KOLKATA: A COLONIAL BROTH

KOLKATA: A COLONIAL BROTH

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KOLKATA: A COLONIAL BROTH – CITY, SELF AND LITERATURE - eBook by Oeendrila Lahiri
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KOLKATA
A COLONIAL BROTH CITY, SELF AND LITERATURE

 

Oeendrila Lahiri

 

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© Oeendrila Lahiri 2009

This eBook attempts to look into the production of the idea of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, through Bengali middle class literary writings, especially nakshas which remain quite neglected as historical material. I am interested in satire as a trope of resistance to and protest of colonial modernity, the element of risk and conformity of bhadralok authors who mostly penned these extant nakshas, and the politics of canonization. Colonial modernity enforced a project of imagining a collectivity primarily through printing and literature.

As a distinctive urban narrative genre, the naksha's historical competency directly inscribes itself on the very territoriality of Calcutta. In the urban discourse on self of both progressive and conservative Hindu males, the city came to occupy an uncanny locum for this desired oppositional self vis-à-vis a colonizing other. Furthermore, the self and the city were emplaced in a desired commensurability which remained partial.

This eBook explores the signposts of the Bengali Renaissance man’s consciousness and the structures and aspects of Calcutta that received pre-eminence in literary undertakings. The objective here is to underscore the overlaps in the responses of Bengali intellectual figures of the 19th century to the city – an enquiry into the topical in their works. It must be clarified at the very outset that this chapter and the concomitant history of Bengal embedded within it refer mainly to upper-caste Hindu male constructions of the city. In connection to this, I must also declare that at no point is the term Indian or indigenous deployed as a congealed unproblematic category but is an operative shorthand for my present purpose.

Much has been said about the relationship between the novel and city, but the texts read in this chapter are primarily naksha-s – Kalikatar Nookochuri (1869) by Tekchand Thakur Junior or Chunilal Mitra, Sachitra Gulzarnagar (1871) by Kedarnath Datta, and Kalikata Kamalalay (1823) by Bhabanicharan Bandhopadhyay. I will recapitulate the themes that are preset in these selected texts and which have incurred a large corpus of secondary literature over time. My aim is to synopsize the city that has been written through the literary form, naksha, and which the twentieth century has inherited as a metanarrative of Calcutta.

In fact, by exploring the thematic relevance of the city in the nineteenth century, we’ll find that the literary representations are in the vein of a conversation between an English-educated bhadralok intelligentsia and a broader readership of the depressed bourgeoisie/ kerani bhadralok with either overlapping or counterweighing ideological commitments. Following S.N. Mukherjee, one can say that internal conflicts within the bhadralok class play out also in these nakshas, which in turn, have been constitutive of the idea of Calcutta. Naksha in Bengali means a sketch, or a pattern, as in embroidery.

The closest literary translation of naksha would be social satire, although the dictionary specifies it to be ‘a sort of literary burlesque.’ However, although satire and laughter is more commonly associated with naksha-s as the latter’s primitive identification, it may not always be the case. Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhyay’s Kalikata Kamalalay (1923) is recognized as the first naksha in Bengali literature, but in it the satirical touch is evidently absent; neither does it evoke the comic. It is rather a portrait of contemporary Calcutta painted in words. The latter two nakshas, Kedarnath Datta’s Sachitra Gulzar Nagar (1871) and Cunilal Mitra’s Kalikatar Nookochuri (1869) are more explicitly satirical, with the comic appearing in parts and episodes.

Thus a safer and more inclusive treatment of the naksha form would be to consider it as a prose composition engaging with contemporary social life presented through a conventional narrative or/and vignettes which employ(s) irony, as we shall see, to fulfil certain social functions. A popular literary form, its appearance and utility in contemporary society were concurrent with the transitional phase of the Bengali cultural and political landscape of the nineteenth century. Gauging by the subject matter, function, language and style of the genre, the naksha also signified an intermediate phase in Bengali urban prose ...

 

OEENDRILA LAHIRI is on the Cultural Studies Research Training Program, Centre for Studies in the Social Sciences, Calcutta.

She obtained M.Phil in Cultural Studies/English Literature, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. This paper is based on her dissertation: Calcutta: Travelling through its Texts and Time

M.A. in English Literature, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

B.A. Hons in English Literature, Presidency College, Calcutta University, Calcutta

 

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