Skip to Content

Destiny and Decolonization: Literature in the Time of Nehru

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Gregory Goulding

Co-Organizer: Preetha Mani

Contact the Seminar Organizers

Taking as its cue recent work by Shu-mei Shih that frames comparative projects in terms of relations formed by world historical events, this session presents Nehruvian India as a crucial node in the literary history of decolonization, non-alignment, and alternative visions of the world. How did writers in India respond to atomic anxiety, Cold War cultural politics, and the Sahitya Akademi?  The prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, from 1947 to 1964, was the site of multiple, overlapping developments that shaped social, cultural, and political life. Post-independence India embraced a new internationalism, while simultaneously creating institutions of culture, such as the national literary academy of letters formed in 1954, that promised a new, pan-Indian perspective. At the center of this historical moment was Nehru himself, who seemed to link together national development, intersections between culture and the state, and the international possibilities of the decolonizing world. That the dream of Nehruvian internationalism and state-led development seemed to curdle in the 1970s, and has lately been reevaluated in light of the very different world of the 1990s and 2000s, only increases the importance of this crucial moment. This panel invites proposals that address the Nehruvian period and later responses to it, or which are situated more generally as a consideration of India within a literary history of decolonization and non-alignment. How did writers in India respond to the political changes of independence and the changed perspective of a non-aligned Indian state? How did Nehru, as a leader of the non-aligned movement and decolonization, prompt responses outside of India itself? And how does our perspective on these literatures shift when dealing with different languages? Topics may include works written during this period or in response to it, analysis of how larger societal changes—such as accelerating urbanization, transformation of family structure, or scientific and technological change—inflected literature and literary discourse, or engagements with institutions of literature formed or influenced by Nehruvian ideas. Ultimately, this seminar will aim to collectively formulate strategies for a multilingual literary history of Nehruvian India that takes into account intersections between language, institution, and the international in order to situate that history within a larger moment of decolonization in the mid-twentieth century.

«Back To Seminars