Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Sixty-Year Journey: Bhasha Literature

Increased literacy levels and technology have ensured the democratisation of contemporary Indian literature…

It is possible to think of Indian literature during the first half of the 20th century as literature inspired by Romanticism and Nationalism. The essential features of the literature during the last sixty years cannot be similarly captured in terms of a few major trends or influences. It would be more appropriate to think of it in terms of several contextual processes.

The most significant factor forming the context of Indian literature during the last six decades has been the growth in literacy from a mere 18 percent in 1951 to 68 percent in 2001. Similarly, there has been a phenomenal widening of the ‘middle classes', the class of society that provided literary readership during the first half of the century. Consequently, the neo-literate sections have given rise to new kinds of literary genres and reflecting the life experience and concerns of these classes.

Spread of technology
Print technology was restricted to the major towns during the first half of the century. During the last six decades, the rural areas have acquired access to print technology, and more recently to IT. Though one does not notice easily how much these technologies have impacted the production of imaginative expression, the number of occasional publications, little magazines, small-circulation weekly and theme-based pamphlets, have been actively shaping the literary taste and the linguistic creativity in the vast hinterlands of India.
On the eve of Independence, there were hardly any publishing houses available to authors interested in writing in English. Not more than half a dozen Indians had by then managed to publish creative writing in English. This was not the situation for Indian languages. They had well-established publishing venues available for them. The scene has changed. Indian authors can now easily publish in English all genres of literature and para-literature. The publication houses in Indian languages have continued to bring out Bhasha literature. The distribution networks are more professionally organised.

As expected of a newly formed nation, institutions providing state patronage to literature have been created. In addition to the Sahitya Akademi and the National Book Trust, other foundations such as Jnanpith have taken upon themselves the task of identifying outstanding literary works, giving awards to authors and publishing translations. Every major language has numerous literary awards offered by literary associations, publishing houses and charity organisations. Besides, literary festivals, mushairas, seminars and various literary association conferences provide relatively young and new writers spaces for claiming recognition.

If one can think of names of literary giants such as Rabindranath Tagore and Premchand as the literary centres, for the last 60 years, it would be more appropriate to think of forms and forums of literature that stand out. Perhaps, the most outstanding literary expression during these decades has been in the field of poetry, a fact that one generally overlooks since poetry has been a diminishing genre in the western world. The ‘literary magazine', as distinct from a literary periodical, has contributed significantly in all Indian languages. These are magazines that bring to the readers the new writing in Bangla through their ‘pooja issues', or in Marathi through their ‘deepavali issues'. This is a phenomenon not experienced by any western country and, therefore, needs mention in describing Indian literature. The writing by women or depicting gender concerns has been quite outstanding. Similarly, in recent years tribal languages that had remained in oral traditions have started expressing themselves through the medium of writing.

Full report here The Hindu

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