Trivedi; postcolonial literature


Discuss the issues raised by the speaker with regard to postcolonial literature and an ‘alternative postcolonial'. Comment on the implications of the biographical information provided by Trivedi and his ‘dialogue' with Bill Ashcroft et al. Conclude with your own views on the lecture drawing on your broader knowledge of postcolonial issues studied in the module.

Trivedi discusses a variety of postcolonial literature within the context of an ‘alternative postcolonial'. During the lecture he talks about literature that has not been translated into English and the alternative viewpoints, which have been missed because of this. He defines postcolonial areas into two separate types and uses Australia and India to represent one from each group. The lecture explores he merits of native languages and the negative impact on postcolonial discourse caused by the monopolization of the English language such as the neglect of pre-colonial history. The lecture serves to offer examples of perfectly valid but generally unknown ideas that come from a native viewpoint, giving insight into the domestic effects of post colonialism and migration. Trivedi concludes with a case for more investigation into the benefits of literature that isn't written in English, which would, for him, provide a more accurate representation of postcolonial countries.

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As a whole Trivedi believes postcolonial discourse is too weighted towards the viewpoint of the western academy. He uses a quote from Bill Ashcroft et al to begin his taking apart of the postcolonial definition to point out where there are gaps for the alternative:

we use the term postcolonial to cover all the cultures affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This book is concerned with the world as it exists during and after the period of European imperial domination and the effects of this on contemporary literatures.

The areas Trivedi highlighted are ‘from the moment of colonization to the present day' - Trivedi believes this is ignoring pre-colonial history. The second aspect is ‘cultures affected by the imperial process' - this sounds benign and ignore the negative effects of postcolonialism. Lastly he wuestions the sentence ‘exists during and after the period of European imperial domination' as he feels the use of the present tense illustrates that nothing has changed for postcolonial authors. The literature from colonized countries such as Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, India, new Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are defined by Ashcroft et al as follows; ‘by foregrounding the tension of the imperial power and by emphasizing their differences from their assumptions of the imperial culture'. Trivedi feels the definition given by Ashcroft is not satisfactory as the words ‘tensions and differences' waters down the colonizing experience from the view of the native, including him as an Indian. For India there was an open fight for freedom with the imperial centre, a personal and terrible fight for the Indians, not adequately described as ‘tension and differences'.

The different circumstances of colonization of, for example, Australia and India can surely not be explained with such an umbrella definition. In Australia it was, perhaps ‘tensions and differences' but for India, it was was a nationalist struggle. For Trivedi, the are two categories of postcolonial countries - white settler colonies, like the US and Australia; and Black unsettled colonies such as India and Pakistan. This distinction illustrates the radical differences in colonial and postcolonial experiences.

Trivedi discusses an Australian book by Peter Goldsworthy, Three Dog Night (2003). In the book an Australian man goes to Britain as a psychiatrist, marries a British woman and she is like a trophy when he returns. His friend has left psychiatry to live with the Aborigines. This novel, for Trivedi, covers two aspects of Australian post colonialism - the ‘realistic and persuasive' attraction Australian people have to Britain and the ‘residual guilt' felt towards the Aborigines. Trivedi believes the book is schematic and well-written enough to give a nuanced, complex and accurate view of Australia. Trivedi believes most preceding postcolonial literature had explored either the pull to Britain or the guilt for the Aborigines. Trivedi also raises the point that in addition to Rudd apologizing to the Aborigines ‘he was sorry for the "profound grief,
suffering and loss" suffered by Australia's Indigenous people.'[1], he should also remove the Queen from the currency and apologize to her in order to restore the balance and confusion of the postcolonial. It is difficult to distinguish who colonized and who was colonized.

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Trivedi then moves onto language and literature. His main call for an alternative postcolonial is due to the ideology of the postcolonial to use English exclusively. He goes on to mention various novels and texts written in Hindi, which have been excluded, more on that will be discussed later. The reason for the prevalence of English is for the most part due to the lack of languages learnt by the English - this has lead Britain, France and Spain to theorize the colonial from existence. In the same sense, Trivedi has an issue with the lack of attention to the pre-colonial. For the settler colonies this isn't so big an issue, but for India, his own example, thousands of years of history has been overlooked in the discussion. Of the eighteen national languages there is 500-800 years worth of codified recorded history. For the ancient languages, no longer in use, such as Sanskrit and Pali there is as much as 3500 years. The eighteen national languages are totally active in terms of postcolonial literature yet widely ignored. Bill Ashcroft et al. discuss this in Empire Writes Back, they say

For most Indian critics, writing in english represents a small and marginal aspect of the practice of contemporary Indian writing. It is frequently asserted that the work produced by contemporary writers in languages as diverse as Maratha, Bengali, Kannada, Telugy, Malayam, etc., far outweighs in quantity and quality the work produced in english.[2]

Trivedi finds the notion of English being the primary postcolonial language unfair as it automatically gives precedence to the views of the colonizers or settlers. For him it is a distortion of the nature of the colonized countries. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak also points to the idea of a universal use of English being flawed, in her interview ‘Postmarked Calcutta, India'. She says ‘Not everyone, in spite of what the guidebooks say, speaks English. And anyway the interesting stuff is not in English.' Trivedi agress with Spivak, during the lecture he approximates 95% of Indian literature is not in English and 95-98% of the populations cannot even speak it. Ashcroft et al. clearly acknowledge the presence of Indian writing and agree with both Trivedi and Spivak on the merit of their contribution. Where Trivedi disagrees is with their idea that ‘it is not to say that the English language is inherently incapable of accounting for post-colonial experience, but that it needs to develop an ‘appropriate' usage in order to do so (by becoming a distinct and unique form of english)'. Trivedi believes indigenous languages should be preserved and equally valued without making allowances for different hybrids of english which emerge from the colonies. Post colonialism is not widely taught in India as it has become a distinctly Western view despite the staggering self asserted variety within the country regardless of colonialsm.

Trivedi mentions a novel by a Hindi writer published in 1954 which explores the contrast between the nationalist movement's ideals and the subsequent ‘reversal of values and selfish culture'[3] as soon as independence was won. Collaborators with the British claimed they had been freedom fighters. This novel was remarkable as it was written only seven years after independence in 1947, and in Hindi. For Trivedi it provides a vernacular and true account of post colonialism.

Trivedi discusses some defining moments in the twenty years after independence such as war with China and Pakistan and the death of their leader. In 1967 the Indian Nationalist Congress part was voted out, a defining moment, who since independence had become corrupt. Their reduction of power gave way to more political potential. Ghandi had called for the party to disband once independence was won. For Trivedi, the Hindi novel could present a true post colonial view of India and record the moments which are interesting and relevant to Indians in the light of the need for a realistic and radical assessment of India post independence.

In discussing the merit of Hindi literature and the use of English, Trivedi quotes a Hindi poem (translated): ‘They taught us English to turn us into subjects, we teach ourselves English to turn ourselves into rulers'. Trivedi discusses Hindi novels which provide a postcolonial viewpoint previously inaccessible to English speakers; he describes a book, published in 1947 which tracks the varying circumstances of a father and his three sons. The father had collaborated to protect his land but with a strong sense of guilt; son one is a lawyer who joins the congress party and becomes a leader; son two studies in Germany and is converted to communism by his German wife; son three becomes an armed freedom fighter (terrorist) after a female fighter hijacks him in Calcutta. Trivedi explains, despite its schematic undertone it is a commentary on the unseen colonized. The plot and dialogue have made it a famous national epic of which there are several, which remain untranslated. The next novel he describes, An evening in London, serves as an Indian viewpoint of the British, in London in the sixties, when life was hard. Trivedi explains the sense of confusion that India's colonizers could be in such dire straits. Trivedi moves onto the discussion of diaspora and uses three much unknown Hindi novels to illustrate the lack of personal and gritty accounts of immigration. The books describe the experience of entering Britain in the 1950s when there was strong anti-immigration feelings and the views of Enoch Powell. The books discuss racism and discrimination before they were a common discussion.

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To conclude his views on Indian novels and the use of English, he raises the issue that despite many Indian writers being capable of writing in English, the majority will still choose to write many books in their own Indian language. Perhaps there is a romantacised view of India that we have in the West, we seem to have an inbuilt and false notion that everyone would speak English - this no doubt comes from our colonial past and our residual impressions on the colonized countries. Trivedi explains that it is expected for writers to know English as it is a middle-class, elite pastime and essential for most Indian writers to be actively involved in the postcolonial discussion. Of course this would not stop them publishing Indian books and a ‘cultural deliberate choice' which concurs with Ashcroft et al.'s idea that ‘Language becomes the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated…Such power is rejected in the emergence of an effective post-colonial voice.'[4]


[2] Bill Ashcroft et al., The Empire Writes Back: Theory and practice in post-colonial literatures, (London, New York: Routledge, 1989) p. 122

[3] From lecture

[4] P. 7 Ashcroft