SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Guanchen Lai

BA (Peking) MPhil (Cambridge)
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Lai Guanchen - SAS PHD IMG - 240 186 56
Guanchen Lai
Thesis title:
Speaking from the village: modes of writing about the village in contemporary Hindi fiction
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My work aims to capture the picture of Hindi writings on village after the 1990s. In the history of modern Hindi literature, there are two periods when village writing was quite prominent. One was the era of Premchand, who was the first Hindi writer to write extensively about village life and address various problems in the village. His contribution to Hindi village writing cannot be exaggerated. One characteristic of his villages, however, is that they remain devoid of any regional reference points - their languages, caste specificities or cultural elements. That is to say, we cannot tell if his villages are located in UP, MP or Bihar because of the lack of regional features. The second period was between 1950s and 60s. We call it the era of regional writing, which means a group of writers wrote about specific regions, especially rural areas. Unlike Premchand, these regional writers focus on the political circumstances, social coordinates and cultural particularities of the villages with massive nuanced ethnographic details. From 1970s onwards, however, with the rise of Nai Kahani movement, literally translated as new story movement, which wrote extensively on urban life, the Hindi village writing has been somewhat “invisible” in comparison with the literary productions with an urban setting. The post-1990 era has witnessed a profound change in Indian political, economic and social relations due to the impact of economic liberalisation, which officially started in 1991, and also the process of urbanisation and globalisation. What we see is the rapid economic growth in the urban domain. Some people even argue that a “New India” has manifested itself. While the New India has been drawing much attention, what is going on in the rural sphere?

From 1970s until now, there have been very limited literature in English on Hindi village writing. So my project is to fill the gap and see what is happening now. I choose to confine my time period into the post-1990 era because I think economic liberalisation was a significant turning point of the Indian society. My presumption is that the liberalisation must have brought some changes in the agrarian relations and thus will influence what the writers tend to write and the way in which they write about the village. My research questions are: a) Are people still writing extensively about the village in contemporary Hindi literature? It looks invisible but is it really nothing there? b) What possible genres can be identified in these writings? Are they satire, political fiction or family saga? Or can they be regard as a continuity of regional writing of the 50s and 60s? c) How the fiction interacts with and incorporates other types of discourse on the village, especially the discourse of development studies? d) What is the meaning of the village in Hindi fictions as a space?