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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2016

Rosinka Chaudhuri
Affiliation:
Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Rosinka Chaudhuri
Affiliation:
Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
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Summary

English poetry, it might safely be surmised, arrived in India from about the seventeenth century onward in the knapsacks, trunks, bags, and portmanteaus of traders and adventurers intent on making their fortunes in the East. It then proceeded to establish itself among readers in exile and readers new to the English language with astonishing rapidity, fueled in the most part by the newspaper and periodical print culture that had spread through urban and semi-urban settlements in every part of the country. The first newspaper in India, Hicky's Bengal Gazette, reserved a section of the pages of its first issue in 1780 for a Poet's Corner, a demarcated space which would carry one or more poem in each issue for the short period of the paper's existence, a practice followed by every nineteenth-century newspaper published subsequently. The poem published in the first issue was called “The Seasons,” and described, expectedly, the English seasons; it took a few months for a long poem with the title “A Description of India” to make an appearance here.

Since then to the present day, poetry written in India in the English language has, of course, changed hands and, indeed, changed nationality: what was once written by Englishmen in India – English poetry – is now Indian poetry (and has been since the nineteenth century), and is currently generally called Indian poetry in English to distinguish it from poetry written by Indians in the classical languages in the past and in the many powerful modern Indian regional languages since the mid-nineteenth century. If used in an over-arching sense, any category called “Indian Poetry” is a construct that is still hard to defend; in a 1963 article titled “Bengali Gastronomy,” the famous Bengali poet and critic Buddhadeva Bose commented derisively that just as there was no such thing as “Indian food,” there was no such thing as “Indian Literature,” gesturing elliptically toward the common understanding that every region in India produced its own variant tradition – of poetry or curry – and needed to be marked accordingly. So there was Kannada, Punjabi, or Gujarati literature (or cuisine), but nothing that could be described as “Indian” curry or “Indian” poetry outside of Indian restaurants and international publishing houses.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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  • Introduction
  • Edited by Rosinka Chaudhuri
  • Book: A History of Indian Poetry in English
  • Online publication: 05 March 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139940887.001
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  • Introduction
  • Edited by Rosinka Chaudhuri
  • Book: A History of Indian Poetry in English
  • Online publication: 05 March 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139940887.001
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Edited by Rosinka Chaudhuri
  • Book: A History of Indian Poetry in English
  • Online publication: 05 March 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139940887.001
Available formats
×