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Language, Nation and Narration

Anjana Sharma

By G.J.V. Prasad
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 176, Rs.545.00


Before I begin the review of G.J.V. Prasad's work a word on the dust jacket cover: it speaks of the multicultural, multilingual, multifarious ways in which English is read, written, and spoken in India. Hence, fish swim in a sea of words taken from Hindi, Tamil and English, the fish possibly being us who swim in the multitudinous seas that make up the many currents of English usage in India today and of yore. Writing India, Writing English is as Prasad tells us a work that grows out of his long preoccupation with how in a country like ours, where language apparently changes every ten kos, and is accompanied by a simultaneous shift in culture, food habits, ways of living, thinking and feeling, English cannot be a fixed marker that remains changeless and inviolate. Indeed, its very changeability is what makes 'English' so worthy of continual critical enquiry. In the case of Prasad this enquiry becomes even more interestingly nuanced given his multiple belongings: a Tamil teacher of literatures in English in a Hindi speaking milieu. And if this is not enough there is also the added fact of his multiple signatures as Professor in 'English', a novelist, a poet, a critic and translator of Tamil texts into English. To my mind, this complex set of criss-crossing locations in many ways best exemplifies the conundrum of English today and the reason why there is a whole arm of the publication unit in most serious publishing houses that is dedicated to contesting and interrogating the changing arcs of the narrative of 'English' in India. The book is divided into two halves which seek to cover a history of English in India over a long period of two centuries, the early nineteenth century, the sweep of the twentieth, and taking in the first decade of the twenty-first too. The first part, 'India, English, Translation' begins with a explication and examination of the (in)famous Macaulay Minutes on Education and its fundamentally transformative impact on how English shaped the consciousness of the newly emergent class of its Indian users and directly drove them to question their enslaved status and their cultural burial under the single shelf of a white man's library. In the manner of scholars before him, Prasad too sees this as a key moment in the kindling of the nationalistic spirit that lead to the Bengal Renaissance and its ...

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