Thursday, July 22, 2010

Indian Language Novels Before 1900

Umrao Jan Ada (Urdu): 1899. Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa

Fran Pritchett's page:
Chapter 1 of the Khushwant Singh translation

Bhagyavati. 1877. Pandit Sraddharam Phullauri. Hindi

No particular web resources! Considered by some to be the first novel in Hindi. But Mukherjee also lists Pandit Gauri Dutt's Devrani Jethani ki Kahani (1870), Munshi Kalyan Rai's Vama Shikshak (1872). There were texts published at the very beginning of the 19th century in Hindi, specifically Rani Ketaki ki Kahani (1801), by Insha Allah Khan, and Nasiketopakhyan (1803), by Sadal Mishra. Here is what Mukherjee has to say about Rani Ketaki Ki Kahani:

The earlist long prose-narrative in Hindi in the nineteenth century, Rani Ketaki ki Kahani (1801) by Insha Allah Khan, was written as a linguistic experiment. The author wanted to show that a story could be written in a language which was neither Persianized Urdu nor a localized dialect of Hindi. The form was incidental, the language was the challenge. There was no European influence here, nor did the book generate any further experiments to begin a tradition. (14)
Mirat Ul-Arus (The Bride's Mirror). (Urdu, 1870). Nazir Ahmed.

Both Mukherjee and Frances Pritchett mention the author's preface to the novel as important. Here is how Mukherjee describes it:

Nazir Ahmad, in the preface to his first Urdu book, Mirat ul-Arus, explains that he wrote it to provide his daughters with interesting reading material because they had nothing but sacred texts to read:

Purely religious subjects of study are not suited to the capacities of children, and the literature to which my children's attention was restricted had the effect of depressing their spirits, of checking their natural instincts and of blunting their intelligence...It was then I formed the design of the present tale. (14)

Fran Pritchett, in her wonderful afterward to a recent edition of The Bride's Mirror, also has some great things to say about the preface.

Nazir Ahmad's introduction to The Bride's Mirror is so full of complex feelings for women that it almost shoots out sparks. The reader can easily tell that this writer has spent time with women and girls, and that he genuinely likes them and enjoys their company. He cares enough about them to respect them; he values their potential and wants them to achieve fine things.

Thus he is led into a torrent of reproach. Wanting women to be admirable and admired, he is distressed by the shortcomings he sees in them: ignorance, credulousness, passivity, laziness, emotionalism, superficiality. He illustrates and denounces these faults, trying to hector his young female readers into overcoming such embarrassing, humiliating, even shameful traits.

Yet he also knows that the deck is stacked against women. They cannot (and perhaps should not?) dream of escaping from purdah. Shut up in their houses, denied access to higher education, unable to learn from mingling with the larger world outside, how can they be expected, against all odds, to develop the valuable practical qualities and abilities so much more easily attained by the men of their families

ME: Interesting to note how much the novel was tied to British patronage. Ahmad, working in a British civil service job, submitted it to a contest for a work in Urdu or Hindi that could be used instructionally, and won the prize (1000 Rupees).

Indulekha (1888). O. Chandu Menon. (Malayalam)

Menon was committed to realism in narrative method, though he pushed the boundaries of the plausible (progressively) with the actual woman who is his protagonist in the novel.

Here are different parts of his statement on realism:

As state at the outset, my object is to write a novel after the English fashion, and it is evident that no ordinary Malayalie lady can fill the role of the heroine in such a story. My Indulekha is not, therefore, an ordinary Malayalie lady. [...] Twenty years hence there may be found hundreds of Indulekhas in Malabar who would be able to choose their husbands for pure and sweet love. My narrative of the love and courtship of Madhavan is intended to show to the young ladies of Malabar how happy they can be if they can have the freedom to choose their patners. (8)

And here is another quote from the preface to Menon's Indulekha. Here he focuses specifically on the cultural shift associated with the advent of realism:

Others...asked me, while I was employed on this novel, how I expected to make it a success if I described only the ordinary affairs fo the modern life without introducing any element of the supernatural. My answer was this: Before the European style of oil painting began to be known and appreciated in this country, we had--painted in defianc of all possible existence--pictures of Vishnu as half man and half of the God Krishna with his legs twisted and turned into postures in which no biped could stand...Such productions used to be highly thought of, and those who produced them were highly remunerated, but now they are looked upon by many with aversion. A taste has set in for pictures, where in oil or water colors, in which shall be delineated men, beasts, and things according to their true appearance, and the closer that a picture is to nature, the greater is the honour paid to the artist. Just in the same way, if stories composed of incidents true to natural life and attractively and gracefully written, are once introduced, then by degrees the old order of books, filled with the impossible and the supernatural, will change, yielding place to the new. (translated from the Malayalam by W. Dumergue, 1965 reprint. quoted in Mukherjee, 187)

Mukherjee's interesting observation that Indian nineteenth century writers unfortunately were influenced too much by British Victorians, while Americans or Russians might have served as better models:

It is perhaps unfortunate that the nineteenth century Indian novelist had as his model primarily the British Victorian novel; with hindsight after a century it seems the British model was perhaps the least suitable for the Indian mind in the nineteenth century. The brooding inwardness and philosophical quality of the nineteenth-century Russian novel or the intensely moral preoccupation of the nineteenth-century American writer might have demonstrated to early practitioners of Indian fiction alternative modes of writing novels. A number of creative writers in our own time have remarked how little they have been influenced by English literature and how much by European and American literature, and of late by Latin American literature.

India's first generation novelists had hardly any access to Tolstoy, Melville or Flaubert. With total servility they imitated mediocre English novels, often devaluing their own talents in the process. Mention has already been made of O. Chandu Menon trying to adapt a novel (which has almost been forgotten today) by Disraeli and ending up writing a genuine first novel in Malayalam. (17-18)

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