English Studies: Concept Note

From a time when R.K. Narayan warned David Davidar away from the Indian publishing industry because “There aren’t enough writers here”, to a 30% annual growth in the number of books in English published in India, Indian writing in English (IWE) has come a long way. Despite the phenomenal growth of IWE over the past decades in terms of both volume and critical acclaim, the question of what constitutes “Indian-ness” or what is “authentically Indian” has remained unresolved in the IWE discourse. The astounding international success of Indian authors in the recent past has raised questions of marketing Indian-ness, of what Meenakshi Mukherjee calls the anxiety of Indianness, of obscuring certain aspects of an “Indian” existence, and playing up others in order to pander to a largely Western target audience.

Does IWE consist simply of any writing produced by a person of Indian nationality or is it characterized by something that is “fundamentally” Indian? Is an essentialist approach to defining the boundaries of IWE restrictive, in a nation that is characterized by its diversity and in a globalizing era where boundaries are constantly evolving, where the included and the excluded are being increasingly difficult to disentangle? Is it possible to arrive at reconciliation between the diverse and conflicting, but equally valid notions and representations of Indianness? Are snake charmers, meditating yogis, vodka shots, koels perched on a tree, cows and traffic jams all “Indian” to different degrees? Who decides these degrees? Are modern Indian writers, who very often hail from urban cities successful in portraying an “authentic” representation of rural India?  Is it a sign of our being globally otherized that we need to address the question of the Indianness of our writing in the first place?

Themes:

  1. Indian Writing in English dead? – Is Indian Writing in English hitting a creative nadir as wildly original narratives and ideas fail to break it on to the mainstream? IWE has in recent times been restricted in exposure to a handful of mainstream authors, who while having their own merits are constrained to their own niches. Where is The Novel of IWE?
  2. Globalisation and Indian Writing in English – The effects of this world-wide phenomenon on Indian Writing in English, especially with regard to style, narratives and genres.
  3. The Importance of Being Indian – How important is it be recognised as Indian in writing, especially in these post-colonial times? The “Indianness” of Indian Writing in English has been an oft discussed topic. We are looking for new and fresh perspectives on the subject that define Indian Writing in English terms of emerging spaces, borders and boundaries. What and who is Indian? Is Indian Writing pan-Indian or Indian at all?
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About Negotiating Conflict

The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras is organising its second academic conference in the month of September, 2012 under the overarching theme of ‘Negotiating Conflict’. The two day conference will have a session each on Economics, English Studies and Development Studies offering an array of lectures, panel discussions by the leading thinkers and paper presentations by students. For queries, please mail at: negotiatingconflict2012@gmail.com.
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