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MAKING THE FOREIGN NATIVE

IN ANOTHER COUNTRY: COLONIALISM, CULTURE, AND THE ENGLISH NOVEL IN INDIA By Priya Joshi, Oxford, Rs 595

The story behind the production and consumption of the English novel in India reflects the history of colonial transactions in India. While recounting this history in In Another Country, Priya Joshi reveals that this hegemonizing trend of colonial dissemination of culture was by no means a smooth one — it was resisted, even challenged, by the choosy consumers.

Scouring archival sources on holdings and circulation of books in Indian libraries, Joshi highlights the Indian consumers’ predilection for melodramatic fiction.This naturally influenced production as the Macmillan Colonial Library in India specifically published library editions of those books which contained a sizeable proportion of sensationalism and “anti-realism” so as to pander to Indian taste. Joshi’s analysis of the marketing strategies of the early 19th century British producers of fiction seeks to replace the Marxist view of consumption as secondary and subservient to production. Joshi does this with Michel de Certean’s discerning argument that consumers are “unrecognised producers” and elaborates it in two parts and six distinct stages

In part I, titled “Consuming Fiction”, Joshi explores the development of the tastes of the Indian consumers. G.W.M. Reynolds and Corelli presented to the Indian audience a recognizable form of evil against which they could vent their suppressed anti-colonial venom. This gradually led to the appropriation of English fiction and its subsequent indigenization, first in the vernacular and later in the English language itself.

Part II of the book concentrates on the production of fiction, in vernacular as well as in English, in the Indian subcontinent. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay finds a place here. It is interesting to read how, despite failing with his first English novel, Rajmohan’s Wife, Chattopadhyay then fit a foreign form in a native culture by inserting an epic narrator in his novels for the purpose of commentary and didactic speeches.

The novels of Krupa Satthianadhan are dealt in a separate chapter because she exemplifies a method of indigenization quite different from Chattopadhayay’s. Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi underscores the sense of exile bred in the Indian citizen by modernization. This is followed by discussions about how the sense was further developed in the novels of Salman Rushdie, Sashi Tharoor, Amitav Ghosh and I. Allan Sealy. Joshi’s history of colonialism in India seeks to refashion the very tools of historicity employed by colonial history.

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