Book Review: ‘The Journey of the Indian Novel’

Hussain, Md. Equebal. The Journey of the Indian Novel. New Delhi: Future Prints Private Ltd., 2012.

ISBN: 978-81-923989-0-7. (HB) pp. 167. Price: Rs. 300.


Reviewed by Dr. Vijay Kumar Roy*

The Journey of Indian Novel written by Dr. Md. Equebal Hussain is an extensive book on the Indian English novel. The book deals with the works of all major contemporary Indian English novelists. It has been divided into eight chapters with the names of the representative novelists respectively along with the conclusion. The chapterisation, made artistically, denotes all about the contents of the book. The long preface of the book provides a good introduction of the journey of the Indian English novel. The author calls the 1980s and 90s the ‘second renaissance’ of Indian Fiction in English and the novelists like Amitav Ghosh, Upamanyu Chatterjee. Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra, Githa Hariharan, Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy, Amitabh Chaudhary, Raj Kamal Jha, Pankaj Mishra, Kiran Desai, Arvind Adiga, Jhumpa Lahiri as harbingers of that ‘renaissance’. These writers, though inspired by their masters, believed to present the new and unexplored issues to the forefront. “The contemporary authors have taken up all kinds of subject of essential human concern- gender issues, power politics, communalism, fundamentalism, terrorism, secessionism, multiculturalism, marginalization, nuclear issue, environmental issues, search for identity, spiritual sterility of modern man, problems of youth, homosexuality, incest and so on.” (pp. 10-11) The ‘post colonial aura’ imbued with myth and history is dominant feature in the novels of this group. This note is also prevalent in the novels of Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Manju Kapoor and Tabish Khair. The author illustrates the emergence of feminism in the novels of Indian women novelists- Kamala Markandaya, Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Bharti Mukharjee, Manju Kapoor, Gita Hariharan and Arundhati Roy. The diasporic writers- Gita Mehta, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Amitav Chaudhary, Bharti Mukharjee, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri also get mention in the preface with “their penetrating insight into the expatriate experience or looking at India from afar.” (pp. 11-12)

The first chapter of the book entitled ‘The Early Masters: Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao’ deals with the major novels of the two fiction writers. The author describes Anand’s Untouchable and Coolie as the epics of misery. “The third novel Two Leaves and a Bud is also packed with Anand’s deep concern for the evils that plague the Indian society.” (p. 26) Raja Rao’s novels- Kanthapura (1938), The Serpent and the Rope (1960), The Cat and Shakespeare (1965), Comrade Kirrillov (1976), The Chess Master and his Moves (1988); his famous three collections of short stories- The Cow of the Barricades and Other Stories (1947), The Policeman and the Rose (1978) and On the Ganga Ghat (1989); and some of his fictional works are discussed thematically.

The second chapter ‘The Magic of Malgudi: RK Narayan’ begins with the note of Narayan’s view of writing. The author writes that “He is at heart an artist and his sole aim is to give aesthetic satisfaction.” (p. 35) The author also notes that “The dominant theme in the novels of RK Narayan is the comic clash between the two powerful social forces of tradition and modernity, and the matrix of human relationships. He is deeply rooted in the traditional culture of India and portrays Indian middle class life amidst various kinds of pressures. He depicts the Indian tradition and sensibility in all its hues in his novels.” (pp. 35-36)

The novels discussed in the book include Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938), The English Teacher (1945), The Financial Expert (1952), Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), The Guide (1958), The Man Eater of Malgudi (1961) and The World of Nagaraj (1990). The author writes that “with the arrival of RK Narayan the thematic range of the Indian novel in English sharply increased.” (p.50)

Anita Desai’s all major works- Cry, the Peacock (1963), Voices in the City (1965), Bye Bye Blackbird (1971), Where Shall We Go This Summer (1975), Fire on the Mountain (1977), Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), Baumgartner’s Bombay (1989), Journey to Ithaca (1996), Fasting, Feasting (1999) have been dealt including the collections of short stories- Games at Twilight and Other Stories (1978), Village by the Sea (1982), Diamond Dust (2001) and The Zigzag Way (2004). The author has divided Desai’s fictional works into three phases. The first phase is represented by Cry, the Peacock (1963), Voices in the City (1965) and Bye Bye Blackbird (1971). “The major characters of these three novels- Maya, Monisha, Norode, Adit and Dev are all very sensitive, psychological and neurotic characters struggling with their metaphysical, spiritual and existential experiences in an uncaring, materialistic and matter-of-fact universe.” (p. 60) The second phase of Desai’s literary career reflects her maturity comprising the novels – Where Shall We Go This Summer (1975), Fire on the Mountain (1977) and Clear Light of Day (1980). The third phase shows more maturity and it was this phase of writing which earned great prestige to Desai and added her in the list of great fiction writers of the world. This was the last phase represented by Journey to Ithaca (1996), Fasting, Feasting (1999) and The Zigzag Way (2004).

The author proves Anita Desai as the Virginia Woolf of India with vivid illustrations. He describes all issues of Desai’s novels including “familial relation, male attitude, clash between tradition and modernity, Hindu-Muslim relation, spiritualism, hybridity, shifting identity, immigration issues, anti-semitism, etc.” (pp. 69-70) He tries to establish the fact that “Anita Desai is one of the most distinguished Indian novelists in English and has added a new dimension to the contemporary Indian English fiction…” (p. 69).

The fourth chapter of the book is dedicated to Vikram Seth. He is termed as the “master of several literary genres – poetry, fiction, travelogues, poetic novel, opera and the translations” (p. 73). The author compares Vikram Seth with Mulk Raj Anand and RK Narayan and concludes that Seth has “made in-depth exploration of the issues which concern the whole of humanity beyond the frontiers of national boundaries.” (p. 73)

Seth’s famous novels- The Golden Gate (1986), A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (1999) have been taken by the author for analysis. He has also mentioned Seth’s other works – Mappings (1981), The Humble Administrator’s Garden (1985), All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990), Beastly Tales from Here and There (1992), a travel book, From Heaven Lake (1983), a translation work, Three Chinese Poets (1992), and an opera text, Arion and the Dolphin (1994). The main thrust of this chapter (‘Vikram Seth: The Novelist with a Global Vision’) is to explore Seth’s ‘global vision’.

Arundhati Roy’s contribution to the Indian English Literature has been dealt in the fifth chapter, ‘Making Capital out of Small: Arundhati Roy’. The author begins the chapter with Roy’s titles showered by the jury of the coveted Booker Prize when she received it in 2007 for The God of Small Things. She was titled ‘the new deity of prose’ and ‘the princess of prose’. Roy’s ‘unorthodox’ views and “effort for drawing attention to the plight of the voiceless people of this economically imbalanced world” (p. 97) are the hallmark of her writings. The author has tried to investigate Roy’s ‘complex’ and ‘significant’ style of presentation along with “aesthetically satisfying mosaic of life.” (p. 98)

Kiran Desai’s ‘Probing Globalisation and its Discontent’ forms the sixth chapter of the book. The author describes her debut novel – Hullabaloo in Guava Orchard (1998) and Booker Prize winning novel The Inheritance of Loss (2006). The author goes through Kiran Desai’s academic and cultural background while depicting the hilarious pictures of Hullabaloo in Guava Orchard. He quotes about The Inheritance of Loss that it contains “her insightful and often humorous commentary on multiculturalism, cross-cultural and cross-class understanding, globalisation and immigrant experience” (qtd. 120). Imbued with varied subjects this novel was described as “globalised novel for a globalised world.” (qtd. 123)

The seventh chapter, ‘The Charles Dickens of Call Centre Generation: Arvind Adiga’ adds a new dimension to the book. The author discusses Adiga’s three works- The White Tiger (2008), Between the Assassinations (2008) and Last Man in Tower (2011). The Booker Prize winning novel, The White Tiger has the note of “vast economic inequality between the poor and the wealthy elite” (qtd. 139). The journey from ‘Bakha to Velutha’ and from ‘Velutha to Balram Halwai’ brings out the real pictures of “the injustices and discrimination against the downtrodden.” (p. 141)

The eighth and last chapter of the book forms conclusion. The author goes through the works of some contemporary writers and opines that “this genre of literature has made tremendous progress thematically as well stylistically.” (p. 145)

The book is truly a depiction of the journey of the Indian English novel. It is the thematic progression of Indian English novel that has given it an identity in the World Literature. The book written on the lines of historical development makes it a must for all who are interested in exploring Indian English Literature.


*A bilingual poet, writer, editor and critic

New Delhi, INDIA.



The Literary Jewels – Vol. III, Issue 2

THE LITERARY JEWELS                                                                     





From the Editor’s Desk

‘Human Rights’ ~Amritbir Kaur

Feature-Cover Story

‘Human Rights? What’s that?’ ~A.K.

Literary Culture

#Telling a Tale

‘Bosley Builds a Tree House’ ~ Tim Johnson

#Poetic Musings

Four Poems ~Christopher Barnes

Book Review

‘The Journey of the Indian Novel’ ~Dr. Vijay Kumar Roy


Harpreet Singh Makkar ~Amritbir Kaur



Human Rights? What’s that?



Our society has gone from bad to worse. The social scenario has been changing rapidly with no certainty about the direction that the existing value system and morality will adopt. We often use the term ‘erosion of values’. This erosion of values is not only to be observed among the students, as is often lamented. We, as adults, are equally responsible for that. This ‘erosion of values’ has led to deterioration of respect for human rights of others. The need for being aware of what our rights as human beings are, was always there but it has become all the more important in the current social scenario. At present we are being invaded by excesses from all sides – be it the excess of information, the ‘atrocities’ against childhood or the illicit advances of the teacher community or the violation of the sanctity of relationship between a teacher and a student. We have had a glorious past of the ‘guru-shishya’ tradition.

In the words of Amartya Sen, “there is need to pay attention to the narrowing of horizons, especially of children, that illiberal and intolerant education can produce….Indeed, the nature of education is quite central to peace in the world….every human being’s identities have many different components, related to nationality, language, location, class, occupation, history, religion, political beliefs, and so on.” Therefore, we can say that the biggest challenge for a teacher is to promote respect and tolerance in the classroom. In 1985, the UGC prepared a blueprint for promotion of Human Rights teaching and research at all levels of education. This blueprint contained proposals for restructuring of existing syllabi, and introduction of new courses and/ or foundation courses in Human Rights. Having declared 1995-2004 as the United Nations decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), it is now in the process of initiating as a follow-up, the World Programme for Human Rights Education.


Human Rights Education

Human Rights Education (HRE)has been defined by the UN Assembly as ‘a lifelong process by which people at all levels of development & in all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of other s & the means & methods of ensuring that respect in all societies’.

If we try to analyse the concept of Human Rights and Education (HRE), we can shortlist a few main objectives of HRE. First, to develop an interaction between the society and the educational institutions for a smooth and efficient functioning; secondly, to create a sense of awareness among the citizens so that it helps in realization of the norms and values of human rights and duties inculcated in the educational programme; thirdly, to give boost to research activities.


Challenges before the Teacher

According to a survey conducted by Saroj Pandey (2007), a majority (70%) of the sampled teachers lacked awareness about the existence of Human Rights Protection Act in India. Pandey (2007) also concluded from the responses given by the teachers that they have only a vague idea of human rights; they lack the conceptual clarity, which would help them to clearly and unambiguously explain the human rights; some teachers equated human rights with the fundamental rights provided in the Indian Constitution, while others took it as being one and same thing as peaceful co-existence; there were still others, who felt that it meant following the social norms. This survey is just a hint towards the widespread ignorance that prevails among the members of teaching community. So before we talk of the other challenges being faced by the Human Rights Education and how to inculcate them through education, we must be aware of the fact that the biggest and the greatest challenge is modern context is having a clear-cut knowledge what human rights are first of all.

The Child Labour (Prohibition & regulation) Act, 1986 prohibits the employment of children below the age of fourteen years in certain occupations and regulates the conditions of work of children in shops, commercial establishments, workshops, farms, residential hotels, restaurants, eating-houses, theatres or other places of public amusement or entertainment . However, this act does not provide anything for those children whose parents are engaged in low paid, unskilled jobs and are unable to send them to school. The chances of being exposed to child labour at some point of time are very high for such children. We now have the Right to Education vested duly in our Constitution. What remains to be done is encouraging the children to continue to pursue their education for the requisite time period. This is just one instance, there are many such problems that the teacher has to tackle with his own personal abilities.


Role of Teachers in Human Rights Education

It is very important for the teachers as ‘diagnostician and prognostician of student behaviour’ to be aware of what the rights of a child as a student are. National Council for Teacher Education has been making efforts in this direction. Since the year 1995, the council has implemented a project called Human Rights and National Values for Teacher Educators. This project has come up keeping in mind the important role that a teacher can play in spreading the message of awareness about human rights.

At the primary stage, the languages and the subject of Environmental Studies is said to be very appropriate for the inculcating awareness in the students about the human rights. But merely inclusion of a subject is not sufficient. A lot more needs to be done beyond that. This is where the teacher enters an arena of utmost importance. It needs to be kept in mind that the efforts towards generating this kind of awareness are not just a poor attempt at completing the course of the aforesaid subjects. The practical actions of the teacher should match accordingly with a view to an effective implementation of human rights awareness.

According to the National Curricular Framework (2005), the objective of the subject of environmental studies is to generate among the students the ability ‘to critically address gender concerns and issues of marginalization & oppression with values of equality and justice, and respect for human dignity and rights’. At the primary stage, a student will not be able to fully comprehend the concept of ‘rights’, let alone having the above mentioned abilities. The magician that a teacher can be, he can very smoothly and spontaneously, without any conscious effort on the part of the students, imbibe these values through activity method. As the old English saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” Giving the students the opportunity of creative expression, will help to make concepts more concrete and understandable; facilitate the concretization of abstractions; and will also help to bring in an attitudinal change by affecting the responses both emotionally and intellectually. All this can be done through the medium of e stories and poetry, drama, song, dance, graphic arts and sculpture. Questions might be raised that every teacher is not an artist. But then even every student is not. Teacher can be an inspiring facilitator for helping the students to give a vent to their creative expression, irrespective of the quality of output.

As the students progress in grades, the complexity of the content may be increased likewise. For instance, in the upper primary stage, some topics that give the students knowledge about the basic democratic values can be included. Students can be told about diversity, inequality and about the democratic principles of a government. Gradually till the time students reach the secondary level, the topics can be broad, that is, in context of the whole world. Students should be familiarized with the evolution of human rights all over the world. While imparting all this knowledge the practical aspect should not be ignored at any cost. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the agency of United Nations for Human Rights has given an elaborately enlisted the various activities and approaches that need to be adopted for promotion of human rights among school students at various levels of education.

Table 1: A step-by-approach as given by OHCHR, United Nation Human Rights agency

Remember, be it primary or secondary or senior secondary stage, a teacher can inspire more than the textbooks can and practical teaching is much more effective than just theoretical preaching. For this various activities can be organized. Story and poetry can prove to be a viable media. Among other techniques are drama, dance, song, graphic arts and sculpture. Discussions can prove to be good stimulants if conducted meaningfully. Students can benefit a lot from the field and community trips. This would help to extend school to community.

Teacher’s inspiration can be endless in helping the child to move ahead in life and be an enlightened citizen. Just be there for the child so that you can guide him in being aware of his human rights as well as taking care of the rights of others. Teacher can easily bring home the point that rights come with duties. These values when inculcated among the students would be of tremendous help in rightfully making the world a better place. On a lighter note, don’t be a teacher who says, “Students today we will be knowing what freedom of speech is….hey you sitting on the last bench, just shut up!”


[email protected]


From the Editor’s Desk: Vol.III, Issue 2

The social scenario has been changing rapidly with no certainty about the direction that the existing value system and morality will adopt. We often use the term ‘erosion of values’. This erosion of values is not only to be observed among the students, as is often lamented. We, as adults, are equally responsible for that. The need for being aware of what our rights as human beings are, was always there but it has become all the more intense in the current social scenario. United Nations has been working towards providing Human Rights Education by celebrating 1995-2004 as the decade for Human Rights Education. UNESCO has been promoting the World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-ongoing), in close cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, targeting diverse communities, from students to civil servants to police officers. But teachers cannot wash their hands off from their responsibility of making the students aware of their rights as human beings as well as students.

The feature story of this issue focuses on the important role that teachers play in our education system in creating awareness among students about their rights. There are two aspects. One is denial of human right of having access to basic education, while other is concerned with the content of curriculum with respect to the orientation of the curriculum towards the human rights. Teacher as the one at the helm of affairs can help do a lot when combined with the opportunities provided by the government.

Let’s look forward to a brighter tomorrow! Happy Reading!

Amritbir Kaur