Modernism in Indian Literature By Ramakrishnan, E. V.; Kumar, Udaya
Modernism in Indian literature, like Indian modernity, resists tidy definitions. Just as experiences of modernity outside the Western world have prompted accounts of ‘alternative,’ ‘colonial,’ or ‘vernacular’ modernities, literary modernism in India calls for a recognition of historical and locational specificities. A perplexing diversity of languages, communities and literary cultures, the continued life of oral traditions and uneven levels of literacy, and complexities of political and economic realities in postcolonial India confront attempts to chart modernism’s career in India. The category itself is Protean, displaying multiple meanings and accents in various regions and contexts; what follows is no more than a preliminary map aimed at an initial orientation.
Modernist departures in Indian writing, from their beginnings in the 1920s and 1930s, moved away from idealized visions of the human and dominant idioms of nationalist belonging. The thirties also saw the emergence of Marxist literary efforts, with their insistent, critical foregrounding of social reality. The Progressive Writers Association was founded in Lucknow in 1936, and similar outfits came up in many regional languages. Incipient modernism and early progressive writing overlapped in their stark estimation of reality and rejection of literary decorum. Urdu modernists like Sa’adat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai had close associations with the progressives before they parted ways. The Kallol generation poets in Bengal provoked criticism not only for formal innovations but also for their preoccupation with ‘poverty and lust.’