Indian Short Story in English – A Survey

Murli Das Melwani: Themes in the Indian Short Story in English: An Historical and A Critical Survey. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2009. Pages 207. Price: Rs. 175/-, ISBN-978-81-7977-323-9.

As Murli Das Melwani states in the Preface, the aim of the book is to draw attention to the genre of Indian Short Stories in English by critically surveying its historical development from 1835 to the present. He delineates the characteristic thematic features of various authors in seven sections divided into several sub-sections. However, as the writer says in the Preface, “The scope of this book is limited to stories collected and published in the book form.” Neither the book includes uncollected published short stories, retold stories, fairytales and long short stories, nor does it include translated short stories.

In the ‘Introduction’, Melwani traces the development of short story from Kathasaritsagar to Raja Rao without excluding its development as a form in the West. He takes into account early practitioners such as E.T.W. Hoffman, N. V. Gogol, Merimee, Balzac, Gautier, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, O’Henry, and H. G. Wells etc in the West and Sudhin Ghosh, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and others in India.

The first section entitled ‘The Beginnings:1835-1935’ includes authors such as Pallab Sengupta, Soshee Chunder Dutt, Cornelia Sorabjee, S. B. Banerjea, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, A. S. Panchpakesa Ayyar, C. T. Ramabhai etc. These early Indian writers in English paved the way for the great trio of Indian English Fiction, namely Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan, and Raja Rao who are all discussed separately in Section II of the book. In ‘The First Flowering: 1935-1945’ Melwani includes such other writers as Manjeri S. Isvaran, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ela Sen, and Louis Gracious who enriched the nationalist movement of the period with their writing.

Section III deals with several celebrated authors of 1950s such as Attia Hossain, Khushwant Singh, G. D. Khosla, and others who reflected on human characters vis-à-vis economic development in the early phase of Post-Independence India.

Section IV, ‘The Second Flowering: 1960-1970’ deals with some well known writers such as R. P. Jhabvala, Bunny Reuben, Ruskin Bond, Bhabani Bhattacharya who are less moral but more satirical and paradoxical in their treatment of themes.

Section V is aptly titled as ‘The Blossoming’ because it covers the plethora of short story writers such as Padma Hejmadi, Keki N. Daruwalla, Anita Desai, Hamdi Bey, Kamala Das, Arun Joshi, Manohar Malgaonkar, and others who flourished during the 1970s and 1980s.

They deal with a variety of themes such as changing ways of small town Indian life, human psyche, parables, politics, the army etc.

The following chapter, Section VI ‘An Extended Spring’ takes into account contemporary writers such as Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri, Githa Hariharan, Anita Nair, Uma Parameswaran, Meher Pestonji, and others who contemplate on themes such as mystery, fantasy, migration, homosexuality, tradition versus modernity etc.

The final section ‘The Prospect’ provides details about the history of publishing houses. It also mentions the neglected women publishers such as Kali, Katha, Stree, Tara, Tulika, Yoda, Karadi, Zubaan, Women Unlimited, and Biblio. It also talks about the future of Indian Short Story in English. The section reflects on absence of literary prizes in India and mentions positive developments such as Vodaphone Crossword Book Award, Indiaplaza Golden Book Awards, Readerr’s Choice award etc for promoting short story writing and reading.

One of the significant features of the book is that it includes details about the lesser known writers along with well known writers. Critical surveys generally cover only the well known names.

The Bibliography can be of great help to researchers because it provides detailed information about anthologies of short stories from the time as early as 1908.

On the negative side, however, the book excludes mention of some well known contemporary writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, Farrukh Dhondy, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Rohinton Mistry etc. The book would have been strengthened with their discussion even if the motive of the writer may have been to acquaint the readers to lesser known names which most books tend to ignore. Yet, it is a significant publication, useful to every researcher and students of Indian English Writing.

(jointly with Sudeshna Pandey, M.Phil Researcher)