“No Country for E-Lit?” – India and Electronic Literature

Critical Writing
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The current Indian government’s dream of a ‘Digital India’ does not include digital culture or the digital humanities. The country now has its digital library of digitised analog works (mainly printed texts) but it does not have a significant electronic literature. It does have a growing videogames industry that is becoming keener on sophisticated means of non-linear storytelling and also deeper investment in digital storytelling through platforms such as wevideo etc. mainly for the purposes of raising social awareness. Recent videogames such as the indie RPG, Unrest as well as adaptations of Bollywood films such as Ghajini attempt non-linear storytelling. Digital stories, such as ‘We are Angry’, a story about the recent brutalities against women in India, are becoming a popular medium of spreading awareness.

Together with this, the popularity of using the web as a medium for publishing poetry is on the rise. Some of this poetry, often not acceptable to print journals, tends to go viral on the web and on social media. Indeed, songs such as ‘Kolaveri di’ (sung in Tanglish, a mix of Tamil and English) and ‘Hok Kolorob’ became overnight hits on Youtube and other social media sites. While the former gained cult status in the country, the latter inspired a political movement against a corrupt education system. Another example is the digital recording and dissemination of the late-poet Vidrohi who lived by himself in a university campus in Delhi and composed poems in the oral tradition.

Non-linear traditions of storytelling and poetry have existed in India since ancient times and in a variety of forms ranging from the stories in the Katha traditions to the Urdu dastangoi plays. Strangely, though, despite its recent digital commitment, the government has not considered digital counterparts of such nonlinear literature worthy of its attention. Electronic literature, as it is understood in Europe and the U.S.A, does not have a presence in Indian literary and cultural traditions yet. The few Digital Humanities programmes that have developed in the country might be engaging with electronic literature in their curriculum. If so, the beginnings of e-lit are already evident in older cultural traditions and the process of remediation is certainly This article aims to explore the (non)beginnings of electronic literature in India and to think through larger implications of electronic literature in the digital culture and Humanities teaching at large.

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Kristen Lillvis