ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Vivek Narayanan’s ‘After’: Subverting ‘epic nationalism’ and the colonial legacy of epic genre writing


Nadkarni Divya - University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thinius Alex


26 – Radical Poetics in the Literary Cultures of South Asia


 This paper takes up Vivek Narayanan’s latest collection of poems titled, ‘After’ (2022), to discuss the colonial legacy of the epic genre in Indian literary history, its role in the current rise of ethnonationalism in India, and, most importantly, the possibilities of a poetic resistance against this rise.

Valmiki’s Ramayana has today come to be reinterpreted in a Hindutva politics that seeks to mythologize and construct a specific view of an ethno-religious Hindu-nation as rooted in a supposedly distinct, ancient, pure, and original Hindu civilization. Such an appropriation of the epic, however, inherits the specific classificatory politics of history that were entangled with the Western colonial project. In our paper, we take up Narayanan’s critical reinterpretation and political rewiring of the Ramayana as a paradigmatic prism to analyse the complex entanglements of colonial and post-colonial nationalisms on the terrain of the epic. In today’s political context in India, Narayanan’s ‘After’, we argue, brings the very project of epic genre writing to challenge the project of an identitarian nation-building and its distinctive politics of post-colonial genre-writing. Narayanan’s poetics, we claim, has the potential to question and radically destabilise the entanglements between the Hindutva nationalist project and its appropriation of the epic in text, context, and genre.