Generally speaking, Indian writings in English are a product of the historical encounter between the two cultures—Indian and the western—for about one hundred and ninety years. It is not that Indian people did not experience the impact of a foreign culture. It did during the reigns of various foreign rulers. But the difference with the British rule lies in the nature of the economic system that had come into being in Europe after the Renaissance, described by Marx as capitalist system. Before the introduction of the British rule India had the feudal economic system, in accordance with which the vast population of the country, having various religious faiths and conforming to the caste system, tried to live their life, sometimes fatalistically and sometimes stoically. Above all, it was a closed society with a peculiar cultural xenophobia. In fact, India had been awaiting a political and cultural change, which became necessary after the weakening and disintegration of the Moghul Empire. British rule in India, first of all, resulted in breaking the barrier of that closed society. Then the greatest cultural impact came with the establishment of four universities and with the introduction of western educational system. The English language provided the natives with a way to the western literature and to the western culture, of course. English education created a class of native bourgeoisie, the majority of which turned to their mother tongue while giving birth to a native literature, applying the western aesthetic norms. But a few among them thought it appropriate to give expressions to their feelings and experiences in English. Thus the peculiar body of Indo-Anglian literature was created—while its contents were to Indian, its medium of expression was to be English.
Among its pioneers was teenage girl, who, besides writing many poems and a French novel, also wrote an unpublished English novel, Bianca or the Young Spanish Maiden. At the beginning of the 20th century Ramesh Chunder Dutt tried seriously to write fictions in English. His the Slave Girl of Agra: An Indian Historical Romance. His Lake of Palms is an intimate picture of the social life of Bengal. Among other Bengali fiction writers, S. K. Ghosh’s first novel 1001 Indian Nights recounts in the manner of an oriental story-teller the supernormal deeds of Narayan Lal. It was followed by The Price of Destiny. It seeks to analyse the cause of political disaffection in India against the British.
Indian novels in English had begun to be written from various parts of India, crowded with the varied and variegated pictures of life from various lands. The cultural lives are both geographically and socially different, while the common thread is the medium of expression and the common ground is the context of the British rule. Among the writers of fiction during the colonial period mention may be made of S. b. Banerjee, B. R. Rajam, T. Ramkrishna, P.A. Madhviah, K. S. Venkatramani, Shankar Ram.
After the end of the First World War it is found that some of the novelists were influenced by the ideologies that challenged capitalism and colonialism. The most prominent of those was Marxism. In Mulk Raj Anand’s novels we find the operation of the ideology in the background. His Across the Black Waters, The Coolie, Two Leaves and a Bud, The Untouchable are faithful documents of the lives of the downtrodden. His characters also come alive as real persons of the Indian society. Among other novelist, Raja Rao is famous for his narrative techniques. He combined the narrative techniques of The Ramayana and The Mahabharata with those modern western techniques of Eliot and Joyce. His Kanthapura is put in the mouth of a grandmother. R. K. Narayan is a powerful novelist having considerable philosophical bent of mind. It is seen in his novels The Bachelor of Arts and The Dark Room.
The tragedy of partition provided the writers with the occasion to write about the plight of the people in the subcontinent in order to bring home mainly to the western world the impact of British rule, which had previously boasted of “civilising mission”. India got Independence through bloodshed and migration. Khushwant Singh wrote A Train to Pakistan. His next novel I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale presents an ironic picture of a joint Sikh family, illustrative of different Indian reactions to the freedom movement of the forties.
In fact, the partition theme in Indian novels in English set the dystopian tune, which would be later on carried on to the tone of the postcolonial theories. Postcolonialism began as a recognition of the dominant post-War economic and political conditions prevalent all over the world. Vikram Set, Upamannu Chatterjee, Ruth Jhavala, Kamala Das, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and others seem to believe that condition of life—be it at home or outside, be it in India or abroad—has become as it is because of the impact of European domination of the world. The irony of the situation has been aptly described by the Australians Bill Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffins as writing back to the empire.