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This review is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

INDIAN FILES BRUCE KING, Modern Indian Poetry in English (OUP India)
Twentieth Century Malayalam Literature, vol. 2, edited by Ayyappa Paniker (co-published by National Educational Research Centre and Vidyarthi Mithram)

I was recently on a British Council trip to Chennai and Kolkata, and returned with a desire to know more about Indian poetry than the very little I did before my departure. Beyond those few poets published by British presses, I had only the usual acquaintance with Tagore and a total inability to appreciate Vikram Seth - hardly fit preparation. It was therefore with curiosity and enthusiasm I looked to these books. Unfortunately, in different ways, they exemplify the difficulties involved in understanding any other culture, let alone one as complex as modern India.

Bruce King's study is thorough in setting out the remarkably swift gestation of a contemporary Indian poetry in English post-Independence. He establishes the career patterns of the central figures of this principally urban development: their relative alienation from traditional culture, the trajectories of exile and return, self-publication and self-anthologising, the academic jobs, the gradual acknowledgement. Many figures initially are from India's minorities: Nissim Ezekiel has a Jewish background, Keki Daruwalla is Zoroastrian, Eunice de Souza Goanese Catholic; and those from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds are frequently outsiders or moral rebels, like the formidable Kamala Das. This intellectual distance and the accompanying sense of alienation, King argues, influences not just the decision to write in English, but also the kind of English selected: many writers, like Arun Kolatkar, seeming to write a flat, toneless verse which is actually highly attuned to the shifting registers of Indian English.

King is sensitive to the ...


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