Do you know who was the first Indian to write a novel in English?
Indian writing in English has a relatively short but highly charged history.
In 1793, Sake Dean Mahomed wrote perhaps the first book by an Indian in English, called The Travels of Dean Mahomed. However, most early Indian writing in English was non-fictional work, such as biographies and political essays.
This began to change in the late 1800s, when famous Indian authors who wrote mostly in their mother tongue, began to try their hand at writing in English. In the early 1900s, Rabindranath Tagore began translating his works from Bengali to English.
Starting in 1917 Dhan Gopal Mukerji wrote many children’s stories that were set in India. He was awarded the Newbery medal in 1928 for Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon.
Soon after, a new generation of Indian authors, who wrote almost exclusively in English, hit the bookshelves, beginning in 1935 with R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable. Raja Rao’s Kanthapura followed in 1938.
What made Narayan’s, Anand’s and Rao’s writing different from the Indian authors before them was that their stories were about the contemporary man on the street.
There was also an Indianness to their work, in terms of the words they used and their style of writing. This resonated with the new, but growing ranks of Indians reading English literature.
Their works were the forerunners to the magnificent diversity of Indian writing in English that we see today.
Keywords: Indian writing in English, Sake Dean Mahomed, The Travels of Dean Mahomed, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon, R.K. Narayan, Swami and Friends, Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable, Raja Rao, Kanthapura