Postmodern traces and recent Hindi novels


Veronica Ghirardi

PhD defended at: 

Università degli Studi di Torino


Postmodernism is a highly controversial phenomenon that animated the debates of Western scholars during the closing decades of the Twentieth century. But has this term any meaning in the Indian context? With my dissertation Postmodern traces and recent Hindi novels I aimed at understanding if it is possible to talk about postmodernism in relation to Hindi literature, and, more specifically, to recent Hindi novels. This topic has been long overlooked, particularly by Western scholars, and it may represent a fruitful avenue for further investigation.

The first part of the thesis is devoted to an introduction to postmodernism as generally known in the Western world, shifting gradually towards the Indian context. I propose an overview of the most relevant contributions provided by Hindi critics to this issue, with a focus on Pāṇḍey Śaśibhūṣaṇ Śītāṃśu and Sudhīś Pacaurī’s works. Both the authors successfully adopted and adapted postmodern ideas and concepts to their literary milieux, defining a sort of “local declension” of postmodernism.
The second part of the thesis provides some basic information on the ten authors and novels that I selected for investigation. Following a chronological order (taking into account the year of publication of the novel) I chose:

Ḍūb (1991) by Vīrendra Jain
Chinnamastā (1993) by Prabhā Khetān
Chappar (1994) by Jay Prakāś Kardam
Ṭ-ṭā profesar (1995) by Manohar Śyām Jośī
Dāstān-e-lāptā (1995) by Mañzūr Ehteśām
Kaṭhgulāb (1996) by Mṛdulā Garg
Dīvār meṁ ek khiṛkī rahtī thī (1997) by Vinod Kumār Śukla
Hamārā śahar us baras (1998) by Gītāñjali Śrī
Kali-kathā: vāyā bāipās (1998) by Alkā Sarāvgī
Pīlī chatrīvālī laṛkī (2001) by Uday Prakāś

The third part and actual core of my dissertation shows how some features, that are generally acknowledged as postmodern, are developed by these ten Hindi novels. Firstly, I discuss the idea of ontological plurality or instability at the level of projected worlds, hence elaborating the concepts of otherworldliness, metafiction and historiographic metafiction. Secondly, I address the same idea of ontological plurality, but at the level of text structure, reflecting on the strategies of duplication, multiplication and fragmentation. Thirdly, I provide some examples of mainstream literature challenging the realist aesthetic, and finally examples of literary voices from the margins (women and dalits), struggling against traditional totalizing powers.

In light of my investigation, I argue that a postmodern reading is possible for many recent Hindi novels, as they render in a literary form the basic postmodern tendency to pluralism and challenge. I think that a similar analysis may contribute to bring contemporary Hindi literature, too often forgot to the advantage of its Anglophone counterpart, to the table of a wider discourse on world literature. Moreover, the study of a different and less conventional (at least from our European perspective) literary tradition should represent a key point in order to enrich the conventional paradigm of Western postmodernism.