Two Tales of a City: The Place of English and the Limits of Postcolonial Critique

Abstract: Since the early 1980s, novels by Indians in English have become the site of a transnational publishing ‘boom’ made possible by the opening of Anglo-American literary markets to non-white writing. This essay begins by illuminating the disconnect between the postcolonial versus transnational framings of Indian English fiction. It shows how this literature has gone from being grounded in the politics of particular places to being framed as a de-territorialized literary flourishing, thereby denuding it of its political relevance in an era of transnational literary production. In an effort to ‘re-territorialize’ the history of and the issues at the heart of Indian writing in English, the essay argues that the social and political contours of English in India have come to be about much more than ‘writing back to empire’ or offering a ‘window to the world’ for Indians looking ‘out’ or westerners looking ‘in’. Instead, through a reading of two canonical Indian English texts about the death of Urdu in Delhi, the essay points to the limitations of the postcolonial framework itself. Indian English literature has outgrown the line of critique and politics that casts English as the language of colonization and structures the analysis of Indian English as an oppositional stance and peripheral discourse. This essay dwells instead on the place of English in the multilingual Indian consciousness and the work it does as mediator in India's linguistic landscape. What is remarkable is not that Indians write in the language of the colonizer, but that they write in an English that has been infused with the social and political consequences of its own indigenization.

Rashmi Sadana
Taylor and Francis Online