A Critical Analysis of Literary Characteristics of Indian Writing in English and K. R. S. Iyengar’s Classification in Three Phrases

1. Introduction

English education was introduced in India in the 19thcentury. English education was made available to vast Indian community. By introducing English education, Britishers wanted to create and maintain a class of administration officers, clerks, and civil servants to govern this huge country properly. Thus, Britishers had their selfish motives behind introducing English to the Indians. Let us see carefully the key sentences in Macaulay’s Minutes

“It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”

English education brought tremendous changes in the attitude of the Indians. The young Indians with proper education were able to read, write and speak English with competence. It made great impact on the social, political  And the religious life of India. For the very first time, Indians became critical about both their own religious orthodoxies such as polygamy, the system of child marriages, superstitions, casteism, poverty, illiteracy and at the same time, they were critical about the British rule. Lord Macaulay’s Minutes on Indian education in 1935 and Lord Bentinck’s decision to promote European literature and science among the Indians instigated the Indians to use alien tongue for creative expression. Indian English language and literature, thus, originated as a necessary outcome of the introduction of English education in India under colonial rule. The air of transformation touched many aspects of Indian life. Study of European arts and literature got importance in India.  This was similar to Renaissance that took place in Italy in 14th century.  

2. Indian Writing in English and Iyengar’s Three Phrases  

Indian writing in English has a very recent history, which is one and half century old. Britishers ruled India for 150 years. India and England had dealt with each other in trade, military and political affairs. During this period, England acquired wealth and empire of India. India, in return, got English language and the concept of constitutional Government. From the historical perspective, Indian English literature has passed through several phases such as Indo-Anglian, Indo-English, Indian writing in English and recently Indian English literature. Inspite of its diverse cultures, races and religions Indian writing in English has successfully recaptured and reflected the multi-cultural, multi-lingual society. As a result, it has aroused a good deal of interest at home and abroad also. The works of various writers get not only vast category of readers, but also receive a vast critical acclaim.  

The term Indian Writing in English is used in a wider sense. This is the body of works by the writers whose mother tongue is one of the languages of the multilingual India. According to K. R. S. Iyenger, there are three types of Indian writers in English. “First, those who have acquired their entire education in English schools and universities. Second, Indians who have settled abroad, but are constantly in touch with the changing surroundings and traditions of their country of adoption. And finally, Indians who have acquired English as a second language.” Consequently, a large number of Indians were greatly moved by the genuine desire to present before the western readers an authentic picture of India through their writings.  

Many Indian writers have chosen English as a medium of expression and left a great impact on different forms of literature. For example, Toru Dutt, Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, Shri Aurobindo, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Nissim Ezekiel, Nayantara Sahgal, Kamla Das, Jayant Mahapatra, Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Salman Rushdie, Shashi Deshpande and some recent Indian writers such as Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Arvind Adiga, Chetan Bhagat and many others. They have been using English to represent the Indian culture and spirit. In this connection, the remarks of Randolph Quirk and Raja Rao are worth quoting. Quirk rightly remarks that English is not the private property of the Englishmen. Similarly, Raja Rao says in the preface of his novel Kanthapura:

“One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own, the spirit that is one’s own.”

One can notice ‘Indianness’ in Indian Writing in English. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar has rightly commented in this regard:

“What makes Indo-Anglian literature an Indian literature And not just a ramshackle outhouse of English literature Is the quality of its ‘Indianness’ in the choice of its subjects, In the texture of thought and play of sentiment, in the Organisation of material and in the creative use of language.”

Whereas Meenakshi Mukherjee observes: 

“Whatever bethe language in which it is written, a novel by An Indian writer demands direct involvement in values and experiences which are valid in the Indian context.”

Indian Writing in English expresses a shared tradition, cultural experiences and Indian heritage. Early Indian Writers have used many Indian words and the experiences throughout their works of art. R. K. Narayan has created Malgudi similar to Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. Nirad C. Chudhary is famous for his The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951). As a figure out by Reddy  Venkata  K. and Reddy Bayapa P. these writers do comment on the social issues like: “superstitions, casteism, poverty, illiteracy and many other social evils that were eating the vitals of Indian society.”  Salman Rushdie is the most notable among all the Indian Writers in English. His Midnight’s Children  (1980) won the Booker Prize in 1981. We know Shashi Tharoor for his The Great Indian Novel  (1989), Bharati Mukherjee author of Jasmine  (1989) has spent her career on the issues involving immigration and identity. Vikram Seth is known for his novel A Suitable Boy (1994). Other remarkable writers include Khushwant Singh, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Amitav Ghosh, Bharati Kirchner, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, C. R. Krishna, Vikash Swarup, Chetan Bhagat, Arvind Adiga and others. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is well known for her unique literary creations like Arranged Marriage (1996), The Mistress of Spices (1997), Queen of Dreams (2004), One Amazing Thing (2011), The Oleander Girl (2013) and others.

Indian Writing in English has witnessed few controversies in its evolvement. It has to prove itself on the grounds of superiority and inferiority compared to literature produced in other Indian languages. It has also witnessed accusations of being superficial, imitative, shallow etc. Indian Writers in English have also been criticised of being not real socio-cultural ambassadors of India. They have been said to get themselves uprooted from the authentic Indian sense. However, the new generation of Indian Writers in English has handled the wide range of themes and the subject matters. Shashi Deshpande, Shobha De, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Arvind Adiga, Chetan Bhagat and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni have written on variety of themes. For these writers English is a medium of expression of their creative urge, through which they can reach to the international readers.

3. The Importance of Iyengar’s Second Phase along with Raja Rao’s Cohesion

As mentioned earlier, according to  K. R. S. Iyengar there are three types of Indian Writers in English, among them the second type are those Indians who have settled abroad, but are constantly in touch with the changing surroundings and traditions of their country of adoption. In this regard Raja Rao is certainly the most brilliant writer of  Indian English literature who held from Mysore state but settled in France, and has been professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin. It was that Indian English writing received international recognition in 1980’s, mainly through writers of Indian origin who have settled abroad. A new landmark was created in 1981 when Salman Rushdie won the Booker Prize for his novel, Midnight’s Children. This was the first well known international award for an Indian English work since the historic Noble Prize for Tagore’s Gitanjali in 1936. 

Raja Rao is a prominent writer with a profound sense of the richness and creativity of the past, metaphysical, poetic, traditional. In his first novel Kanthapura  (1938) Raja Rao remarks in the introduction – which was written, he tells us, at the instance of his publishers – “The tempo of Indian life must be infused into one English expression. . . . We, in India, think quickly, we talk quickly, and when we move we move quickly. There must be something in the Sun of India that makes us rush and tumble and run on.”

As one would expect of a temperament like Raja Rao’s, his method of realizing an Indian sensibility in the English language is subtler. His knowledge of Indian philosophy and spirituality are reflected in his works. He studied Indian spiritual traditions deeply. His technique is much less extractable from the text, and is more incorporated into the body of the fable. His writing is closer to speech, and he is able to use the rhythms of speech – and particularly the intimate, sharing rhythm of the folk speech – to indicate character, feeling and a vast tissue of assumptions and beliefs. It is a method works beautifully in a story like Kanthapura concerns with the intensity of village life, with its physical immediacy, its traditional swaddling, and its religious murmurations. Kanthapura is his first novel which also portrays the Gandhian revolution. K. R. S. Iyenger says “kanthapura is a veritable grammar of the Gandhian myth – the myth that is but a poetic translation of the reality.” The plot of Kanthapura has an epic quality. Moorthy is the protagonist under whose leadership the villagers awakens to the call of Gandhiji for non-violence freedom struggle. The dominant myth of the Kanthapura is that of Ram-Sita-Ravan which illustrates the struggle of these good with the evil. Myths have been very beautifully blended with politics.

4. Conclusion

Indian English literature has always been closely connected with the historical fate of the country; it has been nourished and is being nourished by the saps of the native soil, and is no way less valuable than other literatures in Indian languages. Indian English literature which came into being as a result of the historical contacts of the West and the East and also of the influence of the English culture on the Indian culture, has already existed for about 150 years.  

During this period, it has traversed with accelerated speed almost all the stages of development of European literature both from the point of view of forms and genres, Indian – English literature has remained mostly Indian in essence in contents as well as in Style. The specific characteristic of the present literature consists in the fact that the English language is only the outer cover of expression, and that the literary philosophy and evocative system remain essentially Indian.  

Usually faithful to the ideals of humanism, it is developing within the general current of modern Indian literature a phenomenon very  complex and many –sided: “Indian literature has thus always presented a panorama rather than a scene; in a very graphic and precise manner the former president of Sahitya Academy of India, Krishna Kriplani , describes its characteristic, “One has to look around and up and bellow, to see its many landscapes in proper perspective.“

While summing up briefly the findings of the study, highlights the  critical analysis of characteristics of Indian English writing and focuses attention on Iyengar’s Three Phrases and also on Raja Rao’s works relevance to the Indian English literature


  1. http  ://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Babington_Macaulay, _1st_Baron_Macaulay. (Retrieved on 1st June 2009). 
  2. Raja Rao. Kanthapura, Gurgaon, Haryana: Penguin Books India, 2014. P. Xxxi 
  3. Iyengar, Srinivasa K. R. “Indian Writing in English”, New Delhi:Sterling publishers Pvt. Ltd.,1985. P. 11. 
  4. http  ://shodhaganga.inflibnet.ac.in>bitstream  07-chapter1.pdf  
  5. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. The Twice Born Fiction: Indian Novel in  English, New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann, 1979. P. 19. 
  6. Reddy, k. V. And P. Bayapa. The Indian Novel With Social Purpose. New Delhi : Atlantic Publishers and Distributor, 1999. P. 2. 
  7. Walsh William . Indian Literature in English,  New York:  Longman Group, 1990. P. 68. P. 2011-212. 
  8. http  :// shodhaganga.inflibnet.ac. in> bitstream 07- pdf. P. 36-37. 

2 thoughts on “A Critical Analysis of Literary Characteristics of Indian Writing in English and K. R. S. Iyengar’s Classification in Three Phrases

  1. Your blog on the IWE was extremely helpful to teach engineering graduates the essence of Indian English Literature. Thank you for this very informative, wonderful and very well written article.


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