Whether it were Lionel Trilling and Oscar Handlin in the 1920s or later in the postmodern period, the revision of literary canon to include the voice of women, gays and lesbians, has always carried political undertones. Besides, under the influence of postcolonial literary theory, most Indian scholars of English literature also shifted their attention towards Indian ‘literature(s)’. If postcolonial theory empowered Indian scholars to challenge the canon of English literature in India, the onset of cultural studies in India made teachers of English literature in Indian universities respond also to films and media.
Nayar’s book titled Inter-Sections: Essays on Indian Literatures, Translations and Popular Consciousness can be seen in the above mentioned context. Divided into four sections, the book deals with four major issues that have been buzzing in Indian academia for a few decades. The book re-reads ‘Indian Literature’; studies Punjabi literature (regional literature), deals critically with issues of translation studies in India and also includes the author’s reflections on media. At the end, the book critically examines the relevance of theory and makes an appeal for the revival of humanism in the study of literature in India in present times.
Structured like a play, the book has a prologue and an epilogue with four acts or sections. (It should be kept in mind that the author has done a Ph.D. in American Drama and has directed a good number of plays during his teaching career.) The book begins with a prologue in which the author begins with the story of his book on the patterns of the ‘story of creation’. He traces the roots of multiplicity and plurality in literature to understand ‘how a differentiated and classified understanding of literary genres emerged through the ages’ (p. 1). Coming to Indian classical works, the author problematizes how to approach the Mahabharata, as before the eighteenth century it was known as itihasa, purana, or kavya, not epic in India. By problematizing the identity of the ancient Indian epic, the author has questioned the blind adherence to the western paradigm, artificially and violently imposed to comprehend Indian reality. Later, while differentiating and classifying different systems of knowledge, structures of societies and culture, the author finds the relation between changing social and political structure with the evolution and emergence of different literary genres.
The first section is devoted to Indian literature in English. The first essay in this section problematizes the location of Indian literature in English vis-à-vis other literatures in the Indian languages and also the blind acceptance of postmodernism in India. The essay touches upon various issues such as indigenous literature v/s English literature; using the western critical paradigm to study Indian literature and if western theoretical cult of ‘text is all’ should or should not be acceptable in a country like India. The author takes his position and clearly and categorically makes the point that it is only countries like the USA that can indulge in ignoring social and cultural forces behind the creation of literature, but not societies like ours. In the next two essays, the author tries to historicize fiction and drama and makes an attempt to understand various contours that these two literary genres have developed over a period of time in India.
The author then shifts his attention from literature in English to Punjabi literature. As confessed by the author himself, his approach and paradigm while approaching Punjabi literature has been that of an ‘outsider’. Having found a close relationship between ideology and aesthetics, the author approaches the Punjabi novel and drama with western critical tools. In the first essay, Nayar gives a historical overview of Punjabi literature. The next three essays are devoted to fiction, drama and Punjabi diaspora writing. He discusses Gurdial Singh, a novelist; Atamjit Singh, a playwright and Raghbir Dhandh, first generation Punjabi diaspora writer. Nayar perceives Gurdial Singh as a writer of anchalik upanayas in Punjabi and places him along with Thomas Hardy and R.K. Narayan. Through his essays on Atamjit Singh’s play titled Kaamloops Dian Machhian and Raghbir Dhand’s ‘Narrative of Dispersal’, the author has tried to understand the experience of the Punjabi diaspora. He also throws light on Singh’s dramatic art and argues how Singh weaves polyphonic discourse into his dramatic art. While discussing Dhand’s stories, the author not only looks at the nostalgia for the lost motherland, but also focuses on the complexities arising out of the process of dispersal i.e., scattering and finding new roots. While theorizing Videshi short story in the last essay, he envisions narrative or katha not merely as a tool to theorize but also a mode to give resistance to the existing hegemonic structures and provide a counter-discourse.
The third section of the book deals with the theory and practice of translation. Since translation is both a critical and creative activity, every translator needs to define the cult of translation for himself. It is from this process that his theory of translation emerges. In the first essay in this section, ‘Author as Translator: Paradigms and Possibilities in Indian Context’, Nayar delves into the dialogic interaction between the author and translator. While understanding for himself and theorizing the art of translation, he finds suitable metaphors in Hindu mythology such as Narada, a communicator and Trishanku. The author opines that the translator too, like Trishanku, remains hanging between two languages, worlds and cultures.
In his second essay, the author maps out a ‘relation between English and Punjabi in terms of language, literature and translations’ (p. 175). The attempt is not to trace a historical narrative, but to understand the kind of equation these two languages had been enjoying. Tracing the roots of Punjabi thought and tradition of non-conformity in Punjabi culture, the author perceives Punjabi language as a site of conflict. The third and fourth essays on Tamas and Hajar Churashir Ma respectively do not directly deal with tropes of translation but with historiography in a postmodernist world. While reading Bhishma Sahni’s Tamas, the author makes a point that the writer has managed to give multiple perspectives to his fictional text. Nayar reads Hajar Churashir Ma as a bridge between ‘narrative of oppression’ and ‘narrative of healing.’
The last section explores relations between the media and society in a consumerist world. In the first essay titled ‘Of Language, Consciousness and Mass Media,’ the author builds on two distinct ways of looking at language and consciousness i.e., phenomenological and materialist. Later Nayar discusses the role of the media in a consumerist society in the Indian context. ‘Of Influence, Power and Empowerment’ looks at the hyped media projections and media ethics. ‘Of Little Magazines in Punjabi: A Historical Overview’ gives an overview of the journalistic writings in Punjabi.
The last essay in this section, ‘Class, ideology and Politics of Globalizations: Case Study of Aravind Adiga’, questions the popular belief projected by the media that the novel deals with the ‘underdogs’ in Indian fiction. The author deconstructs the media constructed notion of The White Tiger as a pro-working class narrative and exposes how this narrative propagates dreams, constructed by globalization, not the idea of revolution. In the last chapter titled ‘Rediscovering Humanities in Life and Literature,’ Nayar builds the crisis of ‘humanism’ in the present world. He questions the efficacy of ‘theory,’ which, according to him, has failed to give humanity any solution to the problems it has sensitized people about. Finding strength in mysticism, Nayar’s humanism is more in the transcendental mode. His appeal to revive ‘humanism’ and dharma1 raises a relevant question: How is it possible to revive human values or dharma from its ashes in an age that runs on money and consumerism?
The question remains unanswered, perhaps leaving the moral burden on the shoulders of every reader to discover it for him/herself.
The strength of the book lies in that it exemplifies how literary and cultural studies in India can be done in the postcolonial context. As a critic and a translator, the author has picked his metaphors from the indigenous system of thought without having denounced the western critical tradition. Instead of hovering in the ‘third space’, he very comfortably takes two seemingly opposite worldviews together. The book is an outcome of reflections of a teacher who was trying to negotiate with classroom reality and changing cultural reality. In the process, the author has come out with a book that deals with issues pertaining to translation studies, postcolonial studies in India and the media and also redefines the role of English teachers in Indian universities in the present context.
Endnote 1 Dharma should not be confused with institutionalized religion as the author himself makes the distinction. Vivek Sachdeva, a teacher, poet, and translator, is currently Associate Professor in English at the GGSIP University, New Delhi.