ENGLISH LITERATURE BY INDIANS.
"At a time when the spirit of research in the West is extending to the Philosophies of the East, when a Hindu Sanyasin lecturing in New York is listened to with rapt attention," it may not be out of place to offer a few general remarks on this interesting subject. The importance of the subject is heightened by the consideration that India has already produced English writers of great merit and still greater promise. When in 1854 Lord Macaulay penned his famous Educational Minute laying down that the English Language be introduced in India as the sole medium for the study of Western Literature and Science, he little thought he was laying the foundation for an Indian-English Literature in India. That day was a red-letter day in the annals of Indian History. By that minute the gates of western knowledge were at once thrown open to the admiring gaze of the Indian people. At first, they were a little dazzled by the sight. But soon they grew accustomed to it and began to appreciate it. Fifty years of English education have not been in vain. English ideals, ways of thought, manners and customs have indelibly impressed themselves on the Indian mind, in some cases wholly altering its nature. With the advance of Western civilization and science the Indian's views of life have changed, the simple, contemplative life of his forefathers giving place to an apish imitation of Western manners, dress etc., a desire for wasteful show and luxury and other ugly features of Western civilization. The change in many ways is regrettable, and it is because the writer of this article sees in the change anything but a welcome sign of the times's that he has taken up the pen by way of protest. The subject may be viewed under three distinct heads, viz., Literature, History and Journalism.
No one who has watched the events of the last two or three years in India carefully can deny that a great awakening is taking place all over the country social, political, moral, intellectual, spiritual and what not? On all sides we are confronted by visible signs of this change. Giant forces are at work leavening the current of National Life, stirring it to its very depths. Before our very eyes a Renaissance is taking place which will ere long find expression in a splendid outburst of song and eloquence more glorious than ever. A new impulse is stirring India and new aspirations are moving her. She is waking up from her age-long sleep, rousing herself to the consciousness of a new Destiny and marching with giant strides towards her destined goal. The English language which has been a most potent factor in bringing about this result, is becoming more and more the common language of the educated classes. Indian writers like Mr. Dutt have made it the vehicle of their own rich thoughts. A new literature is springing up which promises in the new future to bring about most happy results. Mr. Dutt and Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, Mr. Malabari and Sarath Kumar Ghosh are the morning stars in this great movement heralding the dawn of the new day. We have produced orators like Babu Surendranath Banerjea, Mr. Lal Mohan Ghose, Babu Bepin Chandra Pal, men whose command over the English language is wonderful. We can go on adding to the list. But enough. Attempts have been and will be made by Indians in the field of English Drama but with little chance of success. It is in the domain of English prose, if anywhere, that Indians can do something. Nor are they wanting in materials. India with her gigantic mountains, her mighty rivers, her tremendous forests, her beautiful lakes, her delightful sanitariums, her enchanting valleys like the vale of Kashmir, her splendid cities her magnificent remains of Architectural and Archaeological interest – presents such a wealth of picturesque, beautiful and inspiring scenery as can hardly be exhausted in a lifetime. Her romance, her mystery, her glimmer, her indefinable charm, her throbbing life, her endless diversity of races and religions await only the touch of a consummate artist to wake up to immortal life. If India ever stood in need of a great writer, it is now. Already we see a faint glimmer heralding the dawn of a brighter and more glorious day on the Indian horizon. Before this century is over, India will produce one supremely great man, one International Figure that shall tower above his contemporaries as the giant in Brobdingnag over the pigmies of Lilliput. The forces are there, the materials are there. Only the man of genius is needed to apply the vital spark and infuse the breath of life. Let us all welcome the day when a great English writer from India shall command the homage of the English speaking world.
Turning to History, it is my firm belief, a belief shared by many of my educated countrymen that the History of India has yet to be written, particularly that portion which relates to the pre-British period. A thorough, comprehensive and impartial history of India in the strictest sense of the term, we have not. Most of the works by European authors although they bear the stamp of much valuable original research and high critical scholarship, are highly colored by exaggeration, by prejudice. Hence they are unsafe guides in judging of India and her peoples. In this connection the researches of our own countrymen like the late Mr. M. G. Ranade, K. T. Telang, Mr. R. C. Dutt, Mr. B. G. Tilak, Professor Jadunath Sarkar, Mr. C. Hayavadana Rao and other workers in the same field are noteworthy. One defect in the method of teaching in our schools and colleges is that history is not properly taught to our boys. Indian boys know more of Lord Clive and Lord Nelson than they know of Akbar the Great or Sivaji. The great men of their own land, like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, grand Homeric characters like Lakshman and Arjun, historic personages like Vikramaditya and Asoka are neglected. This has a most pernicious effect on their youthful minds. It creates in them a disrespect for antiquity, an utter want of regard for their elders, and a sense of aloofness which are much to be deplored. An attempt should be made to reform the teaching of history and bring it on more national and intelligent lines. Some of the brightest men of our Universities would be doing valuable work if they were to devote themselves to the task of re-writing the history of India on the lines of the latest scientific research and critical scholarship. In the Sanskrit and Tamil languages in particular we have a priceless heritage bequeathed to us by our ancestors. In the Upanishads the two national Epics, the Puranas and in the works of such latter-day writers as Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Chanakya, etc., in Sanskrit, in the Kavyas and classics in Tamil, and in the accounts of contemporary Greek and Chinese travelers who visited India for various reasons about the state of the country and its progress in civilization at the time of their visit, we have the history of India for more than two thousand years pregnant with the lessons to posterity. Such a stupendous mass of material may well nigh bewilder the acutest intellect. They present a truer and more vivid picture of Indian life and manners than many of the so-called books, on Indian History. If you care to know the inner life of the Indian people, their hopes, their fears, their cherished ideals, their national peculiarities, you must dive deep into that vast ocean of Literature and extract the Pearls of Wisdom as it were by sheer diligence, ceaseless effort. The labors of the Archaeological Department in this direction are deserving of the highest praise and it is our earnest wish that more and more of our graduate should enter that vast and unexplored field which reveals traces of a mighty civilization extending from near Khandahar to Java and which is so full of possibilities for the future. Here at least there is ample material to work upon.
Journalism in India has not the same attraction to the man of genius as it has in England or America. Although it is an admitted fact that newspaper-reading and magazine-reading are extending in India, the Press (with some notorious exceptions) is not such a power in the land as is the case in England and other countries. There the Press educates, guides and controls public opinion. It is master of the situation. In England it has become so powerful as to be recognized as a Fourth Estate in the realm. In India the reverse is the case. The reason is not far to seek. We have to take into consideration, first, the extreme poverty of the people, second the low percentage of educated men and especially English educated men and the last but not least the recent measures of Government curtailing freedom of speech and writing.
When the reader takes up his morning newspaper he seems hardly to realize that he is reading the history of the whole world, that the events of the past twenty-four hours all over the world have been condensed for him and presented in the compass of a single newspaper. It is often the case here that for every one man that Subscribes or a newspaper or Journal there are ten men to read. At present Journals are regarded as more in the nature of a luxury to be indulged in only by the rich than a necessity. By this we do not mean that their necessity is not felt, but not to an extent commensurate with the great extent of the country and the population. The great majority of the people, the peasantry who form the backbone of the nation, are still content to pass their days in utter ignorance of the affairs of the great outside world beyond their own narrow sphere. When education becomes more general and as a result the people begin to take a more intelligent interest in public affairs we can expect a revolution in Journalism, and then, and not until then will the Press become a real power in the land as voicing the collective opinion of the millions of the Indian continent. Whether Journalism will be easier twenty years hence we cannot pretend to guess, but this much can be said with truth that the Journalist of today must bring to bear upon his task, a fearless regard for truth, an impartial and mature judgment, an almost indescribable patience and perseverance in the discharge of his duties, a bold advocacy of the cause of right, a due sense of his responsibilities as the spokesman of the people and the interpreter of the popular will to the Government and a realization, not a day too soon, of the nobility and sacredness of his calling and these are some of the attributes without which he cannot hope for success.
Human nature is pretty much the same in the West as in the East. The complex passions that agitate the human breast, love, jealousy, anger, hatred are no less fierce in their intensity in the West than in the East. The eternal problems that a wait the most noteworthy human solution, the problems of Life and Death are today as much engaging the attention of the ablest minds of the West as of the East. The task of the writer and the journalist therefore in India, should be to present such a picture of Indian life and manners as will enable our English rulers to understand us thoroughly and extend some measure of that sympathy which was so eloquently pleaded for by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in his Guildhall speech soon after his return from his Indian tour. For, sympathy is the keynote of success in administration as in everything else. At the same time, such a literature will be aglow with all the warmth and color of the East, a faithful mirror of Indian life and Indian ideals, and if it helps to a sympathetic understanding of us the task of Government will. I am sure, be very much simplified. I look forward hopefully to the future, strong in my conviction, firm in my faith of India's ultimate Destiny. I look forward to a yet more glorious future for my motherland, a future that will find her occupying the proudest position, among the nations of the world.