is difficult for me to acknowledge all those from whom I heard so much. Also I do not want to embarrass them by mentioning their names for embellishing my arguments with them.
Acknowledgements are at times used as embellishments. In the present case they are genuine and need to be respected. I do so wordlessly for my own satisfaction and peace, for words tend to hinder understanding and peace as well. Ironically enough whatever little I learnt and understood I did so by listening and reading. So I conclude this piece by not causing violence to words and people behind them because of my limitations, and therefore leave them in their worlds.
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