Texts about India

Colonial and post-colonial literature

Colonial literature usually refers to literature written usually from the perspective of colonisers. Typical colonial themes include the positive and negative effects of imperialism. Some colonial literature presents the contrast between the colonisers and the colonised, suggesting the imperial rule is a civilising force. For example, Rudyard Kipling was a strong advocate of colonialism and what he considered to be its necessity.

Other colonial literature looks at the negative impact of imperialism and colonialism on local culture, people, and the environment. Not all colonisers agreed with colonisation, some of them realising its negative impact on locals. One such example is George Orwell, who wrote several stories criticising British colonial rule.

The writers who opposed colonialism while it was being implemented are the precursors of post-colonial literature.

Post-colonial literature refers to literary writings that are in reaction to colonisation and its impact on former colonies – often written from the perspective of the people who were colonised. It touches upon themes such cultural and political independence while criticising the underlying racism of colonials.

Post-colonial literature can be found on all continents but is more developed in countries which used to be colonies. Writers look at the traditional colonial discourse with the purpose of criticising it and reflecting on its consequences for people in the former colonies. Generally, colonised peoples are portrayed as victims of the imperial rule. As anti-colonial movements were often triggered by nationalism, postcolonial literature also explores aspects related to national and ethnic identity.

The index of texts below contains examples of both colonial and post-colonial literature. 

Short stories and novels

"Burmese Days" by George Orwell

“Burmese Days” presents two different views on colonial India. On the one hand, the main character British John Flory is fascinated by the Burmese culture. On the other hand, the Indian Dr. Veraswami does not want to have anything to do with the Burmese culture and praises the British Empire. The story shows that imperialism can be viewed both as a form of government based on economic domination and as a form of civilisation.

"A Horse and Two Goats" by R.K. Narayan

The short story presents the interaction between two men coming from very different cultures: an Indian man living in rural British India and an American man coming from urban New York. The story depicts a rural, underdeveloped area in British India and shows the poverty of Indian villagers who have never seen a hundred rupees notes and who have a very poor knowledge of the world outside their immediate surroundings.

"Karma" by Khushwant Singh

This short story describes the strong influence that English culture often had on native Indians. The main character is an Indian man who is obsessed with everything British, and in all ways views himself as an Englishman. However, he eventually realises that even adopting all of English culture does not protect him from discrimination from the British. 

"Another Community" by R.K. Narayan

The short story is set on the background of the conflicts between Indians and Pakistanis shortly after the partition. The underlying message of the text is to draw awareness on how big conflicts affect average people, and how communal identity is internalised and then played out to divide people.

The Dutiful Daughter by Saadat Hasan Manto

The short story is set in 1948 in India. The author uses this story as a critique of the society he lives in: a society of violence, no respect for life, for women, or for parents. He portrays a society with no rules and no authorities, where people are both victims and perpetrators.

"Stench of Kerosene" by Amrita Pritam

The theme of love and marriage is explored in the short story in a specific social context – traditional rural India.  “Stench of Kerosene” presents the way tradition plays an important role in the ritual of marriage even if the couple is in love.

"The Night of the Full Moon" by K.S.  Duggal

The short story presents a village society in 1970s India. The judgements, accusations, and insults of the villagers illustrate a society in which women are expected to behave in a certain way and comply with traditional roles.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The author uses dark satirical humour to explore themes related to contemporary Indian society such as class and poverty. In the novel, a poor Indian man kills his rich employer and runs away with his money to build a better life for himself.

Speeches and articles

"Tryst with Destiny" by Jawaharlal Nehru

The speech was delivered by Indian politician Jawaharlal Nehru on the on the eve of India becoming independent from  British rule. The speaker aims to mark India's independence, prepare the Indian people for the responsibilities of self-government, and encourage national unity and build his own authority as a future Prime Minister.

"The Ideas Shaping a New India" by Anand Giridharadas

In India's case, Anand Giridharadas argues that the modernization process is never abrupt, but a slow movement from tradition to modernity. In the actual phase of their country's development, the author believes Indians are combining the two ways.

Other texts

Below are further suggestions for texts or movies that may be relevant when working with India and Indian independence. We do not currently have study guides for these texts, but maybe you can be inspired to look for some of these titles yourself.

  • Collins, Larry and Lapierre, Dominique - Freedom at Midnight (1975 book)
  • Rushdie, Salman - Midnight's Children (1981 novel)
  • Attenborough, Richard - Gandhi (1882 movie)
  • Lean, David - A Passage to India (1984 movie)
  • Chandra, Bipan - India's Struggle for Independence (1989 book)
  • Zahir, M. - 1947: A Memoir of Indian Independence (2009 memoir)
  • Tharoor, Shashi - An Era of Darkness (2016 book)