Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel: Colonial Difference and Literary Form 9781139577120, 1139577123

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Table of contents :
Chapter 1 Realism in the Colony
Part I Itineraries of Character
Chapter 2 The Contours of the Human
Chapter 3 Experiments with Gandhi
Part II History and the Future
Chapter 4 Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism
Chapter 5 Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form
Afterword: A Post-Realist Age
Works Cited
Recommend Papers

Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel: Colonial Difference and Literary Form
 9781139577120, 1139577123

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R ea l ism I N t he T w en t ie t h- C en t ury I ndian Nov e l

Early twentieth-century Indian novels often depict the harsh material conditions of life under British colonial rule. Even so, these ­“realist” novels are profoundly imaginative. In this study, Ulka Anjaria challenges the distinction between early twentieth-century social realism and modern-day magical realism, arguing that realism in the colony functioned as a mode of experimentation and aesthetic innovation – not merely as mimesis of the “real world.” By examining novels from the 1930s across several Indian languages, Anjaria reveals how Indian authors used realist techniques to imagine alternate worlds, to invent new subjectivities and relationships with the Indian nation, and to question some of the most entrenched values of modernity. Addressing issues of colonialism, Indian nationalism, the rise of Gandhi, religion and politics, and the role of ­literature in society, Anjaria’s careful analysis will complement graduate study and research in English literature, South Asian studies, and ­postcolonial studies. U l k a A n j a r i a is Assistant Professor of English at Brandeis University. Her work has been published in several edited volumes and journals, including Novel: A Forum in Fiction, Economic and Political Weekly, and Journal of South Asian Popular Culture. She received her PhD from Stanford University in 2008.

R ea l ism I N t he T w en t ie t h- Cen t ury I ndian Nov e l Colonial Difference and Literary Form U l k a A n jaria Brandeis University

ca mbr idge universit y pr ess Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi, Mexico City Cambridge University Press 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473, USA Information on this title: © Ulka Anjaria 2012 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2012 Printed in the United States of America A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data Anjaria, Ulka, 1979– Realism in the twentieth-century Indian novel: colonial difference and literary form / Ulka Anjaria. p.  cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-107-02763-3 1.  Indic fiction – 20th century – History and criticism.  2.  Realism in literature.  I. Title. PK5423.A55  2012 891′.1–dc20    2012016511 ISBN 978-1-107-02763-3 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For my parents, for everything



page ix

1 Realism in the Colony


pa r t i:   itiner aries of char acter 2 The Contours of the Human


3 Experiments with Gandhi


pa r t i i:   history and the future 4 Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


5 Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


Afterword: A Post-Realist Age?


Notes Works Cited Index

171 193 209



There are many who deserve thanks for their support over the last ­several years as I developed this project and brought it to completion. My foremost appreciation goes to Alex Woloch, for his careful readings, his generosity, and his capacious intellect. I also want to thank Akhil Gupta for leading the Stanford Humanities Center colloquium on modernity and postcoloniality where we encountered and worked through many of the theoretical concepts that became central to this project. Thank you to Paula Moya, for introducing me to the Future of Minority Studies collective, which has been my home away from home during the last ten years. Michele Elam has been like a fairy godmother. I have exceptional colleagues in the English Department at Brandeis University, and I cannot imagine a better place to begin my career. I want to particularly thank Michael Gilmore, Caren Irr, Paul Morrison, John Plotz, and Ramie Targoff for their intelligence, generosity, and mentorship. Caren was especially helpful during the publishing process. My early professional navigations would not have been nearly as fun without my friend and colleague, David Sherman. For their comments on my work in the faculty reading group where several of these chapters took final form, I want to thank Caren Irr, David Sherman, and Faith Smith. Beyond Brandeis as well, I have learned much from many colleagues, teachers, and interlocutors. Of these, I want to especially mention Amy Bard, Sugata Bose, Lawrence Cohen, Claire Decoteau, Jennifer Derr, Sangita Gopal, Jennifer Harford Vargas, Ayesha Jalal, Katherine Lemons, Julie Minich, Sujata Mody, Satya Mohanty, David Palumbo-Liu, Sarah Pinto, Mridu Rai, Lucinda Ramberg, Sharmila Sen, Snehal Shingavi, Nirvana Tanoukhi, and Shafique Virani. In addition, I am truly indebted to all the friends in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Mumbai, Cambridge, the Hudson Valley, and elsewhere with whom I have wined and dined and talked and laughed throughout these past years. There is a piece of all of you in this book. ix



I am lucky to have excellent students at Brandeis. I want to particularly acknowledge the graduate students in my Bildungsroman seminar and the undergraduates in Filmi Fictions and The Novel in India for their willingness to work through some of these difficult texts. I could not have completed this work without my excellent graduate research assistants. I want to thank Jennifer Garfield, Gina Pugliese, Jayne Ziemba, and Marg Carkeet for their research assistance and Mou Banerjee for her help with the Bengali sections of the book. Marg had the especially challenging job of helping me at the final stages of the manuscript – which she, as usual, carried out with finesse. Research and writing time for this project were funded by the Graduate Research Opportunity Fellowship for Dissertation Research, Stanford University; the O’Bie Schultz Fellowship for Dissertation Research, Stanford Institute for International Studies; and the Theodore and Jane Norman Fund for Faculty Research and Creative Projects, Brandeis University. A grant from the Dean’s Office at Brandeis University supported the final stages of finishing the manuscript. Thank you to Ray Ryan, Louis Gulino, and the staff at Cambridge University Press. The anonymous reviewers made detailed and genuinely helpful suggestions for which I am very grateful. Thank you to Sakshi Gallery for permission to use Bhupen Khakhar’s painting on the cover, and to Brian Weinstein for leading me to them. An earlier version of Chapter 4 appeared as part of the article “Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism in the Colonial Novel,” published in NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 44.2 (2011). And finally, none of this would have been possible without my family. I want to thank Keya, my sister and co-conspirator in all things literary. It was in long conversations about every aspect of genre, narrative, and literary aesthetics that many of the ideas in this book emerged for the first time – and later found refinement. My in-laws, Terry and Steve, have been continually supportive. Jon, my partner and best friend, has seen this project grow from its inception and has aided in its growth with his sharp critical eye, his outlandish sense of humor, and his flair for food. The home we have made together is the home I want to return to, every day. My sons Naseem and Rehaan make every day into a raucous celebration of life – and now that they have discovered the joys of irony, heteroglossia, and allegory, my sense is that the good times are just beginning. This book is dedicated to my parents, Nishigandha and Shailendra, for everything they have done for me.

Ch apter 1

Realism in the Colony

“I understand Indians have written very few novels,” said Lawrence. . . . “Only fables with moral lessons.” “They are moralists and want a sense of harmony,” Huxley explained. “They believe the world to be unreal.”

– Mulk Raj Anand, Conversations in Bloomsbury (39–40)

In 1936, at the first meeting of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) in Lucknow, India, Hindi-Urdu author Premchand advocated for a turn to realism, which became one of the most significant pronouncements in Indian literary history. “In earlier times we might well have been impressed by fairy tales, ghost stories and accounts of starcrossed lovers, but those have little interest to us anymore,” he declared. “In order to produce an impression in literature it is necessary for it to be a mirror on life’s truths [jeevan ki sachaiyon ka darpan]” (“Sahitya” 75).1 This statement and the meeting at which it was read represented a revolution for Indian letters. The desire to break away from elite aesthetic traditions was greeted with elation by writers; this marked the possibility for a new literature suited for the modern world, and for India’s imminent independence from colonial rule. The claim, at one level, was quite simple: instead of adorning stories with erudite language, sentimentality, and fanciful elements, writers should seek truth and beauty in ordinary life (Premchand, “Sahitya” 86).2 The AIPWA’s vision of realism as forging a new literary sensibility can be considered in relation to the mode’s short but vibrant history in India beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, when it was instituted as an aesthetic ideal via colonial education. Along with reforms in political rationality and other domains, colonial officials sought, as part of their civilizational mission, to educate Indians in modern aesthetic modes. Educators held literary competitions that rewarded the most convincing realist novel.3 Reverend James Long, who presided over the Vernacular 1


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

Literature Society  – established in Bengal in the mid-nineteenth century to support Bengali translations of English literature  – stated that “Bengal needs a Sir W. Scott who will make fiction the vehicle of historic and other instruction, thus gradually superseding the old love tales” (qtd. in Schwarz, “Aesthetic” 582). Long’s “old love tales” was shorthand for a set of indigenous aesthetic styles that he envisioned gradually dying out: long, circuitous sentences; descriptive excesses; poetic flourishes; fantastical and formulaic subjects; flat, stock, or epic characters; an incomprehension of verisimilitude; a lack of historical consciousness; plotlessness and an unnerving variance of styles and modes within a single text.4 Such concerted endeavors resulted in two related trajectories. On one side, Indian writers started to write realist prose in English. These works, such Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s English novel Rajmohan’s Wife (1864), and the village novels of Lal Behari Day (such as Govinda Samanta, 1874; eventually renamed Bengal Peasant Life), sought to replicate what they construed as English realism’s mimetic impulses as closely as possible.5 At the same time, other writers strove to transfer colonial aesthetic values to Indian languages, enacting far-reaching reforms of the vernaculars, and contributing to the rise of modern literary languages as a result.6 Premchand’s investment in reviving literary realism gained energy from these past movements; however, what he advocated as the AIPWA’s mission was not entirely a continuation of these stylistic reforms. Although still an advocate of trimming Indian literary traditions of their excesses and telling new kinds of stories, the AIPWA writers sought not merely to emulate colonial norms to prove how modern they were but to wrest back control over their own literatures in order to conceive of a positive vision for a socially just, national future.7 They mobilized the energy of the historic transition “from colony to nations,” which “constituted a ‘conjunctural terrain’ that engendered powerful political and cultural possibilities” (Gopal 11).8 Reclaiming realism was in this context an act of self-determination – a refutation of the colonial project. Where colonial discourse had accused the Indian writer of distortion and dissimulation in her writing, in a classic gesture of nationalist consciousness, the Indian novelist of the 1930s wielded the powerful ideal of mimesis to suggest that she too was able to grasp the realities not only of her condition but also of colonial hypocrisy. The subtext of Premchand’s speech is thus one of deploying colonial aesthetic norms to turn colonial logic on its head.9 The subtlety of this inversion has, however, been lost to many critics. In part because of the immense success of recent works of Indian fiction – by Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and others – that have powerfully

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refused realism’s putative transparency and legibility, scholars treat any claim of realism’s oppositionality with overwhelming skepticism. This is underlined by a theoretical suspicion of any mode of representation that claims to be mimetic or to represent reality accurately – a suspicion that can be traced to high modernism in Europe (Woolf 147–9) and that has been successively reinforced by structuralist and poststructuralist literary theory. For writers and theorists in these schools, realism is never really a mirror on life’s truths, but anything from a misguided materialism to a more dangerous, hidden ideological project.10 Eli Park Sorensen locates the influence of these theoretical positions in what he calls postcolonial literary critics’ “ fetishisation of characteristically modernist literary techniques (such as linguistic self-consciousness and formal disruption), as these are seen as the equivalents to specific political values of postcolonial imperatives as such” (8, emphasis in original). Susan Andrade agrees that in African literary criticism, “anti-mimeticism is valued more than mimeticism; it is understood to be sophisticated and complex” (183). It is not that modernism and anti-mimeticism have not contributed to postcolonial literature. However, the power of what Sorensen terms this ­“modernist ethos” has resulted in the systematic overlooking of other styles and modes that are equally important to the richness of literary production in the colonial and postcolonial worlds. As Chelva Kanaganayakam writes, realism can never be experimental because it “implies transparency; it claims implicitly that the world of fiction reflects the ‘real’ world outside (despite the obvious problems of that assertion).” In contrast, “experiment acknowledges its artifice and its hybridity and works on the assumption that there is a hiatus between the real world and the fictive universe” (14–15). Pascale Casanova repeats this privileging of linguistic experiment in her book on world literature.11 Even Simon Gikandi, who has written extensively on African realism,12 seems to replicate this slippage when he argues that “it was primarily – I am tempted to say solely – in the language and structure of modernism that a postcolonial experience came to be articulated and imagined in literary form” (“Preface” 420). Again, although Gikandi is certainly correct in showing how important modernist poetry was in the formation of an African literary canon, the faltering in his sentence is notable nonetheless: what is primarily true becomes solely true. Views such as these make Premchand’s pronouncement in favor of literature that is a “mirror on life’s truths” sound strikingly naïve. How do we begin to analyze the myriad works and literary movements that thrived under colonialism but did not make use of recognizably


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

modernist aesthetics? How might focusing on realism as a complex and self-­conscious literary mode lead us to reconsider the Indian novel, and postcolonial studies more broadly? I suggest that at the heart of this problem is an inadequate critical sense within postcolonial criticism of what realism is and does. Whereas studies of the European and American novel have made significant strides in conceiving of realism beyond the naïve, mimetic representation of an inert and legible world, postcolonial criticism continues to regard the term with embarrassment – as what Michael Denning calls “simple representationalism” (118) – celebrating the magical, the parodic, and other forms of “post”-realisms with significantly more enthusiasm. A critic interested in taking seriously the body of realist literature associated with Premchand and his contemporaries must carefully navigate the question of realist aesthetics and emphasize, for instance, realism’s political purpose in the preIndependence decades rather than its literary contributions. Priyamvada Gopal writes, for instance, that “realism, within this framework [of AIPWA], is less a specific aesthetic technique than a philosophy that brings together an affective sense of justice, fairness and harmony with an understanding of all that violates that sense” (27, emphasis mine). Yet as I show in the succeeding pages, once realism in the colony is seen precisely as a set of aesthetic techniques that enabled a highly plastic and innovative level of engagement with some of the crucial crises of modernity, its political vision can no longer be cordoned off. The very meanings of ideas such as “justice, fairness and harmony” were developed, contested, and reclaimed within aesthetic and formal elements such as characterization, plot, and narrative time. Thus whereas Gopal describes progressive writing as representing “a range of experiments in literary radicalism” (10), I emphasize how the group’s political innovations were made possible by experiments in radical literarism. In this way, I move away from understanding AIPWA as a political movement that marshaled a particular aesthetics in its service, to seeing its politics emerge precisely from its literary innovations.13 To this end, I use the phrase “realism in the colony” to designate a metafictional mode by which authors not only represented the world around them but also considered the stakes of representation itself. This mode was constituted by its difference from the classic realism of nineteenthcentury Europe, and inflected by the historical experience of colonial rule. These produced a realism characterized by self-consciousness and an awareness of its own secondary status within colonial discourse. I argue, however, that Indian realism does not suffer for this trait but is instead

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enriched by it, marked by an intensifying of what Bakhtin describes as the novel’s interest in “parod[ying] other genres,” in the process of which it “exposes the conventionality of their forms and their language; it squeezes out some genres and incorporates others into its own peculiar structure, re-formulating and re-accentuating them” (Dialogic 5). Thus against common perceptions, realism in the colony is highly metatextual, founded on variegated textual fields and constituted not by ideological certainties but by contradictions, conflicts, and profound ambivalence as to the nature of the “real” world being represented, and the novel’s ability to represent it. “Realism” is both deployed and kept at arm’s length; it is both used and thematized, and in this way it is both the mode of representation and, in particularly illuminating moments, the question at stake in representation itself. As such, Indian realism is marked by two competing trends. On one hand, like so many postcolonial forms, it is constituted by a lack, a mark of its historical belatedness. Realism in the colony, in this sense, is never quite realism in the metropoles. Like Partha Chatterjee’s in a slightly different context, however, my approach “shuns . . . the preformed judgement  – that is to say, the prejudice  – that . . . difference is always the sign of philosophical immaturity and cultural backwardness” (Lineages xii).14 Coming at the same question from the other side, I argue that realism is simultaneously less and more capacious under colonialism; as a mode receptive to the complexities of contemporary experience, realism itself expands to account for this putative insufficiency. Realism is thus, to adapt Homi Bhabha’s terms, “less than one and double” (119). For Bhabha, this phrase refers to an epistemological phenomenon under colonialism whereby some of the authority of colonial knowledge is preserved – here, for instance, realism as a normative aesthetic – and then that partial authority “gets caught up in an alienating strategy of doubling or repetition” in which it is “articulat[ed] . . . syntagmatically with a range of differential knowledges and positionalities that both estrange its ‘identity’ and produce new forms of knowledge, new modes of differentiation, new sites of power” (119–20). Where I differ from Bhabha is that rather than seeing this doubling as an infinitely proliferating process by which meaning is continually made and remade, I see it instead giving rise to a realm of deliberate metafictionality, in which realism represents both the world and the limits of its own referentiality. Unlike Bhabha’s ever-­proliferating signifier, realism’s metafictionality does not refuse the totality of the sign altogether but allows realism to contest the self-­evident meaning of a set of identifiable modern values such as humanity and


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

humanism, progress, history, and the future  – even while it mobilizes these values in its service. In this way, and despite its innovative forms, its occasionally radical aesthetics, its thematization of indeterminacy and its contemporaneity with high modernism in Anglo-America, I continue to use the term “realism” to define the mode I explicate here. For one, this is because the works I engage with refuse, to various degrees, the aesthetics of high modernism  – not only as practiced in the West but in India as well. Ahmed Ali, for instance, whose Twilight in Delhi I discuss in Chapter 4, employed modernist techniques in some of his earlier works and yet returned to realism by the end of the 1930s. His stream-of-consciousness story, “Baadal Nahin Aate [The Clouds Aren’t Coming],” was written almost a decade before his realist Twilight in Delhi.15 Another progressive writer, Mulk Raj Anand, spent many years in London socializing and exchanging ideas with members of the Bloomsbury Group, but when he returned to India he deliberately chose to write realist prose – realizing, at that point, that he “was inclined more and more towards concrete realities” (Conversations 133). Both writers were clearly acquainted with the techniques and aesthetics of high modernism, yet chose to use them selectively. I argue that it is precisely because of realism’s colonial implication on one hand and what is seen today as its outdatedness on the other that it is such an interesting mode to consider – but as realism, not as some other mode altogether. Using the term “realism” forces us to consider the relationship of new forms to the past  – even when that past is one of messy implications in colonial rule  – and to engage with political and aesthetic positions we might not find appealing, such as the admittedly unfashionable desire to represent “the actualities of life” (Ali, Afterword 168). In this way, my use of the term “realism” does not merely describe a definable body of texts but also constitutes an epistemic challenge to our accepted literary histories. R e a l i s m i n T h e or y Considering realism as simultaneously an effect of colonial difference and a means of representing that difference offers a new approach to the mode’s general disfavor in postcolonial theory. Overwhelmingly in postcolonial criticism, realism’s colonial origins and its mimetic ­premise provide uncontested justification for its repudiation. Edward Said calls Orientalism, for example, a form of “radical realism,” such that “anyone employing Orientalism . . . will designate, name, point to,

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fix what he is talking or thinking about with a word or phrase, which then is considered either to have acquired, or more simply to be, ­reality” (Orientalism 72). The assumption here, inspired largely by Foucault, is that Orientalism gains its power precisely from its realism, its ability to render fully legible its object of study.16 As Said underlines in Culture and Imperialism, in nineteenth-century Europe realism was ­“ideological and repressive: it effectively silences the Other, it reconstitutes difference as identity” (166; see also Azim). Thus, for instance, the unnamed, omniscient narrator of a realist novel is an expression of the singular and panoptic authority of British imperial rule (Henry 10), and realism’s putative openness to the representation of all sorts of Otherness is in fact a means of “expand[ing] limited notions of Englishness” (Henry 7). Such critiques of literary realism have been reinforced in other fields as well. As Mary Louise Pratt writes in her discussion of nineteenth-century colonial travel writing, the most insidious forms of travelogue are those that offer “panoramic views” (143) and a narratorial perspective that is ­“unheroic, ­unparticularized, without ego, interest, or desire of its own” (143) – in short, the realist ones. If realism were not so denigrated in studies of colonialism already, its association with the homogenizing forces of Indian nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s has further reinforced what are perceived as its compromised politics. Whereas earlier postcolonial theorists were concerned with exposing colonial rule’s reliance on dominating discursive practices, more recently critics have transferred this methodology to the nation-state, which is seen to be the inheritor of colonial discourse. This transference was enabled in part by the popularization of the early work of the Subaltern Studies Collective (SSC). The SSC introduced a third agent, the subaltern, onto a historical landscape that had been occupied by only two, colonialism and nationalism, thus revealing how nationalism – led by the heretofore sacrosanct Indian National Congress – was also a project of knowledge production, structurally analogous to colonialism (Guha, ed., vols. 1–4; Hardiman [Coming]; Amin [Event]; Guha [Elementary]). The idea of the nation-state as an institution of power/ knowledge quickly rose to dominance in studies of the postcolonial world. In literature, scholars began to identify the generic and aesthetic accompaniments to nationalism that was equivalent to nineteenthcentury realism’s role in colonial rule. The progressive writers were an obvious target, as they actively defended realism as a means of representing the marginalized and the downtrodden; moreover, most came from elite backgrounds and were active in the nationalist movement. Their


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

statements and most of their literary works could thus easily be read as claiming not only to represent but also to speak for the subaltern in fiction, much as Nehru and Gandhi did in political discourse. In this way, scholarship on the progressive writers that takes a postcolonial theoretical perspective is almost universally critical of their use of realism. As I elaborate in Chapter 3, for example, Gauri Viswanathan argues that Mulk Raj Anand’s 1935 novel Untouchable discursively reenacts Gandhi’s betrayal of the Dalits through an appropriative realism that lets Anand, a non-Dalit, speak on behalf of his untouchable protagonist (Outside 222). Aamir Mufti similarly maintains that realism’s tie to a secular, universalizing Nehruvian politics forecloses the possibility for minority or otherwise located subjects to exist within the novel or the nation (Enlightenment 183). The implication in all such readings is that realism is complicit in the hegemony of the nation-state. Although these works make crucial interventions in showing how the putatively universal nation is in fact a site of exclusion, they rely on the assumption that realism reflects external realities with little mediation, and thus can do little else but replicate the exclusions of the nation. I offer a contrasting view, based on the idea that realism is a project of “continuing experiments with forms, styles, modes of valuing” (Levine 628). Although a realist novel may seem to support colonial or nationalist hegemony, its instability allows it to elude any rigid ideology. As I discuss in Chapter 2, a realist representation of the rural poor is not solely a means of incorporating that population into the universal fold of the nation, but can simultaneously show the inability of realism to capture the reality of social inequality. In this case and in so many others, realism is sometimes complicit with dominant ideology, sometimes resistant, but mostly neither – or somewhere in between. This ambivalence is not always aesthetically pleasing but sometimes clumsy, reading at times more like inconsistency or hesitation. Clearly a new methodology is required to interpret ambivalence outside of the critical assumptions that render all realist texts necessarily effects of power. Doing so is not only in service of a fuller aesthetic history of the Indian novel but also aids us in understanding the multilayered literary responses to the experience of colonial modernity. “T h e C onc av e M i r ror” In this task of rethinking the broader work of literary realism, it is helpful to turn to Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács. Although Lukács has

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been criticized in postcolonial studies for his prescriptive aesthetic criteria and what can seem like rigid parameters for thinking about literary form, he is in fact one of the most productive thinkers of the plasticity of realism. Despite his Eurocentric beliefs and the fact that imperialism was one of his “blind spots,” on the basis of what Jed Esty identifies as his “Hegelian-Weberian assumption of Europe as the space of modernity’s real time of emergence” (“Global” 367–8), Lukács’s writings surprisingly enable a rethinking of realism outside of Europe. This is most evident in Lukács’s studies of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and German writer E. T. A. Hoffman, both of which demonstrate an expansive idea of realism’s possibilities. Lukács can assimilate neither writer into the universalized, bourgeois realism that he valorizes in authors such as Balzac: Tolstoy because he is clouded by an occasionally aristocratic worldview, and Hoffman because he is overtly fantastical. Yet it is precisely these elements that compel Lukács to make what might be taken as his most nuanced pronouncements on realism – for instance, that “the fantastic tales of Hoffmann . . . [are] among the highest achievements of realistic literature, since these essential elements are exposed through the very fantasy” (Lukács, “Marx” 79). In this way, Hoffmann “represents some deeper reality in fantastic garb” (qtd. in Wellek 238). Here Lukács presents realism as a mode that goes significantly beyond “a photographic reproduction of the immediately perceptible superfice of the external world” (“Marx” 75). Rather, it is a means of grasping the social totality through “the adequate presentation of the complete human personality” (Studies 7), regardless of whether it is faithful to reality per se. In his study of Tolstoy, Lukács pushes this even further, arguing that although Tolstoy was an aristocrat and often “[held] views containing reactionary elements” (Studies 138), he was nevertheless able to represent the totality of Russian society and thus transcend the superficial world to become a great realist writer. In this argument, Lukács opposes some of the dominant voices in Marxist criticism of the time, who claimed that Tolstoy’s obsession with the peasant – a survival from the “semi-feudal despotism of the Tsar” (138) – marred his works with an anti-progressivist viewpoint. Likewise, these critics maintained, Tolstoy’s uneven aesthetics, so different from those of classic realism, amounted to crucial literary failings. For Lukács, however, these elements were not detractions from Tolstoy’s realism, but essential to it. What might seem to be sympathetic characterizations of aristocrats such as Anna Karenina’s Levin in fact reflect the reality of landowners’ constant equivocations between embodying the perspective of their class


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

and transcending it. Non-realistic representation in this way marks “the socially inevitable zig-zag path men like Levin must necessarily follow” (186). In this case, it is Tolstoy’s refusal of mimesis that, ironically, makes his representation of a transitional period in Russian history all the more realist, even if less realistic. This gap between the realist and the realistic lies at the heart of the difficulty surrounding realism as a concept. Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis has been a hugely influential book on the relationship between literature and the real, but despite its title it is not in fact about imitation, which is the etymological origin of the English term (Greek mimeisthai, to imitate). Yet the specter of imitation continues to haunt discussions on realism. Lukács seems to redress directly this mimetic fallacy in his essay on Tolstoy. He begins the essay by invoking Lenin’s words that Tolstoy is “the mirror of the Russian Revolution,” and then asks rhetorically: “How can something be called a mirror which gives so obviously incorrect a reflection of events?” (Studies 126). From the very beginning, then, Lukács opens up a space where the mirror, despite its obvious denotation of mimesis, is able to accommodate some form of mediation, whether it is “incorrectness” or, as in other parts of the essay, social upheaval, which might preclude a complete identity between representation and referent. Lukács pushes this formulation further in the contrast he subsequently draws between petty naturalism  – in which “the reality which they [post-1848 realists] mirrored drove them into . . . narrow triviality” (135) – and a richer realism in which Tolstoy “became the poetic mirror of certain aspects of the revolutionary development in Russia” (137). This final, paradoxical term, “poetic mirror,” seems to encompass the contradiction that Lukács struggles to resolve: between faithful representation and meaningful artistic distortion. Ambivalence regarding the ontology of this mediatory “mirror” between text and world underlies the writings of many Indian progressive writers as well, and inflects even the putatively un-self-conscious premise of undistorted representation invoked by Premchand’s words – jeevan ki sachaiyon ka darpan, or a “mirror on life’s truths” – with a more nuanced subtext. The image appears again in the words of another founding member of the AIPWA, Mulk Raj Anand, for whom, “to be sure, creative arts reflect life in a mirror. But the concave mirror is also a mirror” (“Sources” 28). Here the work of art offers a perspective of its own, but precisely in the service of faithful representation.17 This nuance is significant for theorizing realism in colonial and postcolonial contexts. By introducing the impurity in the mirror-image

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metaphor, Lukács opens up the possibility that even unrealistic elements of a text might reflect some kind of extra-literary reality. These include fantastical and melodramatic plots, or even fissures or gaps in realism itself: moments of unconvincingness, engagements that fail, themes or characters that do not quite fit together or constitute a complete whole. It might also include uneven or unappealing aesthetics, representing not only a society palpably in transition but the impossibility of representing such a society in any way but incompletely. Once these incommensurabilities and gaps are seen not as detriments to realism but as constitutive of a more capacious realism, we open up postcolonial literary criticism to accommodate new texts, and new elements within texts. We see how distorted, partial, or seemingly unconvincing representations might constitute essential components of realism, depicting the material world, but also more ineffable sensibilities such as possibility, desire, aspiration, reflection, or imagination. These sensibilities are not, as it is sometimes understood, outside of the domain of realism, even as representing them might distort realism potentially beyond recognition. The key move Lukács demonstrates here, which is central to rethinking realism in the colony, is the critic’s penetration of the surface of the prose to access the deeper structures underneath. Undeterred – even stimulated  – by styles and devices that, on initial appearance, do not subscribe to prevailing aesthetic norms, the critic tries to ascertain whether a break in a text’s realism might not actually represent a more fundamental break, deviation, lacuna, transition, or aspiration in society at large. In this way, Lukács ends up explaining aesthetic choices that at first seem to exceed his criteria for realism. This is not a counter-reading of Lukács but one that takes his own premises seriously, extending them to account for texts even more “foreign” than Tolstoy’s. Indeed, the series of translations Lukács makes in his reading of Tolstoy, from the proletariat to the peasantry, and from a bourgeois to an aristocratic world view, puts pressure on the putative aesthetic normativity of his theories. From this perspective, incompleteness can generate its own alternative aesthetic that captures the exigencies of social change. It is this possibility embedded in Lukács that, I suspect, drew Indian literary scholar Meenakshi Mukherjee to his work. Locating colonialism as the dominant social reality of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in India, just as class conflict had been in nineteenth-century Europe, Mukherjee argues that Indian novels written under colonialism captured the precariousness of that transitional time in an innovative and hybrid realist mode. Although these novels did not re-create


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the classic realism of Stendhal or Honoré de Balzac, she argues, their presumed aesthetic shortcomings reflect the incompleteness of modernity under colonialism. In her reading of Premchand’s 1936 novel Godan (a work I discuss more fully in Chapter 2), she argues that the contradiction between Premchand’s commitment to realism and “the fable-like anterior mode which . . . comes back to punctuate the realist narrative” (Realism 165) is a by-product of the “time of quick transition – both in life and in literary modes” that engenders, following Lukács, “a fruitful contradiction between an author’s explicit ideology and the actual representation of life in his work” (165). Implicit in Mukherjee’s analysis is the insight that even nonmimetic features such as a “fable-like mode” can indirectly illuminate the social landscape, and thus can, in the broadest sense, be considered realist. The challenge contained in Mukherjee’s intervention can be pushed even further, identifying not only colonialism in general but also particular aspects of the experience of colonial rule as inflecting realism in identifiable ways. Critics of other literary traditions have undertaken this task with fascinating results; in the United States, for instance, Michael Davitt Bell shows how nineteenth-century realism turned into romance when it tried to represent the imagination of the American frontier (643–4). Jed Esty reads even European high modernism as a form of “critical realism” that represented the dilation of time through the replacement of the closed contours of the nation-state with the infinitely dynamic chronotope of imperial expansion (“Colonial” 410). In these and other cases, realism appears anew on the basis of the diverse contexts that it must stretch and bend to represent. In the 1930s in India, on the verge of the nation’s independence, the relevant sensibility was manifestly forward-looking, defined by anticipation, expectation, hope, and imagination. The feeling of historical entrance into modernity was palpable, and gave this period a self-consciousness that was perhaps unmatched. At the same time, the illusions that independence would restore all the ills of colonialism were already beginning to dissolve, especially among the progressive intelligentsia. This unique coincidence of anticipation for the future and disillusion with the realities of the present can be seen throughout the novels of this period. This ambivalence, however, did not merely constitute new content for authors to use. Rather, it inflected the nature of realism itself. It gave realism an ironic relationship to the world it represented; it imbued it with a dense futurity, and it constituted realism as something that was not fully owned but as an aesthetic sought and desired.

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Mode r n i t y a n d De s i r e The outlines of this desire can be read in the pronouncements of several of the writers of the 1930s. Here are two defenses of realism by authors who were active during this period: It is not enough for us to believe that from a psychological point of view these characters are like human beings; but we want this assurance that they are in fact human beings [ki ve sachmuch manushya hain]; and that the writer has written their biographies as accurately as possible, because we don’t believe in men shaped by the imagination. . . . It needs to be proven to us that what the writer created, was created based on real experiences [pratyaksha anubhavon] and that he himself is speaking from his characters’ tongues [apne paatron ki zabaan se voh khud bol raha hai]. (Premchand, “Sahitya” 78) And as progressive writers it is our duty to produce literature which will not be bloodless and anaemic, but pulsating with fresh blood, throbbing with new life – a literature which will envisage the future, herald its advent, and directly work for that healthier and better life after which all of us are aspiring today. (Ahmed Ali, qtd. in T. Ahmed 3)

Central to both these pronouncements is a peculiar rhetoric in which realist representation is defined as so real that it is no longer merely representation. In the first passage, Premchand insists that anthropomorphic characterization – being “like human beings” – is not enough; characters must in fact be human beings. Logically, this is ambiguous, as Premchand is not referring to biography, to actual life writing, but to fiction. So what might actual human beings refer to, beyond its rhetorical flourish? I suggest that this move exposes the constructedness of realism itself; rather than a fully transparent mode, realism too must be insistently defined. Yet this definition presents realism as verging on its own effacement  – where realism becomes so real that it ceases to be a representation at all. Ali’s bodily imagery – “pulsating with fresh blood, throbbing with new life” – also signals a collapse of realism with its referent, where realism is no longer the mode of representation but the very living body that is its object. Furthermore, both of these indices of realism’s potential transgression emerge exactly at the point where the authors, advocates of progressive literature, justify realism as the most aesthetically significant and politically responsible form of fiction writing. This is a move that appears throughout the works of this decade: texts that sincerely insist on their own status as realist, as modern, and so on, and yet precisely in doing so convey the impossibility of being thus. Such works are doubly inflected: they represent something in the world, but


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they are also representing realism itself – its possibilities, its limitations, its complicities, and its subversions. Indeed, the language of insistent self-realization is not unique to realism but underlies much of the political rhetoric of the nationalist movement in India. Throughout the writings of nationalist leader and first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, for instance, we see a deep self-consciousness about the historical belatedness of India’s ascendancy into history, so that historical markers in the development of the nation can simultaneously be read as metahistorical ones. In part this was because of an internalization of Hegelian historicism, or what Dipesh Chakrabarty describes as the awareness of inhabiting “an imaginary waiting room of history” (Provincializing 8). The first lines of Nehru’s Independence Day speech, pronounced close to midnight on the eve of India’s independence, is an example of this language: Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. (Nehru, Independence 3)

Like the statements by Premchand and Ali above, this is not merely an announcement of the historical significance of India’s independence but also its enactment, representing what is taking place and also constituting the event itself. Sudipta Kaviraj elucidates a more general self-consciousness in the construction of political modernity in India, which he says was distinctive in its disaggregating of the sequence of modern forms as they developed in Europe, instead instituting them all at once, at the moment of independence. He uses the examples of capitalism and democracy, which in Europe had been introduced at different times. In India, by contrast, “the modernist elite sought to run the institutions of capitalism [and] democracy . . . together,” despite the obvious “contradictions” of doing so (“Outline” 520). Likewise, secularism and universal suffrage were instituted simultaneously in India, whereas in Europe “the institutions of a secular state were established . . . in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, long before the advent of electoral democracy” (521). Indian statesmen saw the idea of modernity, Kaviraj suggests, as eminently desirable, regardless of the sequence of its institution in the West. As in the other examples, here modernity is not only a set of political, social, and economic indicators but

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also an object of desire. This desire exceeds the rational political discourse that seeks to contain it – and gives Indian modernity a singular character. In this sense, modernity, realism, and historical arrival were not merely ideals that Indian nation-builders sought to achieve but were actually produced and shaped by the desire they elicited. Seeing realism as constituted by desire situates it, from the outset, outside of the discourse of mimesis or transparency through which so many critics continue to understand it. Such realism exceeds its own defense; as such, it can never be merely an ideological tool. It is what Roberto Schwarz calls an “intensified” form (73), suffused with oversignification, threatened and yet defined by its own excess. Insofar as realism claims to be rational and economized, the mode is profoundly paradoxical; realism’s oversignification on one hand is always threatening to its sparsity on the other. At one level this paradox appears simply in aesthetic gaps: works that are unrealistic, characterization that is unconvincing, plots that are episodic, writing that is overdramatic, and so on. Seen from the perspective of desire, however, these so-called failings can be reinterpreted as representing the coincidence of richness and simultaneous impossibility, of mimesis and metafictionality, that constitute the complex coordinates of realism in the colony. This desire inflects realism with a sense of futurity  – what might be called utopianism, even though in none of these texts do we have the actual outlining of a new world order. Utopianism suggests that even when the ostensible object of representation is the present or the recent past, the sense of desire, of possibility, and even the disjunctures in form between representation and object create the outlines of an aesthetic that does not yet exist, and of a world that has yet to be realized. I use utopianism here following Fredric Jameson, for whom it is precisely because of realism’s commitment to representing the world in all its complexities that it is able to fold into its representational apparatus “a virtual Utopianism, a Utopian impulse . . . even though that somewhat different thing, the Utopian project or program, has yet to declare itself” (“Realism” 364). Jameson locates such moments in David Simon’s television series The Wire, which although characterized by an intense documentary aesthetic and naturalistic attention to the details of street life, manages to incorporate a series of alternative, unrealizable worlds (365). In colonial realism, I suggest, these folds become so generalized that they come to constitute the entirety of the texts that contain them. It is impossible, in the works I look at, to distinguish the realist from the utopian; realism itself is infused with a sense of possibility.


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel “A W hol ly I ns ig n i f ic a n t F igu r e”

The idea of realism as an open and contested aesthetic terrain, suited to represent not only the world as it is but as it might possibly be, and as simultaneously nationalist and a critique of nationalist discourse, is captured in Rabindranath Tagore’s (1861–1941) Bengali novel, Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1916), a work that anticipates the formal and representational crises that come to occupy writers of the 1930s more consistently. Ghare Baire tells the story of Bimala, her husband, Nikhilesh, and Nikhilesh’s friend, Sandip, as they find their lives transformed by the Swadeshi Movement in early twentieth-century Bengal. The text is structured over eighteen interspersing chapters, each narrated in the first person and headed with a narrative tag – “Bimala’s Story” (Bimolar Aatmokotha); “Nikhilesh’s Story” and “Sandip’s Story.”18 Because of this fragmented narration, the novel is often considered to anticipate literary modernism; however, I suggest that something is lost in identifying the novel solely in this way. Indeed, Tagore offers a pressing interrogation of some of the most taken-for-granted values of modernity, including utilitarianism, materialism, and the ethics of nationalism. Yet he does this not by dismissing these values outright but by presenting them as powerfully charismatic ideas to which characters aspire. The novel is thus constituted by persistent questions around what realism is, how far it can be taken before it becomes something else and negates its own value, and its political and ethical costs. It does not offer a clear answer to these questions; its mode of representation is built precisely on the impossibility of resolution. In this way, Ghare Baire, like the other novels discussed in the following pages, is neither “purely” realist nor modernist, but is a metatheoretical engagement with the stakes of representation itself. The novel simultaneously makes use of the realist mode and draws attention to its limits, and in doing so actively represents realism as a site of both promise and disillusion. At the start of Ghare Baire, Nikhilesh, a Bengali gentleman, encourages his wife, Bimala, to leave the andarmahal, or inner sanctum of the house, and come out into the world – a value he has come to admire from his Western education. Bimala feels most true to herself when she performs her duty as a good wife; however, she reluctantly accedes to Nikhilesh’s request. Once she is out of purdah, Nikhilesh introduces her to Sandip, a friend involved in the Swadeshi Movement, the mass, anti-British agitation against the 1905 Partition of Bengal. Although Nikhilesh is opposed

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to the Partition as well, the two men differ in their political approaches. Sandip believes in an immediate, pragmatic politics that refuses any moral claim higher than the expression and consolidation of anti-British sentiment. Thus he organizes and takes part in the more aggressive and shortsighted activities of the agitation, including burning foreign cloth, protesting cow slaughter (fomenting Hindu-Muslim hostilities in the process), boycotting foreign goods in the market, and punishing those – mostly the poor – who refuse the boycott. Nikhilesh, on the other hand, believes that if these pragmatic politics hurt the overarching ideals of justice, democracy, and truth, they ought not to be used, even if they expedite India’s immediate interests. Bimala’s passions are ignited by Sandip, who offers a much more charismatic and eroticized vision for nationalism than her more academic husband. For one, Sandip creates an image of the nation incarnated as the mother, and, anointing Bimala as the ideal of that image, dramatically submits himself as her eternal devotee. Energized by inspiring such devotion, Bimala spends much of the novel enraptured in Sandip’s fiery rhetoric. Sandip, for his part, is thrilled to have found an embodied image from which to crystallize his anti-colonial energies. To test the image he has created, he continually demands sacrifices from Bimala, compelling her to take more risks in her home, and eventually to steal money from her husband, ostensibly on behalf of Swadeshi. It is only when Bimala is able to see the effect of unthinking devotion on another of Sandip’s disciples that she is able to wrench herself from Sandip’s influence. Shattered by the moral transgressions she has made, she returns to her husband and asks his forgiveness. The damage has been done, however; she finds out that Nikhilesh has been shot in the midst of the communal tension stirred up by Sandip and his fellow pragmatists. The novel ends before she discovers whether Nikhilesh lives or dies. As it stands, Ghare Baire is a complex consideration of nationalism and modernity in the context of the Swadeshi Movement. Not only does it function as a polemic against the “hidden costs” (Nandy, Illegitimacy 13) of a shortsighted nationalism, but it also tracks the social forces unleashed by this early experiment with mass politics, which preceded the more mainstream nationalist movement of the following decades.19 These are evinced in the extended debates between Nikhilesh and Sandip – between truth and pragmatism, idealism and utilitarianism – and are given further depth in Bimala’s struggles to find an identity for herself from among the various images society holds out for women. The thread that brings these struggles together is expressed in the novel’s title – literally, “inside and


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outside,” referring to the two zones of existence that represent, in Partha Chatterjee’s words, the contradiction between the spiritual and the material in Indian nationalist discourse: The world was where the European power had challenged the non-European peoples and, by virtue of its superior material culture, had subjugated them. But, the nationalists asserted, it had failed to colonize the inner, essential identity of the East, which lay in its distinctive, and superior, spiritual culture. Here the East was undominated, sovereign, master of its own fate. (Nation, 121)

As Chatterjee underlines, Bimala’s struggles over where in the house she belongs cannot be seen as separate from the novel’s interest in the debates over Indian nationalism, as represented in the conflicts between Nikhilesh and Sandip. Indeed, the text, set almost completely in the parlor – itself a liminal space between the inner and outer – dramatizes this confluence spatially as well as thematically. In 1922, Lukács had the opportunity to review a translation of Ghare Baire for the German newspaper Die Rote Fahne. His review is scathing; he blasts the German intelligentsia for their adulation of Tagore, whom he interprets to have written, in Ghare Baire, a sentimental and reactionary rendering of the Indian independence movement. He criticizes almost all aspects of the novel, labeling Tagore “a wholly insignificant figure. His creative powers are non-existent; his characters pale stereotypes; his stories threadbare and uninteresting; and his sensibility is meagre, insubstantial” (“Tagore” 8). He also criticizes the novel’s plot for what he considers its overly concessionist politics, its elaboration of a spiritual affirmation of self rather than a pragmatic anti-colonial stance. In fact, he refuses to call it a novel at all, instead labelling it “a pamphlet” (9), “a petty bourgeois yarn of the shoddiest kind” (11).20 The few scholars who have considered this review have used it as fuel to criticize Lukács’s aesthetic rigidity and what Ashis Nandy calls his “ethnocentrism that verges on racism” (Illegitimacy 18). Furthermore, it is clear that the novel’s critique of modern nationalism was lost on Lukács, in part because he was unaware of the complexities of the particular historical context. For instance, key to Lukács’s misreading is his belief that in Sandip, Tagore was representing, and ridiculing, Mohandas K. Gandhi. In Lukács’s eyes, Sandip represents the real energies of the anti-colonial revolution, “without question motivated by the purest idealism and self-sacrifice” (“Tagore” 10); and yet, the critic laments, Tagore draws Sandip to be a caricature of those energies, proven to be ultimately self-seeking, and overall painted much more negatively than Nikhilesh

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(Das,  vol. 9,  74). On the other hand, Lukács assumes Nikhilesh to be Tagore’s hero – which is outrageous, according to Lukács, as Nikhilesh’s concessionary principles ultimately work against the movement. Both protagonists are, from this perspective, irredeemably partial, and it is a partiality that Lukács cannot forgive. Lukács thus sees Tagore as failing to do what Tolstoy did: to enshrine a realist figure to represent, even by way of a counter-revolutionary stance, the obstacles revolutions must necessarily face in contexts outside of western Europe.21 Despite the mistakes they contain, however, Lukács’s criticisms do merit some attention. For although Lukács was wrong in calling Sandip a caricature of Gandhi, he was not entirely wrong in calling Sandip a caricature. Tagore does represent Sandip satirically, in this case as the embodiment of a philosophy of extreme pragmatism that results in ethical vacuousness – characterized by what he calls, in another context, a lack of “personality” (Personality 19). Sandip is driven by utility rather than humanity; whereas for Tagore, “man [like animals] also must know because he must live. But man has a surplus where he can proudly assert that knowledge is for the sake of knowledge” (Personality 10). Thus like – although not as overtly parodic as – Gradgrind and Bounderby in Dickens’s Hard Times, Sandip’s extreme utilitarianism represents a perversion of modern ideas of realism and individualism – and, here, nationalism – at their most self-seeking limits. His views are always depicted with a violence that underscores their extreme perspectives: “The world into which we are born is the world of reality [riyaliti’r prithibi]. When a man goes away from the market of real things [bostu’r haat] with empty hands and empty stomach, merely filling his bag with big sounding words, I wonder why he ever came into this hard world at all” (46).22 Through Sandip, then, Tagore calls attention to one extreme of realism, using the English word “reality” instead of its Bengali equivalent, bastab, as if to emphasize its epistemic violence. This is a realism fixated on the material, sensible, and manipulable world: “What I desire, I desire positively, superlatively. I want to knead it with both my hands and both my feet [ami dui haatey korey chotkabo, dui paaye korey dolbo]” (46). Despite calling itself “reality,” Tagore suggests, this is not the world of truth but of falsehood; as Sandip boasts, When Reality [bastab] has to meet the unreal [obastab], deception [chholona] is its principal weapon; for its enemies always try to shame Reality [bostu, lit., the material] by calling it gross, and so it needs must hide itself, or else put on some disguise. The circumstances are such that it dare not frankly avow: “Yes, I am gross [sthulo], because I am true. I am flesh [maangsho]. I am passion. I am hunger, unashamed and cruel” (55).


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For Sandip, then, reality becomes equivalent to deception. By satirizing a realism that is so fixated on surfaces, objects, and flesh that it loses its commitment to truth, Tagore takes a surprisingly Lukácsian perspective on realism, privileging shyotto, or truth, over ­“riyaliti.” Indeed, like the late realists of whom Lukács is so critical, Sandip fetishizes the objective existence of the material world rather than seeing how its existence is conditioned by and in turn conditions individual psychology or human ideals. The exposure of Sandip by the end of the novel as a hollow vessel of rhetoric gives further credence to this psychological perspective, suggesting that his overblown language is not an expression of his political pragmatism but a version of political expedience conditioned by his own heroic failings. In this way, Tagore’s satirical characterization is a key vehicle for representing the disjuncture between rhetoric and personality: a disjuncture that proves a fatal obstacle to even so well-intentioned a political movement as Swadeshi. Likewise, on the other side, Nikhilesh, whom Lukács sees Tagore as valorizing, is represented as having failings as well. Completely absorbed in ideals rather than pragmatics, Nikhilesh is too unpersuasive to keep Bimala from falling into Sandip’s sway, and his vision of nationalism is characterized as effete, weak, and, in the end, futile. Although his martyrdom is put squarely at the hands of Sandip and his supporters, his idealism, like Sandip’s pragmatism, is also subject to parody. Rejecting Sandip’s “gross cupidity [laloshar sthulota]” and the “tyrannical attitude in his patriotism [desher kaaje douratter dikey]” (43), Nikhilesh is nevertheless presented as “unimaginative [kolponabritti nei]” (43), completely lacking star power, and specifically, unable to offer Bimala an alternatively compelling image to that of Sandip’s Mother India. In his intellectual approach to questions of emotion, for instance, he expects that a rationalized image of modern womanhood is compelling enough to sway Bimala’s affections away from Sandip, but in that he is proven tragically wrong. Thus Nikhilesh too, in a way, fails. His idealism is presented as the extreme, although far less dangerous, antithesis of Sandip’s pragmatism. Tagore’s realism, then, lies neither wholly in Nikhilesh nor in Sandip but rather in their split, in the precise fact that the two perspectives they represent cannot be synthesized into a more convincing, realist (Levinlike) figure.23 This demonstrates the reality of Indian nationalism during this Swadeshi phase, which is that it was irreparably bifurcated, and therefore failed to develop into a truly effective, mass program.24 From this perspective, Lukács’s criticism of the novel’s weak characterization can be interpreted in a new light, for it is precisely in their thinness – in the

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fact that both characters fail, as individuals, to completely cohere – that they represent the central problem of this early phase of anti-colonial politics. For if each represents a weak, ineffective element of realism, together they make up a richer, dialectic: “the true, solution-bringing third way” (Studies 6) that Lukács sees as the heart of a critical realism. However, the resolution remains a promise, never realized within the novel. The split is thus ingrained in the very structure of the text, and the text is completely a product of it. It is for this reason, in part, that Lukács found Ghare Baire so unconvincing. However, as a representation of a failed struggle that anticipated but did not directly result in the mass nationalism of the next decade, the novel’s aesthetic ambivalence around its two male characters is in fact the most effective form for what it seeks to describe. The flattening of character as a means of illuminating the contradictions of modern nationalism is supplemented in Tagore’s novel by another representation of realism, as a mode potentially insufficient for the historic task of national imagination. The novel raises this question through Bimala, a character Lukács completely ignores. At one level, Bimala is the realist character par excellence; more than Nikhilesh and Sandip, she is well-rounded, and presented as self-reflective in a way that the two men are not. Her chapters begin and end the novel, and her story is presented retrospectively, so that as she is narrating she is aware of how it all turned out (Chaudhuri, “Sentimental” 61). As a woman, and one having lived most of her life in purdah, she seems an unlikely repository of realist values, and it is precisely because of this that Tagore takes great pains, in the formal structure of the novel, to give her voice. Yet Bimala’s story is marked by the difficulty of achieving the individualism that realism promises her in the novel’s form. Tagore presents her as constantly hovering between a series of “cultural script[s] of what a woman should be” (Mitra 255). Early on, Bimala tries to act according to the image of the ideal sati, or virtuous wife. She hopes, for instance, “that I might grow up to be a model of what woman should be, as one reads it in some epic poem [ma’er moto jeno sati’r jash pai, debabtar kachhe ekmoney ei bor chaitum, lit., that like my mother, I too would have renown as a sati]” (17).25 Then, as she moves from home to world, other paragons of femininity seek her out. Nikhilesh’s plans to uplift Bimala from her life of homely virtue is also reliant on an external, ideal image, which he only realizes too late: “I created an angel [tilottoma] of Bimala, in order to exaggerate my own enjoyment” (65). By invoking Tilottoma  – the apsara ­(celestial maiden) who in the Hindu epics is paragon embodied – Nikhilesh acknowledges


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

that although his paradigm of love is modern, it is still a paradigm (Sunder Rajan 72). And Sandip’s eagerness to incarnate Bimala as the mothergoddess is an obvious symbolization, which she herself is aware of; as she describes her first interaction with Sandip: “I was utterly unconscious of myself [amar hoonsh chilo na]. I was no longer the lady of the Rajah’s house, but the sole representative of Bengal’s womanhood [Bangladesher shomoshto naarir aikmatro protinidhi]” (31). For most feminist critics, the constant interpellation of female characters as symbols in larger (male) narratives reflects the impossibility of full subjecthood for women in Bengal. As Tanika Sarkar writes, Bimala “moves between bodies that are dressed by the desires of her men: the bare neck and the piled up hair that Nikhilesh adores . . . and the partly bared bosom, the deep red colours and sinuous silks that enthrall Sandip. . . . When she moves away from both, she can only imagine herself back in the past, mimicking the gestures of her mother” (“Many” 38). Unable to escape its own investment in realist representation, the novel fails to articulate any Bimala outside others’ attempts to make her representative of something else, both reflecting and reinscribing unequal gender relations in early twentieth-century Bengal. I elaborate more fully what I see as the contradictory promise and threat of allegory in Chapter 3; but here as well it is clear that as much as Bimala’s individuality is suppressed by these symbolizations, at the same time – and paradoxically – it is these very symbolizations that give her an identity in the novel at all. In the linear story of her uplift, Bimala transforms from a Hindu symbol of devout wifehood, to a paragon of the redemptive features of modernity, to an incarnation of Bharat Mata, the mother-as-nation. The only nonsymbolized, or “realist” Bimala exists in the novel’s form, in the chapters of first-person narration that allow her to reflect on her story in her own words.26 This is an absent space, however – one discursively “between” symbolizations – and it is only in this absence that the individual Bimala exists. If it were not for allegory – by which, as discussed further in Chapter 3, an idea or character represents something besides itself – there would be no Bimala at all in the novel’s plot. Thus allegory simultaneously silences her and gives her existence within the larger narratives in which the story gains its meaning. Bimala’s perpetually symbolic role in the narrative, then, is not only allegorical for the problem of Swadeshi nationalism as played out on the body of the woman but is allegorical for allegory itself, or more specifically for the ways in which, under colonialism, allegory becomes the paradoxical precondition for meaning in the novel.

Realism in the Colony


This imbrication of allegory and realism is also evident in Ghare Baire’s temporal structure. Although Ghare Baire begins as a historically situated novel, set in a real time and place  – as Bimala narrates early on, “This was the time [aimon shomoye] when Sandip Babu with his followers came to our neighbourhood to preach Swadeshi” (30) – it mostly refuses conventional historical markers. Instead, it presents history as history-inthe-making, emphasized by its diarylike structure, where each character narrates the events that have taken place since the last narration, but in which, insistently and throughout the text, chapters do not begin where previous ones left off, putting a brake on the smooth production of meaning in what Ian Watt calls “the novel’s closeness to the texture of daily experience” (22). The “whole” story is thus a bricolage of these different narrations of different events, which do not match up exactly, but approximately, representing the discontinuity of history-as-present. As in later postcolonial novels, then, Ghare Baire presents history as an open idea rather than an already-established reality, and it is precisely in this temporal instability that the novel gains meaning as a historical text. Tagore rewrites the national allegory as one of temporal discontinuity in order to represent the violent ideological debate that is at the heart of the text, between pragmatic and idealistic nationalisms. In this way, Ghare Baire suggests that the discontinuity of time is a necessary rejoinder to the ideological closure not only of colonial discourse, but of earlier nationalist narratives as well – both of which rely on the “homogeneous, empty time” of modernity (Benjamin, Illuminations 261). Yet it does so not by rejecting realism as a mode founded on homogeneity, but by reclaiming it as precisely the mode suited to describe the breakdown of time. As such, Ghare Baire is not allegorical in the way advanced by Jameson in his now infamous article, in that “the story of the individual is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture or society” (“Third-World” 69); rather, Tagore’s novel engages allegory by seeing it as crucial to the making of meaning under colonialism – in this case, as realism’s constitutive premise. Ghare Baire presents realism and allegory not as two discrete modes but rather as interrelated sites of ­contestation – for the characters in the novel, for history and nationalism, and for the interpretation of literature at all, as seen in Lukács’s metatextual misreading of the novel.27 In doing so, Ghare Baire dramatizes the problematic status of realism in the colony, which I elaborate throughout this book. Yet it is precisely the unknowability that arises from the limits of realism that gives the novel its sense of futurity: in the potential resolution of the Nikhilesh-Sandip split, in the partial representation of


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

Bimala’s realist aspirations, and in the fleeting idea of history-as-present. For all these complexities, Tagore’s novel was intellectually incomprehensible to Lukács; for all these complexities, it provides a key blueprint to an alternative understanding of realism in the Indian novel at large. C h a r ac t e r a n d T e m p or a l i t y This alternative methodology is built on two formal nodes that emerge out of Ghare Baire: character and temporality, both crucial sites for Tagore’s engagement with realism in the colony. As we have seen, these are the nodes at which Tagore’s realism becomes problematic, where wholeness is recast from a presumption to an aspiration, a promise, or an object of desire. The clear gaps in Lukács’s analysis of Sandip and Nikhilesh aside, unrealistic characterization continues to be  – among today’s critics as well – one of the most lambasted elements of novels of the 1930s.28 There has been little theorization on what flat, stock, parodied, or oversignified characters might represent, and how they function in realism more generally. For instance, few have considered in the Indian context what Alex Woloch identifies as the problem of “minorness” in nineteenth­century European realism, as reflective of the novel’s struggle to represent the new multiplicity of the industrialized, urbanized metropolis alongside its desire for complex characterization. Here, minorness is recast not as an aesthetic failing but as a novelistic strategy to account for the different degrees to which citizens are incorporated into the body politic (Woloch 24–5). Likewise, protagonists that have too many positive or negative traits  – too much goodness or too much evil, for instance – tend to be seen by critics as aesthetically compromised, rather than as meaningful sites that might cause us to reconsider conventional critical paradigms. Yet it is precisely such a diversity of characterizations that comprises the Indian novel, in the center of which the rounded, realist character exists as an ambivalent ideal. These heterogeneous forms serve as a means of experimenting with the limitations and possibilities of characterization within the novel, engaging with what Priyamvada Gopal describes, from Fanon, as “a radically humanist [project] of . . . ‘inventing souls’ and making human beings rather than taking human nature as unchanging essence” (Gopal 9). Thus as in many literary realisms, the problem of character cannot be separated from the problematic of the human. One form of minorness is exemplified by Tagore’s disaggregation of the

Realism in the Colony


nationalist hero into two partial representations, Nikhilesh and Sandip. Here complex attributes are disarticulated and embodied apart from one another, resulting in one type of type – the incompletely characterized. Individual characters are marked by an irreducible partiality, representing a singular sensibility but not all the opposing characteristics that might make them “round.” The second represents another limit, evinced in Bimala, in which an individual character is oversignified above and beyond roundedness. Here the character is interpellated as a paragon or symbol. Although the idea of an oversignified or symbolic character is often traced to the Hindu epics or to Arabic and Persian fairy tales, it is in fact a particularly modern technique when used in the novel; as  we shall shortly see, realist paragons are never merely paragons but sites of contestation over the very idea of exemplariness; their saintliness or paragonicity is always problematic. Part I of Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel considers realist characterization from these two angles. Chapter 2 focuses on the novels of the Hindi-Urdu writer Premchand, known for his commitment to human equality and his sensitive characterization of rural Indians. Nevertheless, I show how Premchand puts significant pressure on the seemingly selfevident relationship between realist characterization and human equality in his final novel Godan (The Gift of the Cow, 1936). In what I read as a highly experimental work, Premchand shows how the ideal of universal humanism constantly conflicts with the reality of social difference. Rather than trying to mitigate this difference through a homogenizing realist characterization, Premchand throws open the question of character, suggesting simultaneously its irreducibility and its constitution in discourse. In this way, he rewrites realism as an ambivalent and at times playful mode that both represents the world as it is and marks its own exclusions. Chapter 3 refutes the putatively dichotomous relationship between ­a llegory and realism by focusing on the other end of the colonial character­spectrum. I show how authors such as Mulk Raj Anand (Untouchable, 1936 and The Sword and the Sickle, 1940), Premchand (Rangbhumi, 1925), and Raja Rao (Kanthapura, 1938) experiment with representing oversignified characters who are able, by virtue of their saintliness and epic charisma, to dictate the whims and contingencies of the realist characters who surround them. In the 1930s, the most common form for such a figure to take was Mahatma Gandhi, who had been gaining in visibility and popularity since his return to India in 1919. By inscribing Gandhi or the Gandhian protagonist into the novel, these authors not only wrote works


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

interpretable as national allegories but also presented allegory as a mode internal to, rather than discrete from, realism in the colony. The second formal node that emerges as a site of metafictional engagement in colonial realism is temporality. Just as individual characters are called on to become paradigmatic figures, the progressive plot is often called on to represent nationalist self-awakening. In Ghare Baire, Tagore reflects his ambivalence toward the overdetermined temporality of national allegory by refusing the distinction between history and the present. In doing so, he thematizes a certain sensibility of futurity even in a novel marked by disillusion regarding the direction the nationalist movement is taking. Part II of Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel traces this mode of temporal experimentation through several other works of the period. I show how these works innovate on, resignify, and at times contest the ideological closure enacted by the homogeneous time of modernity, even while they imagine a realism that can account for heterogeneous temporal narratives. This allows authors to narrate not only progress and becoming, or nostalgia and loss, but the overlapping and more fragmentary experiences of discontinuity, disaffection, alienation, and indeterminacy. This heterogeneity often remains unreconciled within individual texts, sometimes amounting to an aesthetic of interruptions that frustrates the smooth production of meaning. In Chapter 4 I focus on Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi (1940), a work that reinterprets the historical novel from the perspective of a minoritarian nationalist imaginary. Although widely considered a nostalgic lament over the loss of Muslim prominence in South Asia, the novel rejects the temporal logic at the heart of nostalgia, offering an alternative means of imagining loss, grief, and futurity that is founded on the more synchronic registers of gesture and performativity. In this way, Ali offers an entirely new vocabulary with which to imagine the nation. In Chapter 5 I trace what happens when temporal indeterminacy is taken further to contest even such seemingly self-evident narratives as personal growth and Bildung. Through a reading of Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1931), the second of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s episodic sequence, I show how the author rewrites the traditional Bildungsroman through the perspective of its distracted protagonist, recasting form itself as an ambivalent object of desire. I end with a discussion of Satyajit Ray’s post­independence film adaptations of Bibhutibhushan’s novels (The Apu Trilogy, 1955–1959), which give aesthetic coherence to what were much more fragmentary irruptions of desire in the original text. I read Ray’s revisions as emblematic of canon-formation in postcolonial literary studies

Realism in the Colony


at large, in which a charismatic and legible aesthetic of modernism continually overwrites the heterogeneous and ambivalent life of realism in the colony. By presenting realism as a mode plastic enough to represent the ontological and temporal discontinuities of the colonial experience, I seek to reinscribe realism into the rich literary history of twentieth-century India, thus offering a new interpretation of the relationship between colonial difference and literary form. It should be noted that despite my particular emphasis in this book, character and temporality are not the only two nodes on which authors innovated in the realist novel of the 1930s. It would be possible, for instance, to see how novelists rethought realist conceptions of space, point of view, or narrative voice. I focus on character and temporality in part because of all elements of realism, these open themselves up to the most far-reaching implications  – illuminating, among others, questions of humanism, individual freedom, minoritarianism, and materiality. Moreover, they represent two of the most contentious qualities of the novels discussed here, with characters consistently dismissed by critics as unrealistic, stock, or flat on one hand, and compelling, uplifting, or emblematic for the new citizen-subject on the other, and time as either nostalgic and reactionary or progressivist and modern. In all these cases somewhat arbitrary aesthetic judgments have become sedimented categories, often a last word in critical discussions on individual works and – as I elaborate in the Afterword – on realism in this period as a whole. What these critiques overlook is how writers take up the dichotomies in their works, engaging them as part of the problematic political and representational landscape they seek to describe. “A n U n wor k e d F i e l d”: R e a l i s m a n d t h e P o t e n t i a l Against conventional accounts of realism as naïve, mimetic, and incapable of transcending the material and sensible world, this book seeks to highlight the sense that something was being conceived and imagined in the realist novel of 1930s India. This was not something concrete, but lived in the imagination and represented “a range of radical possibilities” (Gopal 23) – or what Gayatri Spivak calls, in the context of reading Premchand, the “ambitious undertakings” that are required to “[work] in an unworked field” (50). Realism was, in this sense, ineluctably marked by its potentiality. In his short book, History at the Limit of World-History, Ranajit Guha identifies the potential as an ontological state peculiar to colonized nations. It captures a condition preceding what Nehru described, in his


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

independence-eve speech, as that world-historical occasion when “the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” If the Hegelian discourse of world history promises the colonized inclusion into the realm of historical consciousness in due time, then historical thought prior to that accession is always marked, for Guha, with a sense of “potentiality, that is, what is still implicit and holds itself back until finally achieved as a goal attained or an object grasped” (25). I suggest that this ontological orientation gives realism its unique qualities under colonialism. As a literary mode founded on actualization, transparency, and materiality, realism seems philosophically and formally incapable of representing potentiality in Guha’s sense; yet, as I hope to show in the forthcoming chapters, the literature of the 1930s was doing just that – and, in the process, generating new contours of what George Levine calls the “realistic imagination.” Where it is modernism that has been most closely associated with the potential (Lukács, Realism 21–2), and with innovation, rupture, and alienation more generally, modernism’s discourse is premised on a complete break from the past. Yet Indian authors of this period developed their aesthetics by way of, rather than by rejecting, a realist and humanist commitment to character and time, even as they contested the self-evident status of these features in the literary and nationalist imaginaries. In this way, they used realism to give rise to complex political subjectivities, by which they could reconceive of who they were and radically reimagine what they wanted their country to be. For novelists of the 1930s, therefore, ideals such as humanism and historical self-awakening were centrally important to how they imagined themselves in the context of the nation-to-come. That does not mean, however, that authors were naïve about these ideals, and in their works they show again and again their persistent defeat. What makes these novels particularly difficult, and why I devote so much space to explicating each text’s multiple layers, is that for the most part they did not generate an alternative aesthetic – or, to put it another way, they did not completely reconcile the opposing meanings of realism and modernism, realism and allegory, or history and the future, in what contemporary readers might deem an aesthetically satisfying way. Rather, they let these disjunctures rupture their texts. If we read these ruptures symptomatically rather than as critical failings, we can see how the works represent precisely the crisis surrounding modernity experienced at this historically transitional time. This crisis emerged from the ambivalence of experiencing anticipation, hope, and desire on one hand, and discontinuity, disillusionment, and alienation on the other. What these writers wanted to convey was the

Realism in the Colony


inadequacy of either realism or modernism for characterizing the complex experience of the imminent end of colonial rule. The postcolonial paths of the various authors discussed here are illuminating in this regard. Premchand died in 1936, the year in which Godan was published and he made his pronouncement for realism at the AIPWA meeting in Lucknow. Bibhutibhushan died in 1950, after writing several other novels and short stories, many of which further developed the episodic and Romantic formlessness of Aparajito. Mulk Raj Anand, Ahmed Ali, and Raja Rao, however, lived far into the twentieth century, the first two even into the first years of the twenty-first. All three continued writing, but none of their works is better known than those written before independence. Ali and Rao in particular tried moving away from realism – Ali publishing the metaphysical, melodramatic Ocean of Night in 1964 and Rao the meditative, spiritual The Serpent and the Rope in 1960. However, neither text gave its author any significant recognition. The increasing insignificance of these authors as they experimented with modes other than realism does suggest that for all the criticism and accusations of aesthetic naïveté, something about their earlier novels worked that critics have yet to account for. I suggest that this is precisely their misfit – their not-quite-realism and their “incomplete” modernism: their fundamental elusiveness with regard to formal classification. Rather than imitating earlier genres and styles, these authors actively redefined them, producing a mode that, although I have called it realism here, might equally be called modernism to account for its sheer innovativeness, its self-reflexivity, and its skepticism of naïve mimesis  – and might just as easily be given an entirely new designation altogether. As will quickly become clear, then, Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel is not a comprehensive account of the novel in colonial India, nor of the manifold literary histories that comprise the vastly diverse body of “Indian” literature. Rather, it is an attempt to delineate the self-conscious but often only partially formed sensibilities of historical consciousness and aesthetic innovation that defined a particular moment in the Indian novel’s history. In this sense I aim to steer the study of the Indian novel into uncharted methodological territory. This includes seeing realism as a mode of engagement, innovation, and imagination within writing under colonialism, rather than as a colonial leftover. Likewise, my approach is deliberately text based, finding these sensibilities in the folds and textures of individual works: in their plots, characters, narrative arcs, and tropologies, but also in moments of discontinuity, silences, gaps, hesitations, false starts, and incomplete ends. The hope is that by tracing the


Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel

elements of realism as they determine the complex layers of individual texts, the contours of a larger phenomenon will emerge. The works I discuss are thus not the most well-known, or even the best novels of this period; they cover only three of India’s dozens of languages and are all written by men. They range over some, but certainly not all, of India’s geographical diversity  – covering present-day Punjab, Bengal, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh  – and include a mix of religions and castes. Rather than an exhaustive catalogue, then, I have chosen works that exemplify some of what I see as larger trends in the literature of this period, which are, somewhat ironically, trends of discontinuity, aesthetic inconsistency, radical indeterminacy, and sometimes a frustrating failure to come to form. Recent revisionist histories of the nationalist movement have highlighted the gaps in communication and ideology that existed among India’s vastly diverse populations, and the ways nationalist leaders tried to close these gaps by narrating nationalism as a seamless process of world-historical arrival. Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel suggests that these gaps were given aesthetic form in literature, but with such an investment in their epistemic significance that they at times ruptured the texts that were supposed to contain them – the result of which has been a profound critical silence around most of them. Some critics have tried to contain these novels in longer and more significant stories that began elsewhere or in other domains besides the aesthetic – focusing on the Gandhian novel, for example, the agrarian novel, or the socialist one. These accounts, however, have been largely unsatisfactory. Moreover, there are costs to such grand political and social narratives – one of which is the unwitting sidelining of aspects of individual works that do not fit the larger picture. Another is a reductive sense of how literature reflects the  political ideologies of its authors. What would our accepted literary histories look like if communicative gaps, aesthetic discontinuities, and formal ruptures were understood as symptoms of something irreducibly true about the coexistence of crisis, disillusion, promise, and anticipation in this period? How would this change the way we read not only Premchand and Raja Rao, but the more recent writings of Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, and Aravind Adiga? How might this alter how we interpret literary realism, and what we imagine it to do – beyond the colony?

Pa r t I

Itineraries of Character

Ch apter 2

The Contours of the Human

Of all the significant writers of the 1930s, the one perhaps most recognized for his realist characterization is the Urdu and Hindi novelist and short story writer Premchand (1880–1936). Born in Lamahi village near Allahabad, in north India, and becoming a key contributor to the conversations around the political uses of realism, Premchand is known for bringing psychologically rounded characters to life in his literary works. Many of his writings are set in the village and represent with equal sensitivity the range of characters who comprise the rural tableau, from landowners and their families  – including their wives and daughters  – reformers, tradesmen, shop owners, and moneylenders to regular men and women, peasants, sweepers, outcastes, prostitutes, laborers, and their families and children. In his first major rural novels, Premashram (The Abode of Love, 1921), Rangbhumi (Playground, 1925), and Karmabhumi (The Field of Action, 1932), Premchand presents the village as a variegated space, rife with conflicts of class, politics, religion, caste, and gender, and the novels’ plots trace these conflicts with an unsparing eye. Yet by offering the same degree of characterization to the village’s poorest and their elite counterparts, Premchand offers a vision of “common humanity” (Sharma, “Humanism” 303) that carries the potential to transcend these persistent differences  – even if only in form. The idea of human commonality, as with Bimala in Ghare Baire, is thus embedded in the novels’ form as a hope or a promise. Premchand’s early works can be read as elaborating the contradiction between the lived reality of difference and the utopic possibility of human equality. In this way, Premchand offered a new framework for the representation of the village in the modern Indian novel. “A e s t h e t ic s of I nc lus ion” The representation of the rural and the urban, and the elite and the subaltern, as inextricably linked had particular significance in the 1920s and 33


Itineraries of Character

1930s, when peasants and landless laborers were facing hardships on the basis not only of economic disempowerment, feudalism, casteism, usury, and other social ills, but also within the discursive structure of Indian nationalism itself. The village was emerging as a problematic space within the nation – not in itself modern but the ground on which debates over modernity were staged. Whereas on one hand the village represented what was seen as India’s essential culture – as opposed to the Westernized influence visible in the cities  – rural and nonmodern lifeways were simultaneously constructed as intractable impediments to India’s modern future.1 The mainstream nationalist movement thus sought to enact what Partha Chatterjee calls “an appropriation of peasant support for the historic cause of creating a nation-state in which the peasant masses would be represented, but of which they would not be a constituent part” (Nationalist 81). This revealed a gap in the discourse of nationalism, where its promise of equal citizenship was cut through with a constitutive differential – where, in effect, elites, intellectuals, industrialists, and urbanites were “more equal” than the rural masses. Premchand was interested in this contradiction throughout his career, and captures it from a number of angles by insistently representing a proto-national landscape for whom rural India and more specifically the peasantry is a problem. Although he is known as a writer of rural fiction, his novels strive to capture this crisis of rurality afflicting the nation at large. This required not only a traditional realism attuned to the idioms and dialects of rural Indians but one also able to capture contradiction, potentiality, crisis, and the problematic of representation at large. Premchand’s interest in this irresolvable contradiction adds another dimension to his common categorization as a Gandhian writer.2 Most intellectual historians and literary critics refer to a 1921 speech of Gandhi that Premchand attended, which inspired him to resign from his government post – and indeed it is clear that Gandhi influenced many young writers and intellectuals in a similar way (Rai, Premchand 154–7). Beyond this literal influence, however, Premchand’s representation of the village as an organism, interconnected even in the face of significant daily strife, is also reminiscent of Gandhi’s belief in the village as the site of India’s future. Likewise, his investment in humanizing not only the peasantry but the rural elite  – what Manju Jain calls his “aesthetics . . . of inclusion and not of exclusion” (xxx)  – also resembles Gandhi’s mistrust of class warfare. Even more than Gandhi, Premchand struggled in his early works to represent the impact of reform movements on the subjectivities of India’s elite. For instance, Premashram and Karmabhumi, although

The Contours of the Human


set in the village, were mostly concerned with the struggles of wealthy landowning characters to come to terms with the suffering of the peasantry around them, and the peasants themselves had little actual presence within them. Even in these early works Premchand seems to have been acutely aware that the problem of the peasantry could not be separated from the question of who represents them, and how an entire generation of young reformers is conditioned by this privilege. Premchand presents this class-based, pedagogical relation as an irresolvable problem, not only of politics but of representation as well, and because of this, his individual novels sometimes appear incomplete. For instance, Karmabhumi’s protagonist Amarkant is frustratingly unable to transcend his paternalistic attitude toward the peasantry, even when he finds the humility to make a personal sacrifice for the nationalist movement. In this novel, the peasantry thus remain infantilized and fail to come to form as human beings in their own right. In this way, even for Premchand, who was so attuned to the importance of humanizing the poor through realism, the problem of representation proves difficult to resolve within the scope of a single work. In Rangbhumi Premchand comes closest to decentering the reformer; for the first time his work centers around the dispossessed figure himself – here the blind beggar Surdas – while simultaneously furthering his larger interest in the rural as a problem. As I will discuss more fully in Chapter 3, Rangbhumi’s Surdas struggles to maintain his ancestral land, his dignity, and his values of nonviolence and charity in the face of industrialization and greed. Surdas is not the novel’s sole protagonist but he is as richly depicted as the elite characters: the Christian industrialist John Sevak and his family – especially his liberal-minded daughter Sophie – the reformer Vinay, the local Maharaja, and several others. Thus, although Rangbhumi does “demonstrate that men and women of the humblest origin and station in life can attain the stature of the hero and can have a moral and spiritual life as rich and complex as the most highly cultivated individual can” (Sharma, “Humanism” 299), it deliberately shows all of its characters to be complex and flawed. Even Surdas, with whom the novelist’s sympathy clearly lies, is at times utterly selfless but at times self-serving as well. The vision of humanity is therefore one in which, across class divides, humans have both virtues and weaknesses. Rangbhumi thus offers a tentative reconciliation of the contradiction between the hierarchies and inequalities that keep people apart and the promise of democratic unity, enshrined in realism and the novel form. The chapters, for instance, alternate, moving from one character or setting


Itineraries of Character

to another, and offering a range of focalizations: poor and wealthy, male and female, and so on, crafting an aesthetic of universality. Premchand’s investment in representing the elite’s understanding of the village is still evident – there are several lengthy spells in the middle of Rangbhumi during which Surdas all but disappears – but it is the commonality among the various characters’ actions, and specifically their personal struggles with the dialectic between humanity and saintliness, that sustains the thematic of the novel. By giving Surdas an identity of his own rather than representing him only as the object of well-meaning elite reformism, Premchand seems to have achieved a kind of balance between his commitment to representing the rural poor and his interest in the problem of the rural poor by means of an “all permeating human sympathy” (Kumar, Premchand 60). This is not only a philosophical or political problem but an aesthetic one as well – which asks, for instance: How can the same mode of characterization be used on two groups whose language, social status, and outlook are so different from one another? Can there be a mode of representation that equalizes without violently overturning elite power? In Rangbhumi Premchand manages to represent Surdas without flattening the elite characters, showing their humanity as a correlative to his. But this is not an easy task. It requires forging a new and more capacious realism that can both account for difference and at the same time offer a potential solution to it. In a self-conscious moment in Rangbhumi, we can discern the outlines of this difficulty: We become fond [sneh] of an eminent man [kisi bade aadmi] when we see him crying. When we see him gilded with power, we forget for a while that he’s also a human being [manushya]. We imagine that he doesn’t have the ordinary human failings [saadhaaran maanviya durbalta]. He is a subject of curiosity for us. We wonder what he eats, what he drinks, what he thinks, there must always be elevated thoughts in his mind, he’s not concerned about trivial things – respect is just the apparent form of curiosity. Bhairo had been afraid of meeting raja sahib but he now realized that he was also human [manushya] like anybody else. It was as if he had realized something new today. (389–90)

This is an overdetermined moment in the novel, in which the narrator pauses the story to present “something new” – namely, the idea that elites are human too. The careful language of the passage demonstrates how potentially difficult this is to comprehend, as from the perspective of the poor, or of a commitment to the poor, the glare of power can hide the human being behind it. In form as well, the passage dramatizes the significance of this revelation by breaking the diegesis in a jarring

The Contours of the Human


narratorial aside, suggesting that the representation of differently situated characters can be so difficult that it might rupture the seamlessness of the narration itself.3 In this way, it is not only, as one critic writes, that Premchand ­“initiated a renaissance in Indian literature through his discovery of the village as an untapped fountainhead of new themes, myths and character types” (Joshi, “Subaltern” 44) but that he presented realism as a mode able to bring to a representation of the village the powerful ideology of human equality, even as what concerned him in his plots was precisely the lack of that equality in “real life.” Premchand thus imbued realism with an excess of meaning that might be interpreted both as political despair and as a sense of promise, an unarticulated futurity that lay in the gap between the reality of dehumanization and the potential for an egalitarian future. It is in this context that we might consider Premchand’s final and what many consider his finest novel, Godan (The Gift of the Cow, 1936). Godan is the story of the villagers Hori and Dhania and their three children, Gobar, Sona, and Rupa, a family of impoverished, small-peasant proprietors in rural United Provinces (north India) who aspire to a marginal increase in their social status through the purchase of a cow. Early in the story, Hori finds a way to procure a cow, he thinks, without having to produce instant cash; however, the arrangement he makes with the wealthier peasant Bhola backfires. Not only does Hori’s son Gobar begin a sexual relationship with Bhola’s daughter Jhunia, leading to her pregnancy and Bhola’s summary demand for cash where he had earlier promised credit, but the cow itself dies within a few days, poisoned by Hori’s brother Heera in a fit of jealousy. The death of the cow marks the beginning of the family’s woes. While Dhania berates Hori for not reporting his suspicions regarding the cow’s death to the police, Gobar runs away and leaves a pregnant Jhunia with his parents. Accepting Jhunia into their house invites social sanction from the village elders, already angry with Dhania for her outspokenness. The family’s debts to the local moneylenders pile up, as interest spirals out of control and the zamindar demands his share of the crops. There are daughters to be wed and family honor to be maintained – all of which come at a financial cost. As conditions worsen, the family is forced to mortgage their land and borrow seed from the village Brahmins – circumstances that result in their further impoverishment, until and beyond Hori’s death at the novel’s end. Meanwhile, the couple’s only son, Gobar, grows up under immense physical strain from working on the family land. Deeply critical of what


Itineraries of Character

he regards as his father’s passive acceptance of his fate and his weakness in the face of the wheedlings of the local priests, moneylenders, and the zamindar, he resolves to go to the city to earn a living for himself so that he can have the means to raise his family out of the degrading atmosphere of village life. In the city, he tries his luck at finding work. At first he is successful, even securing enough cash to allow him to dabble in moneylending. However, he finds it difficult to retain employment, and once he is joined by Jhunia and their son, the difficult living conditions and urban squalor take a toll on the family’s health and the couple’s marriage. Moving from one job to another, Gobar finds work in a sugar mill, and gets involved in a strike that turns violent. After recovering, he is hired as a gardener. At the end of one of his visits to Belari, he leaves home too early to be present for his father’s death. Much of Godan is set in the village, and the peasant characters, with Hori and Dhania at their center, are arguably presented with even more sensitivity and subtlety than in Premchand’s earlier works. In this way, Godan can be seen as a culmination of Premchand’s attempt to humanize the peasantry, as “a record of authentic experience and of the suffering and struggle of the Indian rural poor” (Das, vol. 9, 283). Yet Godan is, like his other novels, not exclusively concerned with the peasantry but depicts characters from a range of social standings in the village. The novel also follows some of its rural and urban characters to the city, creating an “urban strand” that complements its representation of the village. As Meenakshi Mukherjee has calculated, “The story of the village Belari takes up just over half the entire novel (nineteen out of thirty-four chapters to be precise, and roughly 153 pages out of the 288 pages of the English version); the rest delineates the uneasy interaction among certain representative characters of the urban middle and affluent classes” (Realism 148). These elite characters are generally collected around Lucknow, but come occasionally to the village as well. They include Mr. Mehta, a philosophy professor who valorizes idealized village life at the expense of engaging with the politics of the mundane; Miss Malti, a foreign-educated doctor who at first disdains rural simplicity but later comes to understand ways other than her own; Mr. Tankha, a businessman who gets rich by pitting his acquaintances against one another; Mirza Khurshed, another businessman who dabbles in working-class politics; Mr. Khanna, a bank manager and owner of a sugar mill who is infatuated by the “modern woman” represented by Malti; Pandit Omkarnath, the editor of the anti-government weekly Bijli; and the Rai Saheb, the zamindar of Belari, caught between the feudal ways of his family and a democratic national future.

The Contours of the Human


Yet rather than merely represent a bifurcated national landscape, with rural characters on one side and urban characters on the other, in Godan Premchand advances his interest in representing the uneasy relationship between the two in the context of the nationalist struggle. Unlike in earlier works, however, he does this not by means of a standard humanizing characterization for elite and subaltern alike but rather through a “movement . . . from the representational to the illustrative” (Mukherjee, Realism 149), by which Premchand puts pressure on the very idea of characterization itself. He thus represents Godan’s urban characters in a flattened – even at times parodic – style that differs significantly from the sensitive humanization of village characters in the rural strand, and from the more rounded representation of the urbanites in earlier novels such as Rangbhumi. In this sense Premchand appears to have abandoned or called into question the ideal of human equality so carefully achieved in that earlier work. Moreover, in Gobar, Hori and Dhania’s son, Premchand incarnates a character who, despite embodying the progressive energy and fundamental restlessness that he considered key elements of a radical consciousness, is ironically constituted more by his absence than his presence. Through Gobar, more so than any other character in his oeuvre, Premchand raises profound questions over realism’s ability not only to dignify the human but to represent him at all. Godan thus furthers Premchand’s lifelong struggle to represent the disaggregated characterspace of the Indian village, but raises the stakes of that representation, unsettling the relationship between realist characterization and humanist uplift, and in this way rethinking the political possibilities of the realist novel more broadly. These concerns take form through the novel’s thematic preoccupation, above and beyond the village itself, with the particular ineffable and somewhat paradoxical sensibility of promise on one hand, and premature disillusion on the other, with regard to nationalism and modernity in India. This is captured in the novel’s titular topos, the cow that is at the heart of the godan. Godan, translated by Gordon Roadarmel as “The Gift of the Cow,” refers to a cow donated to a Brahmin, “a symbolic gesture signifying the giver’s intense longing for mukti or final liberation” (Naravane 156).4 As one of the most prized possessions of rural India, the cow is significant for villagers struggling with poverty; likewise, where the cow is considered sacred, the giving of the cow is a precious, and yet desired, sacrifice. In Premchand’s novel, however, the expected godan never occurs. Rather, the novel’s final page is marked by Dhania’s inability to offer the village Brahmin a cow, even as her husband, Hori, languishes


Itineraries of Character

on his deathbed. Instead, she gives him a few coins she had earned earlier that day: the last of her belongings. The coins are a paltry substitute, and all indications are that for Hori, mukti is not to be had. The tragedy of this ending is heightened by the fact that the couple’s daughter, Rupa, is on her way to the village with a cow she is planning to gift to her parents, and in doing so fulfilling a dream they had held for many years. The novel ends before Rupa can appear, however. Choosing to conclude the novel at the marked absence of the cow rather than narrating its arrival raises significant questions about the aesthetics of futurity and of potentiality, which are not immediately accessible if Godan is read as a self-evident social realist text. Naming a novel for an event that never transpires suggests a profound interest in not only what exists but what potentially might – a gesture that, as I hope to show, complicates the presumed transparency and fixity of realist representation. Premchand elaborates this topos of an open and unknowable future through an extended consideration of the relationship between realist characterization and the human. Throughout Godan, Premchand suggests that character both represents available subjectivities and is the site of generating new kinds of subjects, whose meaning and relations are not determined in advance. This chapter traces the different coordinates of characterization in the novel. As we will see, Godan demonstrates from a number of angles the complexity of realism’s relationship to the human. In doing so, Premchand carefully dismantles what Elizabeth Ermarth calls “the genial consensus of realistic narration,” which reinforces “the uniformity at the base of human experience and the solidarity of human nature” (65). In its place, he suggests that the recognition of difference in character – even potentially irresolvable difference – must be part of any true realism. In building its realism on difference, Godan emerges as one of Premchand’s most experimental texts. It marks the culmination of his oeuvre not because it collects all the disparate strands of his aestheticopolitical philosophy in one neat whole but rather the opposite: because it pushes significantly beyond the stated boundaries of that philosophy to offer new meanings for realism itself. “B or n f or t h e Yok e” “Who says we’re human? What’s human about us? A human being, a man, is someone with wealth and power and education. We’re just bullocks born for the yoke.” – Bhola to Hori, Godan (36)5

The Contours of the Human


Premchand represents his rural characters, especially Hori and Dhania, using recognizably realist techniques, “rounding” them so that, in E. M. Forster’s words, “there is more than one factor in them” (Aspects 67). These characters are so convincing that they “are ready for an extended life” (75) beyond that of the novel: they are fleshed out, deeply interiorized, and given complex psychologies. In this way, Premchand underlines his own belief, as stated in his AIPWA speech, that “villagers . . . are humans [manushya] too, they have hearts and aspirations [hriday . . . aur akankshayein]” (“Sahitya” 82). However, he also highlights his characters’ flaws, maintaining his sense that “faults make the character into a human being [manushya]” (Premchand, “Upanyas” 51). This is in contrast to the conventions for representing peasants in earlier Indian literature, who, when represented at all, were often characterized as part of the rural backdrop, and much more rarely as complex characters in their own right.6 Likewise, whereas in Rangbhumi characters such as Surdas exhibited a pathos that had almost no moments of levity, here Premchand lets his characters speak in several registers, including through pointed humor and intimacy. It is in part for this reason that Hori and Dhania, more than Premchand’s other characters, have gained a place in the Hindi literary imagination (Spivak 54). In this way, Premchand takes Forster’s roundedness and gives it a particular political inflection. In his AIPWA speech, Premchand compared the work of writers to that of lawyers, both of whom have a “duty [farz] to defend and advocate for [himaayat aur vakaalat karna] the downtrodden, oppressed, and deprived [jo dalit hai, peedit hai, vanchit hai]” (“Sahitya” 77). Unlike a lawyer, however, who has at his or her disposal all sorts of rhetorical tricks, including “exaggeration [atiranjan]” and “fabrication [gadhna],” the writer must pay close attention to “reality [vaastavikta].” In order to do this the writer scrutinizes human nature [manav prakriti] with a penetrating eye, he studies human psychology [manovigyaan] and he takes pains to ensure that his characters, in every state and at every opportunity, behave just like red-blooded humans; because of his natural sympathy and love of beauty, he manages to reach those subtle places of life where humans because of their humanity tend to be incapable of reaching. (77–8)

Here Premchand links verisimilitude to the defense and advocacy of the oppressed. In this sense the study of human nature and psychology are not merely aesthetic ideals but also political ones. They are not representational modes restricted to the bourgeoisie but must actively


Itineraries of Character

be marshaled in service of a literature of the masses. It is this powerful democratization of the idea of the human that allows Dhania to retort, for instance, to a wealthy farmer in Godan: “We are human beings [aadmi] too, after all. Just because we’re working for you doesn’t make us bullocks [bel]” (252). Psychological nuance and overall roundedness of character become part of a progressive politics, in the interest of humanizing those figures on the margins of society who were not believed to be capable of psychological nuance but were, as Bhola puts it, merely “born for the yoke.”7 Premchand was deeply committed to social realism in this sense, as visible in his AIPWA speech; yet in the pages of Godan we see significantly more ambivalence around the relationship of realist characterization to human equality and what political literature might be more generally. In fact, the novel’s rural strand is acutely attuned to the incommensurability between the realist ideal of humanizing marginalized characters and the resolute realities of marginalization. Premchand gestures toward this ambivalence in the final lines of the passage quoted above, in which he suggests that man’s “humanity [manushyata]” might actually prove an impediment to accessing the “subtle places of life” that mark an aesthetic ideal – even as that ideal is framed in humanist terms (human psychology, human nature, representation as a red-blooded human). It is this contradiction between humanity as an ideal and the reality of humanness that runs throughout the rural sections of Godan. Here, the humanist characterization Premchand advocates in his speech continually encounters a deep ambiguity about what the “human” really means in the lives of the characters. The ideals he associates with humanity, “natural sympathy” (sehej sahaanubhooti), and “love of beauty” (saundarya-prem), are for the most part out of reach for his rural characters, whose experience with humanity is mundane, material, and mortal. The novel thus questions the ideal of human equality even as it advocates it, suggesting that its usage within nationalist discourse and colonial modernity might be profoundly paradoxical. Bhola’s comment quoted in the epigraph at the beginning of this section captures the sense that, despite the ideal of common humanity, the status of the human is not in fact universal but instead contingent on social standing, so that only those “with wealth and power and education” are granted the privilege of being human (aadmi). Even the perennially optimistic Hori is compelled to face his own humanity, which reminds him that the ideal of equality  – the promise that “we’re human too” (36) – remains perpetually out of his grasp. The question of what constitutes the human is central to how he navigates

The Contours of the Human


social settings in his own life; it appears even in his interactions with his wife: Defeated again, she [Dhania] brought Hori’s stick, jacket, turban, shoes and tobacco pouch and flung them down in front of him. Hori glared at her. “What’s this outfit for? You think I’m going to your father’s house? And even if I were, it’s not as though you have some young sisters there that I should dress up for.” A trace of a smile softened his dark sunken features. “I suppose you think that if some gorgeous young thing were there, she’d get a big thrill out of looking at you?” Hori folded his tattered jacket carefully and placed it on the cot. “So you consider me an old man, do you? I’m not even forty yet. And men are still lusty as bulls at sixty.” “Not ones like you. Go look at your face in the mirror. Just how are you going to be lusty when you can’t even get enough milk and butter to make a few drops of ointment for your eyes? It scares me to see the condition you’re in – makes me wonder how we’ll manage in our old age. Whose door will we beg at?” Hori’s momentary mellowness vanished as though consumed in the flames of reality. “I’ll never reach sixty, Dhaniya,” he said, picking up his stick. “I’ll be gone long before that.” (16)

This passage is one of many throughout Godan’s rural strand to stage a confrontation between the ideals of realism  – whereby the humanness of characters is brought to the fore in realistic settings and dialogues – and the irreducible reality of difficult living conditions, epitomized here by Hori’s awareness of his premature mortality. This passage engages and disturbs precisely for the swiftness with which a jocular conversation between husband and wife about the former’s virility descends so quickly into an awareness of the very real possibility of his premature death. Humanness here signifies the lack of transcendence promised in Premchand’s other uses of the term. This passage also raises another concern central to realist characterization, and that is the relationship of outerwear to personality. Premchand will play with this relationship more insistently in the urban strand – but here we are offered a glimpse of some of the key questions: whether any truth about human personality can be accessed through outerwear, and how metonymic description within realism conveys character. For his part, Hori takes a firm stand, refusing to wear the clothing that Dhania hands him, which in his view does not adequately express the degrading aim of his mission: to ingratiate himself to his landlord. He thus refuses the possibility for new significations to arise from his clothing – for the interaction between himself and the landlord to be different, for instance, because he is dressed differently – and in fact finds moral strength in the


Itineraries of Character

continued belief that clothing matters because it signifies something true about the person wearing it. At the same time, however, the language of the passage clearly enjoys describing, in classic realist fashion, the contiguous objects – the “stick, jacket, turban, shoes and tobacco pouch” – that constitute the realist universe. In this putative contradiction, the narrative seems to suggest that realism must account for both the significance of outerwear (Hori’s moral vision) and the potential for things and appearances to have multiple significations (classical realist aesthetics). In this way, Premchand rewrites realism beyond solely the representation of the downtrodden to a more nuanced accounting for different ways of defining character, and thus of making meaning, in the novel. In other parts of Godan as well, Premchand presents character not as an ideal that transcends social inequality but as subject to it. When a corrupt police inspector comes to the village to investigate the death of the family’s cow, he asks Lala Pateshwari, the patwari (revenue collector), to tell him about Hori (kaisa aadmi hai, lit., what kind of a man is he?), to which Pateshwari responds, “Extremely poor, your honour. He can’t even scrape up enough for a decent meal” (139). The inspector’s question appears as if it is intended to learn something about Hori’s character, but instead it stops short at the reality of his economic situation, which is enough information for the police inspector, who, we gather, learns all he needs about Hori from the fact of his poverty. The whole situation is presented with a bitter irony – that Hori’s moral virtue, which prevents him from accusing his brother of the cow’s death even though he knows him to be the culprit, is less important than his financial status, which makes him unable to pay off the inspector, reinforcing the importance of social status relative to morality. In such a situation, character must bow to class, despite the fact that the author is invested in defining it universally. We see a similar revaluation throughout Godan of the concept of reality  – also presented, in Premchand’s writings and speeches, as an ideal. Whereas vaastavikta and yatharth (both “reality”) are words that in Premchand’s critical writings reference a new aesthetic sensibility that would bring about human equality by means of accurate representation (in the passage quoted earlier, for instance, vaastavikta is that which distinguishes the writer from the lawyer), in Godan reality also becomes something harsh and oppressive of humanity. Early in the novel, for instance, when Dhania restrains herself from speaking out against Hori’s sycophancy toward the zamindar, their conflict is described in these terms: “Rebellion kept welling up in her heart  – but then a few harsh words from her husband would jolt her back to reality [yatharth]”

The Contours of the Human


(16). Here reality is constituted as precisely that which suppresses, rather than fosters Dhania’s rebellious urges. Similarly, a few pages later when Hori and Dhania are consumed in an argument, the narrator contrasts the early, “rosy” and “intoxicating” years of their marriage with the “stark reality [vaastavikta]” of the present (47). Here again reality reads more like a material constraint, a “dark wall, hemming [Hori] in on all sides, with no route of escape” (55). In the daily life of the rural strand, reality is that which limits the possibilities for human life, rather than a means of realizing human freedom. Throughout the novel’s rural strand, therefore, and in particular in its representation of Hori and Dhania, Premchand seems to suggest that the relationship between character, realism, and the human is not as selfevident as it might seem – and indeed, as he himself presented it in his speeches and other writings. Rather, he suggests, in order to capture the truth about society, realism must negotiate between the representation of psychological complexity and the lived experience of dehumanization. Even characterization that seeks to humanize cannot simply assume a stable “humanness” or “reality” – not merely in terms of economic status and differential access to resources but in terms of how a range of people experience the terms, which might, at times, be just as oppressive as uplifting. Thus while on one hand mobilizing realism as a critique of dehumanization, the novel also points to the limits of realism in contexts where the idea of the human has not been fully democratized. It suggests that realism in such contexts is inevitably riven, even while sustained with the hope of potentially realizing human equality in the future. In this way, Premchand suggests that realism on its own will not bring about human equality but rather must balance its utopic vision for common humanity with a simultaneous awareness of the reality of difference. “B y Appe a r a nc e A l on e”: C h a r ac t e r a s Ou t e r w e a r “A philosopher is one who. . .” “One who doesn’t deviate even a hair from the truth [satya],” Onkarnath said, completing the sentence. Khanna objected to the interruption. “I don’t know anything about truth and all that [satya-vatya]. I call a person a philosopher who really is a philosopher [jo philosopher hai saccha].” Khurshed congratulated him. “What a perfect definition [sacchi taarif ] you’ve given of a philosopher! God, that’s superb! A philosopher is one who’s a philosopher. No denying that!” – Godan (201)


Itineraries of Character

In contrast with the rural strand, Premchand depicts his urban characters relatively superficially or, in Forster’s terms, flatly. As minor characters, in some sense this is not surprising; realism has always been premised on the paradox that despite the desire for democratic inclusion, a novel can only have one protagonist (Woloch 30–1), and on the basis of Premchand’s stated interest in political uplift through representation, it makes sense that the more elite characters are sidelined. As mentioned earlier, however, Premchand was invested throughout his oeuvre in the realist representation of elite characters as much as rural ones, suggesting that his political vision lies in the wholeness of the village rather than merely a vindication of one of its component parts. From this perspective, Godan’s urban strand cannot be dismissed as a politically motivated move to delegitimize the elite characters by representing them without depth but instead might be seen as a means of continuing Premchand’s exploration of the problem of characterization, humanism, and realism in Godan at large. Rather than an aesthetically inferior subset of the novel, we might see the urban strand as an aesthetically experimental supplement to its rural counterpart. Indeed, the urban characters  – obviously very differently positioned from Hori and Dhania  – allow Premchand to put further pressure on realist characterization’s advocacy of humanism, but to do so in a more self-conscious, and even playful way. The urban strand is, in a sense, all about play; although these characters do, like the educated characters in his earlier novels, engage in intellectual and political debates about the future of the nation, they also participate in games and self-reflexive banter to a degree not seen in the other works. The dialogue quoted in this section’s epigraph is a good indication of one of the primary forms this play takes, with meaning emerging in the word itself rather than in its definition, so that the revelatory discovery at the heart of the dialogue is that a philosopher is one who studies philosophy. Premchand does not completely overturn the hierarchical relationship between word and meaning in the urban strand but in what is already light banter among the elite characters it is possible to identify a level of play around the conventional unidirectional relationship between the two levels. This is the playfulness by which, throughout the urban strand, character is conveyed through outerwear, such that the line, “Honestly, your appearance alone [surat se hi] makes it obvious that you’re a philosopher” (76) makes perfect sense. Underlying this is the logic of metonymy, which asserts a relationship between signs that is constituted on the plane of the signs themselves, rather than in the access they provide

The Contours of the Human


to another, deeper realm. In the metonymic representational universe, meaning is produced syntagmatically. Metonymy is, of course, integral to realism; but by foregrounding metonymy in the urban strand, along with the counterintuitive relationship between word and meaning, Premchand pushes us to see both the human and the real as, at least partially, constituted by and in discourse. Thus Premchand introduces the urban characters as effects, to different degrees, of their outerwear or surface appearance, in a playful commentary on the potential emptiness of referent altogether. Tankha, for instance, is introduced as “the. . . gentleman, in coat and pants [jo coatpant mein hain], [who] had once been a lawyer; but when he was unable to make a go of that profession, he had become a broker for an insurance company” (71). Tankha’s “true” character is not only in his Western clothes, their superficiality reinforced by the use of the English “coatpant,” or the fickleness of his vocation, but in the suggestion that we can learn something about Tankha on the basis of this description, that unlike Hori, he is reducible to his outerwear. Premchand then plays with this relation in his presentation of the Brahmin: “The one in a homespun kurta and sandals was Pandit Onkarnath, well-known editor of the daily paper Lightning, a man who had exhausted himself over the problems of the country [jinhein desh ki chinta ne ghula daala hai]” (71). Here Onkarnath’s outerwear is not a sign of his authenticity but of his desired personality; he wears the khadi and chappals precisely in order to convince others of his hard work on behalf of the country. The meaning of the signifiers thus does not lie in any preexisting referent but is produced by the signifier itself.8 The narrative underlines this view of character through a particular kind of indirect discourse found throughout the urban strand, by which the hyperbolic enthusiasm of the expression of support (“a man who had exhausted himself”) is in fact an index of its weakness. A similar disjuncture between outerwear and true character is apparent with Mirza Khurshed, who “was wearing a showy achkan, tight pajamas, and a Muslim cap” and had “made two pilgrimages to Mecca – but he drank heavily. He was a carefree soul, a great joker who was fond of saying that there’s no point in sacrificing our lives for the sake of the poor as long as we don’t obey any of God’s other commandments” (82). Unlike Omkarnath, Khurshed is aware of his own duplicity in wearing the dress of a devout Muslim and drinking alcohol – and that awareness itself becomes part of his character. In all these characterizations there is an element of critique – of the hypocrisy of those who speak on behalf of the nation, for instance, or of religious orthodoxy – but it is overshadowed


Itineraries of Character

by the playfulness of the world that it presents, one in which there is a relatively freer traffic between reality and its representation. In general, critics have tended to see the mode of representation in the urban strand as a failed realism and thus as detracting from the overall force of the novel. As Meenakshi Mukherjee writes, “All critics agree that the rural chapters are more authentic and artistically convincing” (Realism 148). Swan argues that the novel’s “urban characters . . . seem mostly unnecessary. They are put into ridiculous situations so that their moral weaknesses can be shown in sharp contrast to the many faceted, realistic qualities of the villagers” (Review 219). And in the words of Godan’s first English translator: “[Premchand’s] desire to depict certain ideals and certain conflicts may have overweighed the desire for more realistic characterization. . . . When Premchand turns to middle and upper class urban life, his portrait seems less convincing. . . . The author’s ideas and theories are not fully integrated into the narration, and . . . the city characters often seem to be delivering speeches rather than conversing” (Roadarmel xxi). All these views take seriously the Forsterian hierarchy by which flat characters, “constructed round a single idea or quality” (Aspects 67) and functioning as representational types rather than convincing, multidimensional, human beings, “are not in themselves as big achievements as round ones” (72–3).9 This idea that flat characterization is only interpretable as an incomplete realism fails to consider the stakes of flatness as a representational strategy. I suggest that the movement into parody, metonymy, and play in the urban strand, in particular in the realm of characterization, pushes further the treatment of the relationship between realism and the human that Premchand develops in the rural strand. It does this by unmooring the unidirectional relationship between sign and referent, and between outerwear and personality, in order to reformulate basic assumptions about realism’s ability to access, let alone promote, human equality. From this perspective, flatness is not merely an aesthetic deficiency but a form of experiment with the possibilities of realism itself. As Alex Woloch writes, “Flatness simultaneously renders subordinate characters allegorical and, in its compelling distortions, calls attention to the subordination that underlies allegory. Flat characters – or the flattening of characters – becomes a primary site for the dialectic between reference and allegory that is generated out of the distributional matrix” (20). In this sense, the flat representation in the urban strand illuminates not the characters but the stakes of referentiality itself. It takes further Premchand’s seemingly self-evident pronouncement about realism’s democratic and humanist

The Contours of the Human


potential to suggest that, like the philosopher’s truth, the idea of the human might be nothing more than a linguistic effect. This pervasive sensibility of play takes form in the urban strand’s plot as well, in which the characters partake in games and masquerades that continue to put pressure on the idea of character. These games represent negotiations around the relationship of outer aspect to inner personality. For instance, in the first scene in which the urban characters appear, they play a series of practical jokes on one another that specifically exploit false appearances. The first involves the group maneuvering to convince Onkarnath, a practicing Brahmin, to break his religious convictions by drinking alcohol. Malti is the initiator of this ruse; she lavishes praise on the self-important Onkarnath, suggesting that he could be a future leader of the nationalist movement if only he could put aside his caste and religious strictures. Onkarnath falls right into the trap and takes a drink, thus revealing how easily he is puffed up by Malti’s false sycophancy and rhetoric. As in Onkarnath’s earlier introduction, the free indirect discourse is put to the service of hyperbolizing his self-perception: “Never had Pandit Onkarnath been so highly honoured in a distinguished gathering” (85); “The gods were smiling on him at last. . . . His opinion of himself soared” (86). The conceit here is of a character who is so taken by an externally generated description of him – a description that has no bearing on reality – that he transgresses one of his most basic inner principles. Rather than the weakness of these principles (very few would doubt the strength of food restrictions among Brahmins), this game projects the possibility that external attributes – here sycophancy and false self-perception – can actually affect human character. The second practical joke takes this further, when Mehta dresses up like a marauding Pathan, demanding retribution for an alleged robbery in order to test the professed chivalry of the other men gathered there. The Pathan rants and raves, and even threatens Malti’s chastity, but the men cringe in fear rather than approaching him. Eventually, he is stopped only by Hori, who, noticing the Rai Saheb’s absence from the play going on outside, enters and jumps on the intruder, after which the Pathan’s true identity is revealed. In both cases, disguises and rhetoric are not merely presented as false but precisely because of their falsity they are positioned to reveal a truth about personality. Thus despite the fact that she does it via manipulation, Malti’s false praise exposes Onkarnath’s true hypocrisy. Likewise, by playacting the part of the marauder, Mehta exposes a similar hypocrisy in the others, who are revealed to be cowards despite their big talk. Conversely,


Itineraries of Character

his masquerade does not scare Malti, who – besides Hori – is the only one of the group who does not hide in fear. She does not know the Pathan is Mehta; however, she feels a “thrill [anand]” (94) at his approach, and she is attracted to his ruthlessness. This paves the way for Malti’s transformation later in the novel, by which she stops being so fixated on her superficial appearance and starts becoming more “human.” Premchand has elsewhere used games to illuminate an epistemological subtext to his works, as in his short story “Shatranj ke Khiladi [The Chess Players].” This is the story of two Mughal aristocrats, Mirza Sajid Ali and Mir Sahib, who while away the time playing chess, and are so absorbed in their game that they remain oblivious to the historical events taking place around them – here the annexation of Awadh by the British army in 1856. Premchand’s critique is focused on the well-documented apathy of the Mughal aristocracy, their decadence (vilasita) and their lives of luxury, which are seen to have opened the doors for the British colonizers to advance (Pritchett, “Chess” 66). In addition, however, the chess game offers an epistemic structure that represents historical stasis in a particular way: as a spatial arrangement, the chessboard might be considered the concretization of time in space, as it registers the successive arrangements of the pieces without actually representing their movement. It presents a story that can only be told as a sequential series of tableaux, but time is virtually unrepresentable on the chessboard, even though the existence of any particular configuration is of course dependent on it. For Mirza Sajid Ali and Mir Sahib, it is the perfect site from which to remain ironically aloof from the progress of history. In Godan as well, the games about disguise and “true” character work self-reflexively to urge the reader to consider the epistemic assumptions of realism at large. Complementary to the idea of the human as on one hand transcendent, democratic, and requiring scrutiny (as in Premchand’s speeches) and, on the other, as a millstone, a reality that insists on doing damage to the full plenitude of aesthetic experience (as, at times, in the rural strand), here we have an image of the human that is contingent, mutable, and occasionally a product of language itself. In her reading of Felix Holt, Catherine Gallagher discusses the ambivalence of metonymy in realism. She points out that “metonymic” description (375), a mainstay of realist description, “operate[s] on the assumption that observable appearances bespeak deeper moral essences. We come to know [George Eliot’s] characters through what they wear, how they use words, furnish rooms, or dress their hair. We arrive at moral essences by accumulating the specific details of appearance that surround these

The Contours of the Human


essences” (375). At the same time, the fact that these individual details are meant to cohere to represent a certain notion of whole character paradoxically suggests that there is such a thing as wholeness in characterization and thus that, in the end, “signs are not individually very telling” (376). This contradiction means that “most realistic novels . . . ironically exploit the incongruity between appearances and essences; they are full of misunderstandings, isolation, the inadequacy of conventional signifiers” (376). In this way, Gallagher shows how Felix Holt gestures toward the idea “that a mere delineation of appearances, no matter how detailed, could not yield essential truths and values” (384) – a realization that, she argues, sets the stage for the counterclaims of Anglo-American modernism in the next century. Premchand seems to be picking up on a similar ambivalence in the urban strand of Godan, also suggesting an openness around the relationship between appearance and essence. Compared to many other novelists of this period, Premchand made least use of classically modernist literary techniques; yet like Eliot he also seems to be gesturing to a representational universe that is less confined by an a priori understanding of the relationship between characterization and the human. It is not, therefore, that Premchand “displaces” character with the more elusive “voice” (Miller 100) or “personality” (Abbott 401) as in some variants of literary modernism. Through his explorations of the relationship of outerwear to character, however, he does suggest that the integrity of character cannot be assumed in advance, but must be made in and by the text itself, and moreover that in that making there might lie the possibility of new or multiple selves. Thus whereas the potential wholeness of the rural characters is stymied by the ineluctable facts of their humanity  – labor, animality, and mortality – in the urban characters Premchand suggests that wholeness itself might be insufficient. Indeed, in the context of Premchand’s pronouncements on realism as a project of aesthetic democratization, this idea seems surprising, undermining the self-evident status of representational uplift. It does not entail abandoning the premises or promises of realism altogether, however; rather, in playing with realism’s assumptions he offers a reconceptualization  – neither wholly dispirited nor wholly optimistic – of the complex ambivalence realism might have to represent in order to capture inequality across the differential spaces of the nation. Meanwhile, and in what seems a pointed irony in a context in which the relationship between realism and the human is under such persistent reconsideration, the urban characters spend much of their time debating


Itineraries of Character

the question of whether there is such a thing as human nature. Most of the characters believe – or at least advance for the sake of argument – that human nature is an unavoidable obstacle to progress. Mehta, for instance, maintains that “human nature [insaan ka swabhaav] is much the same the world over” (399), characterized by greed and selfishness, and that any attempt to bring about social and economic equality is “opposed to nature [apraakritik]” (75). Malti too refuses to lament people’s cruelty to one another, attributing it to “human nature [swabhaav]” (207). Another landowner argues that “in the world today man’s bestiality is winning out over his humanity [manushya ki pashuta hi uski maanavta par vijay pa rahi hai]” and again attributes this to base instincts: “As long as man [manushya] exists, his bestiality will continue to express itself” (393). Elite characters and reformists advance theoretical positions throughout Premchand’s works, and such dialogues have often been spaces where some of the nuances of nationalism, progressivism, Gandhism, and other ideologies are worked out in overt ways. In Godan, however, the incessant return in the urban characters’ conversations to questions of human nature does seem to indicate simultaneously a fixation with the problem of the human among the intelligentsia – what our humanity means, whether it holds us back – as well as its elusiveness, which suggests that however hard they try, the truth of humanity is not always accessible. The ambivalence between the gravity of these statements about human nature – the rather dystopic vision of progress they suggest  – and their potential meaninglessness, as just another game of the elite, is captured in a narratorial aside in the midst of one of these conversations: “If Dr Mehta had reflected for a moment, he’d have realized that there was no real difference of opinion between the two of them – that they were just quibbling over words [keval shabdon ka her-pher hai]” (398). The novel thus remains significantly ambivalent regarding the question of what makes the human and whether humanity can ever be known or represented. This complicates the confidence with which Premchand had asserted, in the very same year as Godan, that the job of the writer is to “scrutinize . . . human nature with a penetrating eye [manav prakriti ka sookshma drishti se avalokan karta hai].” It suggests that human nature is more ineffable than such a statement implies – that not only might it resist penetration but it might itself be a textual effect. Realism’s aim, the novel suggests, is not simply to illuminate true character but to construct it in the first place, and expose its limits. In this sense, the scrutiny of human nature is not a necessary pathway to truth about character, but might actually lead back to language itself, to “just words.”

The Contours of the Human


“ Wi t h G ob a r G on e”: R e s t l e s s n e s s a n d E f fac e m e n t at t h e Li m i t s of R e a l i s m And God knows what had become of Gobar. Not a word or a sign from him. – Godan (159)

Within this disaggregated character-scape, it is Hori and Dhania’s son Gobar who comes closest to embodying Premchand’s discontent with “present social and mental conditions [vartamaan maansik aur saamaajik avasthaaon se]” (Premchand, “Sahitya” 80), and his belief in “energy and ardor [harkat aur garmi]” (80), and “progressivism and restlessness [gati aur bechaini]” (87).10 Even in his youth, Gobar refuses the resigned attitude of his father  – arguing, for instance, against Hori’s acceptance of society’s hierarchies, that “God created us all equal” (31). Gobar is thus “an antithesis of an ‘ideal peasant’” (Rai, “Realism” 40); he is one of the few to display his anger against the machinations of the village elite and the system as a whole. Moreover, he is constantly in motion, unsettled, and eager to change his own fate. Gobar seems to embody the sense of desire and futurity with which Premchand inflected his novels, and which he saw realism as the ideal means for representing.11 Yet in one of the striking ironies of the novel, the character who embodies the progressive ethos of the author is in fact barely represented at all within it. We can piece together Gobar’s story – his migration to the city, the various jobs he has while there, his marriage and his children, the strike he becomes involved in, and so on – but he features centrally in very few actual pages. The epigraph at the beginning of this section illuminates the constitutive irony of Gobar’s presence in the novel, in which he is consistently described by means of his absence. The lack of “word or sign [na haal na hawaal]” about Gobar is not exceptional; it constitutes the entire logic of his characterization. The novel thus presents Gobar as a problem, a paradox: although he embodies Premchand’s realist ideal, he inhabits the text primarily as an absence. The paradox is only resolved if we begin to see Premchand’s realism as built precisely on this absence, even as this calls into question the entire ontology of realism. Godan presents a realism premised on the potential absence of essence or truth – a realism that exists at the limits of representation itself. In this way, Gobar brings together the diverse threads of rural and urban to suggest that not only is the referent of realism heterogeneous, indeterminate, and subject to play, but that it approaches absence altogether – marked by a lack of “word or sign.” Throughout the novel, Gobar is represented on the verge of effacement. On the very first page, he is introduced indirectly, which becomes the


Itineraries of Character

template for his future representations: “Hori Ram finished feeding his two bullocks and then turned to his wife Dhaniya. ‘Send Gobar to hoe the sugar cane’” (15). This sentence establishes Hori as the novel’s protagonist and Dhania as the deuteragonist, who appears only secondarily in the narrative frame. Gobar, on the other hand, is tertiary, indirectly invoked but also, in what will become a common pattern, absent in body from the scene. Insofar as he is Hori’s son, here the displacement is unremarkable; however, this pattern continues even when Gobar has left his family behind. Even when he arrives in Lucknow, his new centrality as a protagonist making his own way in the world outside the shadow of his family is mitigated by the utter anonymity of urban life: Gobar, bewildered, wondered where so many people could have come from. They seemed to be falling all over each other. There were at least four or five hundred labourers in the bazaar waiting to be hired for the day – masons and carpenters, blacksmiths and ditch-diggers, cot-stringers, basket-carrying porters and stone-cutters. At the sight of the crowd, Gobar lost heart. How could all these people get work? And here he was without even a tool in his hand. No one would even know the kind of work he could do, much less hire him. Without a tool, who’d even notice him? (174)

Here Gobar suddenly finds himself replaceable – one of many potential laborers clamoring to be hired. Gobar is “bewildered [hairaan]” on seeing “so many men [itne aadmi]” and “aadmi par aadmi gira padta tha,” (lit., men upon men were falling over each other). The city seems to stage here, for Gobar’s benefit, a literalization of the dehumanization that will constitute his identity, confirming Bhola’s earlier sense that some men do not have the privilege of being fully human – and adds to it the metonymic register of the urban strand, in which one man is merely replaceable with another. The repetition in this passage of the word aadmi, as well as the list of the different professions, re-creates aesthetically this effect of overwhelmingness – into which Gobar disappears. He imagines that brandishing a tool might distinguish him from the crowd; but the tool, a classic metonymy of labor, only reinforces Gobar’s partiality along with his invisibility. The sole distinction he can imagine for himself is that of an ideal worker, thus limiting the possibilities for resignifying aadmi outside of any discourse other than capitalism. Gobar’s experiences in the city continue to be marked by effacement as he quickly gets swept up into “a great army of four hundred ragged downand-outers” (174) and is lost to the narrative once again. Although in part a commentary on the alienation of the city, there is a notable absence of nostalgia; it was not that Gobar was fully human in the village, only to

The Contours of the Human


become fragmented in the city, but rather he was effaced from the very first page of the novel. Alienation, therefore, or partiality, is not only a symptom of city life but an effect of realism itself. The continual effacement of Gobar’s character thus constitutes a critique not only of new forms of labor but of form or mode itself. Even in the few moments when Gobar appears at the center of the narrative frame, his identity – who Gobar is and the nature of his character  – remains in doubt. At first when he returns to the village, having transformed his appearance completely, he begins to be identified through his new outerwear: “Jangi was already awed by Gobar’s splendid appearance. He himself had never been able to afford even rawhide sandals, and here was Gobar wearing shiny leather shoes [boot (Eng.)]. He’d become a regular gentleman [babu-sahib], what with a clean striped shirt and neatly parted hair. This immaculate figure was very different from the poor and ragged Gobar he’d known” (263). Because of these changes in his outerwear, “everyone he met treated him with respect” (259). Yet it is unclear at this point whether Gobar has in fact changed, or whether, unlike Hori in the passage quoted earlier, he is willing to dress a part that he cannot in fact sustain. In the narrative we never find out. Unlike Hori’s moral observance or Pandit Onkarnath’s hypocrisy, here the relationship between Gobar’s clothing and his character remains unknown. Such unknowability persists around Gobar. During his trip back to the village, Gobar feels more emboldened to stand up to the moneylenders and others of the village elite on behalf of his father, thus again seeming to marshal the progressive, radical energy that Premchand captures in his speech, with its rejection of “apathy, decadence and indifference [jadta, patan, aur laaparvahi]” (Premchand, “Sahitya” 81). Even so, nothing happens to this energy in Godan. After a fight with his father, Gobar merely leaves, returning to Lucknow and resuming his absent role in the novel. In the city, anonymity effaces him once again: “He found that another vendor had set up shop at the place where he had been doing business and the customers had forgotten him” (337). Finally, after a stint of factory work, he is diminished altogether: “By the time he returned home at dusk after a full day’s work, there was not a spark of life left in his body” (339). Gobar’s story thus diffuses very rapidly. Even when he receives a letter requesting him to visit Belari he does so too late, by which time, and because of all the family had faced, “the future loomed darkly ahead with no path in sight, and their spirits had become numbed” (427). Likewise, he returns to Lucknow too early, and ends up missing his father’s death.


Itineraries of Character

In this way, Gobar becomes the ultimate figure sous rature. Lacking any representational substance, he comes to be defined by his absence, and that is how he is described throughout the novel – in language such as, “Jhuniya’s brothers, armed with sticks, went around hunting for Gobar” (153); “[Jhunia] became more and more miserable with the absence of news about Gobar” (153); “‘That damned boy lit the fire and then ran away leaving the sparks untended’” (161); “‘Who does the baby look like?’ Hori asked. Dhaniya smiled. ‘Just like Gobar’” (162); “‘Has Gobar gone alone?’” (262); and “With Gobar and Jhuniya gone, the house seemed desolate” (297). Premchand represents Gobar by virtue of this negative space, producing a constitutive irony, that the novel’s most progressive embrace of realism is the precise site where realism’s referent empties out. Coupled with the novel’s overall interest in writing a realism premised on the multiplicity of significations of terms such as “human” and the “real,” Gobar seems to take furthest Premchand’s literary experiment by presenting a realism at the limits of representation itself. Thus although Gobar never actualizes the overt political rebellion that his character seems to embrace, reading Gobar in relation to the representational economy of the novel as a whole suggests that Godan’s forward orientation lies not solely in the political mobilization made possible by youth, restlessness, or simmering rebellion, but in the very indeterminacy of the relationship between the conventional elements of realism. It is precisely where Gobar fails to be the paradigmatic peasant rebel that he becomes the site at which the novel offers its most radical critique, locating its political center in the sensibilities of impermanence and absence that realism is commonly considered unable to describe. As earlier, Gobar’s epistemic significance is advanced in another game – but this time by means of his exclusion from it. The game here is kabaddi, a traditional north Indian sport similar to tag that has specific allegorical significance within nationalist discourse, idealizing the body on the basis of an aesthetics of “male physical culture” taken from ancient India (Wakankar 48).12 When Gobar first comes to the city and is swept along by the anonymous crowd, it is in fact Mirza Khurshed who is leading the men away, having arranged a kabaddi game to demonstrate to the landowning classes “the strength still possessed by the old men of India!” (175–6). Nevertheless, although Gobar is brought along in the mass that Mirza leads to the village, we find out that “Gobar, having been paid earlier, was assigned the job of watering the plants. He felt somewhat cheated at not getting to play kabaddi, as he could have taken on these old men and trounced them soundly” (175).

The Contours of the Human


Gobar’s exclusion from the game means that his body will not be allegorized as part of the healthy body politic that Mirza envisions. This precludes the possibility that Gobar might be interpreted as a paragon of national masculinity, of the health and virility of the nation. In his effacement, therefore, Gobar is prevented from becoming the representative body that might keep him centered in the narrative as, in the model of the urban characters, a “type,” or as representative of something else larger than himself. Although the kabaddi match offers Gobar, like Bimala in Ghare Baire, the possibility of finding form in allegory, unlike Bimala this possibility is ultimately denied to him. Although Bimala’s symbolization is mostly oppressive to her individuality, its absence amounts to a denial of meaning altogether. Excluded from the game, Gobar is also excluded from the nation and from the epistemic register – national allegory – that links the novel to the nation in the first place. At the same time, Mirza’s kabaddi match is denied the possibility to represent the nation-in-making. For although it is a potentially loaded allegory, at the last minute it fails to signify. Far from representing the virile, Indian nation, the kabaddi players are presented as “half-dead old men, little more than skeletons, their gums and their bellies equally empty, [who] hitched up their garments, slapped their thighs in challenge, and leaped around as though their ancient bones had been rejuvenated” (175). Rather than representing the vigor of India’s men, the game represents the opposite, and the event fails to signify beyond itself. This is only reinforced by the widespread sense, among the spectators, that Mirza is organizing the game as part of a “crazy scheme . . . to take money from the rich and give it to the poor” (175), which highlights kabaddi’s metonymic significance rather than its allegorical one, in which its meaning lies not on another level but in its transactional value, as a conduit for the transfer of funds.13 The result of this ironic presentation of kabaddi is that the whole issue of allegory is invoked and simultaneously displaced. Gobar, imbued with so much allegorical potential, is again absent from most of the scene. Rather, he appears in momentary flashes – for instance, to “dr[a]w some water from the well [so that . . . ] the two friends [Mehta and Mirza could] start . . . their baths” (182), and, at the very end, to catch Mirza’s eye: “As Mirza started to leave he saw that Gobar was still watering the plants” (184). On one hand this is a classic partial embodiment, whereby a marginalized character is registered through the “momentary performance of [his] useful functions” (Robbins x); however, I believe it goes beyond a political critique of the feudal economy to an aesthetic critique of realism


Itineraries of Character

itself. In these partial embodiments and scenes of absent invocations, the novel ironically indexes a space of presence that is obscured in the text. This space is filled with other kinds of stories, but ones whose content and endings we have no access to. In this way, Premchand turns on its head Manju Jain’s formulation, suggesting that realism is not only a mode of inclusion, despite its democratic promise, but one of exclusion as well. He rewrites realism as a mode for representing both the contours of the material world and the outlines of its own limits. Only in this deeply self-reflexive and aesthetically compromised way – only in confronting its own potential inability to signify – can realism paradoxically live up to its democratic aspirations. Just as Gobar is elusive through realism he is also unredeemable via allegory; in his negativity he takes furthest the representational challenge that the entire novel engages. From an author who famously advocated representing “the problems of life” and “those questions . . . that affect society and individuals” (“Sahitya” 76), and who has most often been read from those more conventionally social angles, this focus on negativity is unexpected. It once again invokes the absent, although potentially imminent cow with which the novel ends, suggesting that despite its investment in realism, Godan is really about all the things that lie outside the traditional realist lens. Thus it is in Gobar’s unlikely figure that Premchand pushes the novel’s thematic concern with possibility to the brink, invoking the potential limits of realism, and at the same time resurrecting realism as the mode capable of representing those limits. In this way, Godan is not a critique of realism or a suggestion that authors must move past realism in order to represent a fractured yet aspirational historical sensibility. Paradoxically enough, Gobar’s presence-less presence seems to offer an alternative model for realist characterization under colonialism, but one that is haunted by a relentless negativity. As we have seen, this negativity is not a gap in the novel’s representational logic but uses character precisely to capture that ethos of projection and possibility marking Godan’s reigning topos, which suggests that the reality of human nature is not as penetrable as it might seem. I suggest that only when Premchand’s critical pronouncements on realist characterization are read symptomatically, for the crucial ambivalence that necessitates their insistent repetition, do they begin to account for the novel’s complexity. In a unique way, Godan offers a vision of realism in which the “real” is allowed to encompass the material and the actual as well as that which is always on the margins of representation, the fleeting, the ephemeral, the vying for recognition and the never-quite-recognized. Although

The Contours of the Human


the novel is so often read as an exemplum of progressive realism, in fact the vision it offers is much more ambivalent, not only about the possibilities for actual rebellion but about the very assumptions by which the village and the city, progress and stasis, humanity and inequality, and reality and utopia are representable in the first place.

Ch apter 3

Experiments with Gandhi

You can serve the country only with this body.

– Mohandas Gandhi1

If Godan is marked by a profound openness surrounding what defines the human – writing a realism that, at its extreme, is built on the absence of its object of representation – then on the other side of the characterspectrum we have a contrasting formation: character oversuffused with meaning. We saw in the earlier discussion of Tagore’s Ghare Baire the way in which the symbolic or paradigmatic character operates as a persistent shadow to realist characterization in the novel under colonialism – at once threatening a loss of individuality but at the same time offering lives the charismatic promise of meaning beyond their individual selves. This is the other side of the “roundedness” that we saw in Forster’s theory of character, in which multiple dimensions of a character are presented to the reader: a character who has too many traits, who is so replete with signification that she irredeemably alters the representational economy of the text. This is akin to what Bakhtin describes in the epic as the “fully finished and completed being,” in which “what is complete is also something hopelessly ready-made; he is all there, from beginning to end he coincides with himself, he is absolutely equal to himself” (Dialogic 34). For Bakhtin, this figure is inassimilable to the radical openness of the novel, in whose protagonist “always remain[s] . . . unrealized potential and unrealized demands” (Dialogic 37).2 Crucial to Bakhtin’s distinction between the epic and the novel is the assumption that, in their ideal form, realist characters do not act according to external motivations or overdetermined historical or political narratives but instead respond to contingent, fragmentary, and even irrational whims generated sometimes from their internal psychologies, but sometimes from no underlying logic at all. Stanley Fish, for instance, sees the modern realist narrative as built on “the logic of human freedom 60

Experiments with Gandhi


and choice: the freedom to take a step that is determining and the choice to be a character in an action that is either fortunate or unfortunate” (qtd. in Ermarth 11–12). Raymond Williams similarly defines realist characterization as achieving a balance between social reality and individual consciousness, in which “neither element . . . is there as a priority. The society is not a background against which the personal relationships are studied, nor are the individuals merely illustrations of aspects of the way of life” (22). This reflects a modern society that values “change and mobility” (Ermarth 12) and that privileges contingency over fate, and individual freedom over “divine fiat,” over the idea that “one reaches a point not because he chooses, but because he has been chosen, that is, redeemed” (Fish, qtd. in Ermarth 12). As with so many other modern values, however, the idea of individual freedom occupies an ambivalent place in Indian realism; and indeed, the relationship between contingency and overdetermination forms a second axis along which novels of the 1930s put pressure on realist expectations for character. If contingency defines a realist ideal, then oversignification threatens that ideal. Yet in a context where meaning, whether national, cultural, or so on, is not a given, but the object of desire, oversignification offers a certain attraction. Thus characters become battlegrounds, as it were, not only between different symbols but between the conflicting registers of symbol and contingency, realism and allegory. The contradiction between acting completely for and from oneself on one hand and as part of a larger narrative on the other – national or otherwise – raises questions around not merely whether freedom exists in India but its very desirability in relation to its potential costs. Allegory is the mode at which these questions coalesce. I understand allegory not as the pinning down of meaning, as it is generally considered,3 but as a term that “names the fact that language can signify two things at once, saying one thing and yet meaning something else” (Mieszkowski 45). Allegory allows for the “doubling or reduplicating [of] extratextual material” (Slemon 158) in ways that are “profoundly discontinuous, a matter of breaks and heterogeneities” (Jameson, “Third-World” 73).4 Indeed traditionally  – for instance, in colonial representations  – ­a llegory signifies based on “what Frederic Jameson calls a ‘master code’: something already given” (Slemon 161). For this reason it is often considered a ­“constrained and mechanical mode of expression” (Slemon  157) and a form of “alienat[ion] . . . from the reality it seeks to represent” (Hillenbrand 642). In a context marked by potentiality and desire, however, in which the “master code” has yet to be written, allegory is in fact productive of a


Itineraries of Character

range of possible meanings, including meanings engendered by hope and an unknown future. For Walter Benjamin, “allegory names not a code to be deciphered – for example, a set of emblems or personified figures, the meanings of which one can look up in a book  – but a disjunction potentially inherent to all artistic media between the mode and meaning of an expression” (Mieszkowski 46). Thus, Hillenbrand confirms, during times of historical transition allegory becomes the somewhat paradoxical source “of new meaning. As such allegory ends up registering the disintegration of fixity just as doggedly as it may reaffirm ‘truth’ in didactic fashion” (642). In this way, allegory might be seen in its most general sense as offering the possibility of “a ‘higher’ reach of meaning to the mundane and the merely social” (Sunder Rajan 84). In allegory, says Benjamin, “any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else” (Origin 175). This is significant because: With this possibility, a destructive, but just verdict is passed on the profane world: it is characterized as a world in which the detail is of no great importance. But it will be unmistakably apparent, especially to anyone who is familiar with allegorical textual exegesis, that all of the things which are used to signify derive, from the very fact of their pointing to something else, a power which makes them appear no longer commensurable with profane things, which raises them onto a higher plane, and which can, indeed, sanctify them. Considered in allegorical terms, then, the profane world is both elevated and devalued. (175)

This dialectic, in which allegory is a source of potential restriction and simultaneously a charismatic register of meaning beyond the purely mundane, means that allegory is not merely antithetical to realism but a potentially intersecting mode of signification. Allegory in this sense underwrites realism’s own contradictory relationship to “the profane,” on one hand reveling in the mundane world but at the same time arranging and aestheticizing the elements of that world to indicate meaning beyond it. From this perspective, far from limiting meaning, allegory draws attention to precisely how realism means beyond one individual story and its particularized circumstances. Thus when they appear in novels of the 1930s, oversignified, allegorical, or epic characters are not merely survivals from earlier nonmodern genres but sites at which writers actively engage with the larger problematic of meaning, and questions of individualism and freedom at large, in Indian modernity. In this period, oversignified characters often appear either as Gandhi himself or as a Gandhi-like figure. In either case, they are semi-divine or saintlike characters, whose actions unfold according

Experiments with Gandhi


to external forces such as fate, satyagraha (truth-struggle), or karma, “the path of action laid out for one in the community/society” (Bhaskar 60). Likewise, their charisma compels other characters to put aside their individual desires and act according to the dictates of the saints. Such characters were not new to the 1930s; an early novel such as Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali Anandamath (1882) was also built on the productive contradiction between human and saint. Bankim’s novel revolves around a group of men who “enter the forest as individual householders or men of the world . . . [and] are transmuted into a united order of celibates who have agreed to renounce specificities of caste and status for the sake of a common, dharmic, higher objective” (Lipner 56). Some, such as the guru Satyananda, find this transformation unproblematic; others find it very difficult to renounce worldly desires such as wealth and sex. The protagonist, Mahendra, for instance, initially does not want to give up his wife and child, and only after an extended internal struggle comes to realize the importance of the cause. Thus in Anandamath, a work that actively invented a nationalist iconography, the question of the relationship between realist character and allegory becomes central to what it does as a novel, which is to disabuse the distinction between averageness and greatness as part of an impetus for Bengalis to reimagine themselves not as a subjected race but as a powerful one.5 As one of the first Indian novels, Anandamath sets the stage for an entire literary mode founded on the dialectic between human and saint. Suresht Renjen Bald argues that across the board, modern Indian protagonists tend to demonstrate heroic traits taken from the ancient epics, such as “self-control, asceticism, non-attachment to worldly goods and family ties, and an unmitigated devotion to the Truth” (480 n.30) – but what he misses is that these virtues are continually tested in the Indian novel, and are called to account for themselves as virtues. They are never deployed without reason; the novel ironizes the epic hero. Mohandas K. Gandhi’s return from South Africa in 1919 and his rapid rise to pan-India fame, his increasingly recognized status as a saint or figure of divine power (Amin, “Gandhi” 2), coupled with his eccentric political practices and his elaboration of the relationship between personal, bodily practice, and the larger world of moral, ethical, and political change (Alter, “Gandhi’s”), made him a salient figure around which authors took up such questions of character, allegory, and symbolism. By the late 1920s, Gandhi was already what might be called an oversignified figure, “resplendent in his suffering for the people and, in turn, requiring and even demanding their obedience to his injunctions” (Amin 15). Stories


Itineraries of Character

circulated around his miraculous powers, and what was considered, with echoes of Benjamin, his “exalted simplicity” (Anand, Sword 203). As he traveled around India, Gandhi was lauded and worshipped; devotees lined up merely to catch sight of him, and miracles were attributed to his very presence. Rabindranath Tagore named him the “Mahatma,” or “great soul” (Bhattacharya, Mahatma 1), a designation by which he became commonly known. In this way, Gandhi became a meta-allegorical figure par excellence. Not only did he inspire nonsecular devotion and impel political action by virtue of his very presence, but his political protest was built on an allegorical logic that linked individual practice with the larger development of the nation. Small adjustments in one’s personal bodily practice  – a change in diet, for instance, an extended period of fasting, or sexual abstinence – would, according to this logic, effect broader change. As Joseph Alter elaborates: “While working toward reform on a national scale, Gandhi often delineated the problem of action in terms of a discrete microphysics of self-discipline required of those involved. Even when writing about national and international events he seems to have been preoccupied with himself, with his subjectivity in the context of dramatic sociopolitical change” (“Gandhi’s” 304) His interest in bodily experiment “does not unlock the mysteries of a great mind so much as the potential of a great nation” (305). Thus the figure of Gandhi became a locus for the condensation of a number of allegorical energies. I thus suggest that the insistent appearance of Gandhi or the Gandhian hero in realist novels of the 1930s does not solely constitute an expression of support or criticism for his political vision but serves more broadly as a means of engaging with the relationship between contingency and overdetermination in realism, and with the status of the individual and of individual freedom in nationalist thought as a whole.6 Although many novelists of this period propagated modern values and were skeptical of the sanctification of any individual, their works do not in fact reject all forms of allegorical overdetermination. Rather, they seem to recognize, to different degrees, that larger narratives and connections between different levels of experience might be necessary for individual actions and lives to have meaning beyond the particularity of the individual text. They advance the idea, therefore, against common understandings, that allegory is not antithetical to realism, and they even suggest that allegory might be realism’s prerequisite. Coming at the questions raised by Godan from another angle, the period’s “Gandhian” novels consider at what point does being human rely on a larger narrative of meaning, and at what cost must individual

Experiments with Gandhi


freedom and the contingency of the individual be protected from narratives whose sources and pressures lie elsewhere. Thus while Rushdie laments the fact that Indians are “handcuffed to history” (Midnight’s 3), in the 1930s, when the nationalist movement was still underway, the image of the handcuffs reads as too strong. Certainly, the novels of this era capture the fear that the compulsion to be representative – to be a paragon – might become a manacle by irreparably dampening individual freedom. Yet rather than responding to this threat by rejecting allegorization altogether and valorizing an unmoored contingency in its stead, these works present realism as a mode that must be able to represent this very threat. These authors in different ways suggest that realist character is constituted by the dialectic between contingency and overdetermination, and in doing so offer a new interpretation on realism itself. This chapter argues that the inclusion of Gandhi in the novel was a continuation and condensation of the Indian novel’s sustained experimentation with realist characterization. By looking at four novels of the period, Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935) and The Sword and the Sickle (1940), Premchand’s Rangbhumi (1925), and Raja Rao’s Kanthapura (1938), I show how the characterization of Gandhi and other saintlike figures raises questions of agency, the ontology of the individual, and the role of contingency versus external narratives such as sacrifice or destiny in human lives. On one hand, in all the novels Gandhi and Gandhian characters both respond to and struggle with narrative pressures from the outside world. At the same time these characters by virtue of their saintly charisma produce their own narratological force fields, as it were, which preclude other characters in their proximity from acting independently of them. Yet the charisma of allegory and symbolism are presented not merely as violence but as a site of meaning making, without which there would be no significance to realist narrative beyond itself. C on t i ng e nc y a n d S y m b ol : G a n dh i i n t h e Nov e l A small number of Gandhian novels actually represent the historical Gandhi as a character in their plots. Mulk Raj Anand (1905–2004) experiments with including Gandhi in two of his novels, Untouchable (1935) and The Sword and the Sickle (1940). Although the two works are generally seen as “incompatible” (Arora 108) because of what is seen as Untouchable’s positive representation of Gandhi and Sword’s negative one, I suggest that both works engage the dialectic between allegory and contingency to offer a realism that must accommodate the potentially powerful sway


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of charismatic personhood alongside – as part of – its political interest in representing average Indian lives. Anand’s personal experiences with Gandhi set the stage for his engagement with this figure in his fictional works. A committed Marxist (for instance, joining the International Brigade of the Spanish Civil War) and founding member of the AIPWA, Anand held a complex relationship with Gandhi and Gandhian philosophy (Jha 42–5 and 55–9). After reading an account Gandhi had written about a young sweeper in his journal Young India, Anand visited the Sabarmati Ashram in 1927, where he met with the Mahatma and shared with him his most recent work (L. Gandhi, “Novelists” 175). Gandhi found the first draft of Anand’s untouchable novel too distanced in its representation; as Anand later recorded, “The Mahatma sent me to the people before I should write any more novels” (“Sources” 20). He cites this as a formative experience, which moved him firmly “away from the upper and middle section fictions” and made him realize, “I wished to recreate the folk, whom I knew intimately, from the lower depths, the lumpens and the suppressed, oppressed, repressed, those who had seldom appeared in our literatures” (20). This model for literary realism was to become a central part of the philosophy of the AIPWA. Although it was Gandhi who led Anand to the masses, however, Anand exhibited a level of discontent with some of the anti-humanist premises of Gandhian thought. He believed, like Gandhi, in representing the poor – but he did not want that representation to necessarily serve a larger, ideological narrative. By contrast, his “new . . . religion, . . . of love for people, which has been called Mulk’s humanism” (“Sources” 21) was based in Anand’s faith in the irreducibility of the particular. It required “fac[ing] humans,” opening one’s eyes to “the hollow-cheeked men with dazed eyes, the women who grew old, before they were young, from drudgery, forced childbearing and beatings from husbands, naked children, with distended bellies and big eyes, beggars whining for alms” (20) – but with attention to their humanity rather than their representativeness. Thus ideally a focus on the poor would not turn into a lesson or a parable, or become a narrative of awakening for the nation at large, but retain an ethos of contingency, based in the “worship of each character” (21, emphasis mine). For the realist writer, Anand maintained, “characters are concrete human beings and not generalized symbols” (21). The investment in the representation of the oppressed classes on one hand and the reluctance to turn such characters into symbols for something else on the other will become an underlying preoccupation of Anand’s fiction. Can a marginalized character be fully represented without some

Experiments with Gandhi


larger meaning being made of his marginality? Anand never discovers an easy answer to this question – committed to the contingency of character and the literary exploration of individuality, and, at the same time, as a progressive writer, considering his work to have meaning in the fight “for the freedom of my country” (Conversations 45). In the end, Anand leaves the question open. This is even the case in his overtly socialist-­realist novel Coolie (1935), in which the disillusionment and dehumanization of the protagonist, Munoo, find expression at a meeting of the All-Indian Trade Union Federation, in the course of which Munoo finally begins to see the connection between himself and other workers, and to realize his humanity as one of “the poor and the humble . . . the meek and the gentle . . . swindled out of [their] rights, and broken and body and soul” (233). Yet despite this seemingly liberating narrative of humanistic socialism, Munoo ends up falling ill and dying at the end of the novel, and it all amounts to nothing. In this ending Anand seems to be suggesting the insufficiency of conventional narratives of working-class awakening in contexts such as India – and, more generally, of allegorical narratives to necessarily redeem their complex and irreducible protagonists. Anand takes this interest in the relationship between contingency and overdetermination even further in his Gandhian novels. This has partly to do with Anand’s personal ambivalence toward Gandhian politics  – which perhaps raised the stakes of the debate in his eyes  – but it also has to do with the constitutive ambivalence of the Gandhian movement itself. Unlike the modern model of socialist awakening evident in Coolie, a significant proportion of the energies of the Gandhian movement were contained in the figure of Gandhi himself. Likewise, as mentioned earlier in this section, Gandhi’s political practice relied on what might be considered an allegorical logic. Any representation of Gandhian awakening must to some degree account for the contradiction between the progressive force of his politics and the reactionary discourses of hero worship, religion, and leaderly charisma through which his politics were disseminated. In this way, writing Gandhi into the novel raises questions not only surrounding what Gandhi represents or how he represents others but the very problem of reading character as representative of anything else in the first place. Anand’s Gandhian novels simultaneously illuminate the problem of Gandhi in the nationalist movement and the problem of character in realism at large. Mulk Raj Anand’s day-in-the-life novel Untouchable remains his most famous work for its searing representation of the defeated subjectivity of


Itineraries of Character

Bakha, its young untouchable protagonist. The story follows Bakha as he endures constant dehumanizing treatment and gains an increased understanding of the relationship between his identity and how others treat him. Unable to find work other than cleaning latrines, Bakha is at the beck and call of others in the cantonment town where he lives. He moves from one experience of humiliation to another as he collects trash from the street, hinging around the profound fear others have of touching him or anything with which he has come in contact – for instance, the well, which he is not allowed to approach. No one greets him as he passes by, even people he knows; he is constantly cursed at; he looks fondly at boys going to school, knowing he will never be allowed entry; and everywhere he goes he must call out his approach so as to avoid defiling the caste Hindus whom he passes on the street. At one point his wanderings take him toward a temple, where he is attracted by a religious song, but he inadvertently defiles the hallowed site, turning the entire worshipping crowd against him. Meanwhile he tries to protect his sister, Sohini, who has been molested by a Brahmin priest. As he goes on his way, he begs for food, he talks to a Christian missionary whose rhetoric about salvation he does not understand, and at the end of all this, he hears of a visit to the area by Gandhi, who is to speak at a public gathering. He goes to the event and hears Gandhi’s views on untouchability, which both excite and depress him. The short novel ends on a note of ambivalence, as it is not clear to what extent he has been inspired by Gandhi’s support of the eradication of untouchability and to what extent it has merely reinforced his despair. By all accounts, Bakha is a unique protagonist in Indian realism; as an outcaste he is socially invisible, and thus outside of the domain of the representable. Anand’s project to write Bakha is in this way the converse of Premchand’s to represent Gobar  – whereas Premchand puts pressure on the conventional subject of realism by foregrounding Gobar’s absence, Anand takes an absent figure and constructs an entire narrative frame precisely for the purpose of rendering him present. In this sense Anand’s realism is overtly aspirational; rather than an inert mode, it constitutes an arena of political contestation, in which representation is to be wrenched away from its association with the bourgeoisie and bestowed on characters at the margins of society. This is a project imbued with desire, to create actively its own structures of being and presence where they do not as yet exist. As Ben Conisbee Baer writes: “Untouchable’s Bakha represents, as it were, the subaltern as potential ‘people,’ as becoming-people, not-quite people, public-to-come” (584).7

Experiments with Gandhi


Yet even in Baer’s recognition of the precarious ontology of Anand’s aspirational mode, the elision he makes between Bakha and “the ­subaltern,” the “people” and the “public,” is an apt reminder of how easily a character such as Bakha can become a symbol within aspirational realism and lose the contingency that defines him as a realist protagonist in the first place. In his preface to the original 1935 edition of Untouchable, E. M. Forster praised the novel for its “right mixture of insight and detachment” and for its sensitive characterization of its eighteen-year-old protagonist, Bakha, as “a real individual, lovable, thwarted, sometimes grand, sometimes weak, and thoroughly Indian” (Preface vii). Underlying Forster’s phrasing is his own interpretation of the balance between empathy and identification on one hand and exemplariness on the other. For Forster, Bakha is “a real individual” because he is flawed, but also because he is representative of something larger than himself  – in this case an “Indian.” The slippages in both Baer’s and Forster’s language between contingency and paragonicity point to an underlying preoccupation of the novel itself. Its structure, for instance, its day-in-the-life plot, reads as a narrativization of pure contingency.8 If in classic realism character and plot exist in a kind of balance, with neither ultimately determining, in the day-in-the-life the author basically does away with plot and instead follows, as it were, her protagonist as she faces her daily tasks and tribulations. In this way, Untouchable offers an aesthetic model built entirely around the idea of character freed from external motivation or allegorical appropriation. It establishes a formal limit-case, constructing a form to showcase the idea – and, indeed, ideal – of a character whose motivations arise completely out of himself and his random movement, regardless of external narratives or dictates. Thus although the larger narrative of caste bias certainly functions in Bakha’s mistreatment, the chapterless, formal structure of the novel responds to it by representing pure contingency, structured around Bakha’s aimless movement and marked by primarily spatial indicators: “He moved slowly on to the brick platform of the well” (19); “The lane leading to the outcastes’ street was soon left behind” (24); “He was walking in the middle of the road” (33); “A busy street lay before the brother and sister when they emerged from the temple” (56); “With a mind occupied by things, Bakha didn’t find the way home very long” (66); “He began to walk back” (80); “As he rambled along” (84); “As he sauntered along” (85); “Bakha strode along in the open through the stones in the old river-bed that stretched itself between the hills and the barracks” (90); “He walked about aimlessly now” (102); “He tore across the


Itineraries of Character

plain without even looking back” (109); “He advanced eagerly” (109); and so on. For the most part, therefore, the novel goes where Bakha goes. Yet at the same time, several metanarratives appear throughout Untouchable that offer potential significance and direction to Bakha’s life, exposing the impossibility of absolute contingency. The most obvious of these is Anand’s narrator – who at times does exactly what Anand himself had expressed concern about: turning characters into symbols. Specifically, the narrator contests the dehumanization that Bakha faces with a rhetoric of empowerment that is in marked contrast to the mostly free indirect discourse of most of the novel. This rhetoric aestheticizes the body of the laborer and celebrates self-discovery and the triumph of selfconsciousness in a language that is clearly not Bakha’s. For example, in a type of juxtaposition seen throughout the novel, a brutal verbal attack on Bakha by one of the officers at the cantonment is followed by a redemptive narratorial aside: “Why aren’t the latrines clean, you rogue of a Bakhe! There is not one fit to go near! I have walked all round! Do you know you are responsible for my piles? I caught the contagion sitting on one of those unclean latrines!” Every muscle of his [Bakha’s] body, hard as a rock when it came into play, seemed to shine forth like glass. He must have had immense pent-up resources lying deep, deep in his body, for as he rushed along with considerable skill and alacrity from one doorless latrine to another, cleaning, brushing, pouring phenoil, he seemed as easy as a wave sailing away on a deep-bedded river. (7–8)

Some critics have taken such disparities in the narrative voice as a sign of Anand’s underdeveloped prose, and indeed the difference in tone within this one passage is striking. The narrator deliberately breaks from the contingency of the day-in-the-life structure to provide a moral and aesthetic validation of his character. Rather than an inconsistency or failing, however, the passage seems to suggest that realism must balance the representation of the downtrodden with some intent to marshal that representation in service of a larger political critique. This allows Bakha to consider his identity in a positive, rather than solely effaced, way: “I am a sweeper,” he at one point exclaims, in “soundless speech,” “sweeper  – untouchable! Untouchable! Untouchable! That’s the word! Untouchable! I am an Untouchable!” (42–3). This revelation – followed by a narratorial emphasis: “Like a ray of light shooting through the darkness, the recognition of his position, the significance of his lot dawned upon him” (43)  – again traces the process by which Bakha’s wanderings become meaningful. They can no longer be seen as random and contingent, but as directed toward these moments of self-reflection. This becomes the operative dialectic on

Experiments with Gandhi


which the novel rests, wherein the structure is founded on contingency even while the thematic seeks significance. Bakha as contingent character incarnate becomes the site where these two oppositions collide. It is from this perspective that we might interpret the arrival of Gandhi, the culminating event of the novel. In a work already concerned with the problematic of contingency, Gandhi becomes another force seeking to imbue Bakha’s story with meaning, and in doing so threatening his individuality; however, the novel figures this ambivalently. The passage begins: “There was a rush of eager feet ascending the footbridge behind him shouting: ‘The Mahatma has come! The Mahatma has come!’ . . . At once the crowd, and Bakha among them, rushed towards the golbagh” (126). The “eager feet” signal the representational economy in play here, which mobilizes synecdoche in the representation of the individuals through their feet, but also signifies an allegorical oneness whereby the individuals are subsumed to the crowd: He had not asked himself where he was going. He hadn’t paused to think. The word “Mahatma” was like a magical magnet to which he, like all the other people about him, rushed blindly. . . . Men, women and children of all the different races, colours, castes and creeds, were running towards the oval. There were Hindu lallas from the piece-goods market of Bulashah, smartly dressed in silks; there were Kashmiri Muhammadans from the local carpet factories, immaculately clad in white cotton; there were the rough Sikh rustics from the nearby villages swathed in handspun cloth, staves in their hands and loads of shopping on their backs; there were fierce-looking red cheeked Pathans shirted in red stuff, followers of Abdul Gaffar Khan, the frontier revolutionary; there were the black-faced Indian Christian girls from the Salvation Army colony, in short coloured skirts, blouses and aprons; there were people from the outcastes’ colony, whom Bakha recognised in the distance, but whom he was too rushed to greet; there was here and there a stray European – there was everybody going to meet the Mahatma, to pay homage to Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi. And like Bakha they hadn’t stopped to ask themselves why they were going. They were just going; the act of going, of walking, running, hurrying, occupied them. Their present motive was to get there, to get there somehow, as quickly as possible. Bakha wished, as he sped along, that there were a sloping bridge on which he could have rolled down to the oval. (126–7)

The overwhelming force of the passage takes its power from the national allegory, which through an exuberant metonymy creates a narrative of unity-in-difference, where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians can be united if not in purpose, at least in direction (“they hadn’t stopped to ask themselves why they were going. They were just going”). This is precisely the consolidation of the nation as “imagined community” in


Itineraries of Character

which difference is recast, at least temporarily, “as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 7). This comradeship is all the more significant for a character heretofore mired in isolation – and thus the passage marks a utopian moment where the novel comes to form as the literary accompaniment to nationalism. From the perspective of Anand’s investment in Bakha’s uniqueness as a realist protagonist, however, the national allegory figures ambivalently, and thus this utopian moment is short-lived. On one hand, Bakha is willingly caught up in the crowd, no longer the Untouchable marked by his difference. At the same time, and for the same reason, Bakha is no longer Bakha but one “Indian” among many, one untouchable whose role is to contribute to the overall diversity of the nation. That fact that the passage culminates in a new focal point of the extended sentence – “the Mahatma, . . . Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi” – underlines the potential costs of Bakha’s allegorization for his individual identity. Indeed, the repetition of Gandhi’s name and the extended, slowing pace suggest that Bakha’s newfound freedom and his attainment of meaning beyond himself ironically generates a new site of importance within the scene: not Bakha, but Gandhi. Critics who have discussed this scene have generally taken it as evidence of Anand’s support of Gandhian politics. Sisir Kumar Das argues that “Anand has described the emotional frenzy that breaks all barriers of caste and religion and Gandhi appears as an instrument of history changing the life of millions” (vol. 9, 69). Gauri Viswanathan is more critical, reading the scene as a valorization of Gandhi at the expense of Dalit political agency. As she writes, “The novel celebrates Gandhi as the savior of the untouchables, whose message of cleanliness and purity is destined to redeem them as ‘children of God’” (Outside 220). In both these views, the transformation of the realist Bakha into the symbolic keystone of national allegory is assumed to be solely a triumphant one. Yet these interpretations overlook the novel’s larger concern with the contingency-symbolism dialectic and Gandhi’s role within it. Gandhi functions here as a symbol writ large, working “like a magical magnet” to contain all differences, not only in religion or caste but in form and aesthetics as well. The individual Bakha is thus lost, revealing a potential cost to the “typical[ity]” that Anderson sees as so central to the nationalist novel (30). At the same time, however, this is a moment – like the narrator’s continual allegorizations of Bakha as part of a narrative of subaltern awakening  – where Bakha’s life gains meaning beyond its limited self. Completely aside, then, from the question of whether or not the novel

Experiments with Gandhi


embraces Gandhian politics, it does suggest that for Bakha to become free, he paradoxically requires Gandhi’s appropriation of him. To become the individual Bakha, he first needs to be the Untouchable paragon. This paradox continues to be evident throughout the scenes when Bakha is attending to Gandhi’s speech. Although Bakha is outwardly compelled by Gandhi’s words, he finds it difficult to remain focused: “‘But the speech, the speech,’ he became aware that he was missing the words of the Mahatma’s speech” (137) and, a page later: “But I am not listening, I am not listening; I must listen” (138). In these lines Bakha exhibits a latent reluctance to submit his complete self, to capitulate to Gandhi’s unshakable charisma, even as he is drawn to it, and the repetitive, almost obstructed language of the text registers this contradiction. Likewise, the passage is peppered with a series of indirect syntactical arrangements: phrases such as, “He heard the Mahatma say” (138) and “Bakha heard the Mahatma declaim” (139), along with, “He turned to the Mahatma” (139). The repeated movement within individual phrases between the subject of the sentence (Bakha) and the subject of the action (Gandhi) underlines the riven representational economy – not only between Bakha and Gandhi but between the realist character who is free to listen or not, or to turn in the direction of the speaker, and the charismatic figure to whom everyone always listens and toward whom everyone always turns. Yet here Anand does not resolve the question in any easy way, for instance by having Bakha join the Gandhian cause or, alternatively, reject and scoff at Gandhi altogether. Rather, he represents it as conflict, so that Bakha retains his individuality precisely because he remains ambivalent about how much of himself to relinquish – not because he relinquishes none of himself at all. In Untouchable, therefore, Anand suggests that the relationship between realism and allegory is not as dichotomous as it is so often made out to be, even as the two modes are not reducible to one another. The contingencies of character that define realism – internally generated desires, idiosyncratic personalities, complex and even contradictory psychologies – are not on their own powerful enough to represent historic change, even as they are central to realism’s democratic promise. “Human freedom” is thus both intensely desired, and impossible to sustain. Anand’s novel demonstrates this paradox. Even as it ends, it remains ambivalent about its own relationship to larger meaning. When Bakha is detached from the temporary allure of Gandhi and must find his own way once again, he is left plagued with self-doubt and uncertainty: “He didn’t know what to do, where to go” (146) – and then, as if to remedy this despondency: “I shall


Itineraries of Character

go on doing what Gandhi says” (147), and “I shall go and tell father all that Gandhi said about us” (148). The future tense of these ruminations, and the fact that the novel ends before we know whether they are realized, suggests that there is meaning to be had beyond Bakha’s “profane” life, even as, in the pages of the novel, he is denied it. As one of the text’s final lines sums up, “He was torn between his enthusiasm for Gandhi and the difficulties in his own awkward, naïve self” (147). This awkward, naïve self is the untouchable without symbolic meaning, living another unexceptional and insignificant day. Although this might have been the protagonist imagined by Anand in his desire to foreground individuality over typicality, to refuse the lure of symbolization, the novel remains ambivalent, just as Bakha remains “torn.” Through Gandhi, then, the novel raises the question of how realism might have to accommodate an epic or allegorical presence in order to make meaning of Bakha’s partial self and his unremarkable story. The ambiguity of this ending is more significant than the novel’s explicit stance on Gandhism, suggesting that inasmuch as it is allegorical at all, it is so not for Gandhian nationalism but for the problem of meaning in realism at large. F igu r e s of Di s a pp oi n t m e n t These experiments with allegory continue in a novel Anand published a few years later, The Sword and the Sickle (1940). Sword is the final novel of Anand’s village trilogy, which traces the story of Lalu Singh from an adolescent boy in rural Punjab to a soldier in the Imperial Army, fighting in WWI, and then back to the Punjab where he leads an agrarian movement for farmers’ rights. Lalu was somewhat of a rebel as a boy – having shorn his hair against Sikh custom, spoken out against the village elite, and eventually run off to join the army, frustrated by the repressive structures of village life. Now, in Sword, although he wants to contribute to the uplift of his village, that individualist spark has not left him. At the start of the novel, Lalu initiates contact with a group of insurgents who work on behalf of the landless and increasingly impoverished peasantry of the region, led by the eccentric Count Kanwar Rampal Singh. The work appeals to Lalu, and he travels around the country in its cause. It is an uphill battle, however. Their movement is continually met by resistance from the hired thugs of the landlords and the police. Even Gandhi and Nehru, when Lalu meets them, can do little to help. Lalu internalizes these difficulties into a deep sense of frustration with himself and with the movement as a whole, experiencing moments of crisis and anticipation

Experiments with Gandhi


regarding the possibilities for transformation, but remaining dissatisfied with the very idea of progress on which they rely. Like Untouchable, the novel ends on this ambivalent note. If Bakha instantiates Anand’s belief in the at least partial irreducibility of individual character, Lalu is a character who actively holds that very belief, and as such is marked by a stubborn resistance to any external narrative at all. In this sense, Sword is very much a novel about loneliness and alienation, despite its seemingly socialist-oriented plotline of farmers’ empowerment. To an even greater extent than in Coolie and Untouchable, Anand experiments with stream of consciousness and a pressing elaboration of the protagonist’s psychology, making Lalu less the kind of subaltern everyman evident in Untouchable and Coolie, and more akin to Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus or other alienated protagonists of high modernism, who are “by nature solitary, asocial, unable to enter into relationships with other human beings” (Lukács, Realism 20). From Maya, the woman Lalu falls in love with and marries, to the political movement for farmers’ rights, to the meetings with Nehru and Gandhi – all the encounters that might give his life meaning fail to retain his interest. Even when Maya becomes pregnant, Lalu is plagued with jealousy, and worries, irrationally, that the child is not his own. All of these events promise to give Lalu’s life meaning but ultimately fail to, and Lalu becomes defined by his resistance to external discourses altogether.9 Lalu’s deeply held belief in the irreducibility of human character frames his encounter with Gandhi. During their meeting, Lalu attempts to explain to Gandhi the injustices faced by peasants, and to persuade him to come speak to the peasants and give them support. The Mahatma, however, merely encourages Lalu to discard his anger, stop the consumption of meat and liquor, and embark on a nonviolent struggle  – advice that Lalu finds impractical and useless. Indeed, from the first instant they meet, Lalu is put off: “There was something in the stern silence of the great man’s attitude which demanded reverence” (198). This distance becomes the operative trope throughout their encounter: The atmosphere was oppressive with the silence, only disturbed by the dull thud of the noisy typewriter. Lalu hung his head down. The Mahatma seemed to be pouring out his thoughts to his scribe, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and from the puerile to the profound, without raising his voice in the least: “Suffering is the mark of the human tribe. It is an eternal law. The mother suffers so that the child may live. Life comes out of death. The condition of wheat growing is that the seed grain should perish. No country has ever risen


Itineraries of Character

without being purified through the fire of suffering. . . . It is impossible to do away with the law of suffering which is the one indispensable condition of our being. Progress is to be measured by the amount of suffering undergone, the purer the suffering, the greater is the progress. . . . Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. . . .” This irritated Lal Singh as he sat waiting for the Mahatma to lend him his ear, for the talk of suffering went completely against his grain. He himself had suffered in all conscience, but he had never welcomed suffering. He had wanted to be happy, and he had suffered in this search of happiness, because all the people around him did not believe in happiness. . . . (199–200, ellipses in original)

Lalu is clearly unconvinced by the philosophy Gandhi espouses, but the strangeness of the encounter results not only from the difference in views but from the estranging of realism itself. To Lalu, Gandhi presents himself entirely through the logic of allegory, relating the condition of his individual body with that of the nation. He, in Leela Gandhi’s words, “dissociates ‘happiness’ from a pull to pleasure and, instead, reclaims it as the ethical effect of sacrifice or abstinence” (“Concerning” 107). This is how he relates personal suffering to national progress. Lalu, however, rejects this appropriation. He believes in happiness not only because it is the opposite of suffering but precisely because it is individual, and exists regardless of its impact on society or the nation at large. Whereas in Untouchable this conflict underlies the representational economy of the text, here it is embodied in two distinct figures, who therefore can find no middle ground. In this way, the awkwardness of the encounter is not solely Gandhi’s fault; it is Lalu’s interpretation of allegory as something to be excised from realism altogether that results in a distancing of Gandhi within the text that is so severe that it does not represent Gandhi, but some striking caricature of him. The scene thus comes off as a tableau vivant, with the speaker and the listener frozen in their respective roles: Gandhi of expostulation, Lalu of hung-headed listlessness. The tableau is the opposite spatial formation from the “eager feet” unleashed by the presence of Gandhi in Untouchable, and furthers the unbridgeable distance between the two characters. In other ways as well, the spatial dynamics in this scene are entirely opposite from those of the earlier novel, with Gandhi constantly captured in the act of stepping away: “After saying this the Mahatma sat back, as if the stress of conflict was too much for him; he seemed allergic to the biased, hot-blooded young peasant. Everyone seemed distant and unfriendly here” (201). Gandhi himself regrets this atmosphere of distance that prevents him from influencing the motivations of others as he

Experiments with Gandhi


usually can; when Lalu implies that Gandhi has attained perfection, he abruptly counters, “If I were perfect, I would not have to argue with you. My thought would be enough” (203). Indeed, such is the expectation surrounding the representation of Gandhi, where his very thought becomes the primary source of plot and motivation of the other characters in the novel. Yet unlike Bakha, Lalu cannot remain ambivalent toward this epic sway, and receives Gandhi as just another figure of disappointment. Many critics have seen this representation of Gandhi as a distortion (Patil and Patil 10); but seen in the context of Anand’s larger engagement with the role of allegory in realist signification, this has less to do with Anand’s politics than his struggle to represent, in Lalu, not only a character who is contingent but one who truly believes in contingency as a reigning idea in his own life. Lalu is so alienated precisely because he finds no use for allegory; meaning only resides for him in the recesses of his own mind. Any external meaning for him is, anticipating Rushdie, a handcuff to his freedom. In an interesting chiasmus, then, Lalu’s detachment from the charisma of allegory renders him unresponsive to the reality of his social world, leaving him detached and alone, whereas Gandhi, as allegory embodied, ironically represents the lived reality of the colonial experience. Anand’s take on this paradox is, once again, ambivalent. On one hand, like Anand’s other protagonists, Lalu is depicted as an individual who is not easily swayed by others stronger and more charismatic than he. Yet as in Untouchable, Anand raises the question of whether it is possible to ever be an individual, without a larger narrative to imbue that individuality with meaning. By posing it even more extremely than in the earlier novel, presenting alienation as in part an effect of the disgust of allegory, Anand not only reveals the pitfalls of an uncontained individualism but suggests that realism must incorporate allegory if it is to have any sense of futurity, any meaning beyond itself. The novel’s ending with Lalu in prison is a metaphorical rendering of this very dilemma  – the duality of human freedom – as Lalu’s mind is free but his body is not. The uncertainty with which the work ends raises the question: Is this figure of supreme isolation a viable source of national allegory, or is he too a figure of disappointment? Although in his nonfictional writings Anand advocates for a realism that refuses to reduce characters to symbols, both Gandhian novels seem to show how at some point, some other level of meaning is needed outside pure contingency in order to accurately capture the reality of people’s complex, allegorical lives. When taken together, and when the question


Itineraries of Character

of their explicit politics is put aside, it is apparent that realism in Anand’s novels captures this conflict; dipping into the allegorical in order to more accurately capture reality, the works show how uninhabitable a world without allegory can be. T h e A l lu r e of t h e S a i n t He wanted to decide whether he was a god [devata] or a human being [manushya]. – Rangbhumi (427)

Premchand’s 1925 novel Rangbhumi is considered a Gandhian novel even though Gandhi himself, unlike in Anand’s works, never appears in its pages. The novel centers around a project by an industrialist, John Sevak, to build a tobacco factory on land owned by Surdas, a blind beggar who lets his neighbors graze their cattle there for free. Surdas resists the coercive attempts to buy his land, led by John Sevak and supported by the local princes, English civil servants, and even his neighbors, who are more easily seduced by the offer of compensation than Surdas. The novel also has several subplots involving characters such as John Sevak’s daughter, Sophia, who joins the anti-colonial movement; Vinay, Sophia’s princely lover and also a freedom fighter who experiments with asceticism; Prabhu, Sophia’s brother who moves to England and supports the nationalist cause from abroad; and Indu, Vinay’s sister, who marries a member of the royal family and finds herself at odds with his pro-government views. Rangbhumi traces these varied characters as their lives intersect and as the strength of Surdas’s resistance, along with Sophia and Vinay’s nationalist commitments, ebb and flow. Several characters change their self-serving ways under the influence of Surdas, Sophia and Vinay, the three “saintly” characters, but they are not able to transform everyone. Ultimately, the cigarette factory gets built, despite Surdas’s resistance  – and following that, John Sevak’s influence grows.10 Thus despite sacrificing themselves and ultimately dying for noble causes, Surdas, Sophia, and Vinay are all marked by their failure to completely change the world around them. In his author’s note preceding the text, Premchand explicitly links Surdas to Gandhi, writing, “Rangbhoomi’s hero Soordas is a remarkable character in the history of the Indian novel. He has an extraordinary capacity to sacrifice himself for the public welfare. In brief, he is also an ideal Gandhian character [voh gandhivaad ka aadarsh paatra bhi hai]” (xlv). From the beginning, then, Premchand offers an allegorical reading of his own novel, linking not only Surdas to Gandhi but

Experiments with Gandhi


the plot of the novel to the larger discourse of nationalism. Insofar as the front matter and the author’s own interpretations structure readers’ interpretations, the allegorical significance of Rangbhumi seems clear from the outset.11 Rangbhumi can also be read as a metatheoretical engagement with the very question of allegory, however. More explicitly than Anand’s works, it presents sainthood – along with allegory itself – as the object of desire for Surdas and its other “Gandhian” characters. From this perspective, the author’s note is not a guide to how to read the novel, but instead part of the problem that requires interpretation, precisely because it erects allegory as the novel’s operative mode. As I suggested in Chapter 2, Rangbhumi, most clearly out of Premchand’s oeuvre, integrates the rural and the urban worlds in an aesthetic whole by engaging the dialectic between realist character and allegorical symbol, internalizing the potential conflict into the thematics of the text itself and showing how the problem of acting according to one’s whim versus larger dictates  – in short, the problem posed by superhumanness or saintliness – affects poor and rich characters alike. The entire novel can be read as an extended consideration of the problem of superhumanness – of how sainthood functions as an object of desire in the nationalist period, how individuals struggle with this desire against the limitations of their own humanness, and how these struggles constitute the realist landscape. As Premchand wrote in one of his critical essays, “A faultless character will just become a god and we won’t be able to understand him. Such a character will have no influence [prabhaav] over us” (“Upanyas” 51). The desire to be like a god and the problems it raises become the central problematic of Rangbhumi. Thus Surdas, who appears to others as a truth-loving saint, spends much of the novel deeply conflicted between the ideal of sainthood and the reality of his humanity: his mortality, his own hungers, and his needs. Vinay and Sophia go through similar struggles, as do, to a lesser degree, Indu and Prabhu. All these characters from a range of social situations struggle with the ineluctable reality of their humanity even as they try to act according to external symbolic ideals: as the virtuous poor, the satyagrahi, the brahmachari, the mother goddess, or other paradigms. Both elite and subaltern are united by their saintly aspirations on one hand, and the sheer difficulty of achieving those aspirations on the other. Surdas, whom many understand to be “a Gandhian prototype” (Das, vol. 9, 283), is most indicative in this regard. On one hand, Surdas clearly acts like a saint, embodying Gandhian values such as being “beyond personal greed, sensuality, the desire for excessive material possessions, and


Itineraries of Character

believ[ing] in the commitment to one’s ‘karma’” (Bhaskar 60). His unwillingness to give up his land, even for a price, is presented as a supreme act of sacrifice, in which he privileges the good of the community over his own financial gain. He refuses to sell for a number of reasons, which include the loss of the free grazing land to his neighbors and as a statement against the “bad habits” of the city, such as drinking and commercialism, which the factory will necessarily bring to the village (92). Both of these are reminiscent of Gandhian values  – but as Surdas has never heard of Gandhi, and practices and preaches these values only because he feels them to be true, the novel presents him as an organic Gandhian avatar. Nayakram and Raja Sahib both call him a “mahatma” (89), and the narrator tends to agree: “A true benefactor doesn’t desire fame. Soordas wasn’t even aware of the import of his sacrifice and charity. Had he been, perhaps there wouldn’t have been such humility in his nature” (89). In one scene, Surdas is so convincing as a saint that the Raja Sahib completely and voluntarily relinquishes his support of the tobacco factory, despite his vested interest in its construction: “You are right, Soordas, you are very right. You win, I lose” (92). Surdas has a similar effect on other characters as well; merely by acting righteously in the face of countless injustices, he manages to transform others. Even his longtime enemy, Bhairo, is “moved by this inner purity [aantarik nirmalta]” (420). In the final battle between the townspeople and the police, when Surdas refuses to leave his house even under threat of violence, the narrative offers its clearest description of his saintly demeanor: “In the middle of this formation, at the doorway of the hut, Soordas was sitting with his head bowed, as if he was a living, radiant image [saji moorti] of fortitude, spiritual strength, and calm” (556). These are clearly the instances Premchand had in mind when he made the comparison between Surdas and Gandhi in his author’s note; however, the novel’s Surdas is not only a saint. Rather, the privileging of ideals over personal desire is something Surdas finds quite difficult. Although he acts according to a logic of inner purity and self-sacrifice when faced with the injustices of village life, Surdas often laments his decisions. At several points he considers giving up his resistance to selling his land, feeling frustration and “despair [niraash]” (65) at the mean-spiritedness of those around him, and fantasizing about a life of “sit[ting] home like a seth and play[ing] the flute of contentment” (65). This recognition of his petty desires exposes the human inside the saint. At another point, after being robbed by a vengeful Bhairo, and then being returned the money in secret by Bhairo’s wife, Subhagi, Surdas decides to act selflessly

Experiments with Gandhi


and return the money back to Bhairo, refusing to accept wealth taken in secret, even if it was legitimately his to begin with. Instead of praise for his honesty, however, further scorn is heaped on him: the villagers accuse him of returning the money only to protect Subhagi, baselessly insinuating a sexual relationship between them (286). This treachery disillusions Surdas profoundly: “I had thought that frankness would clear the doubts in his heart. This is the result. My face has of course been blackened. . . . God! Where are you now?” (287). The conflict between acting for oneself and acting according to a larger paradigm pervades the novel to such an extent that the entire story emerges out of the lived contradiction between humanity and sainthood. This is summed up after Surdas’s death at the hands of Mr. Clark, which although represented as the action of a pure, selfless satyagrahi, the narrator describes in the following way: “He fell on to the ground. Spiritual strength [aatmabal] couldn’t counteract brute strength [pashubal]” (576). The ambivalence around sainthood appears on Surdas’s deathbed as well. On one hand, Surdas refuses to take chloroform when he is being operated on (585), suggesting that he is not subject to human sensations such as pain. On the other hand, his deathbed rantings  – spiritual discourse about dharma and samskara – are seen by his physician as “worrying” because “the philosophical wisdom in his conversation is a premonition of death. I have never heard him speak with such spiritual wisdom when he was conscious” (586). Here the doctor interprets Surdas’s saintly discourse not as evidence of his actual saintliness but ironically as a sign of his human mortality – as an index to his imminent death. The doctor thus suggests that sainthood is not a real state of being but one of illness or semiconsciousness, thus presenting a particularly secular view on superhumanness. After Surdas’s death the narrative continues to present the conflict between sainthood and humanness as a productive contradiction. Surdas is compared by others in the community to “a siddha . . . a vali . . . a devata” (604), but the narrator quickly intervenes: “He was neither a sadhu, nor a mahatma, nor a devata, nor an angel. He was a small, feeble creature, surrounded with worries and obstacles, with defects as well as virtues. The virtues were few and the defects many” (604). Clearly, the characterization of Surdas is wrought with contradiction – while on one hand a hero worthy of devotion, he is a flawed and mortal human being, and this contradiction is never resolved. Even when a statue is erected in his posthumous honor, it is damaged by one of Surdas’s rivals in the middle of the night, and then resurrected with all its dents and bumps


Itineraries of Character

in place (621). Manju Jain argues that in these bumps are evident “the distortions and blemishes in Soordas, in Gandhi, and in human nature in general” (xxii) – but it is a statue nonetheless, a clearly deifying gesture. Thus even at the end, we never really know whether Surdas is “nothing more . . . than a man” (Sharma “Humanism” 302–3), or whether he is in fact something more. It is precisely this question that constitutes his character in the novel. A similar ambivalence arises in Premchand’s characterizations of Vinay and Sophia. Both model themselves after an ideal of service that was attractive to many middle-class men and women during this time, of Gandhian asceticism, charity, and sacrifice. Urged by his mother, who has her own saintly aspirations, Vinay begins as an ascetic (tyaagi) so committed to the anti-colonial cause that, like Surdas, he manages to completely transform the practices of his father, a local prince much accustomed to a life of “worldly pleasure [vishay-bhog]” (103). Even when he first meets Sophia, Vijay contends that “there’s not a whit of lust [vaasna] in my love” (110). Yet this quickly changes, and soon: “A fierce conflict rages continuously within Vinay’s innermost being. The path of service was his aim. The thorns of love have become obstacles in the way. They are constantly trying to turn him away from his path” (212). He finds himself having bodily needs that would impel him to break his vow of chastity, thus discovering, like Surdas, his own humanness. He tells Sophia: “I would have been satisfied with the worship of your love had I been a god [devata] but after all I’m also a slave to desires, a paltry human being [kshudra manushya]” (490). Eventually he succumbs to this desire, abandoning his saintly aspirations and renouncing the Gandhian political path altogether, only to return to it very briefly at the very end, at the moment of his martyrdom. In the meantime Sophia, who had earlier been skeptical of Gandhian politics  – for instance, “doubt[ful of] whether being poor was a virtue in itself and being wealthy a vice” (27)  – undergoes a transformation and takes up the nationalist cause with even more devotion than Vinay. She becomes an ascetic, renouncing her family’s wealth and status. Her path to self-sacrifice is portrayed as less obstacle-ridden than Surdas’s or Vinay’s, but it is still a struggle. For instance, despite her vow of asceticism she also finds herself sexually attracted to Vinay, and for her as well “it’s not as easy to separate it [love (prem)] from desire [vaasna] as [she] had thought” (111). The chiastic structure that never allows Vinay and Sophia to come together as each struggles with the values of saintliness suggests a

Experiments with Gandhi


significant traffic between superhumanness and average humanness, rather than a dichotomy between them. Although at times both act selfishly, the narrative does not paint either of them in an overall negative light, but suggests, in the end, that the saint is a difficult – perhaps even impossible – paragon to achieve. Both Vinay and Sophia supposedly make the ultimate self-sacrifice at the end of the novel, Vinay when he shoots himself and Sophia when she dies rather than get married. However, Premchand paints Vinay’s sacrifice in particular in an ambivalent light. Although the narrative marks Vinay’s last-minute transformation from “a traitor, selfish and lustful,” to “a devata, the image of sacrifice, the beloved of the country, the star of the public’s eyes” (579), this follows an opposing narratorial intervention two pages earlier, in which in response to the public’s call for self-sacrifice in the face of the army’s firing into the crowd, the narrator says, “Nobody was conscious enough to realize that they would be harming themselves and not anyone else by this sacrifice” (577). These competing perspectives on sacrifice – one that considers it inherently noble and the second that questions its impracticality  – unsettle the representation of Vinay as simply “a devata.” They instead suggest that the status of sainthood within realism is highly ambivalent – and, by not resolving it, cast ambivalence, rather than some form of secular individualism or rejection of sainthood, as central to the realist project. At the end of the novel, Vinay’s father, Kunwar Bharat Singh, whom his son had earlier converted to asceticism, succumbs once again to his “life of luxury” (631) – symbolizing precisely the impossibility of such a life of saintliness for the average human. As he justifies his decision in one of the closing lines of the novel, “We are only human beings [jeev] and our job is just to live. Patriotism, worship of the universe, service, philanthropy are all delusions [dhakosla]” (631). This echoes the narrator’s earlier words, in justification of Vinay’s temporary retreat from politics, that “we are first human beings [manushya] and patriots after that. We can’t ignore our human desires [maanviya bhaavon] for the sake of our love for the country. This is unnatural [asvaabhaavik]” (563). Kunwar Bharat Singh is not the novel’s hero, and his morality is highly compromised; yet it is he who articulates in the clearest language the epistemic problem with which the whole novel is concerned: how does one reconcile one’s “mere humanity” with higher ideals? Is there any life in living solely according to the latter, or is it all pointless sacrifice? Conversely, are external ideals ever pointless or are they precisely what give life meaning beyond the mundane everyday?


Itineraries of Character

The novel’s major formal concerns are thus internalized into its very plot: the conflict between sainthood and humanity, between the desire for self-allegorization, as it were, or making one’s own life meaningful in service of a cause outside oneself, and the intensely less significancebearing realities of daily life for the average, unremarkable human being. Although Gandhi is nowhere mentioned in the main text of Premchand’s lengthy novel, he stands by means of his inclusion in the author’s note as a specter, a saintly paragon, who threatens to overdetermine the narrative, pulling its characters out of the text to represent values that in the plot they find it hard to sustain. Yet the novel, like Anand’s works, does not react to that threat by valorizing a kind of contingent realism but rather by writing a realism that must account for this very conflict. By giving form to the contradiction between realism and allegory, Premchand inscribes it as constitutive of realism in the colony, rather than something from which a pure and reasoned realism must emerge unscathed. In this way, Rangbhumi’s innovation is that it situates the conflict between realism and allegory so deeply into its plot that it becomes, ironically, a paradigm for realism in the decade. In other words, the novel identifies the desire to be greater than one is as a key problematic during the early nationalist movement, with implications both for modern politics and for realist writing as well. It does this by generalizing the idea of sainthood beyond the figure of Gandhi himself – who, as is clear from Anand’s works, overdetermines not only the direction that a novel can take but, as in Anand’s case, the very practice of novel writing itself. By replacing the historical Gandhi with various versions of the Gandhian protagonist, Rangbhumi shows how widespread the allure of allegory is, and how central to the representational economy of realism in this decade. A G a n dh i a n Pa r a bl e Raja Rao’s (1908–2006) English-language novel Kanthapura (1938) takes a somewhat different approach to this set of concerns. Unlike Anand and Premchand, Rao consciously sets out in this novel to inscribe a new aesthetic that moves beyond realism, one that is marked by a radical difference from the colonial novel. As he writes in his oft-cited foreword to Kanthapura, “We cannot write like the English. We should not” (v). Rather, he cites a number of alternative influences that Indian writers should follow, for instance Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, but also American and Irish literature, which he says have

Experiments with Gandhi


successfully incorporated their own “tempo” into their use of English (v). From the outset, then, Rao describes his aesthetic project through a narrative of rupture; he seeks not to emulate or incorporate colonial modes but to fully replace realism with new forms, such as the “endless and innumerable” (vi) length of the Indian epics, in which “we have neither punctuation nor the treacherous ‘ats’ and ‘ons’ to bother us” and “episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop our breath stops, and we move on to another thought” (vi). The only colonial legacy he is willing to retain is the English language – but that too with an irreducible difference.12 Along with syntax and style, Rao also introduces in his foreword the idea of allegory as an alternative to realism. Whereas many Indian novels, beginning as far back as Anandamath, present allegory as a problem – as a mode that distinguishes the Indian novel as both a unique but also potentially nonmodern genre – Rao seems to suggest that allegory is the solution to the persistent question of colonial subjugation. He describes the Indian setting, earlier in the same foreword, in the following way: There is no village in India, however mean, that has not a rich sthala-purana, or legendary history, of its own. Some god or godlike hero has passed by the ­village – Rama might have rested under this pipal-tree, Sita might have dried her clothes, after her bath, on this yellow stone, or the Mahatma himself, on one of his many pilgrimages through the country, might have slept in this hut, the low one, by the village gate. In this way the past mingles with the present, and the gods mingle with men. (v)

This foreword functions similarly to Premchand’s author’s note at the start of Rangbhumi, offering an allegorical interpretation of the work to guide the reader. Far more extensively than Premchand, however, Rao paints an entire universe in which the allegorical has completely replaced the realist. The novel is thus read, as Leela Gandhi’s writes, as “a departure from the necessarily secular content and structure of the European novel to admit, instead, the random magic or ‘legendary history’ of some ‘god or godlike hero’” (“Novelists” 180, emphasis mine). Kanaganayakam agrees that the novel must be understood via an aesthetic difference: “Without recourse to Indian forms of oral narrative, one could hardly comprehend the form of the novel. Its strength lies in its ability to sustain the narrative at the level of allegory” (20). Rao claims allegory not only as a site of authenticity but as a means to an alternative, mythico-historical understanding altogether, in which he mobilizes, as in classic biblical allegory, “past events, not primarily as figures to be fulfilled by the present or the future, but as a way of articulating the new, of interpreting the meaning


Itineraries of Character

and relevance of the past for the present and the future” (Madsen, qtd. in Bhaskar 54). He thus constructs “a kind of mystical metonymy” (Bhaskar 59) by which the passing by, the resting, the drying of clothes, the sleeping in a hut  – all seemingly mundane acts  – gain spiritual significance and function as allegorical markers rather than solely realist ones. The deployment of allegory as a form of cultural difference is seen to define Kanthapura’s uniqueness – as an Indian novel and specifically as a Gandhian one. More than the other works discussed in this chapter, Kanthapura is read as a Gandhian novel par excellence. Critic Saroj Sharma, for instance, argues that “the impact of Gandhian philosophy is the essence of the novel” (103); Ambuj Sharma similarly argues that “Kanthapura is a true account of Gandhiji’s ideals and principles and their impact on an Indian village” (104). Harish Trivedi writes that “Kanthapura . . . remains the most comprehensively and intimately Gandhian of all the Indian novels written in English” (“Gandhian” 108). As anticipated by the foreword, Gandhi is so seamlessly incorporated into the novel as part of a larger cosmic narrative that despite narrating a historical figure, Rao retells his story as entirely allegorical, and the novel’s plot is composed of a paradigmatic nationalist allegory: the gradual incorporation of a vastly diverse Indian peasantry into the Gandhian fold. First published in London in 1938, Kanthapura is set in a fictional, south Indian village, Kanthapura, and takes place in the early days of the Civil Disobedience movement (1930–31), when the Gandhian philosophy of satyagraha (truth-struggle) was beginning to reach remote villages around the subcontinent. Narrated in the first person by the elderly widow Achakka a few years after the events, the novel traces how Kanthapura was introduced to and then gradually swept up by the fervor of the nationalist cause. The story begins when Moorthy, a village Brahmin, returns from the city wearing only khadi (homespun cloth) and practicing nonviolence and sexual abstinence, elements of Gandhian philosophy he was introduced to while there. The novel traces the villagers’ gradual conversion to Gandhian philosophy as led by Moorthy and followed by, among others, Rangamma, Seenu, Ramakrishnayya, Ratna, and the narrator Achakka, as they face opposition by various village elites and eventually by the colonial state. Moorthy attempts to raise awareness around such issues as untouchability and to advocate on behalf of the migrant coolies employed at the coffee plantation in the village. As part of his quest for spiritual purity, Moorthy also undertakes a hunger strike, whose success inspires him to lead a series of agitations in the village.

Experiments with Gandhi


Soon afterward, he is arrested for his activities, compelling the villagers to struggle over the meaning of Gandhism in his absence. Upon his return from prison, Moorthy continues his leadership of the village. He arranges a gathering to commemorate the first day of Gandhi’s Salt March, during which some await what they hope will be instructions from Gandhi himself.13 He also initiates a protest against the consumption of toddy, a local alcoholic brew, which leads to another confrontation with the police and more arrests. Finally, Moorthy organizes a large-scale protest against the unjust land revenues the villagers are forced to pay. However, when they wake the day of the protest, they find that Moorthy and several other men have been arrested in advance of the demonstration. This leaves the village full mostly of women, who continue with the protest but face significant oppression from the police and the army. Some of the women are wounded, but the rush of energy gathers everyone up in its momentum. The soldiers fire and there are several deaths. Kanthapura is set alight, forcing the villagers to relocate to nearby Kashipura. The national allegory of unity overcoming difference that occupies a very brief segment of Untouchable here becomes the novel’s plot, so that Kanthapura is entirely constituted by the story of how people with different identities and interests gradually form a collective identity through the mass movement of nationalism.14 From illiterate farmers clinging to caste and gender prejudices, Kanthapura’s characters gradually transform their lifestyles, take leadership positions, and put aside their differences for a cause larger than themselves. The transmission of the nationalist political program from center to rural periphery is presented as so seamless that, again, the questions of who the individuals are, how their motivations might vary, and how they might potentially resist or subvert the sway of Gandhi are almost completely silenced. This overarching Gandhian narrative is effected in the novel through the figure of Moorthy, an intermediary who is a transmitter of Gandhian ideas. Unlike Surdas, Moorthy is not inherently good; it is only when he, like so many other young men, became a disciple of the Mahatma that he transformed his middle-class ways. This, more than in Rangbhumi, gives Gandhi a more central place in the narrative, even though he never appears in its pages. Indeed, characters such as Moorthy abounded in the nationalist movement  – local leaders who traveled around India to disseminate Gandhian ideology in the local semiotics of power (Brass 69–70). These leaders translated or adapted the centralized ideology of nationalism into terms that even the most remote of India’s population could understand. Yet they were not merely mediators, but were seen to


Itineraries of Character

carry some of Gandhi’s divine power themselves. Thus one of the most famous intermediaries of this period, Baba Ramchandra, who was a local leader in the United Provinces peasant insurgencies of the 1920s, appealed to villagers by “claim[ing] some religious inspiration” and by “g[iving] discourses on Tulsi Ramayan, the Hindi epic which was very popular in U.P. and particularly in Oudh.” Baba’s “success lay partly in his utilization of caste solidarities, and partly in his appearance as a local variant of the charismatic Gandhi” (Dhanagare 119). Rao’s Moorthy is similar, acting as not only Gandhi’s representative but, at times, his avatar. The novel’s faith in the transformative power of charismatic influence seems to completely refuse the contingency of realist character. Throughout Kanthapura, characters’ actions are not explained by their psychology or will as in The Sword in the Sickle, or engendered from their arbitrary wanderings as in Untouchable, but are almost completely effects of external influence. For instance, the novel describes Moorthy’s transformation into a Gandhian as a function of Gandhi’s overwhelming, and never explained, narrative force: And suddenly there was a clapping of hands and shoutings of “Vande Mataram, Gandhi Mahatma ki jai [Bow to the Motherland; long live Gandhi]!” And as there was fever and confusion about the Mahatma, [Moorthy] jumped on to the platform, slipped between this person and that and fell at the feet of the Mahatma, saying, “I am your slave.” The Mahatma lifted him up and, before them all, he said, “What can I do for you, my son?” and Moorthy said, like Hanuman to Rama, “Any command,” and the Mahatma said, “I give no commands save to seek Truth,” and Moorthy said, “I am ignorant, how can I seek Truth,” and the people around him were trying to hush him and to take him away, but the Mahatma said, “You wear foreign cloth, my son.” – “It will go, Mahatmaji.” – “You perhaps go to foreign Universities.” – “It will go, Mahatmaji.” – “You can help your country by going and working among the dumb millions of the villages.” – “So be it, Mahatmaji,” and the Mahatma patted him on the back, and through that touch was revealed to him as the day is revealed to the night the sheathless being of his soul; and Moorthy drew away, and as it were with shut eyes groped his way through the crowd to the bank of the river. And he wandered about the fields and the lanes and the canals and when he came back to the College that evening, he threw his foreign clothes and his foreign books into the bonfire, and walked out, a Gandhi’s man. (36)

There are multiple allegories at work here, the primary one involving Tulsidas’s Ramayana: Moorthy is directly associated with Hanuman, “the lesser hero” (Wolcott 654) of that epic, “a devoted servant of Rama, motivated and empowered by the fixity of his love for Rama” (654). As Leonard Wolcott writes, “Tulsi Das is at great pains to refer every action

Experiments with Gandhi


of Hanuman’s to the latter’s adoration of Rama; he assiduously – almost excessively – makes the point that Hanuman’s importance lies only in his relationship to Rama, and that whatever exploits he accomplished were possible by Rama’s power” (654). Invoking this relationship constitutes Moorthy as a mere effect of Gandhian charisma. And as in the foreword, the synecdochal power of Gandhi’s touch is here claimed as part of the allegorical imagination, whereby Moorthy is completely remade in Gandhi’s image – as, literally, “a Gandhi’s man.” Like Hanuman, the reader is urged to see him as completely constituted by that touch. Thus Moorthy’s transformation is narrated through a manifestly epic sense of motivation, in which his individuality – his interiority, his psychology, his desires – is given no weight. It is reminiscent of what Angus Fletcher describes of allegory, that “generally events do not even have to be plausibly connected. Reversals and discoveries arbitrarily imposed on the action, the deus ex machina introduced to rid the action of an impasse – these do not imitate Nature, though they may imitate ideas and theories. . . . These principles require a suspension of disbelief in magic and magical causation” (182). Whereas Untouchable, Sword, and Rangbhumi enumerate the costs of such “magic” on the idea of the individual – even as they mobilize it at times to give their characters meaning  – here the “pretext,” by which “the literal narrative is determined from outside” (Kortenaar 61 n.8), is presented as the premise of the entire novel. There is a cost in Kanthapura as well; but for the most part, it poses no conflict at the level of plot. Here too, individual interiorities and motivation are effaced by the overwhelming logic of Gandhian thought. This occurs throughout the novel, and at every level of dissemination of Gandhian ideology. Just as Gandhi transforms Moorthy by way of one touch, Moorthy has the same effect on the villagers of Kanthapura, and so on, down the line: Our Moorthy performed the camphor ceremony and from that day onwards Moorthy looked sorrowful and calm. He went to Dorè and Sastri’s son Puttu, and Dorè and Sastri’s son Puttu went to Postmaster Suryanarayana’s sons Chandru and Ramu, and then came Pandit Venkateshia and Front-House Sami’s sons Srinivas and Kitu, and so Kitu and Srinivas and Puttu and Ramu and Chandru and Seenu, threw away their foreign clothes and became Gandhi’s men. (13)

The extended sentence, which reflects the “immense, rambling and seemingly shapeless” (Khair 309) structure of the epics, also reduces all of the contingency of realist characterization to external motivation, as each character is transformed by mere contact with the others, with no


Itineraries of Character

attention given to the effort or mediation involved therein. Gandhi’s influence on Moorthy is thus not exceptional but becomes the pattern by which all action and transformation occur in the novel as a whole, and by which no character’s individual motivation is retained. For its most basic structure, then, Rao’s novel very consciously writes a script for nationalism’s centralizing and homogenizing vision. It presents allegory as an indigenous form that might compete with the hegemonic realism of not only the British novel but all the modal hybrids being written by Indian authors around the same time. If realism is the West’s paradigmatic literary mode, Rao seems to suggest that allegory is India’s. This is not the whole story, however. Although Rao takes great pains to assert his text’s ineluctable difference from “realism,” Kanthapura also reveals moments where the values of allegory must nevertheless be negotiated. It is as if despite Rao’s own vision, the characters cannot completely be contained by a mode that demands their complete compliance to external forces and the suppression of their psychologies, interiorities, and the contingency of their actions. In Untouchable and Rangbhumi, these moments of conflict are given space to flourish, resulting in the ambivalent ending of Untouchable and the internal struggles of Surdas, Vinay, and others. By contrast, when these moments appear in Kanthapura they are generally foreshortened, channeled into an aesthetic of colonial difference that eludes the formal crisis surrounding the uses of allegory, and offers an alternative solution that anticipates the larger aestheticization of linguistic and formal hybridity in the postcolonial novel at large. Ass uag i ng D ou b t : A e s t h e t ics a n d F or m i n t h e I n di a n Nov e l Whether it is Baba Ramchandra, Surdas, or Moorthy, a human incarnation of Gandhi will necessarily embody the disjuncture between realism and allegory. For the most part, however, Moorthy is characterized as Gandhi’s “double” (Sethi, Myths 81). Attending to the brief moments when this ceases to be the case – when the realities of humanness disrupt the otherwise powerful allegorical register of the novel – shows that like the other novels discussed here, Kanthapura is also besieged by formal tensions, although they emerge in the text much more rarely. When they do, it is often by means of doubt expressed by one or more of the characters about the viability or pragmatism of Gandhian politics – a politics,

Experiments with Gandhi


as we saw in The Sword and the Sickle, that is premised on allegory. These moments of doubt make visible the familiar tension between allegory and realism as a way of addressing the questions of overdetermination, individualism, and freedom in the nationalist movement as a whole – even as Kanthapura offers a different solution to it altogether. One instance in which this latent tension emerges is during the hunger strike Moorthy undertakes on behalf of the movement. Like that of Moorthy’s transformation into a Gandhian disciple, the hunger strike as a form of political protest operates according to an allegorical logic, such that the deprivation undergone by a single body has meaning for the nation as a whole. Although in the broad unfolding of Kanthapura’s narrative Moorthy’s hunger strike affects the plot by inspiring the villagers, in the microtransactions that comprise the scene, an opposing logic makes a fleeting appearance. Here, two minor characters, Rangamma and Seenu, articulate a moment of doubt as to the logic of the hunger strike: “What for, Moorthy?” and Moorthy says that much violence had been done because of him, and that were he full of the radiance of ahimsa [Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence] such things should never have happened, but Rangamma says, “That was not your fault, Moorthy!” to which he replies, “The fault of others, Rangamma, is the fruit of one’s own disharmony.” (65, emphasis mine)

At this point Seenu responds: “No, Moorthy, this is all very well for the Mahatma, but not for us poor creatures,” to which Moorthy answers calmly, “Never mind – let me try. I will not die of it, will I?” And Rangamma says this and Seenu says that, and there is no end to the song. Then Ramakrishnayya himself comes to take Rangamma away and he says, “Let the boy do what he likes, Ranga. If he wants to rise lovingly to God and burn the dross of the flesh through vows, it is not for us sinners to say ‘Nay, nay,’” and after a hurried circumambulation of the temple, they go down the Promontory and hurry back home. (65, emphasis mine)

The italicized lines mark a rare moment when the novel’s allegorical register is figured as incompatible with a realist logic in which there is an intelligible boundary between humans and saints, based on the identification of responsibility and the pragmatic recognition of the “dross” of the human body  – a logic which occupied a more central place in Rangbhumi. The actual expression of doubt is condensed into two short lines and hurriedly overwhelmed by the kind of epical prose central to Kanthapura’s style. Nevertheless, the distinction Seenu draws between the saintly hero Moorthy aspires to be and “us poor creatures” not only exposes Moorthy’s humanness but raises the idea of humanness at all,


Itineraries of Character

which Rao had suggested in his foreword is, like realism itself, a colonial construct not applicable to the Indian novel. Another fleeting appearance of doubt appears toward the end of Kanthapura, when the women are left alone in the village to take on the colonial police by themselves. Although significantly empowered by the success of the village in the nationalist agitation thus far, Moorthy’s absence provokes a crisis in which the motivation behind the women’s involvement in the movement is suddenly exposed, and in fear they express a directionless dissatisfaction with the plan: “No, no  – this will not do, this will not do” (168). Articulated, as it is, by an absent speaker, this line, buried within an extended paragraph typical of the novel’s style, indexes a generalized chaos visible just beneath the surface of the narrative as it has been motivated by Moorthy: to an extent, when Moorthy ceases to exist, so does the plot. The concomitant scrambling by the characters to designate a new leader and reestablish order in the village is demonstrated by the explosion of indeterminate spatial signifiers: “we ran here and we ran there”; “we rushed from back yard to back yard”; “we turned to this side and that”; “we asked ourselves, ‘Which way shall we go – which way?’” (156). Finally, the chaos crystallizes into an articulated objection to the movement and its cost on the women’s individual lives: Of what use was all this Satyanarayana Puja – and all these Moorthy’s prayers – and that widowed Ratna’s commands? Prayers never paid Revenue dues. Nor would the rice creep back to the granaries. Nor fire consume Bhatta’s promissory notes. Mad we were, daughters, mad to follow Moorthy. When did Kenchamma ever refuse our three morsels of rice  – or the Himavathy the ten handfuls of water?. . . (169, ellipses in original)

Here, the appeal to the principle of utility (“Of what use . . .?”), the direct causal connection between mode of political action and result (“Prayers never paid . . .”), and the expressed comfort with the status quo (“When did Kenchamma ever refuse . . .”) disrupt the allegorical register of the rest of the novel and offer, for a moment, a set of alternative logics that reflect the contingent desires of the minor characters to contest the overdetermination of their stories by the metanarrative of Gandhian motivation. These logics include worry and personal need, but also personal religiosity, faith in God and a general fear of change. To be sure, the content of these doubts is unarticulated and unformed. However, their irruption, although momentary, raises legitimate questions about the ethical implications of a political campaign that is reliant on their suppression.

Experiments with Gandhi


Despite this possibility, however, the ellipsis that ends the passage is immediately followed, in the same paragraph, by a flood of retroactive capitulation: But some strange fever rushed up from the feet, it rushed up and with it our hair stood on end and our ears grew hot and something powerful shook us from head to foot, like Shamoo when the goddess had taken hold of him; and on that beating, bursting day, with the palms and the champaks and the lantana and the silent well about us, such a terror took hold of us, that we put the water-jugs on our hips, and we rushed back home, trembling and gasping with the anger of the gods. . . . Moorthy forgive us! Mahatma forgive us! Kenchamma forgive us! We shall go. Oh, we shall go to the end of the pilgrimage like the two hundred and fifty thousand women of Bombay. We will go like them, we will go . . .! (169)

This subsumption of the relatively mild irruption of dissent to the overwhelming force of Kanthapura’s narrative supports the outward politics of the novel and its description of the successful incorporation of Kanthapura into the Gandhian fold. In the end, therefore, allegory seems to have prevailed. Only obliquely does the passage raise the question of what happened to these women’s doubts as they were once again incorporated into the movement. They are not, as M. K. Naik argues, signs of “passing moments of backsliding and cowardice” (“Village” 51); nor is it, as Perera argues, that the women overcome their doubt only because they “know . . . that ‘Men will come from the city, after all, to protect us!’” – in this way showing “that women need men as their protectors, and as their spiritual and political guides because they are incapable of fending for themselves” (101–2). Rather, this passage reads as another instance of the rhetorical power of the Gandhian protagonist, and of the overdetermined characterization which he represents, against which the unformed doubts and needs of average characters have little force. Significantly in both these cases, the potential conflict between the overwhelming narrative of Gandhian nationalism and the fleeting doubts of the characters is mitigated precisely by what Rao presents as an aesthetic alternative to realism at large: the language of national allegory. This “indigenous” alternative is registered in the rhythmic narration of this passage and the extended, conjunctive sentences, which come to a climax in “and Rangamma says this and Seenu says that, and there is no end to the song.” As we saw in the foreword, this aesthetic claims its origin in the language and style of the Hindu epics. It pushes the reader not only to reject realism in favor of allegory but to refuse realism’s distinction in the first place. This displacement serves as a crucial bridge between the doubt (Rangamma and Seenu protesting the hunger strike)


Itineraries of Character

and its resolution (accepting the hunger strike). Ideologically, however, the sentence functions not as a bridge but as a veil, which hides the actual process by which the women’s doubt was ultimately assuaged. Like the “hurried circumambulation” engaged in by the characters, the language of the passage circles around but never directly approaches the object of its devotion: and in doing so reveals a rushed, even flustered unease about how to represent the hunger strike within its own representational economy. Yet because it is seen as emblematic of the kind of innovative work Rao does with language in the novel, the sentence’s function as a veil is itself veiled. In this way, Rangamma and Seenu’s change of heart is left undescribed, and the potential, and more importantly productive, disjuncture between realism and allegory remains obscured in service of a new aesthetic of the Indian novel. We see a similar transaction in the passage describing the women’s doubt. It is difficult to retain focus on the imbalance between the external motivating force and the doubts of the individual characters when the description of the former relies on such a charismatic aesthetic of difference. Here again the long, conjunctive sentences, the collective narration, the mythic description of events, the interjections and parallel sentence structure (x forgive us! y forgive us! etc.) all emerge as paradigmatic instances of Rao’s prose (Kantak 67–8) and as signs of his refusal of rigid realist conventions. This way both the question of why the women relented and the formal problem engendered by the narrative silence around their change of heart are subsumed to this universalized allegorical register. The fact that this crucial piece of the women’s dissent is obscured by the novel’s claim to difference secures the link between the novel and the seamlessness of the nationalist narrative. Rao’s claim to be forging an entirely new aesthetic for the Indian novel thus cannot be seen apart from its representation of the powerful sway of the Gandhian hero. Of all the novels discussed in this book, Kanthapura is the most well known, widely read, and commonly included on postcolonial studies syllabi and in U.S. studies of Indian literature. This is so for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was written in English, and because of what Lukács identified in modernist studies, and that can be seen in postcolonial criticism as well, as an “exaggerated concern . . . with questions of style and literary technique” (Realism 17). Indeed, in its assertion of radical difference from colonial aesthetics, even at the cost of not completely accommodating the competing registers of meaning within the novel itself, Kanthapura seems to have anticipated the direction that

Experiments with Gandhi


postcolonial literary criticism turned a half decade later: toward a rejection of realism, a reclaiming of allegory as a mode of postcolonial aesthetic autonomy, and thus a refusal of the productive disjuncture between the two modes altogether.15 Ironically, however, for a novel whose projected future is the resurrection of allegory as the dominant postcolonial mode, Kanthapura ends on a realist compromise. In the novel’s most significant break from its allegorical register, the ending sees Moorthy turn away from Gandhism toward a more pragmatic socialist politics instead. Insofar as Kanthapura is read as a Gandhian novel, the politics of this ending are surprising. Moreover, it results in a break from the novel’s distinctive style, so that the language in which this political transformation is described differs significantly from that of Moorthy’s initial transformation to Gandhism. For example, it is conveyed by means of a letter – the only material text that appears within the novel, and fittingly so, in an almost entirely oral and illiterate culture: You know, sister, Moorthy is no more with us. . . . “And when is he coming here, Ratna?” – “I don’t know, aunt, for he says – well, I’ll read to you his letter.” And she reads the letter. It said: “Since I am out of prison, I met this Satyagrahi and that, and we discussed many a problem, and they all say the Mahatma is a noble person, a saint, but the English will know how to cheat him, and he will let himself be cheated. Have faith in your enemy, he says, have faith in him and convert him. But the world of men is hard to move, and once in motion it is wrong to stop till the goal is reached. . . . I have come to realize bit by bit, and bit by bit, when I was in prison, that as long as there will be iron gates and barbed wires round the Skeffington Coffee Estate, and city cars that can roll up the Bebbur Mound, and gas-lights and coolie cars, there will always be pariahs and poverty. Ratna, things must change. The youths here say they will change it. Jawaharlal will change it. You know Jawaharlal is like a Bharatha to the Mahatma, and he, too, is for non-violence and he, too, is a Satyagrahi, but he says in Swaraj there shall be neither the rich nor the poor. And he calls himself an ‘equal­distributionist,’ and I am with him and his men.” (188–9)

Along with the epistolary conceit, here we also see a reigning in of the epical syntax – with shortened sentences and a diminishing of the songlike tempo. In part, this is because the narrator is now Moorthy, literate and educated, as opposed to Achakka. However, it is also clear that Moorthy’s break from the epical motivation of Gandhism – acting for the first time according to his own will, and choosing Nehru over Gandhi – by its very nature revives the conflicted formal terrain where realism and allegory once again interact in unlikely and productive ways, rather than with one subsumed to the other from the outset.


Itineraries of Character

Even without Moorthy, the rest of the villagers continue on the Gandhian path, and in that sense the all-encompassing allegorical register of the novel remains intact. As in the earlier passages, the problem of dissent – the idea that a character might follow his or her own volition to a place outside the external motivating power of Gandhi – is once again eclipsed by allegorical reference to the Hindu epics: Ratna left us for Bombay the week after. But Rangamma will come out of prison soon. They say Rangamma is all for the Mahatma. We are all for the Mahatma. Pariah Rachanna’s wife, Rachi, and Seethamma and Timmamma are all for the Mahatma. They say there are men in Bombay and Bengal and Punjab, who are all for the Mahatma. They say the Mahatma will go to the Redman’s country and he will get us Swaraj. He will bring us Swaraj, the Mahatma. And we shall all be happy. And Rama will come back from exile, and Sita will be with him, for Ravana will be slain and Sita freed, and he will come back with Sita on his right in a chariot of the air, and brother Bharatha will go to meet them with the worshipped sandal of the Master on his head. And as they enter Ayodhya there will be a rain of flowers. (189)

The repetition, the rhythm, the parallel sentence structure, and the second-degree narration (“they say”) are all stylistic features that complement the overarching allegorical narrative relating the mundane and the profane to the national and sacred. Yet in this hyperallegorical formulation, the elision between Gandhi and Rama is made so quickly that Gandhi is lost altogether, as the nationalist movement immediately becomes allegorical for the righting of universal wrongs, the end of kaliyuga and the restoration of an entirely epic universe, in which the place of the human – including, it seems, of Gandhi  – is dubious at best. It is ironically at this very moment when the novel becomes the paradigmatic Gandhian novel – when, despite the change of heart of its Gandhian protagonist, everyone is “all for the Mahatma” – that its Gandhian vision is sublated to a series of higher allegorical levels. What Rao seems to present, then, is allegory taken to its limits, in which not only is the realist character given meaning by a larger political narrative (as in Untouchable) or by saintly ideals (as in Rangbhumi), but those larger narratives and ideals are themselves allegorized – to a point of universalism that is ultimately referentless. The intermediaries thus fail to serve their purpose, and the women of Kanthapura are elevated to the plane of the gods, with little attention given to the Moorthy or the Gandhi in between. The layers of history, nation, and meaning are sloughed off, and allegory becomes a universal, rather than particular condition. This is not what Rao necessarily envisioned in his foreword, which speaks directly to the problem of colonial

Experiments with Gandhi


rule and the need for Indians to find aesthetic forms through which they can claim a role in modern history. Thus at the end of the novel, although the Gandhian narrative remains intact, Kanthapura ends up putting indirect pressure on the ideal of allegory itself. Despite its own assertions of difference from the experiments with realism taking place throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Kanthapura also probes the relationship between realism and allegory, and between contingency and overdetermination, by way of its Gandhian protagonist. What distinguishes this novel from the others is that because Rao so presciently anticipated the power of the rhetoric of difference in postcolonial studies, and the almost exclusive focus of later critics on questions of language and style over form, Kanthapura continues to be convincingly categorized as a classic national allegory, with much less attention to how its allegory is also a site of the productive instability of form. What all these Gandhian novels show us is that national allegory of the 1930s did not rely on a simplistic correspondence between the novel and the nation but rather was a consideration of the problem of allegory at large, opening up the meaning of individual works beyond the consolidation of nationalist sentiment to larger questions of freedom, choice, and motivation in realist characterization and of meaning in realism more generally. Although the assumption is that in this period of nationbuilding all literary texts could do was write the nation into being, in fact their metafictional engagement with the problematic of writing the nation raises much more commonality with later, post-realist writers than is usually considered. Far from serving as a mouthpiece of Gandhian ideology in their works, these authors suggest literary complications to the very question of ideology  – presenting Gandhi not merely as a man or even a superhuman but as a crucible of literary experiment.

Pa r t I I

History and the Future

Ch apter 4

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism

An underlying linear temporality – even in the absence of linear plots – has been one of the most significant features of the realist novel, which required new practices of reading and inspired new kinds of stories that presupposed the teleological unfolding of historical time, differing from earlier narratives whose “episodes remain discrete, unconfined and uncoordinated by systematic temporal or spatial relationships” (Ermarth 11). Realist temporality became central not only to the early Indian novel but to the development of a nationalist consciousness, which required the conceptualization of a linear history whose logical development could be channeled toward future national sovereignty. Indian authors of the 1930s had at their disposal an entire apparatus for rethinking this nationalist teleology through innovations on the seemingly unshakable temporalities of the realist novel. One particular site of innovation was the genre most entwined with progressive temporality, history, and the future: the historical novel. The historical novel arrived in South Asia in the mid-nineteenth century: one of the genres spawned by the Indian intelligentsia’s new interest in the modern discourse of history. Writing about the past was not uncommon in Indian literature, but such fiction was rarely considered to be historical in its modern sense. For instance, Kartik Prasad Khatri’s 1896 Hindi novel, Jaya, is a love story set in the past, but there are no historical markers, and “we read comparatively little about either characters or historical background which does not bear directly on advancing the plot, and as a result the whole novel takes on an air of breathless haste” (McGregor 161). Nineteenth-century Urdu novelist Mirza Muhammad Ruswa went so far as to associate historical writing with a particularly fanciful imagination, criticizing, “I have not the inventive power to portray events that happened thousands of years ago, and moreover I consider it a fault to produce a picture which tallies neither with present day conditions nor with those of the past – which, if you study the matter carefully, 101


History and the Future

is what usually happens” (qtd. in Mukherjee, “Reality” 85). Here Ruswa associates historical fiction not with realism but with fantasy. By contrast, the modern historical novel was founded on a new sense of linearity and a specific interest in creating an account of a collective past that would undergird the formation of contemporary identities. It is no accident that in India one of the first historical novels also offered what was to become the dominant image of Indian nationalism, that of Bharat Mata (Mother India) in Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s 1882 Anandamath. By narrating the fictionalized account of a successful political rebellion one hundred years earlier, Bankim followed Georg Lukács’s prescription that “it is the reawakening of past national greatness which gives strength to hopes of national rebirth” (Historical 22). The first historical novels in India offered a vision of this greatness with similar imaginative aims. Yet the temporal structure of Anandamath is surprisingly heterogeneous for a work considered a modern historical novel.1 The novel is structured over two primary temporalities, only one of which is standard historical time. As the novel begins, “it is summer one day in 1770 in the village of Paacinha and the sun beats down fiercely” (131) – and then, a little farther on: “Because there was a poor harvest in 1768, rice in 1769 was a little more expensive. . . . During the rainy season in 1769, it rained heavily” (131). The precise dates unmistakably invoke the famine of 1770 – which as Julius Lipner reminds us “was well known to succeeding generations of Bengalis as the great famine of ’76, that is, 1176 of the Bengali era” (28) – and thus locate the past in quantifiable relation to the present. By contrast, the second temporality is more obscure, and reminiscent of the timelessness of premodern tales, and that is the chronotope of the forest (bon). Although some critics have sought to relate the forests of the novel to the real woods with which Bankim had personal experience (Lipner 37–40), in fact the forest operates in the novel as a largely imaginative chronotope, with a peculiar “morphic symbolism” (Lipner 43) by which strange and inexplicable events can occur, precisely because it exists outside of the homogeneous temporality of the rest of the narration. These two temporalities are not reducible to one another; as Lipner urges Anandamath’s contemporary readers, “The novel’s landscape must not be invested with a historicity that it cannot bear” (43). Through the overlaying of these two chronotopes, Bankim enacts a compromise between the timelessness of fantasy (the subject of Ruswa’s critique) and the homogeneity of historical time. He opens up a space for representing what Sudipta Kaviraj calls “a world in the making, in its contingency, in its open, probabilistic form. It shows not only how the social world became the way it is but also

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


how close at times it was to being quite different.” The novel recasts history as “an explanation of the experience of subjection, and also a rational ground for hope. It was possible to change the past in the future, simply by making it the past of a different present” (Unhappy 109). It is in this ironic way that Anandamath inaugurates the genre of the historical novel in India, establishing the constitutive impurity that becomes its distinguishing mark: a reinterpretation of standard, Hegelian historicity from the perspective of the colonized. The novel presents a historical consciousness that is fundamentally heterogeneous, and suggests that modernity in India must accommodate this heterogeneity rather than reject or transcend it altogether. Although less self-conscious than it comes to be in postcolonial India, such historical fiction nevertheless does what Aparna Dharwadker notes as “inevitably draw[ing] attention to the inherited problems of historical representation, even as they represent history and invest it with new (but not necessarily ideal) meanings” (44). Thus Bankim’s novel anticipates the temporal ambivalence we saw in Ghare Baire, in which Tagore presents the irreparable ideological discontinuities of the Swadeshi Movement through a series of irreconcilable temporal breaks. Tagore gives overt form to the heterogeneity that lies under the surface of Bankim’s more easily misunderstood text.2 This chapter follows the novelization of temporal discontinuity forward through the 1930s. Bankim’s and Tagore’s ambivalence with regard to homogeneous, historical time emerges in this decade to become a fullfledged crisis that gained in significance because of India’s own imminent entry into nationhood. Like Premchand’s, Anand’s, and Rao’s experiments with character, experiments with time put pressure on the aesthetic sanctity of individual novels to such an extent that some of them are not recognized as historical fiction at all, despite their deep engagement with history. Attention to moments of discontinuity in these novels’ temporality reveals them not only to critique the homogeneous time of the modern nation-state but also to animate the unthinkable possibility of a heterogeneous nationalism. R e a l i s m a n d Pe r f or m a nc e One novel engaged with the problem of historical representation in the context of nationalism is Ahmed Ali’s (1910–1994) Anglophone novel, Twilight in Delhi (1940). Although commonly considered a nostalgic text that laments the lost greatness of Delhi’s Muslim past, the novel’s multilayered resignification of the conventional temporality of the historical


History and the Future

novel makes it a richly problematic reinterpretation of nationalism from the perspective of the nation’s largest minority. Twilight in Delhi’s complex rendering of time is evinced in its first few pages, when the young Asghar Nihal laments his circumstances to his friend Bari. “Heav[ing] a sigh,” Asghar begins by noting the omnipresence of “grief in this world.” When pressed further, he sighs once more and launches into an explanation of his mood. His abstract language, however – “We struggle, but we cannot get out of the net which fate has cast about us” – fails to convey his despair. “But can you understand?” Asghar pushes his friend. “Can anyone understand?” He proceeds to quote the 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz: “The night is dark, the waves rise mountains high, And such a storm is raging! What do the pedestrians know of my plight moving Upon the shore that’s safe and dry?”

Bari guesses, from this recitation, that Asghar is once again in love: “Who is it this time?” Welcoming the opportunity for further elucidation, Asghar generates a string of similes to describe Bilqeece, his current infatuation: “graceful as a cypress,” “her hair is blacker than the night of separation,” “Her eyes are like narcissi,” “Her lips are redder than the blood of lovers,” and so on. To all this Bari responds gnomically, “Is she a living being or a poem?” (24). Such moments, common throughout Twilight, have generally perplexed critics. Some have dismissed such language as “pseudo-romantic Kitsch” (Stilz 82). Others have read it as an attempt to capture the style of Indian Muslim culture in the moment before its precipitous decline. I propose a third alternative. At some point, the melodramatic gestures – the sighs, the overt display of grief – the somewhat maudlin language, the invocation of a monumental literary figure to describe what turns out to be a fickle love, and the barrage of similes are so hyperbolically executed that, verging on exhaustion, they lose their point of reference and signify primarily performatively, in the act of their utterance rather in the meaning they convey. Bari gestures in this direction by jokingly suggesting that the girl herself has become “a poem” – implying that not only the signifier but reference itself might be a text. But we can take Bari’s comment even further, where the reference of realism – the manners of Muslim Delhi, the nostalgia for a lost Muslim past – is also lost just as it is invoked. Like the mimetic realism defended by Premchand and Ahmed Ali (discussed in Chapter 1), the most vigorously expressed description of

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


Muslim Delhi also contains the point where what it represents falls away, and the description is all that remains. It is this gap in referentiality that is the key to understanding the novel’s realism more generally. Ahmed Ali, like Premchand and Mulk Raj Anand, was a founding member of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA), committed to realism as a means of reclaiming Indian literature from the elitist traditions of the past. And like these others, the prescriptive principles for realism found in Ali’s writings and speeches are belied by the complex registers of his literary works. More than the rest, Ali’s history in the AIPWA was manifestly fraught. Although having collaborated with fellow Urdu authors Sajjad Zaheer, Rashid Jan, and Mahmuduzzafar to produce the volume Angare (Embers) in 1932, which caused a stir for its frank depiction of sexuality and its “defiance against all traditional norms” (Mahmud 447), Ali in fact broke with the group in 1938 after a falling-out with Zaheer over how explicitly political progressive literature should be (Coppola, “Interview” 15 n.4). Zaheer and several others took a harder line than Ali, arguing that “proletarian literature, or literature dealing with the proletariat and/or peasantry, could alone be considered progressive” (Ali, Afterword 162). Ali’s conflict with these other progressive writers reveals his larger interest in exploring a variety of possible literary engagements with politics, both inside and outside of the parameters of social realism as narrowly defined. This is exhibited in the remarkable diversity of his writings, which include both Urdu and English works, and range from metaphysical and moral novels, drama, poems, and poetry translations, to modernist short stories, literary criticism, historical narratives, a translation of the Quran, and Twilight in Delhi, a realist novel (Hashmi 45–7). Ali uses these different genres to explore a range of subjects and to experiment with different representational modes. For instance in his short story “Baadal Nahin Aate [The Clouds Are Not Coming],” published in Angare, Ali uses modernist techniques such as stream of consciousness to construct a strong critique of Muslim conservatism and the institution of marriage more broadly. Others of his stories, such as those collected in The Prison House, employ a slice-of-life naturalism similar to that of R. K. Narayan, which present the inhabitants of Muslim Delhi with an affectionate but faintly ironic eye. His novel Ocean of Night, by contrast, takes on a more sentimental theme, of the ill-fated love between a courtesan and her lover. In comparison, Twilight is a clearly realist novel set in the recent past. In this variety Ali approaches the question of progressive literature from a number of thematic and stylistic angles.


History and the Future

On the surface, Twilight in Delhi is a novel of cultural lament. It tells the story of the patriarch Mir Nihal and his family, scions of the Mughal aristocracy who had ruled Delhi for at least three centuries. Their story is structured over a traditional narrative of decline, marked by three key dates in the history of Muslim Delhi. The first is 1857, the year of the so-called Indian Mutiny of sepoys in the colonial army, and the resulting quashing of resistance through a widespread campaign of violence against Delhi’s Muslims by the British Army, culminating in the burning of Muslim sites in Delhi and the deposition of the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah, to Rangoon. Although these events happened in the past, when Mir Nihal was a young boy, they cast their shadow over the novel as marking the beginning of the end of Mughal rule in the subcontinent. The second date is 1911, the year of the Delhi Durbar, and the historical moment that defines the novel’s present. In 1911 the capital of British India was officially transferred from Calcutta to New Delhi, a city built adjacent to and supplanting the old Mughal capital, and thus which encapsulates, both literally and metaphorically, the old city’s demise. The final historical moment exists extradiegetically, in 1940, the year of the novel’s publication and of the Lahore Resolution, in which Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s two-state solution for India’s independence was accepted by the Muslim League, preparing the way for the partition of colonial India into the two independent states of India and Pakistan. By focusing on an elderly protagonist, Mir Nihal, instead of a member of the younger generation, Ali constructs an Altersroman, or novel of age, in which time brings not development or maturity but decline and retreat.3 Mir Nihal’s overall trajectory, weighed down by the memories of Delhi’s past glory, leads to his gradual disempowerment, which is metaphorized by way of a stroke, so that when the novel ends, his death is not far away. The story also registers his increased withdrawal from society, his desire “to live more and more at home, in his own world, and in the atmosphere of alchemy and medicine, a world which was still his own where no one could disturb him or order him about” (145). The Delhi Durbar is the culmination of this decrepit vision, as it marks the final demise of Muslim cultural and political flourishing in the city. This narrative of decline is further sustained by the trope of twilight, which is often used as an elegiac metaphor to describe the waning of historical eras (the “twilight” of the Raj, for example), in particular of the Mughal period.4 The novel’s characters confirm this sense of imminent end by exhibiting an overwhelming indifference to the Indian nationalist movement; although Twilight ends with the birth of mass nationalism in

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


1919, the pervading consciousness of the characters and in particular of Mir Nihal is frozen around 1911, with all the rich symbolism that date entails. It is no accident that Mir Nihal’s stroke occurs soon after the ceremonial transfer of power, and tragedy seems to strike his family in every domain. The rich affective significance of Delhi’s history and its implications for Muslim South Asia – especially when seen from the vantage point of 1940 – is part of the palpable emotional experience recorded in the novel, and for this reason it is overwhelmingly read as lyrical and nostalgic.5 Yet such a view does not account for the pervasive logic of performance that underlies the novel, and of which Asghar’s words are only one example. Although its thematic is sustained by a narrative of decline, the text is structured around a whole series of individual, historical, and political performances, and as such depicts a world almost entirely legible through the logic of performativity. This logic offers synchrony as an alternative temporality to that of the linear, progressive time of realism. In this way, it compels us to rethink the work’s historical orientation, along with the nostalgia that it constantly describes. I find Lalitha Gopalan’s definition of formal “interruptions” useful here, which I borrow from her study of popular Hindi film. For Gopalan, formal breaks in popular filmic texts, which have long been considered inassimilable to conventional cinematic logic, function in particular ways within plots and also serve as metatextual markers, “delaying the development of the plot, [or] distracting us from the other scenes of the narrative through spatial and temporal disjunctions” (19). Twilight is replete with such interruptions that constitute a metacommentary on realism itself. They offer an alternative epistemology, foregrounding the spatial over the temporal, the staged over the progressive. Far from marring the realist mode of the novel as a whole, then, synchrony and interruption become the operative principles along which this novel makes meaning as a realist text.6 It is not that Twilight never takes seriously the nostalgia expressed by the characters within it or conveyed extradiegetically in the narrative of historical decline. Rather, Ali presents nostalgia itself as a performance – as a series of gestures, movements, and rehearsed dialogues. Ali suggests that nostalgia is in fact receptive to “the crisis of the sign, emerging between signifier and signified, between the material nature of the former and the abstract and historical nature of the latter, as well as within the mediated reality between written and spoken language” (Stewart 23). This defies the conventional logic by which nostalgia “long[s] . . . for absolute presence” (Stewart 24). Such a rethinking of nostalgia has significant consequences


History and the Future

for situating Twilight in Delhi within a larger context of experiments with realist temporality in this period, as it opens up the relationship between nostalgia and progressivism, between memory and realism at large. The idea of the past as a performance also impels us to rethink twilight outside of its typical narrative of decline. Ali advances an alternative formulation of twilight in a play he wrote and staged in 1931 at Lucknow University, titled The Land of Twilight, in which he presents twilight specifically through the logic of performativity. The Land of Twilight is a oneact, surrealistic drama in verse that presents three pilgrims attempting to journey to an unknown “land of twilight.” Unlike what the title suggests, however, this play’s future land is one of utopic promise. Its narrative is structured around a recognizable logic of political awakening undergirded by transitions from present to future, decay to utopia, religion to freedom, ideology to consciousness, and image to reality. Much as Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz reinterpreted the conventional trope of dawn in his post-Partition poem “Subh-e Azadi [The Dawn of Independence],” which begins with the surprising metaphor, “Yeh daagh daagh ujjala [this mottled/stained daybreak]” (Kabir, “Subjectivities” 247), here Ali conversely resignifies twilight as the topos for a better future – a land, as one pilgrim extols, “where the flowers take their hues/And swallows dye their plumes in gay colours,” and as another confirms, “There in the Land of Twilight,/ Where all is for ever, ever bright” (11). This idea of a “bright” twilight comes close to inverting, or emptying out, the image completely. Rather than see it as a paradox, however, the play suggests that the assumption that twilight is something to fear is itself an ideology of subjugation, and that liberty  – to which the play is, in many ways, a paean  – resides in the performance itself, which is where the “real” meaning of twilight can emerge. By constantly engaging the line between realist and dramatic modes, Ali’s novel takes its cue from the play and stages nostalgia as a valid subjectivity of the declining Muslim elite, but one that is always already textualized, and whose meaning arises in its repeated instantiation.7 Through an analysis of the different moments of staging in the novel, I argue that performance is the vehicle by which Ali reconsiders realism from a means of merely narrating temporal decline to a much more expansive mode that can accommodate alternative versions of the past and the future. Thus realism is itself always staged, offering a version of historical consciousness that muddies the homogeneous temporality of the novel-nation dyad as conceived in postcolonial theory beginning with Benedict Anderson. Rather than replicating political narratives of Muslim separatism on one

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


hand, or of Indian nationalism on the other, Twilight is able to subject the very desirability and content of the nation to radical formal experimentation. In doing so Ali’s novel demonstrates how different the link between the novel and the nation looks when read with a deep sense of the plasticity of realist time in the novel. P oe t r y a n d Hi s t or y The novel’s “interrupted” temporality is first suggested in its medium, which is a prose continually broken by snatches of poetry. Harish Trivedi calculates that “a total of 265 lines of verse or song are quoted on more than fifty separate occasions in the novel” (“Ahmed Ali” 67), which amounts to approximately one poetic verse quoted per five pages of prose. At one level, the novel operates as a kind of archive, which records for posterity the Urdu poetry of the Mughal imperial past. In the text, however, Ali translates all these verses into English, losing both the original language and meaning and much of the artistry of the form. It is clear, then, that poetry works not only as artifact but as a formal provocation as well. The nature of this provocation might be gleaned by considering poetry and prose’s contrasting relationships to time. Whereas prose is conventionally associated with a linear temporality, poetry offers a more transcendent sensibility of “timelessness” (Pritchett, Nets 127). Twilight stages the conflict between these two temporalities by dramatizing a struggle between prosaic movement and poetic interruption. Part II, for instance, opens with an epigraph of a translated sher (verse) by Ghalib, the most famous nineteenth-century Urdu poet: My despair does not know The turnings of the wheel of Time; The day turned disastrous Knows neither dusk nor dawn. (63)

By placing the verse as epigraph, the second section of the novel begins with an active rejection of the demarcation of daily experience by the mundane rituals of the passing of the day; far from the rigid temporality of the clock, even the rising and setting of the sun is presented as an impediment to the transcendence of the poet’s despair. Yet this sentiment stands in marked contrast to the first prose line of Part II, which is a precise dating of the scene: “It was the terrible summer of nineteen hundred and eleven” (65). Part IV also begins with a specific date, 1918, and


History and the Future

a reference to the “hundreds and thousands of Indians [who] had been killed in the war, acting as fodder to the German guns” (169). By juxtaposing these two means of conceiving time, Ali presents time itself as a text. He thus calls into question the dominance of linearity, and undermines his own supposed fixation with historical decline.8 A majority of the 265 lines of poetry quoted throughout the text are interspersed within the novel’s prose, furthering this logic of interruptions. The mixing of poetry and prose is not unusual in the early Urdu novel, which was often structured as a poetic recital – the most famous of which was Mirza Ruswa’s 1899 Umrao Jan Ada. Ali himself set his second novel, Ocean of Night, among courtesans in Lucknow, giving diegetic credence to the constant recital of verse within that work’s prose. In Twilight, by contrast, the uses of poetry are more diverse: sometimes – usually with Asghar and Mushtari Bai, the courtesan he visits – a verse is recited by one of the characters, but more often it appears in the disembodied voices of singers or poets, or a random “man” (19, 52, 79) or “boy” (22) or group of “women” (60, 96) passing by on the street. The absence of an elaborately constructed diegetic rationale means that when compared to other novels, the poetry in Twilight can be seen to exist in the main text in a more narratologically disruptive way. The idea of poetry as interruption might also shed new light on the long-standing consensus about Twilight’s literary influences. Several critics trace Twilight’s reigning tropology to the Persio-Urdu form of the shehrashob, or poetic lament of the city (lit., the city’s misfortune) (Trivedi, “Ahmed Ali” 70; Joshi, In Another 216–18). The shehrashob, a poetic form marked, in South Asia, by “gloom, depression and fatalism” (Sadiq 89), first appeared on the subcontinent in 1707, following the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, which was characterized by particular decadence. Over the decades, the form gained significance during and following periods of social hardship, including in 1857 with the realization that Muslim rule in India was in precipitous decline. In the shehrashob, Muslim history is figured as a narrative of ineluctable loss, and it is clear why, in many ways, Twilight, with its own elegiac lament on the loss of Mughal Delhi, might be seen as invoking this tradition. Yet it is possible that Twilight’s engagement with the shehrashob goes further than merely translating its nostalgic sensibility into prose. Indeed, as a poetic form centered specifically around the city, in the shehrashob “the poet locates his existential self through an attachment to a watan, or homeland” (Jalal 11), and thus re-forms the affective sensibilities of lament and nostalgia in a spatial mode. Early Persian shahrashubs, less interested in decline, were

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


characterized by their representations of a diversity of spaces and occupations of the city (Sharma, “City” 75), and it was only in the eighteenth century that “the exuberant city poem of Persian with shahrashub elements became the shahrashob [the disturbed city], a lament for a declining city in classical Urdu poetry” (Sharma, “City” 77). What it retained, however, was a focus on the city itself, as a space of affective condensation in a way that anticipated, for instance, the modernist poetry of Charles Baudelaire. As Harish Trivedi writes about Twilight, “Above all else, [it is] a novel of place. Twilight creates, celebrates, laments and immortalizes a vitally human place as few novels have ever been able to do, and therein lies its quintessential distinction” (“Ahmed Ali” 51–2). This spatialization of lament is evinced in a verse written by Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir when Delhi was invaded by the Marathas in 1760, and quoted – in translation – by Ali in the novel: Why do you ask my native place, O dwellers of the East, Making mock of me for the poor plight I am in? Delhi, which was once the jewel of the world, Where dwelt only the loved ones of fate, Which has now been ruined by the hand of Time, I’m a resident of that storm-tossed place . . . . (Twilight 4–5, ellipses in original)9

Here, the poet’s complaint is that he is being asked to link his fate to a place (“Why do you ask . . .”), but in the course of resisting the request his poetry constructs a place of the past that stands as the embodiment of his regret (“Delhi, which was once . . .”). The shehrashob thus presents elegy as intimately linked to space, and furthers the spatialized logic proposed, in the novel, by the use of poetry in general. These metatextual instantiations suggest that the prose also be read as text. Rather than merely a thematic influence, then, we might see the shehrashob as offering a genealogy to the poetics of synchrony and performativity that undergirds the novel as a whole. It offers a new and enriched temporality of realism, which concretizes lament in space – and, to push the metaphor, “stages” it.10 This logic of interruptions is generalized to become the primary epistemology of the entire novel. Not only are its individual episodes structured as “detachable set-pieces” (Trivedi, “Ahmed Ali” 47), the entire historical apparatus that provides its background is represented similarly, so that history itself is presented as a set piece with which the characters have little connection:


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Outside the city, beyond the Fort and beyond the Mori Gate, workmen were digging away in the scorching heat of May levelling or raising the earth, beautifying the ground in preparation for the Coronation of a new and foreign king. But that was still far off and no one seemed to be concerned. (65)

The ability of prose to describe movement is invoked and then immediately disavowed by presenting the workmen “digging away” as a far-off image with no meaningful connection to the characters. The description is written in prose, but nevertheless we see a similarity between this description and the spatialization of the shehrashob, with the presentation of movement and then the curtailment of that movement to a snapshot, or tableau, thus circumscribing its progressive possibilities. Passages such as these seem to suggest that more significant than real history is history as individual snapshots – a reading that complicates an interpretation of the novel as merely nostalgic. No s ta l g i a a s G e s t u r e Attention to the text’s performative elements enables an alternative reading of nostalgia as well. As mentioned, nostalgia tends to be the primary lens through which Twilight is read, with critics emphasizing nostalgia’s anti-progressivist orientation, its fixation with and sedimentation of the past, but also its own reliance on “the modern conception of unrepeatable and irreversible time” (Boym 13). When interpreted through the performative epistemology indexed by Asghar early in the novel, however, along with the poetic interruptions and the spatial sensibility of the shehrashob, even the seemingly self-evident linearity of Twilight’s overt historical markers is called into question. This alternative epistemology has the potential to radically disrupt the stated nostalgia of the text. Indeed, I suggest, it is not only the individual episodes or even history itself that is a set piece but nostalgia itself as the novel’s reigning mood. From this perspective, nostalgia is not an affective sensibility of decline or a larger narrative in which to make sense of individual emotions such as pain and grief but a discourse characters actively inhabit and re-create, through a series of ritualized, iterated utterances and bodily performances. The textualization of the past begins in one of the very first scenes, when Mehro asks her mother to tell her the story of “what happened in the Mutiny,” and Begum Nihal responds, “It’s a long story. I will tell you some other day” (6). Here the defining historical moment for the family’s community, the 1857 Mutiny, is refigured as a text, and specifically one constituted by the infinite postponement of its telling (“some other day”).

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


The whole domestic scene in which this conversation takes place is likewise figured as a tableau vivant: along with the suspended storytelling, the languorous pose of the daughter Mehro Zamani (6), the careful paan folding of Begum Nihal (7), and the monotonous labor of the housemaid, Dilchain (7), are represented as enactments of mundane rituality rather than as the realistic details of life itself. Mir Nihal’s first entrance into the house is also characterized by a series of gestures, as he successively becomes enraged, frowns, and panics within his first few minutes back home (8–9). Here, embodied emotion has been internalized so deeply into the novel’s texture that the mundane rituals of the domestic sphere appear as ritualized performance. The text follows the path laid out by these early scenes by suggesting that nostalgia for the past is also legible primarily as gesture. We see this in the novel’s repeated invocations of the last Mughal king of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was exiled by the British following the events of 1857. From the perspective of the text’s thematic investment in decline, Bahadur Shah is the central object of nostalgia, both as the erstwhile king and as an accomplished poet whose exile marked the demise of political patronage for the Urdu arts. In the first pages of the novel, the deposed king is positioned to represent the overall elegiac mood of the text, and fragments of his poetry are constantly presented to underscore this sensibility: I am the light of no one’s eye, The rest of no one’s heart am I. That which can be of use to none – Just a handful of dust am I. (4)11

The aesthetic of self-abnegation presented here invokes a standard imagery of subject-formation in Urdu lyric poetry but undergirds it, in this performance, with political significance, so that the “handful of dust” refers both to the body after death and the razing of the city and the depleted consciousness of its residents. There is a double move here: Bahadur Shah’s political identity, in which he is seen to have failed the people in not providing leadership following the Mutiny, is first eclipsed by his poetic one, so that he becomes “a romantic symbol of imperial grandeur and tragic loss” (Pritchett, Nets 28); and then the poetry is buoyed by historical signification so that it becomes meaningful within the narrative of loss over which the novel is structured. Bahadur Shah is long deposed, however, and appears only as a ghost that pervades the consciousness of post-Mutiny Delhi; Twilight actualizes this spectral possibility in several figures, who both give body to this


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nostalgia by representing it in human form and textualize it by repeatedly reciting poems penned by the deposed emperor. The first such figure is a beggar “commonly known as Bahadur Shah, for he sang only the Mughal king’s poems” (96). Although the association between the beggar and the deposed king is drawn through his name and the poetry he recites, he is not in fact a true descendant of the king, and thus the primary conceit here is contrast rather than resemblance. Indeed, this figure’s repetition of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry – the same verse, “I am the light of no one’s eye” cited earlier in the text  – offers a paradigm of iterated language that reinforces its disembodied quality and in doing so delinks the poem from its author. This “Bahadur Shah” is an embodiment par excellence: he is “flat” and has no interiority. He, in more ways than one, represents nostalgia: his body is nostalgia embodied, and his poem is nostalgia textualized. The novel’s realism works in contrasting ways – to present a world of ideas in social form (nostalgia as beggar), and to inhibit allegorization by disallowing the beggar from becoming too lifelike, reducing him instead to a distorted simulacrum of the Bahadur Shah he claims to represent. The novel’s second poet figure, Gul Bano, is an actual descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar and thus introduces the logic of genealogical continuity that will occupy the second half of the novel. Gul Bano’s performance pushes even further the link between grief and nostalgia, as in her lament about the loss of Mughal power, she draws in her listeners’ emotions: the occupants of the zenana “heaved sighs . . . as if her sorrows were their own” (101), and then “Begam Nihal dried two teardrops from her eyes, and gave Gul Bano a paan” (101). Here again the women repeat a series of gestures whose meaning cannot quite be contained by the discourse of grief. Gul Bano goes on to recite nostalgic lines from Bahadur Shah’s poetry – “Ravished were the people of Hind,/Unenviable their fate” (102) – but what these lines produce is that “tears came into the eyes of Begam Nihal and Begam Kalim; and Begam Jamal began to cry. And when Gul Bano sang these lines no one could repress her sobs” (102). The sublimation of emotion into a series of iterable gestures transferred from one listener to the next, almost as if it were something material, does not mitigate the pain of decline that is the expressed intention of Gul Bano’s words, but it does complicate the distinction between felt grief and a larger narrative of nostalgia for the lost Mughal past. Likewise it suggests, through the textualizing of this grief into such practiced gestures, that along with the sorrow, reference is being made to the mode of reference itself.

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


These embodiments of spectral power mobilize the gestural logic of the text in a dramatic mode that is on one hand resonant of Georg Lukács, for whom drama “concentrates the decisive moments of a social-historical crisis in the collision.” On the other hand, Ali’s figures defy the formal hierarchy that defines such a genre, in which “the grouping of the figures, from centre to periphery, is the degree to which they are caught up in the collision” (Historical 126). By contrast, here the spectral figures from Delhi’s past circle around the margins of the text and intrude only to register their expressions of grief and then retreat again. They do not represent, in this way, “the uncontrollable recurrence of figures of ghosts” that, in Pheng Cheah’s reading of postcolonial authors Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Ngũg ı ̃ wa Thiong’o “indicate that something has gone awry with their projects [to reincarnate the national organism]” (11). Here the spectrality is not melancholic but part of the process of mourning. By performing the past, the ghosts lay the epistemic groundwork for a more inhabitable future. “T h e B ody of t h e K i ng” This mode of gestural signification converges around the 1911 Delhi Durbar, the spectacular performance that secured British hegemony over the former Mughal city, and the event that lies at the thematic center of the novel. The Delhi Durbar commemorated the establishment of George V as king-emperor of India and announced to his colonial subjects the transfer of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi. The durbar was a ritual initially practiced by India’s Mughal rulers, and the British claimed it as part of the colonial strategy of appropriating indigenous forms of power to establish political supremacy. In this way, rather than merely conveying or rationalizing British rule, it worked by staging British power as a performance, thereby “demonstrat[ing] the permanence and grandeur of empire far more effectively than other, textual, forms of proclamation” (Barringer 172). The Durbar turned Delhi, quite literally, into one of the empire’s “theaters of colonial domination” (Hosagrahar 83). In a novel already concerned with the performative dimension of realism, the Delhi Durbar marks a moment where the various energies of history and performance come to a head. The Delhi Durbar was, very clearly, a staging of colonial authority – what David Cannadine calls “Ornamentalism,” or “hierarchy made visible, immanent and actual” (122). Preparations allotted twenty-five square miles for the performance, and the entire arena was set up like a stage in


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a play, in which the highlight was “the ritual enactment of Indian allegiance in ceremonial” (Collingham 134). Although some of the pomp had been toned down from the earlier durbar in 1902 (for instance, there were fewer elephants and the king only rode in on a horse), the effect was perhaps even more profound, as the monarch was actually in attendance himself, so that, in the type of prepanoptic formation described by Michel Foucault, “the body of the king” mobilizes its entire “strange material and physical presence, with the force that he himself deploys or transmits to some few others” (Discipline 208). The fact that it was taking place in a field adjacent to the Jama Masjid, a monument of Mughal grandeur and of immense religious significance, was not accidental: “as a principal site of the 1857–58 uprising and suppression, Delhi would . . . serve as a constant reminder of the British victory in that conflict” (Hosagrahar 93). Central to the effectiveness of the durbar in conveying this sense of omnipotence was the entrancement of the spectatorial gaze  – the complete colonization of the visual arena by the ritual display of power. Traditionally, the durbar was meant to confirm the loyalty of royal subjects through this visual exchange. When incorporated into the official practices of Hindu rulers in India, this witnessing was conceived in religious terms, as the taking of darshan or an inspired witnessing of the bodily form of the divine. In the British durbar the king also functioned “as an icon,” representing power by enacting it, and thus collapsing the distance between his actual body and power in the abstract (Waghorne 9). In this way, the power enacted by the spectacle is unshakable, as any spectator, even the most dissenting, is interpellated by the performance, and “there were no untouched observers . . . – only actors and participants” (Hosagrahar 92).12 It is for this reason, we surmise, that “Mir Nihal was loath to go, but his sons persuaded him to come” (104). On one level, Twilight disrupts this interpellative power by presenting the Durbar as farce  – something relatively common to indigenous representations of the event (Joshi, In Another 218). In Mulk Raj Anand’s semifictional memoir, Seven Summers, for instance, the Delhi Durbar is narrativized comically, from a child’s point of view. It is figured as a raucous display of colors and sounds, culminating in “a large Union Jack [that] was lifted by means of ropes and pulleys, which seemed to be miraculous” (106–7). Soon afterward, “the crowd wearied of this lengthy ceremony and whispered and gossiped and babbled. Even the Inspectors of Police, who charged up and down the length of the enclosure, could not hush them” (107). In Twilight as well, the spectators, including Mir Nihal, are unable to distinguish the English king from the soldiers that

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


surrounded him: “The English looked all so alike with their white faces and their similar military uniforms” (105). This misrecognition of colonial authority suggests one form of its subversion. For Mir Nihal, however, farce is an unsatisfactory counter to the form of power the Durbar represents, as it merely substitutes a historical perspective with a parodic, presentist one, and thus makes no provision for his real feelings of grief and loss, or for Mughal nostalgia as a whole. He manages to refuse the call of the performance only by figuratively turning away from the stage toward the churnings and imaginative visions of his own mind, which remember this very stage through an alternative historical consciousness. In this way, he experiences the colonizers’ theatrics through the filter of the past: “It was this very mosque, Mir Nihal remembered with blood in his eyes, which the English had insisted on demolishing or turning into a church during 1857” (106). This memory emerges as a “terrible and awe-inspiring picture” of “that most fateful day when Delhi fell into the hands of the English, that this mosque had seen a different sight”: Mir Nihal was ten years of age then, and had seen everything with his own eyes. It was a Friday and thousands of Mussalmans had gathered in the mosque to say their prayers. The invaders had succeeded at last in breaking through the city wall after a battle lasting for four months and four days. Sir Thomas Metcalfe with his army had taken his stand by the hospital on the Esplanade Road, and was contemplating the destruction of the Jama Masjid. The Mussalmans came to know of this fact, and they talked of making an attack on Metcalfe; but they had no guns with them, only swords. . . . They unsheathed their swords, broke the scabbards in two, and flashing them rushed out of the northern gate. In front stood Metcalfe with his men, and all around lay the corpses of the dead. Already the vultures had settled down to devour the carrion; and the dogs were tearing the flesh of the patriots who lay unburied and unmourned. As Metcalfe saw the people with the swords in their hands he opened fire. Hundreds fell down dead on the steps of the mosque and inside, colouring the stones a deeper red with their blood. But with a resolution to embrace death in the cause of the motherland, the Mussalmans made a sudden rally and before Metcalfe’s men could fire a second volley of shots they were at their throats. (106–7)

These visions are inspired by the feelings of injustice and rage that the colonial spectacle arouses, but are not restricted to the spectacle itself; rather, they offer an interpretation of the past that is predicated on viewing it as a series of discernible, layered images in the mind. These images affect Mir Nihal profoundly, confirming the close connection between personal grief and a larger metanarrative of nostalgia evident earlier with Gul Bano in the zenana:


History and the Future

As this scene passed before his eyes Mir Nihal could not contain himself and his rage burst out of bounds. There were those men of 1857, and here were the men of 1911, chicken-hearted and happy in their disgrace. This thought filled him with pain, and he sat there, as it were, on the rack, weeping dry tears of blood, seeing the death of his world and of his birthplace. The past, which was his, had gone, and the future was not for him. (107)

A critic seeking to emphasize the novel’s nostalgia might interpret this scene as one in which the particularity of communal affiliations generated from the glories of the Muslim past blinds Mir Nihal to the reality of what is taking place in front of him, leading him to superimpose his vision of the past onto the reality of the present. As an iteration of the performative, however, the scene takes on new meaning. Conceiving of the past as a series of tableaux, such as the textualization of nostalgia embodied by the traveling poets or the scatterings of poetic verse, is another form of recognizing the textuality of time itself. Indeed, several levels of performance converge here; along with the spectacular alibi of the Delhi Durbar, the entire arena of the Jama Masjid is refigured as a stage, where historical actors from different eras play their roles simultaneously. Although Mir Nihal claims to have witnessed the 1857 scene with his own eyes, in fact his memory has replaced the reality of the events with a series of snapshots: “A most terrible and awe-inspiring picture”; Metcalfe “contemplating the destruction”; “In front stood Metcalfe with his men, and all around lay the corpses of the dead.” Mir Nihal’s imagination refigures history as a series of tableaux and in this way offers his nostalgia as a palimpsestic text of its own. The layering of the past performance with the current one ruptures the account of power and continuity offered by the Durbar by ironically exposing the real meaning of the spectacle, and moreover, by tentatively suggesting a model of affiliation and belonging that has the potential to oppose it.13 This oppositional model is not nationalist in the way the concept will come to dominate Indian politics by the time of Twilight’s publication – but it does offer an alternative language in which to conceive the nation. Indeed, despite Mir Nihal’s discourse of a specifically Muslim valor in the face of Metcalfe’s brutality, the rhetoric of the “motherland” that emerges here invokes the markedly Hindu imagery of Mother India rarely in circulation among South Asian Muslims  – and certainly not in Urdu.14 In fact, the term takes us back to Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Anandamath, in whose pages Mother India was born. By displacing Bankim’s image to a radically different  – and potentially even hostile  – stage, Ali seems to gesture toward a more inclusive imagination

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of the nation, borne by way of the novel’s alternative historical temporality. Here, rather than the linear historicism on which nostalgia relies, Ali offers an account of the past as a series of set-piece images, which in their synchronicity seem briefly to suspend the passage of time and allow for the merging of ideologies conventionally seen as irreconcilable. In this way, Ali pushes us to consider a certain indeterminacy of referent by which the nation can in fact mean multiple things. The layering of synchronic images offers an alternative temporal register from that of either progress or decline. This is apparent in Ali’s own account of conceiving of this scene, which took place during a research trip he made to Delhi in 1938, just before beginning work on the novel: I watched people as I went to the Edward Memorial Park and when I went to the Jama Masjid. I watched everyone  – the pigeon sellers, the pigeon buyers, the pigeon flyers – all those wonderful kaleidoscopic scenes and crowds. I also looked from the steps and platform of the Jama Masjid to the Red Fort in the distance. I was trying to picture in my mind where the fights in 1857 took place between the Muslims and Indians on one side, and the British on the other, and where the cannons were fired from, and where the people, the spectators, watched the “fun,” as they considered it. I kept on watching, observing, and imagining. I would try to see as many people in the muhalla [neighborhood] as possible. (Coppola “Interview,” 12–13)

Here Ali struggles to “picture” events from different historical eras as part of one, sweeping visual image, collapsing conventional linear time. This is not an effortless process, and from Ali’s language – “I was trying,” “I kept on watching,” “I would try to see” – we gain a sense of how difficult this kind of spatialized temporality is to conceive in the mind. Yet significantly, most of the language of struggle is excised from Mir Nihal’s repetition of the same process in the novel. Mir Nihal’s skill is precisely his ability to perform this mental trick, rupturing the seamless account of history that is presented on the colonial stage, in which the culminating point is the British takeover of Delhi. In his alternative to that account, he not only questions its relevance but offers a much more plastic formation of the nation in its stead. To call this formation an “alternative nationalism” is to endow it with more coherence and vision than, in fact, it has; it is, rather, an affective reordering of the nation-imagination link. It might be more similar to what Nandy calls bharatchinta or swadeshchinta (lit., thinking about or concern with one’s own country), which “convey the idea of patriotism without nationalism” (Illegitimacy 81), on the basis of strong emotional attachment – here appearing as grief or rage – that is not expressly


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attached to a dominant ideology or political vision, and that often takes practiced, rather than articulated, form.15 For Mir Nihal, this attachment is born from the act of seeing, identifying the stage as the apparatus for viewing different stages of history and memory all at once. In this way, although Mir Nihal’s stated politics is strongly opposed to the “hybrid culture which had nothing in it of the past [and] was forcing itself upon Hindustan, a hodgepodge of Indian and Western ways which he failed to understand” (175), the discourse of racial purity he uses to contest it is itself miscegenated and heterogeneous. The story beginning in 1857 and effectively ending in 1911 can thus be re-read, by means of the metaphor of the stage, outside of the limited narratives of decline or separatism, as it calls into question the self-evident progressivist logic of the nation and of literary realism. The novel refigures progress itself as a gesture, and in doing so muddies any attempt to constrain its vision within historical time. This is captured in an interaction between Mir Nihal and Nasim, his grandson, to whom he attempts to bequeath the legacy of his cultural inheritance in the form of embodied counsel. Here, the message is inseparable from the mode in which it is conveyed, which recalls Asghar’s melodramatic affect from earlier in the novel: “See there go the horses and the Farangis [foreigners],” and he pointed to the riders as the procession had already come out on the northern side and was on the Esplanade Road. “Don’t you see them? Those are the people who have been our undoing, and will be yours too.” Nasim looked at the procession, unable to understand what his grandfather was telling him. “But you will be brave, my child, and will fight them one day. Won’t you?” Nasim looked at the horses and the men; and two teardrops hung on his eyelashes and glistened in the sun. “You will be brave,” Mir Nihal repeated as he wiped the child’s tears with his fingers, “and drive them out of the country.” (108)

Nasim’s tears in the face of Mir Nihal’s fantasy of a retributive future function in the same way as Mir Nihal’s “dry tears of blood” in the passage quoted on page 118; they are tropes of stasis (merely “[hanging] on his eyelashes”) rather than indicators of a living emotional state. Unlike Mir Nihal’s tears, however, Nasim’s are wiped away for him, in a gesture of physical intimacy that breathes life into the gestural tableaux that otherwise structure the narrative. The particular relational logic animated here is that of the genealogical  – the potential of renewal enshrined in passing down the burdens of the past. This is the new formation of the

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national that animates Mir Nihal’s gesture: nation as identity, as legacy, and as cultural heritage. The unique legacy Nasim is asked to bear is put into relief by the protagonist of Anand’s Seven Summers, discussed earlier in this section. Unlike Nasim, Krishna eagerly accompanies his father, a soldier in the 38th Dogra Regiment, to Delhi to witness the spectacle – and he is enthralled: “To me as a child it all seemed fun” (Seven 108). The child – especially one raised on a cantonment – sees nothing insidious, or even ideologically cohesive, in the Durbar, but experiences it as an onslaught of appropriately awe-inducing colors, shapes, sounds, and emotions, and it is only the better-schooled (adult) reader who can see the irony in the child’s enjoyment. Unlike Krishna, Nasim, despite his young age, receives a new perspective on the spectacle he witnesses in the filial bequeathal animated by his grandfather’s intimate gesture. Mir Nihal’s retrieves his own childlike self to generate a continuity with his grandson’s: his own experiences at “ten years of age.” It is precisely because performance is recoded as gesture that the child can learn the elders’ wisdom and be the appropriate site for cultural bequeathment, whereas Krishna is stuck in a more conventionally progressivist stereotype of innocent and apolitical youth. Paradoxically, then, the ritualized gesture animates Nasim, whereas the much more dynamic affective onslaught protects and alienates Krishna.16 The genealogical has classically animated the novel form, as it maps otherwise disparate characters onto a legible framework that establishes relations of proximity and distance via the unstated logic of the bloodline. In the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel in Europe, the family tree was negotiated through plots of marriage, inheritance, and dispossession, securing the novel’s centrality in new discourses of political economy under the expansion of capitalism. By contrast, the Urdu novel offers a different form of bequeathal, born of ethnic and religious identity rather than monetary wealth. In the context of creating a national culture on one hand, and the desire for Muslim aesthetic autonomy on the other, the Urdu novel became a key form to preserve South Asian Muslim culture by giving it a history.17 In comparison, the English novel of Muslim culture is marked by an ineluctable difference – written in the language of colonialism, the version of cultural bequeathal it presents is always and necessarily impure. Thus genealogy is recast as the abundance, even excess, of progeny (the myriad representatives of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetic offspring), and the fragile transaction between Mir Nihal and Nasim is always on the verge of farce. Yet precisely because


History and the Future

of this impurity, the gesture of bequeathal offers renewed – even if precarious – content to the vision of the nation from the perspective of its Muslim minorities. The performative rendering of genealogical form comes to a head in the final encounter between Mir Nihal and one of Bahadur Shah’s line, this time as Mir Nihal walks away from the Delhi Durbar. Here he meets Mirza Nasirul Mulk, Bahadur Shah’s youngest son and now a destitute beggar, “lifting himself up on his hands and dragging his legs along the floor” (109). Mulk articulates a refrain of despair similar to those of Gul Bano and Bahadur Shah earlier in the text: “We are in the direct line of Changez who was looked upon with dread and awe. We are the descendants of Timur Leng who was the king of kings. We are the progeny of Shah Jahan who showered the beauties of the world upon a tomb. But today we have no place on the earth, and everyone laughs at our poverty and plight” (109). Here the logic of genealogy is again parodied, with Mulk producing his own defunct line of descent by, somewhat pathetically, narrating it. Unlike the earlier moments, however, Mir Nihal remains aloof; he does not cry or take upon himself the beggar’s anguish, but is cut off before he can reach that point: “A storm was raging in Mir Nihal’s breast also, and he was about to break down with grief when the Prince said, ‘I must be going now.’” (109). In this way, Mir Nihal is allowed to maintain the distinction of his own grief. The novel’s end remains ambivalent: has Mir Nihal merely merged his own genealogical futurity with the narrative of Mughal decline that haunts the novel, or has his experience at the Durbar ruptured the discourse of linear progress to such an extent that the very terms in which the future is imagined are revealed to be profoundly indeterminate? Thus, although Priya Joshi rightly identifies Mir Nihal’s exile as temporal rather than spatial, so that “he inhabits the time of the old land even when he is in the new: the values and associations, however symbolic, of the old land, remain with him in the new” (In Another 225), I suggest that the multivalent temporal registers of the novel themselves preclude a priori assumptions about the distinctiveness of the past and the future, and their relations to the present. This is especially significant in the context of nationalism, whose temporality, as Benedict Anderson has shown, is the empty, homogeneous time of modernity, which the novel is formally suited to narrate. Once the novel seeks to do something else – to probe the limits of this homogeneous time, to show the ideological fragility of modern time in the context of heterogeneous forms and media – the content and nature of the nation itself is called into question.

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


A m bi va l e n t N at ion a l i s m I found it impossible to decide which of the two countries was now my homeland – India or Pakistan? – Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto18

In an interview with literary critic Priya Joshi, Ahmed Ali maintained that despite centering on a story of Mughal decline and loss, Twilight in Delhi is in fact “a book about India.” Acknowledging that it was “written through the eyes of Muslims  – of a Muslim family,” Ali nevertheless repeats: “but it’s the story of India” (qtd. in Joshi, In Another 213). Ali’s iteration of this claim exposes its fundamental impossibility within dominant discourses of the nation, in which the universal story of the nation cannot be claimed by a particular group within it – in this case by Muslims in India. It is based on this assumption, surely, that literary critic Gobinda Sarma argues that Twilight in Delhi is not “political,” as there is no depiction of “any recognized phase of our freedom struggle” (qtd. in Trivedi, “Ahmed Ali” 64). The Rowlatt Act and the protests against it, which made such an impact on mainstream nationalist consciousness and gave rise to the pan-Indian mass movements that comprise what we now mythologize as nationalism in India, remain at the backdrop of the narrative because they are actively rejected by its protagonists. How then, might we reconcile the author’s insistence on claiming to tell a national story with the novel’s clear distance from “recognized” nationalism? On one hand, Mir Nihal’s resistance to mainstream nationalism is clearly a product of his alienation from the nation: Only a year ago a new wave of freedom had surged across the breast of Hindustan. People had become conscious and wished to come back into their own. The Home Rule Movement was started, and there were prophetic rumblings of distant thunder as the Movement went sweeping over India. But, somehow, all this did not affect Mir Nihal. It was not for him, the martyrdom and glory in the cause of the Motherland. His days had gone, and a new era of hopes and aspirations, which he neither understood nor sympathized with, was beginning to dawn. His world had fallen. Let others build their own. He was one of those who had believed in fighting with naked swords in their hands. The young only agitated. Let them agitate. He was unconcerned. (Twilight 175)

This is a perspective that Ali had described in his earlier writings on the Muslim ashraf elite (Shingavi, “Ahmed Ali” 9). Here, however, Mir Nihal’s expressed indifference to history is presented as more complex than merely alienation as an Indian Muslim. That subjectivity is indeed evident in the particular sensibility of loss based on memories of a past Muslim glory,


History and the Future

which includes a valorization of militarism, and of the taste and refinement that characterized Muslim aesthetics, which had now been replaced with “a vulgar sentimentality” (176). However, at the same time in this passage we see a more universalist sense of personal irrelevance, marked by Mir Nihal’s own aging – recalling the premise of the Altersroman – which makes even the powerful imagery of “martyrdom and glory” meaningless to him. This sense of personal loss is accessible through the novel’s realist interest in its characters’ psychologies; and indeed, the image here is not of passivity or retreat from history but in fact the opposite, the bequeathing of a legacy of political protest to the next generation, whose vitality and sense of relevance will inspire new kinds of political action. It is thus in two ways, as a man and as a Muslim, that “a new world had come into being and, he felt, he was not part of it” (176). Despite feeling fundamentally apart, therefore, Mir Nihal nevertheless retains a connection to the events of the political sphere. Clearly, neither a universalist longing for nationhood nor a minoritarian critique (he does not imagine, for instance, a Muslim homeland to which he might move) quite capture his relationship to the history unfolding around him. His feelings about the nation live in the condensation of a series of gestures, which elude language that might define them. Yet central to Benedict Anderson’s model of the nationalist novel is the existence of shared assumptions that make the practices of novel and newspaper reading central to the formation of community, so that the unnamed hero of the 1924 Indonesian novel Semarang Hitam can be “frequently referred to as ‘our young man’” and “neither Marco nor his readers have any doubts about the reference” (32). Such a markedly unambiguous sense of what constitutes the community or nation is undermined by Ali’s insistent claims to tell an Indian story from the perspective of a dying Muslim elite, and by Mir Nihal’s alienation from all “recognized” forms of nationalist or minoritarian discourse. The unsettling of the novel-nation dyad was one of the effects of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, and Indian Muslims have always felt it more intensely. This is because, as for Jews in nineteenth-century Europe, multiple allegiances claimed by Muslims were seen as inherently threatening to national unity, even if nationalist affiliations were among the strongest of them (Mufti, “Secularism” 78).19 Aamir Mufti, for instance, shows how the thematization of love in the work of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz is deliberately ambiguous, as if in direct response to the violence of majoritarian nationalism: It is not accidental that neither the criticism nor the poetry itself is unequivocal about what the term “country” (vatan) signifies. It might even be said that to speak of vatan and quam (nation or people) in the context of Faiz is to remain

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


meaningfully silent about the objects towards which they point: does love of country or patriotism of Faiz’s poetry attach itself to any one of the postcolonial states of South Asia? Does it represent, on the contrary, a hope for the dissolution of these states? What is its stance on Partition, their moment of coming into being? Does it imply a “civilizational” referent? If so, which civilization – Indic, Indo-Persian, or Islamic? Where exactly, in other words, is the poet’s home? (Enlightenment 212)

Mufti shows how both Faiz and the Urdu short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto used marginal genres – the lyric poem (ghazal) and the short story, respectively – to put pressure on the universality of the nation from the perspective of its excluded other. Many women’s Partition writings also exhibit the estranging of realism, so that what might otherwise be seen as formal “discrepancies” can be read as “symptom[s] . . . of a deeper conflict” (Kabir, “Gender” 183) over the meaning and content of the nation. In all these cases, by claiming the nation, or at least some version of the nation, from a marginalized vantage point, their works unravel the entire fabric of universal nationhood. As a Muslim writer – even a largely nonaffiliated one – Ali faces a similar double-bind of being excluded from the nationalist imagination even as he tries to write it anew. Critics such as Sarma read Twilight as a novel of Muslim particularity rather than national universality; Harish Trivedi avers that Twilight can never be a nationalist novel in the true sense of the word “because the quiddity of Mir Nihal as well as of his little world is essentially and intensely Muslim in a way that the countrywide nationalist movement could not be” (“Ahmed Ali” 65). From the other side of the border as well, critics have read Twilight from the perspective of the Partition and its aftermath; here, the construction of a continuous image of Muslim glory in South Asia takes on the particular meaning of a protoPakistani nationalism. As Pakistani writer and critic Mohammad Hasan Askari wrote in a 1949 review: Mir Nihal becomes a paralytic himself, but asks his grandson to struggle for freedom when he comes of age. Mir Nihal’s bones must be buried and decay, but his grandson must dream the dream of a new life, a new harmony, a new civilization and way of life. Mirza the milkseller had sacrificed his son in the path of independence. Hundreds of such brave heroes must still be alive. From the twilight of Delhi arose the dawn of Pakistan. (38)

Here the question of filial bequeathal, which is treated so subtly in the novel, is fitted into a standard narrative of national emergence which, from Askari’s perspective on the heels of Partition, is rendered as specifically Pakistani. This interpretation of the novel is only underscored by the fact that Ali himself moved to Pakistan in 1948.


History and the Future

Neither of these views can account for the deep ambivalence of the images, gestures, and instances of performativity that abound in this novel, which complicate this revisionist narrative of national emergence as well as Ali’s own claims. This ambivalence is epitomized by Bruce King’s comment that Twilight in Delhi reads as a nationalist novel because it participates in the project to “collect records of its culture as part of its claim to authenticity and right to governance of the state” (245); yet in King’s essay, entitled “From Twilight to Midnight: Muslim Novels of India and Pakistan,” it is in fact unclear which nation he sees Twilight as imagining. Although the “records of its culture” include “the many quotations from the great Persian and Urdu poets of Muslim India,” and the “claim to authenticity” refers specifically to Muslim culture and dominance in the subcontinent – which finds fullest expression in the nationalist discourse of Pakistan – King simultaneously maintains that Twilight locates this culture as “part of a larger Indian world in which English officials are being bombed while troops kill those who participate in Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement” (246). Although Ali’s own claims might assure critics that he is, in fact, speaking of India, the paucity of language in nationalist discourse with which to imagine a heterogeneous and minoritarian nation makes it ultimately uncertain to which nation the novel refers. This uncertainty reflects, at a fundamental level, the absurdity of Partition and the impossibility of separating a shared colonial history into two, often opposed, national histories. It also reveals, however, the shortcomings and ultimate inadequacy of critical approaches to literature that assume what realism is from the outset and proceed to conflate it with a unitary – secular, progressive, universalist – nationalism. Even Aamir Mufti seems compelled to distinguish the innovations of Faiz and Manto from realism, associating the latter in the 1930s with “the emergence of [the secular nationalist] consciousness – the abstract and secular citizen subject – as the highest form of consciousness possible in a colonial society” (Enlightenment 183).20 Yet Twilight proves otherwise. If the relationship between realism and the nation is not taken as given, then Twilight offers the opportunity to imagine different possibilities for correspondence between temporality, affiliation, and medium. Such an imaginary is built on nostalgia as something that is not only profoundly felt but also staged, whereby repeated gestures and performance resist appropriation by the teleological unfolding of either nation, and offer a heterogeneous, even minoritarian, national consciousness, in its stead. In the end, Indian nationalism was mostly unreceptive to these innovations, which were seen as threatening to its secular, liberal, and

Staging Realism and the Ambivalence of Nationalism


universalist frameworks. What Twilight offers, then, is the registering of these imaginations in a sphere removed from, or at least independent of, politics. I suggest that the novel, despite its role in the imagination of the conventional nation, also offers us a place where the content of the nation in question can safely be neither India nor Pakistan  – in fact, can be nothing, to return to Sarma, recognizably nationalist. Its realism emerges precisely from its detachment from and continuing skepticism toward the nationalism of the public sphere. Although not conceived for the stage, Twilight in Delhi uses elements drawn from the theater to rethink the conventional historical orientation of realism. In doing so, it gives us the vocabulary to delink the realist novel from a unitary idea of the nation. The alternative account of nationalism it offers is not the ontologically stable, hegemonic discourse that so many critics assume, but is premised on heterogeneity and ambivalence. In fact, its performativity is enriched by its precipitous location on the verge of its own negation, by constantly suggesting  – even directly indexing – its own impossibility. I suggest that it is in this precarious gesture, poised between epistemological advancement and parodic inversion, that the realist novel comes into form as the discursive accompaniment to nationalism in South Asia. Indeed, the sense of novelty, of staging an entirely new vision for the future, was part of this period’s self-conscious movement toward imbuing the transparent structures of realist representation with a materiality that both underlined and undermined its mimetic capacity. The nation was thus cast as simultaneously a projection and a reality, whose actual content was radically contingent rather than predefined. Ali rewrites realism in the colony not as a stable, mimetic mode that calls the nation into existence, but as a much more compromised aesthetic that captures and simultaneously allegorizes the nation’s profound plasticity. From here, the path from performative to realist appears considerably shortened, along with that between the lyrical and the mimetic  – and indeed, between India and Pakistan.

Ch apter 5

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form

All the novels discussed thus far put pressure on the norms of realism even while invoking realism as an object of desire, thereby calling into question seemingly self-evident links between the character and the human, and between the historical novel and the nation. These texts gesture toward a kind of indeterminacy but all manage to rewrite realism as able to account for even the most profound strains on meaning. In a broad sense they serve a recuperative end, showing realism’s limitations, but suggesting that those limitations might be folded into a more experimental realist mode, so that crisis and disjuncture become part of the fabric of realism itself. A novel that epitomizes realism at its limits, on the verge of a complete indeterminacy of form, is a largely underappreciated Bengali Bildungsroman, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s (1894–1950) Aparajito (The Unvanquished), published in 1931 as the sequel to the highly successful Pather Panchali (Song of the Road, 1929). Throughout his career, Bibhutibhushan remained relatively aloof from the political bent of much of the era’s writing, including association with the progressive movement. His works are thus often grouped with the rich indigenous modernisms of the period, which were characterized by a mix of styles that cannot be pinned down by Western categories such as Romanticism or realism. Certainly realism, with its colonial origins, tends not to be a term associated with these vernacular modes; if anything, such works, like their counterparts in Anglo-American high modernism, are associated with a rejection of realism. However, I would argue that realism continues to haunt such texts as an object of desire, aspiration, and futurity – if not in style or technique, then certainly in plot, structure, and genre. In this way, grouping a text such as Aparajito alongside more obviously realist works draws attention to Bibhutibhushan’s own interpretation of the problematic of realism in the colony – and specifically, to the way it, more than any of the other texts discussed here, reinscribes realism as a mode 128

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


capacious and reflexive enough to capture the novel’s own ambivalent longing for form. Thus when, toward the end of Aparajito, the protagonist Apurva Roy – known as Apu – decides that he wants to write a novel, we get a glimpse of the text’s overall investment in the complex aesthetics of desire. On one hand, Apu’s literary vision is expansive; seeking to emulate all the literature that has inspired him, he imagines “record[ing] for the future generations every lesson he had learnt [ta shey lipiboddho koria rakhia jaibe, jibonke shey ki bhabe dekhilo taha likhia rakhia jaibe, lit., he would leave behind in writing how he had looked at life]” (346).1 Yet as he sits down and actually begins to write, he reconsiders his purpose: Who would he write about? The poor people [goribder kotha]. He had to speak of them, he did not wish to write about others. He had met such different people [koto odbhoot dhoroner lok’er]; in the streets, in markets, in villages, in the city, and on trains – ranging from holy men and teachers to singers to owners of shops, beggars, puppeteers, hawkers, even poets and writers. He would write about all of them. (346)

As expressed here, Apu’s description seems to emerge directly out of discussions in the 1930s about the role of literature in society, which we have seen in the writings, speeches, and manifestos of so many authors thus far. Although the AIPWA had yet to be officially launched, the idea that literature should reflect contemporary society by representing the poor, in real settings and doing everyday things, already had significant influence around India. From this historical perspective, it is unsurprising that Apu imagines his novel to be about “the people.” What is remarkable, however, is that despite Apu’s desire to write a book well within the paradigms of Bengali progressive writing, this is not the book that Bibhutibhushan himself wrote. Far from it: Aparajito is, at its heart, a story about its protagonist’s quest to transcend the dispiriting real world in favor of the grand sensations at the heart of human existence. It is manifestly uninterested in shop owners, beggars, or hawkers, whose figures stand, if anything, as impediments to transcendence and who are often described despairingly as “the men who live in little lanes, who do nothing all day but chat about the latest scandal, or the price of fish. . . . Even on such a beautiful evening, none of them would dream of going out anywhere, their minds are incapable of imagining there’s a world outside [shorirer ba moner kono adventure nei, lit., there is no sense of adventure in their bodies or minds]” (121). Apu’s description of his novel thus emerges in Bibhutibhushan’s as an imaginative projection – of style, of mode, and of genre – not only for the aspiring artistry of the


History and the Future

protagonist but for the novel itself: an assertion of what it could be, but in fact, is not. The moment in which this unexpressed longing rises to the surface of the novel comes close to the end of Apu’s development, at the culmination of what might be considered his Bildung. The Bildungsroman, or novel of education/formation, is a genre that narrates the individual development of a protagonist from childhood to maturity. Although scholars have debated over what features constitute a Bildungsroman, certain elements are relatively common, many of which are seen in Aparajito: the protagonist leaving his home in the provinces to come to the city, forsaking his family for a modern education; frustration with modern educational institutions and an interest in the expansion of the mind; eventual marriage and fatherhood; and often, in particular in the subcategory of the Künstlerroman, final realization of his human potential by becoming an artist himself.2 Underlying this narrative is the structure of what Bakhtin called “biographical time”: As distinct from adventure and fairy-tale time, biographical time is quite realistic. All of its moments are included in the total life process, and they describe this process as limited, unrepeatable, and irreversible. Each event is localized in the whole of this life process and therefore it ceases to be adventure. The moment, the day, the night, and the immediate contiguity of short moments lose almost all of their significance in the biographical novel, which works with extended periods, organic parts of the whole of life (ages and so forth). (“Bildungsroman” 17–18)

This structure of time is ripe for national allegory, and indeed the Bildungsroman represents “an image of man growing in national-historical time” (Bakhtin 25). Yet this conception of time and nationhood is notably absent in Pather Panchali and Aparajito. As Meenakshi Mukherjee writes, the novels delineate the protagonist’s expanding spatial imaginary (Realism 129), but Bibhutibhushan fails to provide “the linear time-­consciousness that sustains such a form” (128). The protagonist does grow up, but there is little of the succession, the progress, or the sense of advancement or achievement that we might associate with the Bildungsroman. Instead, we have a structure that is highly episodic and digressive. The external narrative frame gestures toward Bildung, but its content is indeterminate – epitomized by the fact that the moment that is so ripe for the artist’s metafiction, Apu’s decision to write a novel, seems to take us in an entirely different direction from Aparajito altogether. In this way, Bibhutibhushan’s text pushes us to take even further the hypothesis of realism as complex, metafictional, and founded on longing

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


rather than presence, as developed in the preceding chapters. Here, the realist novel appears in the narrative itself, as a counter-text with material form, and one that offers interpretive insight on what otherwise reads like a self-evident literary work – characterized by a lack of character interiority, a Romantic celebration of transcendence, a heavy reliance on dialogue, and an unironized narrative voice.3 It suggests that embedded in these seemingly nonrealist features is a deep theorization of what realism is and what it can do. This is made all the more significant in the context of Aparajito’s reception, which is overdetermined almost completely by its cinematic adaptations – the final two films of Satyajit Ray’s post-independence trilogy: Aparajito (1957) and Apur Sansar (1959).4 Whereas the novels Pather Panchali and Aparajito are conventionally read outside the mainstream of early twentieth-century Bengali literature for their putative Romanticism, Ray’s films embrace the progressive energy of filmic realism not only in their deployment of a neorealist cinematic eye but precisely because they create a “cinematic bildungsroman . . . that braided together narratives of the self with those of the nation” (Sarkar, Mourning 79). This is embodied in the most widely recognized scene of the trilogy’s first film, Pather Panchali, in which Apu and his sister Durga see a train for the first time. In rushing past in an excess of sound and smoke and cutting across the horizon of their experiences, this scene suggests that things will never, from this point on, remain the same  – for either the children or the nation of which they are an as-yet unknowing part. Here, Ray “invest[s] all the drama of [the children’s] anticipation and wonder into the . . . technologies [of the train and the telegraph] and the future they presumably signal” (Rajadhyaksha 11). In creating a new ­“modernist realism” (Windsor 234) to convey this sensibility of transition and aspiration, Ray is seen to have “updated” (Rajadhyaksha 13) the original novels, imbuing them with an aesthetic of (national) progress that they willfully lack. Both the Bildungsroman and Ray’s trilogy operate as shadow-texts to Bibhutibhushan’s Aparajito: texts, like Apu’s own book, that Aparajito could be, but is pointedly not. What the novel is, instead, is a profound meditation on the limits of realism, coded as a crisis of Bildung and Künstler, and emerging as the impossibility of progress or temporal homogeneity. By remaining aloof from these elements of realism, the novel offers a disquieting gap in reference by which the aimless Bildung of its protagonist does not lend itself to any meaning beyond itself, but indexes merely a fundamental aimlessness at the heart of modernity itself. This provides a marked contrast to the film trilogy, in which Ray mobilizes


History and the Future

a globally intelligible vocabulary for progressivist modernism, to such a degree in fact that the first film was compared to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by American critic Stanley Kauffman, who wrote that Ray “was ‘forging in the smithy of his heart the uncreated conscience of his race’” (qtd. in Kapur 206). Likewise, as many scholars and critics have noted, Ray excelled in balancing the subtle indeterminacy of meaning with “carefully constructed depictions of quotidian plenitude” (Ganguly 61) that located meaning in the minutiae of daily life. In its unwillingness to work in service of the nation or to achieve this representational balance – its seeming refusal to develop a sustainable aesthetics for the habitation of modern life  – Bibhutibhushan’s Aparajito offers a glimpse into the literary struggles that make up the actual and sometimes messy work of forging a modern consciousness, a process that is often too easily and retrospectively assimilated into the aesthetic paradigms of modernism. A l i e n at ion a n d Bi l du ng As the second part of Bibhutibhushan’s two-part novel series, Aparajito begins where Pather Panchali left off. Pather Panchali tells the story of a Brahmin couple, Horihor and Shorbojoya, and their two children, Durga and Apu, as they struggle to make ends meet in the small Bengali village of Nishchindipur. Durga and Apu share a close relationship as they explore the world together and let their childhood imaginations run wild. Durga is impetuous by nature, always getting into trouble with the neighbors, who already look down on the family for their poverty. Still in her prepubescence, Durga dies tragically. Apu, still too young to understand what happened, misses his playmate, but the tragedy devastates his parents. Unable to survive on Horihor’s small salary, the family moves to the city of Kashi (Banaras). There Horihor passes away and Shorbojoya is forced to take work as a domestic servant with a rich family in the village of Burdwan. Pather Panchali comes to a close as Apu begins to make friends with Leela, the daughter of the wealthy household where Shorbojoya has found a job. Aparajito begins in the same house. Early in that novel, Shorbojoya’s uncle invites her and Apu to Monshapota, his ancestral village, to manage his property and to give Apu the opportunity to officiate as the local Brahmin at religious ceremonies in the nearby villages. Although Apu cooperates for a while, pleasing his mother, he insists on attending school and expanding his horizons. He does very well, winning a scholarship to secondary school and then securing a place

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


for himself at a university in Calcutta. Poverty and a tendency toward impulsive spending, however, make it difficult for Apu to maintain his concentration. He leaves college after the second year, wandering from job to job and tutoring younger students. Yet this work neither satisfies his imagination nor fills his stomach. His mother dies in the meantime, causing him much grief. By chance a college friend, Pranav, takes Apu to a relative’s wedding in his village. At the last minute, the groom turns out to be mentally unstable, and in order to save the bride’s honor on her wedding day, Pranav urges Apu to marry her. Apu finds that despite his desire to travel the world alone and escape the mundane realities of city life, he is deeply in love with his new wife, Aparna. They share some happy years together as Apu struggles to make ends meet. He initially installs Aparna in Monshapota, but later brings her to Calcutta, where they live in a tenement and he works as an office clerk. Aparna gets pregnant and returns to her family’s house for the delivery. However, she dies while giving birth to a baby boy, Kajal. Apu, deep in shock, at first does not know what to do with his son. Leaving him with Aparna’s family for a few years, Apu continues to wander between Calcutta – where he teaches, works in a newspaper office, and writes a novel  – and other parts of rural India, where he serves as an overseer for a mining company and seeks transcendence from the material world in the wonders of nature. In the course of his journeys, he meets various new people and runs into acquaintances from his past. Finally, he returns to Aparna’s village to retrieve Kajal from where he is being ill-treated by his grandfather. Despite Apu’s long absence, the father and son get along well, through sickness and financial hardships, even as Apu maintains his desire to expand his horizons by traveling the world. Although constantly toying with the idea of leaving Kajal, it is not until the death of his childhood love, Leela, and his return to his natal village of Nishchindipur that Apu makes the decision to take a job at a missionary school in Fiji. As he leaves, and Kajal remains in the village, the novel ends both by embracing the new in Apu’s travels and by maintaining, through the transference of Apu’s childhood to that of his son, that some things never change. As we have seen, the overall plot trajectory of Aparajito resembles that of a classic Bildungsroman, in which the growth, education, and formation of the protagonist constitute the central narrative arc. At the same time, however, the novel is marked by an insistent centrifugal energy, to such an extent that even contemporary Bengali writers criticized it for having “no sense of progress, no conflict, no sense of struggle” (Chattopadhaya


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45). Although the major plot events are typical of the genre, a basic plot sketch gives a misleading sense of the novel as a whole: Apu’s trajectory is marked by continual digressions and a deep ambivalence around all these plot turns, with Apu testing the linear coherence of the novel by literally wandering off, as the narrative of Bildung consistently fails to retain his interest. This topos of digression culminates in the novel’s ambivalent ending, which sees Apu renounce his son and set sail for the South Seas – an ending that confirms the text’s refusal of the conventional model of Bildung. Ray’s trilogy provides a useful contrast: the filmmaker’s careful division of Apu’s story into three parts, each of which develops a new stage of its protagonist’s life (and is visually represented by three different actors); the aestheticization of formative spatial transitions from one part of India to another; the careful attention to the rituals of daily life – all these convey a sense of energy and progress, a commitment to everyday experiences, the expression of individual will, and a gradual expansion outward that characterize the process of Bildung.5 The novel’s digressive and episodic plot also refuses the assimilative quality of the Bildungsroman, in which disparate things, events, and experiences are imbued with meaning insofar as they contribute to the development of the protagonist (Moretti 93). This assimilative quality partly gives the Bildungsroman what Franco Moretti sees as its conservative outlook, in which “there is no conflict between individuality and socialization, autonomy and normality, interiority and objectification. One’s formation as an individual in and for oneself coincides without rifts with one’s social integration as a simple part of a whole” (16). The absence of such harmonious assimilation engenders the protagonist’s alienation, which implies a protracted and irreconcilable conflict between individuality and socialization, marked by constant disconnect and the inability to collect different experiences into a coherent narrative of developing selfhood. Alienation is not entirely absent in the classical Bildungsroman; the key, however, to achieving Bildung is finding a way of “overcoming” it in service “of a truer, more organically complete and centered self” (Bresnick 826). As Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote in his early reflections on Bildung: [Man’s] nature drives him to reach beyond himself to the external objects, and here it is crucial that he should not lose himself in this alienation, but rather reflect back into his inner being the clarifying light and the comforting warmth of everything that he undertakes outside himself. To this end, however, he must bring the mass of objects closer to himself, impress his mind upon this matter, and create more of a resemblance between the two. (59, emphasis mine)

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


For von Humboldt, alienation is a necessary stage of Bildung; but in order to develop, the alienated self must be, at some point, reassimilated into the integral self. This, of course, is not always possible – in particular under conditions of extreme social hardship. Gregory Castle argues that as early as the nineteenth century, and in as central a place as England, “the Lockean and Humboldtian notions of the self become obsolete in the face of a rationalized educational system and a bureaucratized market economy. Self-cultivation becomes subject formation, inner culture becomes socialization, and the paths toward Bildung become the ‘mediated routes’ of social mobility” (57). For Castle, this transformation is evident from Great Expectations through Joyce, a trajectory that traces the growth of an inassimilable alienation as it finds ultimate expression in the aesthetics of high modernism. Under colonialism, the pressures on the growth of self are even more severe  – so much so that the alienation of the protagonist ruptures the very form that tries to represent it. This is not merely an aesthetic failing; exposing the inassimilability of alienation and representing an aimless Bildung suggest the impossibility of full formation under conditions of political unfreedom. In Mulk Raj Anand’s 1936 Bildungsroman Coolie, for instance, the protagonist Munoo suffers at the hands of his cruel family and the brutality of the informal labor market, to die of tuberculosis before he can reach adolescence. The increasing genericity of his identity as indexed by the anonymous appellation “coolie” directly ironizes the model of self-formation offered by the Bildungsroman: as Munoo matures – his constant self-questioning, “What am I – Munoo?. . . I am Munoo, Babu Nathoo Ram’s servant,” (34) echoing and parodying similar questions asked by Kipling’s colonial Bildungsheld, Kim6 – his body becomes an increasingly empty vehicle, worn down by the injustice of an imperialist, capitalist system. Likewise, in Premchand’s Hindi novel Nirmala (1932), the eponymous protagonist also dies before she can come of age, stifled by a patriarchal social structure that prevents her from fulfilling her personal desires. Nirmala is caught in an even more insidious trap, in which the more she speaks for herself (a constantly thwarted goal of feminist Bildung 7), the more she implicates herself in narrative events in which she in fact played no part – an ironic narrative centrality that leads her to be blamed for her family’s continuing misfortunes, and ultimately to her death.8 In both these “Entbildungsroman[e], or novel[s] of the failure or impossibility of education” (Bresnick 824), the possibilities for Bildung are foreclosed under conditions of economic or social hardship. The unfulfilled promise embedded in both these novels’ titles


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registers the impossibility of the Bildungsroman in contexts in which the characters do in fact “lose [themselves] in this alienation” and cannot sustain life as a result of it. In contrast to these works, Aparajito occupies a more ambivalent place vis-à-vis the colonial form. What I see as the novel’s ironic stance toward the Bildungsroman is more deeply embedded in the false starts and digressive turns of its narrative than in the length of life of its Bildungsheld. This seems to take it closer to what Castle recognizes as the modernist Bildungsroman – but as will be clear, it is not quite that either. It is not only that in Aparajito, alienation can never be assimilated, transcended, or overcome; alienation here permeates the actual narrative apparatus within which Apu’s Bildung is legible in the first place. The text is unable to cohere around plot events  – leading up to them, building anticipation, narrating them, and then leaving off abruptly. In this way, whereas the modernist Bildungsroman has made form out of alienation, Aparajito represents a profound alienation from form itself. Bibhutibhushan thus rewrites realism as primarily an object of desire, as existing at the limits of its own effacement, and as built on aimlessness and lack of form altogether. T e r ror a n d C on f us ion Reaching the city involves a rough journey for Bibhutibhushan’s Apu, who must break his mother’s need for security and fear of change in order to follow his path to self-fulfillment. Like so many other events in the novel, the narration of this transition alternates between attributing significance to Apu’s move and describing in great detail other elements of Apu’s life that have little or no bearing on it. This is the first of a series of plot events whose significance the narrative is unwilling to fully incorporate into its own sense of the character. As such, it is disruptive and provocative, and suggests a realism at the limits of the socially or aesthetically intelligible. This is in significant contrast to Ray’s film version of Aparajito, in which Apu’s move from the village to Calcutta is eloquently captured in the image of a small globe given to him by one of his school teachers. Because there is no room in his suitcase for this object, Apu carries it with him and absently clutches it as he sits in the moving train (Figure 1). The shot then fades to a long, aerial perspective on Sealdah Station, Calcutta, centering on the points where the various tracks merge into one. The village boy, the train journey, the microcosmic globe: like the scene of Durga and Apu’s arrival at the train tracks in Pather Panchali, Ray’s camera creates

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


Figure 1.  Apu on the train to Calcutta (Aparajito, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1957).

an aesthetic of formation that becomes the groundwork for a national modernism, to which the contradictory promises and disappointments of the modern city – as a portal to global modernity – are central. Ray’s vision of the city offered aesthetic coherence and international visibility to the partial and contested narratives of modernity that were underway in the pre-independence decades. The 1920s and 1930s witnessed vigorous debates around the relationship of art and literature to modernity in general, and the city in particular (Chakrabarty, Provincializing 155–63). Whereas modernists such as those of the Kallol group saw the necessity of developing an aesthetic to make habitable the often ugly realities of modern urban life (Dasgupta 253–4), literary stalwarts of an older generation believed that such capitulation to the requirements of modernity would result in the loss of the civilizational self that had developed in India over millennia. As demonstrated in Ghare Baire and many of his other works, Rabindranath Tagore shared with Mohandas Gandhi the sense that a merely imitative modernity would take India away from its roots (Nandy, Illegitimacy 2–3), and in part maintained his resistance to a dogmatic socialism for this reason. In his poetry in particular, Tagore


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was more interested in representing the moments of transcendence that rupture the banality of the everyday than he was in the nitty-gritty of the mundane world.9 Ray’s films, a quarter century later, reveal the direction that Bengali modernism ultimately took: away from Tagore’s vision of transcendence, and toward an aestheticization of the material and the real. However, the vigor of the debates demonstrates that the adoption of this modernist sensibility was not one of consensus, and works of literature written during this time often internalize this strife into their plots and formal structures.10 Although in some cases this resulted in new poetic forms, such as the gadyakobita (free verse) of Tagore, other writers refused even so selfevident a compromise. More than Tagore or any of the novelists discussed here, Bibhutibhushan offers a version of modernism based centrally on experiment, and premised, as far as it is possible, on the denial, rather than the reinvention, of form. In this way, the novel reflects yet refuses to completely aestheticize Apu’s sense of alienation as he finally encounters the city of his dreams. The successful attainment of Bildung often necessitates migration from the provinces to the city; early twentieth-century Bengal’s most famous literary migrant, Devdas (in Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s eponymous 1917 novella) is forced to study in Calcutta against his will, carrying not “an ounce of curiosity or excitement about the new place he was to see” (20). This is the start of a tragic story, whose tragedy is precisely the protagonist’s weakness in the face of the allure of the metropolis, which not only seduces Devdas with objects such as “foreign shoes, bright clothes, a walking stick, gold buttons, a watch” (22), but which deprives him of any rootedness or sense of home. As Ashis Nandy writes, “The oppressive village society begins to look different, once Devdas has experienced homelessness in the city. The city loses Devdas and probably does not even notice it” (Ambiguous 53). As the novel progresses Devdas is increasingly lost and alone, and the city becomes the precise chronotope of that alienation. By contrast, Apu remains at odds with the city, from first to last. He much more than Devdas inhabits a social location that Richard Patterson in his discussion of modernity and the sublime describes as “outside the community of [modernity’s] production [. . . where] the experience of modernity is most frequently characterised as the ‘shock of the new’” (36). Thus even when Apu arrives in the city he is never assimilated into

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


or lured by its charms. Rather, his experiences in the city are consistently ones of shock. Appropriately, then, the Calcutta portions of Aparajito are structured around an aesthetics of astonishment that gives at least partial form to this mode of experience. Apu’s experience of alienation from the built environment of Calcutta can be understood as constructing a discursive space outside historicist narratives of Bildung. Contradicting the assimilative logic by which initial fear gives way to gradual acceptance, Apu experiences the city through a mixture of terror, fascination, and awe. Even before he arrives, the image of Calcutta casts a kind of spell on Apu, affecting his body with a physical sensation of terror: His heart trembled, it felt tight inside his throat. Would he really be in Calcutta in less than twenty-four hours? Calcutta! He had heard so much about it. There was such a lot of see . . . strange and wonderful things [odbhoot jinish]. There were huge libraries [bodo bodo library achhey], he had heard, where one could just walk in and spend the whole day in the reading room. All night, he tossed and turned in his bed. The thick branches of the tamarind tree behind the house made everything look darker. Why was it taking so long for dawn to break? Perhaps . . . perhaps he would not get to go to Calcutta. So many people died suddenly, didn’t they? Who knew, he might die suddenly, too. Oh God, please God, don’t let him die without seeing Calcutta, without studying in a college, at least for a few days . . . please, please God! (77–8)

This passage captures the simultaneous exuberance and dread that Calcutta invokes in Apu’s mind, mixing the anticipatory language of education (bodo bodo library) with a more shadowy idiom of the gothic and the sublime. “Odbhoot” is, with its connotations of the supernatural and the wondrous, an odd way to describe a library, invoking a Burkean discourse around the terrifying grandeur of buildings that is at odds with the more transparent Macaulayan rhetoric of the expansion of the human mind that underlies Apu’s desire to go to the city in the first place.11 This physical terror – captured by the Bengali word obaak (lit., speechless in astonishment), which is used throughout the novel – culminates, in Apu’s mind, in his imagined death before even reaching the city gates.12 For Apu, then, the modern experience is from the outset shot through with the language of terror and alienation. The passage also anticipates the dissolution of narrative that accompanies the experience of the city for Apu, as the pace of the story, like that of this passage, is constantly interrupted by rhetorical questions, interjections, and ellipses that temper the progress of plot.


History and the Future

This initial feeling of terror transforms into an inhabited alienation that proceeds to characterize Apu’s entire experience in the city. At first it appears merely as disorientation: He did not know anyone [kahakeo cheney na] in the city, nor was he familiar with its streets [pathghaato jaana nai]. All he had was an address Debu had given him a few months ago. . . . And he had a street-map of the city, torn [chhindiya lowa] from an old railway timetable. Apu kept both pieces of paper in his pocket before getting into the train. (78)

The scribbled address and fragment of a map embody that partial selfplacement that characterizes Apu’s experience of modernity as never quite complete. Rather than trying to piece it together, however, Apu’s disorientation is recast in the language of awe and surprise, which causes him to literally balk: He had seen a big city before, but even so, Calcutta surprised him. He came out of the Sealdah railway station and stood staring [shey obaak hoiya gelo, lit., he stood astounded] at the flow of traffic on the road outside. What were those vehicles? Trams? And those speeding silently? They must be motor cars. (78)

The movement, the speeding cars, and the rush of the modern city contrast with Apu’s own physical paralysis, which leaves him immobile amid a swirl of sensation. He experiences the city as an instantiation of what Susan Stewart calls “the gigantic,” which “presents a physical world of disorder and disproportion” (Stewart 74). In the film adaptation, Ray’s long shot captures a momentary hesitation, and then a turn of his body as Apu is swallowed up by the unidirectional crowd, captured in a retreating camera that eventually allows Apu to become indistinguishable from the larger, white-clad mass (Figure 2). The shock of arrival is thus quickly – within seconds – dissolved into an aesthetic of urban energy and flow. If the novel’s Apu is rendered motionless by the gigantic, the incorporation of the film’s Apu into the crowd replicates the way in which “the gigantic is appropriated by the state and its institutions and put on parade . . . as a symbol of the abstract social formations making up life in the city” (Stewart 81). Ray tames the sublime in the film; in the novel, however, Apu’s stillness remains the reigning trope. He remains at odds with his environment, in a permanent state of alienation.13 A rc h i t e c t u r e of t h e U r b a n S u bl i m e The perpetual stasis that defines Apu’s experience on first arrival in Calcutta undermines the telos that remains central to the discourse of

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


Figure 2.  After a jostle or two, Apu is swept along by the station crowd (Aparajito, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1957).

the city even when the actual experience of it is disorienting and digressive. This conflict is heightened in the colonial city, where the disjuncture between its (built, planned) ideal and the possibilities for actually inhabiting it is all the more stark. Overcoming this gap becomes one of the particular ideological tasks of the Bildungsroman under colonialism, which by representing a protagonist who finds her place in the city, narrates the coming-into-being of the colonized nation into the modern world. As Adam Bresnick writes, “The classical Bildungsroman is the literary genre that eschews the sublime in the name of the beautiful dream of social reconciliation” (828). In his discussion of Kenyan author Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye’s Bildungsroman Coming to Birth, Joseph Slaughter demonstrates how, as the novel progresses, the protagonist Paulina gradually finds her way “in the social, political, and racial topography of the city,” and increasingly “comprehend[s] the urban design and its regulations” (128). Thus the novel uses Paulina as a means of narrating Kenya’s arrival into national sovereignty and global modernity. And indeed, this is the trajectory we imagine for Apu after his first encounter with the built environment of Calcutta: a progressive integration into urban modernity through the very university towers and libraries he is there to inhabit.


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Education, we imagine, will gradually dissipate his sense of alienation; yet he consistently fails to assimilate. This failure is represented dually: in the plot, in which Apu never completes his education, and in the narrative itself, which cannot maintain the energy that its form promises, and instead circles around narrative events, furthering the episodic and centrifugal style of the first few chapters set in the village. In this way, Apu’s encounters with Calcutta do not propel his formation but instead leave him aimless, in permanent search of meaning and direction. This is especially apparent in Apu’s encounters with the buildings of the city’s various colleges, which he experiences as awful and sublime. The nature of the encounters is anticipated by his earlier oneiric insight into the strangeness of Calcutta’s libraries, which ironized the centrality of institutions of knowledge, and secular learning in general, in the pedagogical liberalism of colonial discourse (Joshi, In Another 45–7). Here, too, Apu’s encounter with the university buildings mobilizes a rhetoric of fear that contradicts the stated universalism of the colonial project: Presidency College, the best known and the most prestigious, was bound to be the most expensive. Apu did not go anywhere near it [Preshidenshi coleje’r dike shey ichha koriyaai ghenshilo na]. He did not like the look of Metropolitan College, or City College, so he tore up the application forms he had filled [kagojkhani chhindiya phelia]. (79)

The fetishization of physical location – an irrational consequence of feeling terrified  – and the consistently repellent nature of the buildings’ façades provide the justification for Apu’s epistemically violent action, which is directed at the mundane bureaucratic ritual that has the potential to gain him entry into the towers. In this action, Apu refuses the standard account of secular education, which is in part premised on the disavowal of fear – on learning, as George Levine writes about the realist novel, to “[judge] the world of mountains . . . against the standards of the human community below,” and to realize that “prostration before sublimity is, simply, a mistake – an irresponsible tourism” (210). All Apu can do, by contrast, is stop and stare. Apu’s experience with the university buildings identifies a key contradiction in British colonial architecture – and, indeed, in colonial modernity more generally  – between its competing ideological functions. On one hand, as the justification for a liberal colonialism, proponents of classical and European architectural styles sought to educate the colonized subject in modern, restrained aesthetics; at the same time, tall and intimidating buildings were essential to the performance of British might that

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


implicitly required the colonized to, at least to some degree, fear them (Metcalf, Imperial 16).14 This is all the more true of university towers such as those encountered by Apu, whose awe-inspiring architecture contradicted their universalist mission. This paradox is enshrined in the clock tower that, as Metcalf documents, “was a common feature of the urban landscape of Victorian Britain” (78), but in the colonies had the specific purpose of “help[ing] to remind students and passersby not only of the supremacy of the Raj but of the virtues of punctuality” (80). These twin functions of pedagogy and repression embodied a constitutive contradiction of colonial rule. In experiencing only part of its intent, Apu eludes the established narrative of modern Bildung. Yet lacking a coherent ideology, or even an explicit consciousness with which to contemplate this moment, Bibhutibhushan neglects to develop this aesthetics of astonishment and instead has Apu finally enroll in Ripon College. The desultory narration of this event highlights the author’s seeming indifference to actual progress; more time is taken listing all the places Apu does not enroll than telling us where he does: The building was tall and large, which impressed Apu [obosheshe Ripon coleje’r bari tahar kachhe besh bhalo o unchu mone hoilo]. He completed the necessary forms and was admitted [shey bhorti hoiya]. (79)

The language seems unaware of the tension between the two contiguous sentences – between the continuing impression made by the colonial architecture, which in the case of Presidency College had inspired fear, and the revision of the mundane ritual of the application form, which Apu fills out effortlessly, as if he had not torn up several versions a short while earlier. Rather than address the tension or make it central to Apu’s Bildung, the novel revises the aesthetics of shock to allow him to forward his story  – and thus defers and underplays the central problem, which remains that of Apu’s inability to integrate into the modern city. Little changes once Apu enters the classroom. Like other modernist protagonists, Apu is undisciplined in his studies, driven more by the reaches of his imagination than an interest in formal knowledge: Sometimes he wanted to read about stars and planets; or he’d be seized by a desire [ichha] to acquaint himself intimately with life in ancient Greece or Rome . . . to be swiftly followed by the poetry of Keats, or the life of Napoleon. Sometimes his passion [kheyal] for a subject stayed for just a couple of days. At other times, he spent months pursuing it. His imagination [kolpona] always centred round something great, or wonderful [bodo] – famous paintings, tales of the rise and fall of civilisations, the craters of the moon, the present war, or the life of a great man. (129)


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Yet unlike Stephen Dedalus, for instance, whose “own head was unbent for his thoughts wandered abroad” (Joyce 155) when faced with the dreary realities of the university classroom, Apu’s detachment never coalesces into an aesthetic sensibility but ultimately refuses form. His initial moments of urban shock dissipate into a more general feeling of alienation from the university, which emerges in the text in the form of constant reminders that he has not paid his college fees.15 The dreariness of actual habitation in the lofty towers of colonial education thus dissolves – without entirely coming to terms with – the awe of the encounter. I m pe n e t r a bl e I n t e r ior s Astonishment at the grand alienness of the urban-built environment often gives way, in the Bildungsroman, to gradual incorporation, to finding “home” in the interior spaces that offer the comfort of sociality in a way the cold façades of buildings do not. From the nineteenth century onward, these interior spaces are often coded as bourgeois – the Deanes’ estate in The Mill on the Floss, for example, where Maggie Tulliver meets Stephen Guest, or Mr. Jaggers’s dining room in Great Expectations – and the Bildungsheld’s assimilation into the society they represent signals an important stage in her Bildung. Although this is rarely a seamless process, it represents one of the most emotive moments of the narration, where the successful attainment of maturity – even if it is never to transpire – seems most within reach. As Partha Chatterjee has famously shown, and as discussed in Chapter 1, the distinction between the unruly, materialistic world of urban streets (bahir) and the sacred, spiritual world of the inner home (ghar) became a formative contradiction in nineteenth-century Bengal, as it allowed Indians to conceive of a domain of authentic national culture that would justify the more tainted, spiritualized modernity of the public sphere (Nation 120–1). In this paradigm, the interior domain connoted respectability, and left those excluded from it to occupy the morally compromised world of street culture (Chakrabarty, Habitations 72–5). This only heightens the significance of “home” within the Indian Bildungsroman. At one level, then, alienation is always conceived in opposition to and as exclusion from home. The centrality of the domestic interior to narratives of selfhood for the Bengali middle-class male stands as the backdrop to Apu’s desire to penetrate the interior spaces of Calcutta. The need for inclusion comes in part from the Bildungsroman’s interest in improvement, and in part

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is a reflection of Apu’s own nostalgia, which seeks to reinscribe village sociality onto even the alienated spaces of the metropolis. The possibility for retrieving this sociality arises in two chance encounters he has with old acquaintances: Suresh, from Nishchindipur, and his first love, Leela, from Burdwan – both of which end in further alienation. In this way, the emotive register of sociality is, like so many others in the novel, deferred, stunted, and never allowed to flourish. Apu unexpectedly encounters his old acquaintance Suresh on the street, in one of the moments of inhabited alienation that marks his quotidian experience in the modern city. Here he is, characteristically, “walking aimlessly [onyomonoshkobhabey jaitey jaitey]” (91) – and, in one of the rare clues we get as to the novel’s historical orientation, uninterested in the “fresh news about the war” being announced by a newspaper hawker (91). This mental detachment internalizes Apu’s initial alienation with the city into his very habitus: unable to inhabit a constant shock of the new, he retreats into a physical numbness, becoming a parody of the flâneur whose aimless wandering delineates the new spaces of the Parisian bourgeoisie (Brooks 134). Apu’s encounter with Suresh wakens him from this lull, and he immediately asks Suresh for his address. The prescribed ritual of a house visit among former acquaintances underlies their encounter, and initially dispels the contrast between Apu’s eagerness to meet Suresh at his home and Suresh’s relatively disinterested response, which makes him almost forget to give Apu his address, even after reluctantly agreeing to meet. The terms of the communication are significant: Suresh jumped into a tram. Apu ran alongside [shey cholonto tram’er pashey chutitey chutitey jiggasha korilo], and asked hurriedly, “Your address? Suresh da, you didn’t tell me. . .” “24/2C Vishwakosh Lane, Shyambajar,” Suresh shouted. The tram disappeared. (92)

The spatial inequality of the moment here – Suresh riding away in a moving tram with Apu desperately running alongside  – reflects the continuing sense of displacement that characterizes this narrative and highlights Apu’s limited mobility within the city, something we will see again with Leela, who is often associated with her car. Here we have the additional insertion of a modern, numbered address in the discourse, which recasts the receding possibility of Bildung in the city as a new potential site of habitation in its domestic interiors. Shyambajar is a middle-class neighborhood in north Calcutta, so the address immediately emerges as class


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coded, not only confirming Apu’s observation of “a certain polish and sophistication in his [Suresh’s] appearance and speech [khanti shohurey gola’r shure o uchharon-bhongitey]” (92), but offering him the hope that if he visits, he might acquire such affects as well. Such a moment of encounter offers all the teleological promise of the form, replacing the uncertain arc of urban integration with the promise of human connection, bourgeois domesticity, and social mobility. However, far from fulfillment, the meeting at Suresh’s house is a near parody of the trajectory of domestic incorporation so central to the Bildungsroman. Although Suresh’s drawing room contains all the effects of modern subjectivity and bourgeois respectability characteristic of the Bengali elite, and also seen in Devdas – “the furniture, the clock on the wall, the calendar, the paintings, the old roll-top desk in a corner” (93) – from the outset these objects underline Apu’s exclusion from the domestic domain, even while they lure him into a false sense of familiarity: “To think he knew the people who owned these lovely things [eto aapnar joner Kolikatay erokom bari acche]! He felt a little proud [gorbo]” (93).16 Although gentility is earned, at least in part, through association, Apu’s fallacious sense of belonging here emerges not through his relationship with Suresh but through his admiration of Suresh’s house and his belongings  – a third-degree relation that, if anything, reveals how impenetrable domestic space is, rather than, as Apu thinks, the contrary. This is confirmed by Suresh’s complete lack of interest in Apu: while Apu waits, Suresh arrives, goes inside the house to have his own meal, and comes back out, barely addressing any words to his guest. The scene of potential hospitality is marked by the almost complete absence of the host and the innocent wonderings of the bewildered guest, falsely seduced into a sense of inclusion by the gleam of the material. Suresh never reappears, and far from accessing this bourgeois domesticity, Apu leaves physically hungry. Sending a guest away from the home hungry represents a transgression of a significant social taboo among the Bengali bhadralok – who attach particular significance to eating “cooked food at home” (Mukhopadhyay 40) – and Apu experiences it, correctly, as a rejection of his presence. This feeling is only exacerbated by the sense of physical displacement caused by his hunger, which “had grown so strong that he could no longer sit still [shey aar boshitey pariteychhey na]” (94). Here, not only does hunger violate social mores, but it literally disrupts the protagonist’s ability to inhabit the English-style furniture that marks this drawing room as a bourgeois space of the city. Thus while Suresh’s house is not the only space in which Apu remains hungry – his time in

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


Calcutta is punctuated by bursts of severe hunger – as one of the modes of bodily displacement this particular hunger registers his larger alienation from the domestic spaces of the city, where he had come to find refuge from the alienation of the city streets. Apu’s childhood love, Leela, offers another domestic space for Apu, yet one that, like Suresh’s, only heightens Apu’s alienation from bourgeois respectability. In Leela’s character the novel also comes closest to offering a social critique of the hypocrisies of middle-class values, something that the Bengali novel had been doing since the late nineteenth century (Chatterjee, Nation 135–57), but from which for the most part Bibhutibhushan stayed away. Like so many other novelistic heroines, Leela’s inability to realize her Bildung can be traced directly to the social stigmatization of women. However, as Apu’s childhood love, she also stands as a foil for his feelings of displacement and alienation from domestic space. For although she initially offers him refuge from the alienation that pervades his Bildung, her own inability to cohere as a minor Bildungsheldin ends up reinforcing his sense of dislocation. The first time Apu sees Leela in Calcutta, more than eight years after their time together in Burdwan, Apu is waiting outside her grandfather’s house, where he is seeking a recommendation for a new place to live. Unbeknownst to Apu, Leela catches sight of him and asks for him to be invited inside. The gesture of invitation animates an idiom of domestic hospitality, promising Apu once again the opportunity to transcend his social status as one who “could not get beyond the portico of [Mr. Lahiri’s’ house],” and so “just sat on a bench for hours, hoping to catch Mr Lahiri as he came out [bodoloker gadi-barandar dhaarey bench’er upor boshia choliya ashey]” (152). The sudden access to the domestic interiors closed to strangers leaves Apu, as he is so often in Calcutta, “astonish[ed] [aashchoryo]” (152). As he is led inward by Leela’s housemaid, however, the vision of all the objects of gentility completely occupy him, as they had earlier at Suresh’s: She took him down a narrow passage, past a large room filled with book cases, a huge felt-topped table and leather furniture, across a small courtyard with a chequered marble floor. (152)

As in the earlier scene, the narrative lingers on these objects with a kind of sympathetic realist eye that is uncommon in this novel, which in general seems to revel much more in expressions of transcendent vision, nature, and the imagination. The break here emerges from the possibility enshrined in the domestic chronotope, which when it appears in Apu’s


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story, holds out the promise of narrative progress just as the objects themselves offer Apu the hope that he too might move up in the world. And unlike his visit to Suresh, this time there is no hunger: “Apu ate what he could [chaa o khabar khaiya]” (156). However, the intimacy of their earlier relationship is lost, and Apu realizes that the Leela of his fantasies might have been only that: a fantasy. This new sense of alienation is signaled in the narrative by the various apperceptive obstacles that frame the reencounter; for instance, Apu waiting in the portico outside the door, and Leela acknowledging that she first recognized Apu as “I happened to look out of the window [jaanla diye] of our drawing room” (154). These various modes of entry are here redefined as potential obstacles to the friends’ reconnection – functioning as, in Bill Brown’s words, the “chance interruption – that disclose[s] a physicality of things” (“Thing” 4). This sense of alienation from domesticity recurs when Apu attends an adda  – a paradigmatic bourgeois space of the Bengali bhadralok  – hosted by Leela’s grandfather. Although Apu is thrilled to be included, he remains continually distracted by the objects that litter the room: “How beautiful that electric lamp was with its marble shade! And those attractive chintz covers on the settee, all the expensive furniture, large mirrors on the wall, huge roses in brass vases from Moradabad. Could anyone ever have imagined that he would one day be included in a gathering like this?” (158). As in the earlier scene with Suresh, Apu’s sense of inclusion is misguidedly founded on the superficial objects that catch his eye: the lampshade, the sofa cover, the mirrors – these, too, the “Western artifacts” that had come to embody the aspirational modernity of the Bengali drawing room since the arrival of the British (Chattopadhyay 217). Rather than draw Apu in, however, these objects merely reflect back his gaze, and leave him even more out of place than ever. When he tries to intervene in the debate taking place, he therefore flounders, and is mocked by the others for his immaturity: “Would it not be better, sir,” one gentleman tells him, “if you tried offering your views after spending a few more years at the university?” (159). The insult of the question aside, the relation the man draws between Apu’s premature participation in drawing-room culture and his stunted progress as a student secures the link between these two sites of alienation: outside, among the university towers, and inside the bourgeois drawing room. Apu leaves this space even more disillusioned than he was before, vowing, “I’ll never go back to that house. What have I to do with the rich and the wealthy [bodoloker]? Never again!” (160)

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


Although Apu is unaware of it, Leela is to take her leave from drawing rooms as well, and their next meeting, which occurs again by chance, takes place on the street. Again, Apu is “walking aimlessly [lokkhyoheenbhabey ghuritey ghuritey]” (172) around the city, and Leela beckons him from her car. The class and communicative boundaries that distinguish the directioned passenger from the aimless flâneur warp Leela’s repeated invitation into her home into an iterated parody of her earlier hospitality: “What a strange man you are, Apurbo Babu [aapni achha]!” Leela exclaimed, “Why didn’t you come to our house again in these three months? You just disappeared after that night.” (172)

The retrospective and indirect invitation refigures the possibility of Apu’s true inclusion into Leela’s domestic space as an empty gesture of manners – which only reinforces Apu’s alienation from it. Leela herself, however, has few options at this point, as symbolized by her position in a car: indeed, a signifier of modernity, but at the same time of ambiguous moral standing from within the domestic context, where it represents a dubious extension of gentility into the threatening – and, for women, morally debasing – arena of public life. In this sense the car is another ironic figuration of domesticity, both for Apu, for whom it signals a further degree of removal from assimilation and Bildung (as he remains outside the car), and for Leela, who presumably already anticipates her ultimate exclusion from it. Aside from one brief meeting, Apu does not find Leela again until several years later. This meeting also takes place in a car  – although this time Apu is allowed entrance into it – confirming what the first had only suggested, that because of her sexual transgressions resulting from an unhappy marriage, Leela has been permanently relegated to the transient spaces outside of bourgeois respectability (Chattopadhyay 181). Thus Leela has become a shadow-version of her earlier self, which Apu experiences initially in her appearance: “Leela was still beautiful. . . . Yet, she was not the same Leela [shyottoi apurbo shundori!. . . tobuo aager Leela nai]” (349). This uncanny figuration – being the same and yet different – signals an entire parallel narrative to Apu’s: Leela’s own eclipsed Bildung. Apu recognizes this failure when Leela offers to fund the publication of his novel: He felt an odd compassion and pity [koruna o onukompa] for Leela, just as he did in the old days. Leela too, had cherished such dreams. She had wanted to be a painter, and talked about it often. What was she doing now? Buying new cars, expensive lace from English shops, throwing her money away anyhow. There


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had once been a glowing fire in her, akin to the holy fire lit to invoke the gods. It had gone out, but the invocation had remained incomplete [oshomapto]. (350–1)

The unequally weighted narrative system here – by which, as is typical in so many Bildungsromane, the successful development of the male protagonist relies on the eclipsed development of his female counterpart – is here literalized, with Leela financially supporting Apu’s artistic success, having lost the possibilities of her own. In terms of Leela’s Bildung, there is little left to unfold: like Maggie Tulliver, Nirmala, and so many other female Bildungsheldinnen, Leela dies prematurely, having exhausted the possibilities of selfhood within a socially unequal system. She dies by ingesting poison, which not only furthers her social stigmatization but reads as a hollow parody of her desire for agency, as taking her life in her own hands stands as a mere gesture of Bildung with wholly self-effacing content. For Apu however, Leela’s death marks another level of failure: like Pip’s inability to acquire Estella, the woman for whose sake he had initiated his Bildung, Leela’s death forecloses another possibility for self-realization that animates the novel form: reuniting with his childhood love. If the love marriage represents the harmonious reconciliation of social domesticity and individual desire, then Aparajito’s turn away from that ending into the alternative, avowedly tangential direction of Leela’s failed Künstlerroman represents the impossibility of such reconciliation. This impossibility is negatively illuminated by Ray’s reinvention of the domestic plot in his filmed version of the story, in which Leela figures nowhere, and Apu’s marriage to Aparna occupies the main portion of Apur Sansar. Ray’s choice to foreground the unremarkable domestic narrative over Leela’s much more confusing, ethically ambivalent, and ultimately inertiatic story further heightens the legibility of his filmic narrative as one of modern Bildung, with the domestic element – however tragic (in the film as well, Aparna dies in childbirth shortly after their marriage)  – a crucial part of it. The story of Leela, however, suggests something more indeterminate about Bildung at large: not only that it has the potential to disappoint in remaining unfulfilled but that it might be marked as much by disruption and failure as integration and growth. T h e L u r e of Obj e c t s As we have seen, in Aparajito the progressive energy inherent in the form is constantly deflected through literal obstacles in the plot: traffic, hunger, windows, as well as affective experiences such as astonishment and awe.

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


These not only constrain the protagonist’s Bildung, but they offer the narrative possibility that Bildung will never occur – that the version of modernity being presented here is one of misdirections, aimlessness, and digression, but without an aesthetic form to adequately communicate it. This is only underscored by Apu’s fixation with – and even fetishization of – objects connoting bourgeois respectability, which represent his continued state of alienation from the interior spaces of Calcutta and from the possibility of assimilation and development they promise. As we have seen, although a realist mode occasionally asserts itself to convey the materiality of objects, Apu is inhibited from realizing the teleological potential of the form; likewise, the surfaces that promise incorporation into modernity deflect his access, and end up repelling him instead. This incomplete telos is emphasized in the ironic iteration of bourgeois domesticity that occurs when Apu attempts to host a gathering of his own, having decorated his little room with objects newly acquired from the bazaar, with some money earned from tutoring for a rich family. The event is preceded by a jubilant shopping trip: Apu had never heard of chor bazaar. He was amazed [obaak hoiya gelo] by the variety of the objects up for sale  – furniture, pictures, clocks, clothes, shoes, toys, books, gramophones, curtains, sheets, even soaps and toiletries. None of it was new, but to Apu, the prices seemed very low. A flowerpot was for six annas, an inkwell for ten. For eleven rupees, one could buy a gramophone and a stack of records! In all this time in Calcutta, no one had told him of the existence of chor bazaar. The next day, a mad impulse [kheyal] made him return to the bazaar with what money he had left. The first thing he bought was a pair of flower vases. His old passion for a good inkwell prompted him to buy the one he had seen the day before. Then he bought a Japanese curtain, four pictures, a few plates, a mirror and a ring with a fake stone. To these he finally added a brass table lamp, simply because he had once seen a similar lamp on Leela’s table [onekdin aage Leelader bari thakibar shomoy shey ei dhoroner aalo Leelar poribar ghore tebiler jwolite dekhiyachilo]. When he returned home, a coolie carrying his new possessions, his heart was bursting with joy. Never before in his life had he owned so many things. Still convinced that he had got a terrific bargain, he had no idea how badly he had been cheated. He spent the rest of the day cleaning up his room and setting everything up to his satisfaction. The pictures went on the wall, the curtain hung from the door, the mirror was fixed in one corner, the flower vases were placed by the window (although he had forgotten to buy flowers), and the inkwell was rubbed and polished until it shone. There was an empty packing box lying outside. Apu dusted it, brought it inside and put the table lamp on it. Then he sat down to read, but kept lifting his eyes from his book to glance proudly at all the new objects. Now


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his room had everything that rich people had in theirs [thik ekeybarey jeno bodolokder sajano ghar]. He had never had the money to buy anything pretty. But now . . . now he was going to indulge himself. He refused to live any more like a buffalo languishing in the slush by a pool. (117–18)

The imitative mode is obvious and self-conscious here, as Apu actively tries to decorate his room in the model of the imagined drawing room whose reality he has yet to access. Rather than a true bourgeois space, Apu creates what Susan Stewart might call, metaphorically speaking, a “dollhouse,” in which “use value is transformed to display value” (62) – and here, the objects have value only in their display; as the narrator asserts, they are otherwise essentially worthless. The syntagmatic value of the objects is conveyed in the mode of description as well: in the jubilant description of chor bazaar, the excess of nouns, the attention to detail of both object and affect. This does not merely reflect what George Levine describes as realism’s “preoccupation with surfaces, things, particularities, social manners” (15), but works ironically, as the mode of representation itself reads as a sort of desperate attempt to find a place for Apu among the surfaces and things, where he so clearly does not belong. As Bill Brown writes, “We begin to confront the thinginess of objects when they stop working for us” (“Thing” 4)  – and here these objects (jinishgulo), which Apu has constituted as literal objects of desire, fail to convey his desired meaning. In a way, then, the realist mode works projectively as well as descriptively, representing not only the material things themselves but Apu’s own longing for form. The inadequacy of realism as imitation is clear to Apu’s friends, who immediately see the reflection of Apu’s helpless superficiality in the shiny surfaces of his new acquisitions. Although ostensibly Apu’s tea party allows him to offer the hospitality that Suresh and Leela deny him, the clear disjuncture between the well-placed objects of their drawing rooms and the cheap imitations of Apu’s flat only underscores the deep social divide. Apu’s friend Manmatha is the first to express his sardonic distaste: “‘Hurrah!’ exclaimed Manmatha as he arrived, ‘Look what our Apurbo has done! Where did he get this cheap old curtain? Hey, who’s going to eat all this stuff?’” (119). Likewise, when Apu tries to show off, Manmatha exposes him: [Apu] remembered the ring he had bought, and took it out. “Guess how much it cost me?” he asked happily. Manmatha took one look at it and said, “It’s only a piece of glass, and the band is certainly not made of real gold. You shouldn’t have had to pay anything at all. Pooh!” (119)

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


As offering insight into his character, the scene reveals Apu’s pitiable aspirations; it is also, however, a symptom of a larger representational crisis in the novel, which here emerges as a specific problem of realism. Despite having the objects in his possession, Apu merely fetishizes them, and is thus unable to see them for what they really are – unlike his close friend, Anil, for instance, who “knew the stone on Apu’s cheap little ring was not a carnelian at all” (120). In this way, what emerges from realist description, the “pleasure of being able to see, as though for the first time, the clutter of furniture, the cut of clothing” (Levine 21), becomes a source of melancholia, which in a Freudian sense displaces loss through fetishistic “attachment to the object of . . . loss” (Brown, “Resisting” 20). Compare this to Mulk Raj Anand’s rendering of a similar drawing-room parody in his novel Coolie, in which Munoo’s increasing sense of exclusion from middle-class life is also depicted through his failure to manage the bourgeois objects of his employers, so that he drops their entire tea set, and “all the china lay scattered on the kitchen floor” (44). Anand, however, follows this disruption with Munoo’s realization of his class interests, which allows him to transcend the superficiality of the broken material objects to a better understanding of himself and his place in the world. Bibhutibhushan’s texts, by contrast, refuse such a standard narrative, and unlike Munoo, Apu never understands what went wrong with his tea party. The melancholy thus arises not only from Apu’s exclusion from bourgeois domesticity but from the inability of the text itself to generate a mode of representation that channels this exclusion into a legible narrative. Irresolvable melancholy, like the constant awe of the encounter, thus becomes another of the novel’s reigning tropes. Anil is the only one potentially aware of this, and hints to Apu that the key to escaping the lure of fetishism is to look even deeper, suggesting that he use his money for “a pair of binoculars” instead of all the cheap trinkets that dazzle him (120). Anil’s awareness of the superficiality of modernity, however, is too overdetermined for the more experimental, partial representational project of this novel, which is much less interested in the increasingly wellworn path to an aestheticization of modern life and more intrigued by the problematic – and potentially untenable – paths not taken; and so Anil dies suddenly a few pages later, and Apu continues on.17 T h e Probl e m of Pat e r n i t y Apu’s foray into domestic life, which for Ray represents the final, and arguably the meatiest trajectory of his Bildung, in fact marks a relatively


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insignificant portion of the novel Aparajito. In order to support his wife, Aparna, Apu takes up work as a clerk and moves into a tenement, embracing the kind of lifestyle his inherently imaginative and restless personality finds unbearable. Whereas the film adaptation suggests that the emotional and sexual connection between Apu and Aparna is enough to mitigate the squalor of their surroundings (for Ray, the squalor becomes a problem for Apu only after Aparna’s death), in the novel these represent dark days for Apu, as they mark the deterioration of all the promise that his move to the city had represented: Perhaps this is how most dreams [swapno] – dreamt in one’s youth – are crushed. He who dreams of becoming a wealthy industrialist ends up as a quack in a village; others who want to become famous lawyers or globetrotters (and be a second Columbus), finish up as sellers of coal, or school teachers, earning the princely sum of forty rupees a month. What happens to ninety-nine out of a hundred men had also happened to Apu: marriage, a rented room, the job of a clerk, baby food, and other baby paraphernalia [Mellin’s food o oilcloth]. All except the last two items, perhaps, but the general picture was the same. (233–4)

Central to this figuration is the narrative of bourgeois domesticity – the gradual fading of dreams, the capitulation to the requirements of necessity and the material  – that Apu desperately seeks to refuse. This passage is one of the rare moments when the irony underlying the narrative comes to the surface, and Apu recognizes himself as one of many potential Bildungshelden, whose dreams have dissolved into a reality borne by necessity. The deflection of the problem of progeny in this somewhat parodic formulation  – the “Mellin’s food” and “oilcloth,” transliterated from English and thus synecdochally, but also via a constitutive distance, standing in for the baby itself – anticipates the plot event that is to follow: the death of Aparna and the replacement of her with their son, Kajal, in the domestic tableau. The fact that Kajal survives Aparna’s death does not, at first, prevent Apu from realizing his desire to escape the mundane dinginess of Calcutta and embark on lengthy wanderings in the small towns and rural landscapes of the Bengali countryside. The moral ambiguity of leaving Kajal behind emerges in the novel less as a failing in Apu’s character and more out of the contradiction that Kajal represents within the terms of Apu’s Bildung: on one hand metonymically signifying the barren life of domesticity that Apu needs to transcend in order to realize his self­development, yet as Apu’s heir he also represents the continuity of the patriarchy, another essential component of Bildung. This ambivalence emerges in the text as a series of somewhat abrupt movements – first at the

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


level of narrative, in which the focalization makes a rare break from Apu’s perspective and provides us several passages of Kajal’s instead (breaks that, when they occur in the film, are engineered much more seamlessly), and then in the story itself, as Apu returns from his wanderings, visits Kajal in Aparna’s village, returns to Calcutta by himself, comes back to the village to take Kajal with him to Calcutta, and finally leaves Kajal back in Nishchindipur while he leaves the country. Apu’s indecision around the acknowledgment of his paternity emerges as the last of the several moments in this novel in which the expectations gathered around the Bildungsroman dissipate in service of a much more significant ambivalence around the normative values of progress and maturity. This moment is uniquely inflected, however, by its cultural context, in which the parent-child tie is seen as particularly strong. Satyajit Ray claimed that the box-office failure of Aparajito in India was due in part to “the portrayal of the mother and son [Shorbojoya and Apu] relationship, so sharply at variance with the conventional notion of mutual sweetness and devotion” (42). Here he refers to Apu’s leaving his mother in the village, early in Aparajito, and failing to care for her, even when she becomes sick and ultimately dies; Ray suggests that the cultural value ascribed to parental respect made those particularly disturbing scenes for an Indian audience. As if in response to this criticism, Ray facilitated a final reconciliation between father and son in the trilogy that was absent in the novel, precluding, we might surmise, a similar reaction to Apur Sansar. Yet Ray’s revisionist screenplay overwrites Apu’s unassuageable doubts about his role as a father, and in doing so substitutes a progressive aesthetic  – in which Apu eventually learns what is important in life  – for the morally and aesthetically questionable quality of Bibhutibhushan’s original ending. Two trends are noteworthy in further interpreting this moment. The first is a general trend within Western modernity to represent what Edward Said calls “the turn from filiation to affiliation” (World 18) – from inherited, familial bonds to horizontal bonds of friendship and camaraderie – and the tendency of the Bildungsroman to try to mitigate this transition by harmonizing filiation and affiliation so that they no longer appear dichotomous. The second takes a similar trajectory, but is given particular salience within a broader discourse of rationalist reform in India, begun in nineteenth-century Bengal. In this discourse the family features centrally as the micro-unit of the nation, reliant both on the new centrality of marital relations, as well as on a new discourse about childhood, in which “the child came to be regarded as a person with


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distinctive attributes – impressionability, vulnerability, innocence – that required a ‘correct,’ protected, and prolonged period of nurture” (Bose 118). The health of this new, compact family was seen as emblematic of the health of the nation at large, which put clear stress, anticipating Gandhi, on reforming personal conduct in service of national regeneration. This was the first discourse to emphasize not only the appropriate treatment of elders  – the long-standing cultural practices that generated the reactions to Ray’s Aparajito – but also parenting, the treatment of children, as central to national health. This epistemic shift represented the family “as both naturally given and as socially and morally desirable” (Bose 129), thus raising the possibility of affiliative relations even within traditional models of filiation. In the Bildungsroman, we see an attempt to make modernity habitable by adapting the demands of social patriarchy to the more flexible rhetoric of choice – emblematized in the trope of the discovery of biological bonds linking the protagonist to the child whom he already loves, as with Wilhelm to Felix. This is what makes Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, in the words of Joseph Slaughter, read like “an extended narrative paternity test” (98). Yet Apu’s ambivalence toward his own paternity refuses this model; he is not merely unable to love Kajal (Apu’s initial reluctance is articulated in the film and then later overcome, whereas in the novel the question of love is simply never raised) but proceeds to live his life unbeseiged by his absence. Thus although Apu maintains the value of individual formation, he simultaneously contests the value given to continuity through paternity that is so central to the Humboldtian vision, which stresses that “man . . . should breathe his virtue and his strength . . . into his progeny. For only in this way may the acquired merits be perpetuated” (von Humboldt 59). Here the two values are figured as widely divergent, so that for Apu to follow his heart and foster his own development, he must sacrifice his child’s. Likewise, within the discourse of Indian modernity, Apu’s reneging on his duty as a parent is not only a refusal of citizenship but a denial of the collective possibilities of the nation (Bose 124). Although it is perhaps overstating the case to say that Apu’s rejection of Kajal is a means of spurning his place within the national citizenry (there is only evidence of Apu’s indifference to the world of politics in the text, not of any actual antipathy), we can locate in his marked hesitancy, and in the aesthetic crisis it causes – with the novel circling back directionlessly – some mode of unarticulated resistance against the narrative of modern formation and the uses to which it is put, be it colonialist or nationalist. Joseph Slaughter

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


argues that in the classical Bildungsroman, successful attainment of maturity is secured and epitomized by the protagonist’s acceptance of his rightful progeny, in “freely choosing to become the civil father that he already was by nature” (98). For Slaughter, this affirmation of paternity is one “replete with civic implications” (98), as “socially responsible fatherhood supplies the novel’s model of civic virtue” (99). Apu’s hesitancy about his own paternity – compared to Wilhelm Meister’s unfaltering acceptance of Felix at that novel’s end – is in this way an even more significant rejection of “civic virtue” than his inattention, earlier in his youth, to headlines about the war. The refusal of both normative Bildung and the discourse of national citizenship is, at one level, a symptom of what Dipesh Chakrabarty identifies in colonial India as the misalignment of “the social-public” subject from “the familial-private one” (Provincializing 143). The impossibility of aligning these two spheres reflects the unstable, and fundamentally untenable, fact that modernity in India was instituted through the unfreeing discourse of colonialism. From this perspective, what appears to be Apu’s immoral ambivalence toward his son is merely a decision to privilege one version of himself over another – the consequences of which project a dystopic vision of the price the subject of colonial modernity must pay. For Chakrabarty, the Bengali modern subject is one “in which many different subject positions and even nonbourgeois, nonindividualistic practices of subjectivity intersect” (144); but this image of a bricolage-of-selves seems more aesthetically coherent than what we leave with from Aparajito’s ending. Rather, Apu’s hedging and the narrative’s inability to extract a moral lesson from it paints a picture of a deeply distraught, fragmented self: much more akin to the “unhappy consciousness” Sudipta Kaviraj associates with Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay in the late nineteenth century than the cohabiting, multiple selves in Chakrabarty’s reading of Kalyani Datta. Indeterminacy thus emerges as a mode of textual politics. Although the form shies away from fully representing such ambivalence, the sensibility it engenders is one of the central elements of what will later be recognized as modernism. In fact in its expression in a series of irresolvable aesthetic crises, the full implications of indeterminacy are revealed, and the experience of colonial modernity strikes the reader as something highly problematic and, as such, somehow unreceptive to aestheticization. It is this affective response – even if composed primarily of despair or frustration – that captures the formal experimentation and sensibility of loss that characterizes the novel as a whole.


History and the Future

This latent critique of the expectations of modernity is heightened in the novel’s final moments, when Apu decides that despite his love for his son, he must continue his wanderings. To Apu, this is not a rejection of his paternal responsibility, however, but an acceptance of it, believing that he is giving Kajal the freedom to foster the imaginative potential that had served him so well in his own youth. Yet once again, the final chapters elude the narrative crescendoing characteristic of closures, instead taking time to describe Kajal’s interest in birds at the same time as it suggests that Apu will leave Kajal behind as he sets out for Fiji or Samoa. It is almost as if the narrative dissipates into two competing strands, the first narrating the end of Apu’s Bildung, and the second the incipience of Kajal’s own  – the latter re-creating the pastoral, aimless style of Pather Panchali. This break is then recuperated by Apu’s reflections on his own innocent childhood, which draws a new line of continuity between his childhood and his son’s. This continuity is in part the product of a rhetoric of alterity that, like Raja Rao’s foreword to Kanthapura, explains difference as primarily cultural. Thus the ending of Aparajito assures the readers that nothing will be lost in the worldly separation of father and son, which is only a transient version of the spiritual continuity between them: “Kajal’s father had made a small mistake in thinking his childhood was lost for ever. After an absence of twenty-four years, the innocent child Apu had returned to Nischindipur again [aabar Nishchindipurey phiria ashiachhey]” (472). This ending activates an indigenous temporality based in “a cyclical repetition. The seasons of the year are an aspect of this principle of renovation and the renewal of generations is also part of the same process” (Mukherjee, Realism 131). This overdetermined discourse of generational continuity – representing Kajal as Apu  – partially deflects the moral problem of the father’s decision to leave the son behind, while resolving the gap between filiation and affiliation, and between individual desire and social responsibility, in its own, unique way: the son becomes the father, and thus the acceptance of one’s paternity need not conflict with individual formation. Moreover, the particular nostalgic inflection of his final moment in the novel – whose site is the pastoral, natal village of Nishchindipur – situates it within the vocabulary of nationhood as well; although Apu does not accept his civic responsibility in caring for his child, he nevertheless fixes a point of origin for himself, activating a discourse of localism that was also central to Indian nationalism. In this way, we witness a merging of the national good with the individual will in a manner that ultimately resembles Goethe, except that here, the telos of that narrative is

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


refused; Apu does not grow into his identity as civic or domestic subject but instead leaves open the possibility that the future will take him in a different direction altogether. Despite the provocative indeterminacy of this ending, it will always remain in the shadow of the much more cathartic final scene of Ray’s trilogy. Apur Sansar ends at the reunion between father and son, perfectly marking the moment when “the relentless succession of deaths, of loss and degradation, has been broken” (Kapur 214), and when “Apu is resolute in the recognition that his obligation is not to the past but to the future, in the shape of his son Kajol” (Ganguly 65). Indeed, the image of the actor Soumitra Chatterjee carrying the young boy on his shoulders, the final frame of the film, has become one of the iconic images not only of Apur Sansar but of Ray’s oeuvre as a whole. This corresponds with the trilogy’s clear investment in the modern politics of Bildung, to which, as we have seen, the acceptance of paternity is crucial, and marks the fortuitous coincidence of individual development with the social good.18 Interestingly, however, in a suggestive misreading, the publishers of Aparajito’s English translation used this very image from the film to adorn their cover (Figure 3), despite the fact that in the novel, this final reunion never occurs. In part, this cover reflects the international legibility of the trilogy and the wide resonance of Ray’s iconic image; it is intended, as a form of marketing, to trigger recognition so that more copies of the novel sell. At the same time, the choice of this particular image has the effect of foreclosing the diverse possibilities immanent in the novel’s version of Apu’s story, marking the indeterminacy of that ending as unsettling and unrepresentable. Indeed, the cover identifies an aesthetic sensibility that the novel itself does not completely embrace  – one that is energetic, progressive, and teleological rather than uncertain and ultimately incomplete. In thus making the novel legible within a larger discourse of the aesthetics of modernity, and the logic of Bildung that is so central to it, it overwrites one of the rich alternative histories of literary modernism that Apu’s story advances, even in – because of – its failures to come to form. Bi r t h of t h e Au t hor The text-as-book  – the internationally circulating, English translation of Aparajito  – is the final in a series of shadow-texts with which Bibhutibhushan’s novel interacts, and in relation to which its meanings emerge. Aparajito registers awareness of its own status as text only in rare


History and the Future

Figure 3.  The cover of Aparajito’s English translation, featuring a still from Apur Sansar (© HarperCollins India, 2003).

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


moments, one of which is the gesture toward Künstlerroman that marks Apu’s struggles to write a novel, and to get it published, reviewed, and marketed. As discussed at the beginning of the chapter, this moment is distinguished by a break from the form of the Künstlerroman in general, in which authors tend to narrate their own coming-of-age into art as stories of young, fictional, Künstler: Dickens in David Copperfield, Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist, Woolf in A Voyage Out, and so on.19 By contrast, the unfazed determination with which Bibhutibhushan allows Apu to decide to write about a subject he himself eschewed opens up a space in the traditional Künstlerroman form for longing and desire – for the possibility not only of narrating one’s own coming to art but of imagining an alternative literary path not taken. The path presented here is toward something more recognizably realist than what the author actually produced, thus inflecting this desire with a telos of its own. That this telos resides within the text itself is a mark of its own perspicacity: Apu’s projection of his writerly trajectory will apply to Ray’s films and to the entire world of Bengali progressive writing in the 1940s and beyond: Sukanta Bhattacharya, Samar Sen, Manik Bandyopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, and so many others – all of whom took as their subject the everyday life of modernity. This is a world Bibhutibhushan never immersed himself in, but whose immense potential he clearly, at some level, comprehended. Thus when Apu’s book is finally published, and eventually critically admired, we can only assume, for lack of the specific indication within the novel, that the book he wrote is the one he imagined for himself: a story of the tribulations of Bengal’s working poor. This achievement marks one of the rare moments when Apu’s Bildung seems to have reached fruition, where his dreams for himself finally coalesce into reality. This contrasts significantly with the role of the artist interpreted by Ray in Apur Sansar – a film that, in all other ways (such as the ending), offers a more satisfying resolution than the novel. In the film, we get more details on the stories Apu has already written, in addition to his imagination of the great novel he will publish one day. For instance early in the film, his college professor advises him not to give up writing, and praises the ­“stories about village life [village life sommondhey lekha-tekhagulo]” Apu had once published in the college magazine. A few scenes later, Apu receives a letter informing him that his short story, “A Man of the Soil [Mati’r Manush],” has been accepted for publication in a Bengali literary journal. Both choices of topic confirm our sense of Ray’s Apu as a writer interested in the kind of realism developed by the progressive writers, with a focus on humanizing the rural poor.


History and the Future

Yet when Apu, later in the film, tells his friend Pulu about his authorial ambitions, he describes a very different kind of subject for his literature: A boy. A village boy. Poor but sensitive. His father, a priest. He dies. The boy doesn’t want to be a priest. He wants to study, he’s ambitious. He studies. In the process, I see him struggle. He sheds superstition and prejudice. He takes nothing on trust. He tries to be rational. He has imagination [kolpona]; he’s intrigued by little things. He has greatness in him, perhaps. He has the ability to create, but he doesn’t. But that’s not a tragedy. He remains poor, in want. But he doesn’t turn from life, he doesn’t want to escape. He is fulfilled; he wants to live!

This speech reveals a startling chiasmus: whereas Bibhutibhushan’s Apu is immersed in wonder and aspires to write a more socially conscious realism, Ray’s Apu, having already published literature representing the people, imagines crafting a more Romantic literary work  – an incomplete Künstlerroman in which the artist never succeeds in his art but who finds transcendent freedom nonetheless – much like the Apu of the novel. Yet far from success in this endeavor, Ray’s Apu, overwhelmed by grief at Aparna’s death, in a fit of self-pity flings his unfinished manuscript over a hillside to be carried down by the wind, page by page, to the valley below. This novel, therefore, never gets completed. This surprising gesture within the film that directs us back to the novel unsettles the linear assumption by which the novel is only a blueprint of its more aesthetically developed film adaptation. Rather, it suggests that despite such a well-formed progressivist aesthetic in Ray’s trilogy, another aesthetic possibility lies in the development of the free imagination, even if it rejects, like Bibhutibhushan’s ending, not only the social good but meaning itself. Apu’s destruction of his manuscript marks both the end of his own dreams and the end of the possibility of indeterminacy that, I believe, distinguishes the novel from the film, even at the cost of the former’s aesthetic coherence. Indeed, it is unexpected that in a novel pervaded almost completely by forms of shock, terror, rejection, and loneliness, a vision of its own aesthetic alternative occupies a position of so much clarity, even as it is firmly encapsulated within the closed world of the protagonist’s creation. This vision finally finds expression more than two decades later; however, the fate of the film’s alternative is not so easily resolved. It is perhaps precisely the tragedy of critical approaches to the rich literature of this period that narratives of indeterminacy become food for the wind. With this, the film narrates both a loss for Apu himself and a crucial gap in the larger paradigms along which we read realism in and of the colony.

Aimless Bildung and the Longing for Form


Aparajito is, in this sense, a limit case for realism – a novel that, perhaps most similarly to Kanthapura of the other works discussed here, seems to lie outside of what critics consider realism. Ironically, however, by reading it according to a vernacular critical standard, the novel is largely seen to fail – as unlike Pather Panchali, it does not fully integrate its plot into village language and temporality but tries to bring that idiom to the modern city. There is no space, then, in either the discourse of modern realism nor in that of indigenous modernities to account for Aparajito and as such, it falls through the cracks of critical discourse. As we have seen, Bibhutibhushan’s novel is built on an ambivalence surrounding form itself, not completely refusing its allure but not realizing it in any progressive orientation of the text either. If this exceptionality can be recast as central to the problematic of realism in the colony, then the longing for form can be seen not as an index of what a text lacks but what makes it part of a rich and aspirational body of literary production in the transitional period between colonial and national rule. Likewise, coming to form might be seen less as an aesthetic achievement and instead as necessarily a compromise, with significant costs as well. The implications of this are far-reaching. Not only does it offer a new approach to overlooked and undertheorized texts, but it also unsettles the self-evident relationship between aesthetics and form in the first place. It suggests that realism is a mode highly attuned to difference, and that it was precisely through such difference that the colonial world found form.


A Post-Realist Age?

Will you spend your life painting boot-polish boys and air-hostesses and two acres of land? Is it to be all coolies and tractor-drivers and Nargis-y hydro-electric projects from now on?. . . Forget those damnfool realists! The real is always hidden – isn’t it – inside a miraculously burning bush! Life is fantastic! (174) – Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh

At a recent conference on 1930s Indian literature in English, a wellrespected postcolonial literary critic stated that he found Mulk Raj Anand’s writing unappealing. Compare its stilted English, he insisted, its dryness and its staid realism to the rich and witty satire of more recent Anglophone authors. He held up Upamanyu Chatterjee as an exemplum of the latter, an author most famous for his 1986 novel, English, August, a satirical, nihilistic work about a young man, Agastya, who is posted by the Indian Civil Service to Madna, a rural backwater, and spends most of his time smoking marijuana and masturbating. On the surface, English, August contrasts with an earlier generation of novels not only in its language, which is “very cosmopolitan, uninhibited, irreverent and often hilarious” (Kumar, “I Can’t” 177), but in its unique positionality with regard to its object of representation, exploding the earnest village uplift found in works such as Raja Rao’s, Premchand’s, and Anand’s with its utter absurdity, its ironic distance, its parodic and sneering gaze, and its celebration of indolence and political apathy. It was these attributes that so powerfully attracted this critic. The assumption was that only when Indian writers abandoned the naïve political and aesthetic premises of progressive realism that the Indian novel finally came to form. This critic’s aesthetic sensibility is not a matter of personal taste, but as I have shown in these pages, relies on a collective critical misreading of early twentieth-century realism. Critic Amin Malak makes a similar move, contrasting Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children with Twilight in Delhi, arguing that “while Ali portrays lyrically and nostalgically a world 164



that is traditional and static, Rushdie sees reality as a flux phenomenon, changing or yet to be born. . . . While in Twilight in Delhi a ‘major flaw is the near total absence of irony and humour as operative principles. . .’, in all of Rushdie’s oeuvre a playful, parodic mode prevails” (26). Here again, the appeal of more charismatic forms of innovation render invisible less intelligible or more partial ones. Indeed, as critics increasingly celebrate aesthetic inventiveness in the form of hybridity, parody, magical realism, and linguistic play, they become closed to other forms of inventiveness that do not fit their narrow definitions of what innovation entails. Such probings of the limits of realism as Godan’s complex characterization; Anand’s, Premchand’s, and Rao’s experiments with Gandhi; Ahmed Ali’s interest in the affective resonances of historical time; and Bibhutibhushan’s forays into formlessness are all subsumed to an overarching narrative of stagnation and aesthetic conservativism, humorlessness, and hubristic beliefs in democratic uplift through literature. Thus the 1930s has become a source of derision, if not outright dismissal. Such unfavorable assessments of writers of the 1930s, however, also exaggerate contemporary Indian literature’s wholesale rejection of realism, raising the question of whether the present is really a post-realist age at all. Although English, August’s language and overt themes do seem to be deliberately written against the kinds of village stories that were held in high esteem during the nationalist movement, in fact Chatterjee’s novel can be read as the literary expression of a profound alienation from the real, and thus not a rejection of realism but a form of mourning in the wake of its loss. From this perspective, Agastya’s “indifference” (170) to his work as a civil servant is not a jubilant effect of a post-realist age but emerges precisely from the fact that as a civil servant seeing the world from the inside of an official, curtained car, “he saw very little of the real Madna, the lives of its traders in wood and forest produce, the coal miners, the workers at the paper mills, the shopkeepers, the owners of cinema halls and restaurants. The district life that he lived and saw was the official life” (28).1 The pervasiveness of this alienation throughout the novel suggests that it is an expression of realism’s impossibility in the context of a callous and bureaucratic postcolonial state. In this way, English, August’s satire is not anti-realist as much as it is part of a rich realist imagination in which the real is not only found in the existing physical world but is also an object of desire. It is thus entirely continuous with earlier novelistic experiments with rural realism, such as Shrilal Shukla’s 1968 Hindi novel, Raag Darbari, and, even farther back, Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Oriya novel, Chha Mana Atha Guntha (1902),



both of which use satire to show how wealth and power distort the Indian rural landscape to such an extent that conventional realism is no longer a viable mode through which to represent it (Anjaria “Satire”). It is also continuous with works such as Godan, Untouchable, and others, in which the breaks and discontinuities in realism are as important to the novels’ meaning as their egalitarian project to represent the marginalized. Yet even in the face of these clear lines of continuity, contemporary novels tend to accept their own realist predecessors with ambivalence. It has become a common practice for authors to deliberately distance their fiction from earlier realism, even when such an influence is evident. Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects (2008), for example, could be considered a social realist novel for its condemnation of the takeover of society by the perverted morality of the very wealthy, and of the continued disempowerment of Adivasis in India. Swarup, however, actively distances his book from the kind of realism – or at least a stereotype of that realism – that might have been marshaled in service of such critiques a century earlier. At one point in the novel a street-savvy young character named Munna Mobile encounters a documentary filmmaker who earnestly tells him, “My next project is a film on slum life. Something along the lines of Salaam Bombay, but grittier, edgier. We see slums from afar, sitting in trains and cars, but how many of us have actually ventured into one? My documentary will seek to give viewers an authentic experience of slum life” (148). The level of farce is evident here in the filmmaker’s invocation of Salaam Bombay as a model, along with her use of the word “authentic” – both of which underlie the powerful critique of not just her self-­representation but the entire outdated assumption that documentary realism has a privileged access to social reality. Here Swarup writes a parody of realism, deliberately situating his novel in a post-realist age despite its thematic continuity with this earlier tradition. Rushdie, too, is known for his “mockery of mimesis” (Gonzalez 111), and his move in the first pages of Midnight’s Children to describe the difficulty of ever telling a story2 is one repeated by many other Indian novels of the last few decades. This has engendered a range of formal rejoinders to realism, from the highly wrought narrative structure of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) to the conceit of recorded testimony in Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (2008) and the epistolary form of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008). Although the questioning of the epistemic status of realism is certainly not unique to postcolonial India, the sheer insistence with which Indian writers have taken up this concern suggests that realism is a particular legacy that must be actively and repeatedly



discarded, as if it is too deeply embedded in the national consciousness for a post-nationalist aesthetic to exorcise it in any less insistent way. Even in Rushdie’s novels, however, the stated break from realism is tempered by what is in fact a complex understanding of the relationship of art to “the real.” We can see this in The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), the story of a painter, Aurora, and her mongrel son – and the story’s narrator – Moroes Zogoiby. Aurora is, to the narrator, foremost a mother, and like so many mothers in Indian literature, receptive to allegorization. But she is also an artist, and spends her life struggling with how and what to represent. Although her early paintings are primarily allegorical (as it strikes her father when he sees one of them, “it was Mother India herself” [60]), Aurora finds herself at a representational crisis at each crossroads in the nation’s history. Whereas allegory might work for a nation still under colonialism, independence brings on in Aurora “a deep creative confusion” (173) as to what angle she should take on the events unfolding around her. The competing pulls of this confusion are epitomized by her two loves, Vasco Miranda on the one side, with his “fondness for imaginary worlds whose only natural law was his own sovereign whimsicality” and her husband, Abraham, on the other, who “insist[ed] on the importance, at that historical juncture, of a clear-sighted naturalism that would help India describe herself to herself” (173). Choosing between realism and fantasy, naturalism and allegory, Aurora’s struggle is emblematic for all artists and writers in these transitional years. Readers familiar with Rushdie’s writings will be able to surmise the author’s take on this question, and there is certainly a hint of parody in Abraham’s earnest calls for “a kind of selfless, dedicated  – even patriotic – mimesis” (173). Rushdie’s long-standing critique of nationalism and his own penchant for parody and fantasy make it likely that he would side with Vasco Miranda in this debate – critiquing, like Fanon, a “representative art which has no internal rhythms, an art which is serene and immobile, evocative not of life but of death” (225). This is underlined by Vasco Miranda’s disparaging words, quoted in the epigraph above, which define realism in its most banal sense, as the representation of “coolies” and “boot-polish boys.” Like Swarup, at one level Rushdie merely parodies progressive writers’ belief that by using realism, they can aid society’s disempowered. Pushing this parody even further, Rushdie proceeds to associate Abraham’s naturalism with a series of familiar names, including “the group of distinguished writers who gathered for a time under Aurora’s wing, Premchand and Sadat [sic] Hasan Manto and Mulk Raj Anand and



Ismat Chughtai, committed realists all” (173). The aesthetic devaluation of realism thus gains historical significance, whereby Rushdie associates an entire group of intellectuals with realism in its most self-evident form: “a clear-sighted naturalism.” The reference is supposed to be playful  – Premchand, for instance, had already died in 1936, more than a decade before independence, and Rushdie is known for reveling in historical errors of this kind (Rushdie, “Errata” 23) – but its historical inaccuracy only underscores its condescension of the “committed realists.” Even the narrator’s extended praise of Manto’s story “Toba Tek Singh” is based on that work’s overt use of “elements of the fabulous” (Moor’s 173), which was Manto’s way of describing the unreal reality of Partition.3 Thus even while seeking to redeem the literature of the early twentieth century by way of Manto, Rushdie ends up relying on a distinction between “Toba Tek Singh” and the writings of Premchand, Anand, and Chughtai, and in doing so maintains the divide between fantasy and naturalism.4 Yet there is, at the same time, a slippage in The Moor’s Last Sigh between “naturalism” and “realism”  – one that Rushdie never quite resolves and that, in its ambivalence with regard to mimesis, recalls Lukács’s and the AIPWA writers’ creative uses of the concept of the “mirror” discussed in Chapter 1. Moor’s narrator uses the term “naturalism” to refer to ­“documentary pictures” (173) and “mimesis” (173), and it is what Abraham associates with the patriotic duty to represent India’s arrival into modernity. “Realism,” on the other hand, is several things, the “haunting, humane films” of Sukumar Sen (173) and then, when Aurora succumbs to Vasco’s persuasions, a renewed artistic focus on her strange son, who like so many of Rushdie’s protagonists is plagued with a disabling physicalpsychic condition, in this case that he ages at double speed, making him a strange sort of “beautiful child-man” (174). Thus ironically when Aurora decides to follow Vasco’s advice and pursue the path of fantasy, she ends up discovering the “real” that “is always hidden . . . inside” it – making the representation of fantasy in fact a form of realism. This complicates the meaning of the second part of Vasco’s gnomic comment that “life is fantastic!,” which might be read with an emphasis on fantastic, emphasizing the insufficiency of realism to represent life; or, alternatively, on Life, underlining that what is fantastic is in fact the reality of the world around them. Thus it is possible to identify two intersecting threads in Rushdie’s complex novel – one a dismissal of realism (“naturalism”) as something naïve and mimetic and patriotic, and worthy only of parody, and another that suggests that true realism involves engagement with particular kinds



of realities  – magical or surprising or idiosyncratic ones  – that conventional aesthetics are unable or inadequate to represent. By now, this latter sense of realism should be recognizable: realism not as a fixed aesthetic, or even a self-evident relationship between reality and representation, but something that is premised on an active rethinking of that relationship, in particular with regard to those new and unformed experiences that live in the realm of the potential as much as the actual, and that as yet no aesthetic exists to represent. Some of this seeps even into Vasco’s language; along with the coolies and the boot-polish boys are “air hostesses” – hardly a static image of the downtrodden – and, even more strangely, “Nargis-y hydro-electric projects,” by which Vasco means not the real dams of Nehruvian planning but the fictional ones of Mehboob Khan’s imagination, in the film Mother India. This reference questions the idea that there is such a thing as mimetic realism even while ridiculing those who deploy it; if the referent of realism is not some static “real,” but another representation, and a fantastical one at that, then how naïve is realism, really? Focusing on the ambivalence surrounding realism in contemporary Indian novels rather than what authors often claim to be an anti- or postrealist certainty suggests a somewhat ironic continuity between the 1930s and today, and calls into question the idea that we are currently inhabiting a fully post-realist age. This requires acknowledging the realist tendencies of contemporary fiction as well as recognizing that earlier mode as richly dynamic and ambivalent with regard to the questions of the real and the nation – in other words, seeing 1930s realism, too, along with the “marvellous realism” of Rushdie and others, as “a mode . . . attached to a real and to a possible” (Sangari 162). Despite his clear distaste for nationalism and mimesis, Rushdie’s more complex novels seem open to this possibility, at least when read against their own post-realist grain. Indeed, in The Moor’s Last Sigh, it is Aurora, the 1930s artist, who is the novel’s true hero, as she is able to capture the world around her with such remarkable insight that she accesses dark truths about humanity, nationalist history, and difference. This novel, unlike Midnight’s Children, posits hope not in some sort of strange conglomerative unity between the various broken-up fragments of the nation but precisely in the artist’s ability to reach new levels of insight through representation, in particular through a new commitment to representing the real “real” that lies beyond an unthinking mimesis. In anything, then, The Moor’s Last Sigh does not transcend but gives full aesthetic legibility to the project that was occupying writers such as Premchand, Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, and others throughout the



1930s. The novel, like so many contemporary works that describe the nationalist period, gains a certain confidence from knowing exactly how things turned out in a way that, certainly, the authors of the time did not. I read this as only partially an advantage, however. For the writers of the 1930s, their location at the historical juncture of independence was not only a limitation but a possibility, which produced a profound uncertainty even as it enabled the development of new modes of representing the as-yet unestablished, and of probing the possibilities inherent in even the most seemingly self-evident elements of modernity. Reading them in this way offers a greater sense of the ways in which authors who have fallen out of fashion worked the crises, conflicts, and ambivalences of their times into a viable and aspirational aesthetic that represented something ineffable about history, transition, colonial subjectivity, grief, and hope in that time and ours. Many of the themes that we see in the literature of the 1930s continue to occupy the contemporary Indian novel; but as I have tried to show throughout this book, the contested nature of these ideas were forged in the crucible of an earlier era. The life of the human; the possibility of multiple subjectivities and selves; the new normative models brought by modernity and the nation-state  – the citizen, the individual agent, but also the paradigm, the symbol, the allegory; the idea of personal growth; the linear story; the relationship between the past, the present, and the future; nostalgia; exemplary times; apocalypse and futurism; and identity and nation formed a constellation of concepts that would later take relatively stable, fixed forms, but which at that point constituted an entangled history of the present. Unlike the other modes available at that time, realism did not provide an escape from these confusions but compelled authors  – by virtue of its investment in modern values  – if not to make sense of them, at least render them visible in service of a more honest representation of the present. Without the interpretive tools with which to read their illuminating, problematic, and highly misunderstood works, we remain unaware of the ways in which they represented these contradictions and gave them aesthetic significance. We continue to see Premchand’s “mirror of life’s truth” as an already-existing reality, rather than as the source of countless realist experiments.


1  R e a l i s m i n t h e C ol on y 1 All translations from Premchand’s critical writings are my own. 2 Although the word “realism” does not appear in Premchand’s AIPWA speech, he uses the term widely in his other critical writings. In “Kahani-Kala [The Art of the Story] 1,” for instance, he uses the English “realist” and the Hindi yatharthwadi interchangeably (“Kahani” 30; the quotation is also cited in Swan “Pattern” 130 n.7). Premchand discusses realism most extensively in his essay “Upanyas [The Novel],” in which he advocates for a formal hybrid between the disillusioned vision of realism (yatharthwad) and the hopeful promise of idealism (adarshwad): “If the realist opens our eyes, then the idealist arouses us and takes us to some delightful land [kisi manoram sthaan]” (50). Ideally, the novelist will “incorporate both the real and the ideal,” creating a mode he calls “idealist realism [adarshonmukhi yatharthawad]” (50). This is a realism that presents the world in its “naked form [nagna roop]” (48), yet does not shy away from beauty. It should also be noted, following Carlo Coppola, that Premchand’s “speech is in many ways a summing-up of his esthetics. . . . There is relatively little which could be called truly ‘new’ in this address. It also contains ideas and thoughts which were articulated in some of the critical rhetoric of the period” (“Premchand’s” 29). In particular, Coppola notes resemblances to Akhtar Husain Raipuri’s 1935 essay “Adab aur Zindagi [Literature and Life]” (29). What Coppola implies is that Premchand’s speech did not represent its author’s visionary capacity as much as it captured a particular zeitgeist. The speech is also discussed by Ahmed (1–4), Coppola ­(“All-India” 15), and Gopal (26–7). Sajjad Zaheer provides a fascinating firsthand account of the first meeting of the AIPWA in his autobiographical work Roshnai, translated as The Light (48–74). 3 As discussed by Meenakshi Mukherjee in her Introduction to Early Novels (ix and ix n.1), and as attested by Lal Behari Day in his Preface to Bengal Peasant Life (vii). 4 James Mill’s chapter on “Literature of the Hindus” from his 1817 The History of British India sums up this view, but traces of it can also be found in Macaulay’s “Minute on Indian Education” and Hegel’s Philosophy of History. In the latter text, Hegel claimed that “in the Indian world there is, so to speak, no object 171


Notes to Pages 2–2

that can be regarded as real, and firmly defined – none that was not at its first apprehension perverted by the imagination to the very opposite of what it presents to an intelligent consciousness” (166). Majeed shows how what was seen as Indians’ propensity for the imagination formed the impetus for utilitarian colonialism (214–16). Yet such a view continued in various forms into the twentieth century, as demonstrated in the epigraph at the start of this chapter, in which Mulk Raj Anand, one of the AIPWA writers, recalls a conversation between D. H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley in London about reality and the Indian mind. Although the authors’ words should be considered “fictional” (Cowasjee 13) insofar as Anand is recalling them several decades later, his memory of the conversation is useful nonetheless for understanding the relationship between his identity as a progressive writer and his constant sense of being labeled as part of a culture with no sense of the real. 5 Meenakshi Mukherjee discusses Bankim’s realism and its colonial influences (Perishable 30–48); Day’s realism is analyzed by Mohanty (16–23). 6 In Urdu, reformers such as Muhammad Husain Azad advocated “for a new Urdu poetry and a new poetics, both based on English models” (Pritchett, Nets 34). Azad argued that current forms of Urdu poetry were being weighed down by “dark, obscure tangles of poetic verbiage” (34) and by their commitment only to “‘absolutely imaginary’ topics” (34). In Oriya, authors such as Fakirmohan Senapati similarly sought “to use the living speech of the men and women belonging to the agrarian rural society” (Dash 4804) in the construction of the modern literary vernacular. Such moves to reform indigenous literary traditions took place in almost all Indian languages (Mukherjee ed). See also the discussion in Ahmed (15). 7 Although Premchand does not explicitly reference the nation or nationalism in his speech, his direct references to India (bharat) and his use of the firstperson plural establishes a national subject for his pronouncement. The link between progressive writing and the development of a national consciousness was much more explicit in Mulk Raj Anand’s speech at the second meeting of the AIPWA in Calcutta in 1938, a speech discussed by Ahmed (13). 8 The idea of the 1930s as a “conjunctural terrain” is also discussed by Talat Ahmed, who calls “the nascent nation state in 1936. . . ‘a terrain of struggle’” (qtd. in Gopal 14). Gopal clarifies: “The historical conjuncture from the early 1930s to the years immediately after independence made possible a range of historical tasks or, at the very least, a perception that it would be possible – and necessary  – to undertake certain kinds of radical endeavours” (22). Gayatri Spivak identifies a particular difficulty in developing interpretive frameworks through which to understand such a transitional period; regarding Premchand, she writes, “We usually do not have enough. . . imaginative sympathy for the great writer who is in the vanguard of a sudden transition. We behave as if he belongs fully to the mode into which he leaps and not at all to the one from which he makes his leap. His own critical enthusiasms allow us to do this. We must separate these enthusiasms from his own unself-conscious place in the literary tradition. We shall find that he belongs more to the earlier

Notes to Pages 2–6


mode than he himself suspects. . . . Things which had seemed weaknesses will appear to be strengths” (51). 9 The use of realism as a means of dispelling colonial stereotypes of Otherness is discussed in the African context by Schipper (561). This is not the same as saying that all writers of this period took colonialism as their subject  – which, as Aijaz Ahmad rightly points out, was not the case (118). It is rather to suggest that because of its colonial origins, the use of realism was necessarily an engagement with the problem of modern form – a problem that was not limited to colonialism or nationalism, and indeed was an aesthetic problem as much as it was a political one. 10 For influential theoretical critiques of realism, see the writings of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault (especially “What Is an Author?”), Jean Baudrillard, and Herbert Marcuse. 11 Throughout The World Republic of Letters, Casanova distinguishes between a “functionalist and realist aesthetic” which is “one of the most telling measures of the political dependence of a literary space” (111) and true literary autonomy. 12 For example, in his book Reading Chinua Achebe, Gikandi is deeply attuned to the productive formal instabilities of African realism. 13 Gopal’s compelling book does in fact represent the complex imbrication of realist aesthetics with the progressives’ political agenda; as she writes, “Aesthetics and politics were to be articulated together in unprecedented ways even as the precise modalities of that partnership were to remain open to debate from the late 1930s into the late 1950s” (2). Moreover, the substance of her book is a series of powerful literary readings. The way she frames the argument, however, continues to see literary innovation as an expression of what was at heart a political movement. 14 Chatterjee is here speaking of “the new practices of postcolonial democracy [in India] . . . that were never experienced in the history of the modern state in the West – and . . . their difference from normative liberal theory” (Lineages xi–xii), but I take his methodology for studying the inflection of modern forms by historical difference (also developed in his book Nationalist) to be very useful in my own study of literary realism. 15 “Baadal Nahin Aate” was published in the Urdu volume Angare, which caused significant controversy because of its deep and unsparing criticism of social mores. Snehal Shingavi argues that following the publication of Angare, Ali’s view on literature “change[d]” (“Weddings,” 12). He undertook “a conscious attempt to think about form and content anew, as well as to reconsider the relationship between politics and art established by the socialist realists” (“Weddings,” 12) – which included moving away from modernism toward “a more straightforward realism” (13). This was not merely a retreat from modernism, however, but an attempt to transcend its limitations. Shingavi shows, for instance, how Ali’s realist story “Shaadi” (published in the collection Shole) actively resignifies the modernism of Angare, drawing a connection between its protagonist, Akbar, and the Angare writers with whom Ali had


Notes to Pages 6–18

sparred (15), and calling attention to the hollowness and hubris of the modernist endeavor – in short, constructing a “pattern of social critique by evacuating aesthetic value that had defined the Angare project” (“Ahmed Ali,” n.d. 10). I discuss Ali’s relationship to Angare in more depth in Chapter 4. 16 In Homi Bhabha’s critique of Orientalism, he argues that realism was not in fact the dominant mode of colonial discourse, but rather that colonial power “functions productively as incitement and interdiction,” not only by rendering its subjects fully knowable but by incompletely fixing them by way of a partial gaze (71–3). Although a full explication of colonial realism is outside the scope of this study, Bhabha’s argument raises an important rejoinder to the widespread association of realism with colonialism and opens up the possibility for thinking about how realism might be used toward anti-colonial ends as well. 17 In a similar, although somewhat more obscure, formulation, Premchand nuances the idea of the mirror as an unmediated representation: “If we exactly draw reality [yatharth ko hu-ba-hu kheenchkar], then where is the art [kala] in that? Art is not only the name for an imitation of reality [yatharth ki naqal]. Art appears to be reality, but isn’t reality. Its virtue is precisely this, that even though it is not reality, it appears as reality” (“Kahani” 33). These lines are also discussed by Röttger-Hogan, who rightly emphasizes that for Premchand, “the connection between art and reality is dialectical” (80). 18 In the first serialized installment of Ghare Baire, the chapter heading “Bimolar Aatmokotha” was absent, suggesting that Tagore intended to write the entire novel from Bimala’s point of view, rather than breaking up the narration among the three protagonists. As Malini Bhattacharya writes, “It is only in the book version of 1916 that the narration starts with th[is] caption” (“Gora” 140). Whereas Bhattacharya interprets this change as a readjustment of authorial priorities, by which Nikhilesh’s and Sandip’s stories are raised to a status equal to that of Bimala’s, I suggest that the novel in fact becomes more complex – and indeed, more precarious – by offering these discrete narrative perspectives. 19 As Nandy writes, “Ghare-Baire offers a critique of nationalism but also a perspective on the form anti-imperialism should take in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious society where a colonial political economy encourages the growth of a complex set of dependencies. In such a society, the politically and economically weak and the culturally less westernized might be sometimes more dependent on the colonial system than the privileged and the enculturated. The novel suggests that a nationalism which steam-rollers society into making a uniform stand against colonialism, ignoring the unequal sacrifices imposed thereby on the poorer and the weaker, will tear apart the social fabric of the country, even if it helps to formally decolonize the country” (Illegitimacy 19). Martha C. Nussbaum (3–5) and David W. Atkinson (95) make similar points about Tagore’s novel. 20 This short review was one of two dozen essays Lukács wrote for the German Communist newspaper Die Rote Fahne in 1922. He wrote it following Tagore’s successful trip to Germany in 1921 (Das, “Wrath” 17), during which

Notes to Pages 18–21


Tagore was greeted by “scenes of frenzied hero-worship” (qtd. in Das 18). The essays were discovered by Michael Löwy, as discussed in his introduction to a collection of Lukács’s 1922–23 writings (5–28). 21 Lukács’s assumption that Sandip is supposed to represent Gandhi is clearly incorrect. For one, at the time he wrote the novel, Tagore held a positive view of Gandhi, and Sandip is painted unmistakably unfavorably in the novel. Second, the Gandhian movement did not become mainstream until Gandhi’s agitation at Champaran in 1918, two years after Ghare Baire was published, so it is doubtful that the novel was an invective against a figure who had barely made news. Third – and most important – the views Sandip espouses were completely antithetical to Gandhi’s views (as discussed by Nandy [Illegitimacy 18–19] and Das [“Wrath” 22]). If anything, Nikhilesh is closer to Gandhi with his privileging of universal ideals over shortsighted pragmatism. On one level, then, Lukács was simply wrong about the basic crux of problems the novel was addressing. 22 All English citations from The Home and the World are from Surendranath Tagore’s translation. The Bengali text comes from the Vishwabharati edition, 2006. 23 This “Lukácsian” reading of Nikhilesh is touched on, although not fully developed, by Das (“Wrath” 25) and in Kalyan Chatterjee’s article on Lukács and Tagore, where he points out the “dialectic of ideas” that underlies the structure of Ghare Baire (158). Along the same lines, Jasodhara Bagchi argues that Tagore rewrites Anandamath’s nationalist mythology by recasting “the militant Hindu that Bankim had imaginatively visualised” as “the ‘extremists’ of the swadeshi movement” (181). All these go somewhat against the grain of conventional readings of Nikhilesh, who, according to Malini Bhattacharya, “is portrayed with a complete lack of irony” (“Gora” 136). Although I agree that the novel is primarily interested in critiquing Sandip, the tragedy of Bimala is at least in part attributable to Nikhilesh’s failings as well – not only to his weakness but to other character flaws, such as his “incorrigible solemnity [gambhirjjyo]” (Tagore, Home 65) and his propensity for overanalysis. 24 As Sumit Sarkar writes of the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, “Swaraj was never translated into concrete bread-and-butter terms for the masses, or integrated with any real peasant programme; nor could the swadeshi leaders despite some sincere efforts develop like Gandhi an idiom or style of political activity which could effectively bridge the elite-mass gap. By 1908, therefore, we are faced by the two poles of renewed ‘mendicancy’ and a cult of individual violence, opposites which still share something in common, twin manifestations of a failure to develop a genuine mass political movement” (Swadeshi 3–4). 25 Supriya Chaudhuri describes this as an “ideal of Hindu womanhood [as] set out in the Manusmriti, represented here by the figure of the veiled Hindu wife with vermilion in her hair, serving her husband a plate of fruit or fanning him at mealtimes. The image serves as an iconic marker of values Bimala associates with the past, with a way of life that appears to her perfectly integrated, whole, filled with dignity and grace” (46).


Notes to Pages 22–24

26 This is as opposed to conventional views on realism and gender, which tend to argue that realism is inherently opposed to female empowerment. For Sunder Rajan, for example, novels are feminist if alongside their realism they “also offer avenues of escape for the female protagonist through such creative outlets as fantasy, dreams, writing, journeys, the recognition of a (mad, angry) alter ago, which are sanctioned by the form without being entirely subsumed within it” (73). This is a view that, like so many others, assumes realism’s exclusions from the outset, rather than seeing how its democratic promise functions within individual texts as a means of selfcommentary. 27 The question of the novel’s allegorical value was raised at the time of its serialization by Pramatho Choudhury, the editor of the Bengali journal Sabuj Patra. As Malini Bhattacharya relates, Choudhury “somewhat whimsically described the novel as an allegory with Nikhilesh representing ‘ancient India’ and Sandip ‘modern Europe’ while Bimala, ‘India today’ is poised between them and suffers from their opposing pulls on her life. Of course Rabindranath did not accept this interpretation which generated a storm of controversy; he said it was made in ‘a lighter vein’ and asserted that the novel was ‘merely a narrative with no conscious allegorical intention’” (Bhattacharya, “Gora” 128). My use of the concept of allegory attempts to mobilize another, metatextual level. I suggest not that the novel’s plot or characters are allegorical in any direct way, but rather that the novel raises the question of allegory as internal to its own text, and as such, that the question of the novel’s allegorical value cannot be separated from its metafictional engagement with the problematic of allegory. In this way Tagore inscribes a realist mode in which allegory is always already partially incorporated. As I will elaborate in Chapter 3, this is not a commonsense idea of allegory as a limitation on meaning (which explains why Tagore was so offended by Choudhury’s analysis), but rather quite the opposite: by signifying both a literal meaning and indexing another register of meaning outside itself, allegory allows readers to consider the multiplicity of possible meanings (Benjamin, Origin 175) – a version of what Angus Fletcher calls “ambivalence” (224). In this sense an allegorical register that has the possibility of giving Bimala meaning beyond her individual life is not only a limitation on her individuality but part of the larger paradoxical process of meaning making, which is central to the complexity of Tagore’s novel. 28 For instance, Paniker writes: “A general tendency we notice in the literature of the progressive school is that characters are conceived as types and their experiences are of a common, generalized pattern. The stories or situations are often typical, not individualized” (180). Even where Schipper seeks to explain the use of types in African social realism, she does not go beyond an ethnographic justification, whereby by using types “the realistic writer sees his opportunity to convey part of his knowledge about African social life, groups, trade, milieus, and so forth, to the readers. He wants to convince the reader of the authenticity of the information” (570–1).

Notes to Pages 34–42


2 T h e C on t ou r s of t h e H u m a n 1 As Rumina Sethi writes, “Within the double discourse of colonialism that was both hegemonizing and modernizing, the village was India’s answer to the domination by the West. It symbolized indigenous cultural standards as well as the ‘ancient’ that could stand up to the modern” (“Writer’s” 957). By contrast, Gandhi decried Indian cities; as one scholar records, “Responding to a question from a group of foreign visitors, [Gandhi] advised that if they wanted to ‘see the heart of India’ they should ‘ignore big cities.’ The big cities here were but poor editions of their big cities. They ought ‘to go to the villages, and those not close to cities or to railway line, but unspoilt by them’” (Jodhka 3346–7). 2 Premchand’s political vision vacillated between Gandhism and socialism, and literary critics characterize him in either or both ways. Like so many others, he was disillusioned when Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation movement, which was read as a betrayal of his mass following. Premchand’s shift from Gandhism to socialism is discussed by Ahmed (Literature and Politics 66) and Pandey (Between 23). 3 All English citations from Rangbhumi are from Manju Jain’s translation (2011); Hindi citations are from the Full Circle Publishers edition, 2001, with the exception of the Author’s Note cited in Chapter 3, which is from the Diamond Pocket Books edition. 4 Naravane has argued that this “English rendering of the title . . . does not convey adequately the religious and sentimental associations and suggestions of the word ‘godan.’ It is not a ‘gift’ in the usual sense, nor is it ‘given away’ in a philanthropic or charitable spirit. . . . Perhaps The Last Gift would be a more appropriate title, though it would not be accurate. Giving a cow as a gift is considered to be a highly laudable act at any time in a person’s life, not necessarily in his last moments. But in the context of the story, ‘godan’ does suggest the final gift that a man is capable of giving” (156–7). 5 All English citations from Godan are from Gordon Roadarmel’s translation. Hindi citations are from the Diamond Pocket Book edition, 2002. 6 For instance, Lal Behari Day’s 1874 Bengal Peasant Life casts an ethnographicscientific eye on the Indian village, devoting as much attention to its flora and fauna (whose Latin names Day often uses) as to its inhabitants. This nineteenth-century tendency toward naturalistic descriptions of rural life is discussed by Sarma (35–41). In general, for rural characters and otherwise, earlier Indian literature employed what Forster would call flat characterization (Asaduddin 120–1). As T. W. Clark writes of early Indian prose, “Characterization is over-simplified and lacking in an ability to portray those individual attributes which are the essence of the man and which distinguish him from other men. Descriptions too tend to be stereotyped. . . . Dialogue is too often artificial” (19). 7 Premchand’s interest in interiorized, realist characterization of the Indian peasantry opposed the general elitism of Hindi literature of the preceding


Notes to Pages 42–53

century (Orsini 47; Das, vol. 9, 283; Singh 50–1; Malik 115). Early Hindi novels were often stories of kings and “romantic heroines” (Das, vol. 8, 292); other writers wrote tilsami works (“narratives of miracle and enchantment” [Das, vol. 8, 239]), which were seen by writers such as Premchand as distant from the realities of real Indians. A popular Hindi romance of the late nineteenth century was the Chandrakanta, considered the most successful Hindi novel of all time. It tells the story of a love between a prince and princess, “the embroilment of their houses, their subsequent adventures and eventual marriage” (McGregor 156). These are exactly the kinds of stories Premchand and other progressive writers sought to reject. In his AIPWA speech, Premchand specifically cites the Chandrakanta as one of the texts he is writing against (“Sahitya” 75). 8 Such hypocritical figures have come to represent their own type of type in postcolonial India: the khadi-clad figure signifies, for instance, the “callous hypocrisy” of the political elite (Chakrabarty, Habitations 53). This is so widely accepted that in some satirical literature  – for instance in Srilal Shukla’s Hindi novel Raag Darbari (1968) – a character’s moral duplicity is directly indexed by the wearing of khadi. Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008) makes a similar connection between Gandhism and postcolonial corruption when the narrator Balram remarks about a shopkeeper upon meeting him: “He was sitting under a huge portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, and I knew already that I was going to be in big trouble” (31). 9 David Rubin is one of the few to critique this dominant view, arguing that in Mukherjee’s assessment of the urban strand she does not “seem to consider the possibility that Premchand is frequently being ironic in his portraits of Mehta, the Rai Sahib, and Malti” (1100). At the same time, however, Rubin does not elaborate the nature or possible larger significance of this irony for the novel as a whole. 10 “Progress [unnati],” as Premchand defined it, is “that condition which gives rise in us strength and the power of action, from which we can perceive our unhappy circumstances, we can see from which internal and external causes we have arrived at this lifeless and degenerated circumstance, and try to move away from them” (“Sahitya” 80). 11 Gobar’s restless and “rebellious” (Chandra 613) personality makes his character potentially amenable to representing the various irruptions of peasant rebellion that, as Dalmia points out, had taken place in Premchand’s region of India during the 1920s (xiv), and which have been documented by historians such as Shahid Amin (Event) and Gyanendra Pandey (Ascendancy). For these historians, writing the histories of peasant rebellions with the actual peasantry, rather than the Indian National Congress, as the political agent offers a very different story of the agency behind the nationalist movement as a whole; this is their inflection of the term “subaltern.” Dalmia does see Gobar as representing, along with Dhania, the spirit of vidroh, or rebellion, in Godan, and Sprinker similarly writes, “Gobar . . . represents class as a set of conscious self-identifications, at first those associated with a rebellious (but

Notes to Pages 53–60


still pre-revolutionary) peasantry, but later those of an industrial proletariat on the verge of revolutionary self-organization (here realized in a trade union)” (72). However, I believe it is significant that whereas Gobar has the potential to be the insurgent peasant, Premchand never represents any actual rebellion. As this chapter demonstrates, Premchand seems far more interested in the problem of how to represent his subaltern characters than in their political agency. 12 Alter’s article on kabaddi offers a full description of the rules of the game. In the nationalist period, kabaddi and other ancient sports were refigured as demonstrative of India’s ability to combat colonialism. In some places this merged with a Hindu chauvinist ideology, as “sports and games are valued within fascist political culture, not as ends in themselves, but rather as a means of imbibing an aggressive masculinist mentality” (McDonald 346). This is in part because kabaddi, unlike other Indian national sports such as cricket and hockey, was seen to have an “inherently rural and somewhat plebian character” (Alter, “Kabaddi” 84). 13 Ironically, the only character whose masculine prowess is reinforced by the kabaddi game is not one of the hired players, but Mehta himself, who makes a last-minute play that brings his team to victory. This is significant less in relation to the body politic, and more insofar as it indexes an alternative realm of erotic energy that also underlies the urban strand, in particular in the relationship between Mehta and Malti. Sexuality and sexual desire seem to function in an unstated way as another means of engaging with the question of what makes the human; on one hand, sex is an “animal” impulse that sustains Mehta’s idea that human nature is at its heart uncivilized, and yet, against the Gandhian valuation of celibacy, it also distinguishes the human from the saint (as discussed further in Chapter 3). Interestingly, Premchand refigures sexuality as a potential idiom of rebellion in the rural strand through Gobar, Jhunia, Silia, and others – all who have trangressive sexual relationships narrated without the standard bourgeois prudery. The kabaddi scene is only rarely discussed by critics; Zook sees it as a further example of the exploitation workers must face in the city: “In the city’s industrial quarters, unemployed workers are given small pittances to partake in ‘gladiator’type games that are both exploitative and humiliating; still, every day a large crowd gathers to enjoy the spectacle” (426); and Spivak sees it as clumsily illustrative, an example of why Godan is not social realist in the conventional sense: “Why should a kabaddi game be organized among the unemployed proletariat? To illustrate Mirza Khurshed’s eccentric paternalism, and to bring out Malti’s real concern for Mehta” (52). 3 E x pe r i m e n t s w i t h G a n dh i 1 This line is from a letter Gandhi wrote to Shankarlal Banker in 1918, cited in Alter (“Gandhi’s” 301). Alter cites a longer passage from the letter as the epigraph to his article.


Notes to Pages 60–68

2 Postcolonial writers have reinvented the classical epic as part of the decolonizing project. One of the most well-known of these writers is Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, whose works such as Omeros rewrite the Greek epics from a situated postcolonial perspective. For Walcott, “classical referents . . . help both to recreate and to communicate the pain of history. In doing so they can also cauterize the wound, thus enabling regeneration and the growth of a new creativity” (Hardwick 242). Here, I am approaching the question of the epic from a different direction, however, arguing that although novel theory has tended to distinguish between the age of the epic and that of the novel, in colonial and postcolonial contexts authors use language, styles, and tropes from the epic in order to contest the self-evident dominance of modernity under and in the wake of colonialism. This refers not only to retold tales from actual epics, but also to epic forms such as semi-divine heroes, temporal unity, stock characterization, a lack of psychology or character interiority, and so on. 3 Salman Rushdie, for instance, believes that along with history, Indians are handcuffed to allegory: “I usually resist the idea of allegory. In India there’s too much of it, allegory is a kind of disease” (qtd. in Agarwalla 70). 4 Despite the wide discrediting of Jameson’s article on allegory in third world literature, Jameson in fact makes it clear that many allegorical registers can coexist in a single text, and that there is no one-to-one relationship between individual characters or plot events and concepts such as the nation (Jameson, “Third-World” 74). In this way he actually opens up the question of allegory to account for a multiplicity of possible significations. The negative reactions to Jameson’s assertion that all third world literature functions as political allegory have emerged in part out of the prejudice that allegory  – with its sources in religious tracts such as Pilgrim’s Progress –overdetermines meaning, is externally dictated, and precludes the possibility for contingency and multiple interpretations, and thus is a mode that does not befit the modern age of inquiry (Hillenbrand 641). 5 The use of saint figures in Indian nationalist allegories is discussed further by Bhaskar in her article on the early mythological film Sant Tukaram (55–60). 6 The prevailing critical consensus around Gandhian fiction of the 1920s and 1930s is that it is a powerful expression of Gandhian ideals in literary form. This view is upheld by, among others, Jha, Patil and Patil, Ambuj Sharma, Sudarshan Sharma, and K. P. Singh. None of these critics fully accounts for the profound ambivalence of Gandhi’s representation in the novels themselves, and rely instead on an a priori understanding of writers’ politics, which are seen to overdetermine the literary works they write. 7 Because it was written in English and due to Anand’s association with contemporary British writers, Untouchable was one of the first Indian novels to convey to the West the horrors of the caste system. Yet initially, Anand had a hard time finding a publisher willing to take a risk on Untouchable. As he recounts, Untouchable was rejected by nineteen publishers and finally published in London in 1935, but only with the help of his good friend E. M. Forster (“Sources” 23).

Notes to Pages 69–85


8 Compare Untouchable, for instance, to another novel focusing on an untouchable protagonist, such as Premchand’s Rangbhumi. Whereas Premchand represents Surdas alongside the other characters who comprise the rural landscape, Anand focuses solely on Bakha and focalizes the entire narrative through his perspective. There is clearly a metarealist aspect to this choice of form and structure, which Jessica Berman calls “modernist,” despite the fact that it “bears little resemblance” to the aesthetic techniques of AngloAmerican high modernism (112). 9 For this reason The Sword and the Sickle has elicited significant criticism and is generally considered one of Anand’s least notable works; for instance, Leela Gandhi characterizes it as having a “rambling narrative” and as burdened by its author’s “unflagging love of detail” (“Novelists” 178). See also Jha (77) and Naik (Mulk 76). 10 The narration of John Sevak’s fate at the end of Rangbhumi is uncharacteristically bitter, confirming the sense that despite the novel’s Gandhian story line and the self-sacrifice of the three Gandhian characters, everything does not completely work out in the end: “That leaves John Sevak. He is engrossed in his business affairs from morning to evening with a despairing fortitude. He has no desire left in the world, no wish, he has a selfless love for wealth, something of that devotion that devotees have for the object of their worship. Wealth is not the means to any end for him. It is an end in itself. He doesn’t care if it is day or night. The business is growing day by day. . . . He is now planning to start a tobacco mill in Patna because tobacco grows abundantly in the province of Bihar. His desire for wealth, like the passion for knowledge, is never satisfied” (627). 11 The Author’s Note is not in fact included in the Rachnavali (Complete Works) edition of Rangbhumi, nor the Full Circle one, but does precede the text of the Diamond Pocket Books edition. Manju Jain included it in her 2011 English translation, but Christopher King left it out of his 2008 translation. 12 For the most part, Kanthapura’s hybrid aesthetic has overdetermined critical analyses of the novel. Through this hybridity, scholars have seen Rao as working “to forge a complex coherence of the local and the mythical, the particular and the general, the limiting generic imperative and the creative impulsions for a freer form” (Nasimi 56). As another critic writes, “The story in Kanthapura is told with the breathless garrulity of the Puranas, where the style rests principally on the spoken word. There is little attempt at formal organization, for a long and continuous outpouring is the only structural principle at work. It is highly significant that the novel is not divided into parts or chapters but is a continuous narrative punctuated only by breaks which must, of necessity, occur in any narrative of considerable length” (Naik, “Village” 57). In addition, the novel is celebrated for its innovative use of English  – in particular its successful incorporation of Kannada tempos into English syntax, which is seen to have contributed to a new genre of Indian English writing: “Kanthapura gives an overwhelming sense of life in its multiple activities which run


Notes to Pages 85–95

concurrently. These clusters of connectives, clauses repetitive structures [sic] point towards the chief characteristics of Kannada language which is its ‘agglutinative type.’ Within the depiction of the hubbub, many diverse tones grow simultaneously, almost in a parallelism. They are primarily the tone of threat, of assurance, of ridicule and of intimacy” (Nasimi 70–1). As another critic confirms: “Kanthapura is essentially a triumph of the new dialect; its artistically deployed ‘Indian’ English no longer strikes one as an innovative device but is wholly absorbed in the larger ‘folk-epic’ purpose, is so ­c ongruous with it” (Kantak 66). See also Meenakshi Mukherjee (“Anxiety” 2607). 13 Gandhi’s salt protest was an effort to combat the British monopoly on salt production by means of a massive march covering more than twenty-five days and 388 kilometers to the shores of Gujarat, ending in the symbolic harvesting of salt (Hardiman, Gandhi 194). 14 In The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru described the process by which villagers learned to abstract their local allegiances and grievances to conceive of the nation as a whole. About one meeting with a group of peasants, he wrote: “But to the peasant, with his limited outlook, I spoke of this great country for whose freedom we were struggling, of how each part differed from the other and yet was India, of common problems of the peasants from north to south and east to west, of the Swaraj that could only be for all and every part and not for some. I told them of my journeying from the Khyber Pass in the far north-west to Kanya Kumari or Cape Comorin in the distant south, and how everywhere the peasants put me identical questions, for their troubles were the same – poverty, debt, vested interests, landlords, moneylenders, heavy rents and taxes, police harassment, and all these wrapped up in the structure that the foreign government had imposed upon us – and relief must also come for all. I tried to make them think of India as a whole” (59). 15 Although published in England in 1938, Kanthapura did not appear in India until 1947, “and then primarily to be used as a textbook” (Trivedi, “Gandhian” 107). The novel has since become immensely popular, reflected in its publication statistics: “By 1996, the Orient Paperbacks edition, first published in 1970, had been reprinted fourteen times; the ‘second edition,’ first published in 1974, has been reprinted eight times in the Oxford India Paperbacks series” (107). In general, critics have responded very positively to Kanthapura as an instance of cultural, aesthetic, and political self-expression in colonial India. As one critic writes, “Kanthapura was an epic novel about India itself, an India striving for self-realization, for re-discovery. In Kanthapura it is the peasantry and Gandhi’s Satagrahis [sic] who are central and their battle is against history, Nature and the British” (Williams, “English” 11). Mondal argues that it “is a novel in which all the ideological currents that formed in the 1920s and came to dominate Indian politics in the 1930s can be found to intersect” (926). Even Khair, who is critical of the novel’s aesthetic elitism, finds it “brilliant” (205).

Notes to Pages 102–107


4 S t ag i ng R e a l i s m a n d t h e A m bi va l e nc e of N at ion a l i s m 1 Because of its fictionality and heterogeneity, some critics have hesitated to categorize Anandamath as a historical novel (Lipner 28). Bankim himself refused the term: “It was not my intention to write a historical novel [aitihasik upanyas], consequently I made no pretence of historicity” (qtd. in Lipner 43). 2 Along with its status as one of the first Indian historical novels, Anandamath has also been criticized for its chauvinism because of its depiction of Muslims as outsiders to the nation and its markedly Hindu nationalist iconography. The contours of the debates surrounding Anandamath’s communal imagery and its implications in postcolonial India are well laid out by Tanika Sarkar (Hindu 163–190). 3 Westervelt describes the Altersroman, in opposition to the Bildungsroman, as “naming the essential concern of the protagonists  – confronting mortality toward the end of middle age – without specifying the particular matters that challenge them and without adding an emotional association” (xii). In this sense, and unlike the term “twilight,” the Altersroman is not necessarily a novel of lament, and thus the generic designation opens up the possibility that Mir Nihal has an ambivalent relationship to his own slow decline and that of Mughal Delhi. 4 As seen in titles such as Percival Spear’s Twilight of the Mughuls and Chris Bayly’s “Delhi and Other Cities of North India during the ‘Twilight.’” In Bilqeece Jaan’s Urdu translation of Twilight in Delhi, she translates this key word into the Urdu shaam, meaning “evening,” and thus loses some of the poetic and metaphoric value of the term in English. 5 At the time of its publication, prominent members of AIPWA “condemned [Twilight] as a reactionary thing” (Coppola, “Interview” 15), and contemporary critics tend to agree with this judgment. As D. A. Shankar writes: “Ahmed Ali appears to too closely identify himself with the sentiments, feelings and thoughts of his major characters and this makes the novel rather fragile. He seems lost in the wonder that Islamic India was” (80). Alistair Niven similarly criticizes the novel’s “sorrow for the past which at times collapses into ineffective nostalgia” (9). 6 The relationship between melodrama and historical representation has been most fully theorized in studies of the national imagination in Hindi popular film. Rachel Dwyer, for example, describes melodrama as a means of depicting “a shared experience of popular history” (236), and Ravi Vasudevan suggests that melodramatic “devices invite us (at least temporarily) to disengage from a relationship to history as something grounded in materially defined socio-political experience” (2918). However, Vasudevan writes, in doing so popular films “render . . . cinema and history as manipulable, as open to the play of desire which is in the active process of constitution” (2918). It is this openness that most resembles what I identify in Twilight. This highlights the melodramatic not as a completed genre or a fully formed aesthetic, but instead


Notes to Pages 107–113

as a mode that in its hyperbolic and performative self-presentation can allow for momentary irruptions of heterogeneous understandings of history and the nation. 7 It is noteworthy that Ali began working on the novel Twilight in Delhi a few years after the stage production of the play. Surprisingly, however, and despite the overt thematic similarities between the two works, critics have only rarely considered them together. On its own, the play tends not to elicit much critical interest. Literary critic Muhammad Askari gives a typical perspective: “Personally, I was glad to read the book [Twilight in Delhi], for I realized that the semi-political and sentimental pieces such as ‘The Land of Twilight’ which Ahmed Ali had published prior to this novel had represented only a temporary phase, and that he had not given up the significant realism whose foundations he had laid in stories such as ‘Hamari Gali’ (Our Lane) and ‘Ustad Shammu Khan’ (Master Shammu Khan)” (29). Coppola makes a thematic connection between the two texts but does not pursue its possible implications (“Bridges” 50). 8 The juxtaposition of these two models of time can be seen in Urdu poetry as well; Miraji, for instance, inserted historical markers into his poetry in order to undermine the dichotomous relationship between myth and history, “both substantiat[ing] the validity of each kind of narrative and disturb[ing] the privilege or prestige of any one” (Patel 145). Aamir Mufti similarly argues that the dates anointing some of the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz are not merely temporal markers but “paratexts,” which demand to be read as “extrapolemic, historical reference[s]” (“Towards” 263). For a full discussion of Urdu poetic conceptions of time and nineteenth-century poets’ relationship to modern temporality see Frances Pritchett’s chapter, “The Cycles of Time” (Nets 127–39). It is not that poetry and history are necessarily dichotomous; as Ayesha Jalal has shown in her study of the dialectic between individual and community affiliation among South Asian Muslims since the nineteenth century, poetry is in fact a key medium in which the complex and heterogeneous registers of historical subjectivity are articulated. I am reading Twilight’s poetry symptomatically here, not only for the particular politics of the self that it renders legible, but for how it functions within the prose text and how that relates to the larger question of realism in the novel. 9 These verses are also discussed by Hasan in his intellectual history of Muslim South Asia (Moral 189–90). This is Ali’s translation. 10 Petievich locates the rise of the shehrashob in South Asia in 1739, after the invasion of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah (100). Hasan notes that the “anguish and indignation” felt by many intellectuals following the Mutiny “was not because houses were ransacked or properties confiscated but because some sections of society experienced a deep sense of cultural loss and deprivation” (Moral 191). For more on the shehrashob and Muslim decline, see Sadiq (87–9). 11 This is Ahmed Ali’s translation of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Urdu poem: “Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon/Na kisi ke dil ka qaraar hoon/Jo kisi ke kaam na aa sake,/Main woh ek musht-e-gubaar hoon.”

Notes to Pages 116–120


12 Anti-colonial, nationalist response to spectacles such as the Delhi Durbar did not occur until about a decade later, when they began to take much more openly oppositional form. Collingham describes: “The Indian reaction to the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1921–2 contrasted markedly with the warm welcome his parents received in 1911. While the newspapers reported the enthusiasm and splendour with which royalty were welcomed in Bombay on both occasions, even the most sycophantic of commentators could not ignore the fact that protests against the Prince’s visit sparked off riots in the city” (135). 13 It is no coincidence that it was precisely this passage that the printers at Hogarth Press in London identified as “subversive of law and order” and attempted to censor from the novel (Trivedi, “Ahmed Ali” 63–4). 14 The usage here might reflect Ali’s own translation of the concept of nation (qaum or watan in Urdu) into English, but even so, it stands as an unexpected formulation coming from the conservative, nostalgic Mir Nihal. In popular and artistic representations of the period, the image of Bharat Mata was often pictured with representative figures from all of India’s religions, including Islam, as part of secular attempts to reinscribe Mother India with a national, rather than narrowly majoritarian, content (Ramaswamy 21). “Loyalist” Muslim leaders such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were represented alongside the image, but notably, Jinnah never was (Ramaswamy 336 n.13). Ayesha Jalal does cite an instance of Jinnah’s use of the term “motherland”  – although in English (57). The contrast between a Hindu “motherland” and a Muslim “fatherland” was also part of the gendering of the respective populations that was instituted by colonial rule (see Metcalf, Review 597); as Lise McKean writes, “The nation is figured as a loving Mother and her devoted children; the secular state and Muslims (as heirs of Muslim invaders) figure as the tyrannical Father” (qtd. in Ramaswamy 335 n.5). The closest to Mir Nihal’s formulation in actual discourse of the day might be Sarojini Naidu’s 1915 poem, “Awake!,” in which her invocation to Mother India, “implor[ing] the Mother to wake up and respond to the pleas of her various children” (Ramaswamy 260), included the voices of Muslim children who shout, “Mother! the sword of our love shall defend thee!” (Naidu 56). Of course, Mir Nihal’s use of the term is still unique, coming as it is from a Muslim subject position, and one who in all other ways seems to reject the idea of a heterogeneous Indian nation. 15 Dipesh Chakrabarty explores the idea of a nationalism founded in practice rather than modern discourse in his discussion of north Indian villagers’ varied responses to Nehru’s pedagogic nationalism: “Nehru thought of the whole question of ‘being with’ Bharat Mata, being in her presence, as it were, as a conceptual problem, a problem of thought. He overlooked the fact that the word dharti, meaning the earth, could not be reduced to the specific geographical boundaries of British India, and found the concept empty of content. . . . But if we think of the peasants’ use of the expression ‘Bharat Mata’ as referring to practices sedimented into language itself and not necessarily to concepts either that the mind elaborates or that contain experiential


Notes to Pages 120–126

truths, we see the legitimacy of peasant or subaltern nationalism. . . . ‘India’ or Bharat could indeed be the mother because, long before there were the newspaper and the novel, there was the age-old practice of darshan that came to constitute a critical element in the ‘performative’ aspect of peasants’ nationalism. As a practice, it bypassed the question of the experiencing subject” (Provincializing 177). 16 Compare this to Asghar, who despite his earlier mobilization of gesture, remains completely alienated from history. Not only is Asghar “unconcerned whether the country lived or died” (Ali, Twilight 181), his whole mode of existence sidesteps the question of historical time altogether: “He lived in his own world where these things did not matter. For him only one thing was lasting, one thing which kept the heart of man alive. And it was love. Men come and men die, generations pass, and centuries drag on. But love does not die” (182). Such a sensibility repeats the temporal breaks of the novel’s poetic epigraphs, but gains no meaning in relation to the historical movement of the prose. The Asghar introduced earlier thus fades into a shadow-figure, unsustained by the heady emotions or the opportunities for performance he once embraced. Through this untenable position in the world, Asghar comes to occupy an increasingly marginalized position in the text and, despite starting out as one of the novel’s central figures, is eventually supplanted by a narratologically defective version of himself: his dying older brother, Habibuddin. And thus it is Nasim, Habibuddin’s son, who replaces Asghar as the novel’s vague and as-yet unformed vision of the national future. 17 For instance, in one of the first Urdu novels, Nazir Ahmad’s Mir’atu ’ l-‘Arus (The Bride’s Mirror, 1869), Ahmad “highlights a significant social and intellectual trend of his time: the search for new-found cultural pride amongst the defeated, weary Muslims of the Subcontinent. Thus, perhaps in spite of his supposed conservatism, Nazir Ahmad may just as well be recognized as a seminal figure in the formulation of a nascent ideology of modernity and national liberation” (Hussein 73). 18 Quoted in Hasan (Introduction 6). 19 As Jalal writes, “Western-educated Muslims did not consider their extraterritorial loyalties to be an insurmountable barrier to forging a common Indian nationality. It was location in this nationality, not the concept itself, which most exercised the minds of Muslims who took it upon themselves to either question or accept the Congress claim to represent all of India” (165). Ananya J. Kabir also discusses the conflicted subject position of the Indian Muslim – the impossibility of containing his/her story within the national narratives of either India or Pakistan, which produces “tangible insecurities” (“Subjectivities” 248), as evinced in the historical writings of Mushirul Hasan and the fiction of Salman Rushdie. 20 Mufti’s argument relies on the fact that both Manto and Faiz moved away from the novel in order to make their minoritarian claims. He suggests  – directly in the case of Manto, and obliquely for Faiz – that minority subjects within the nation must take recourse in non-novelistic genres in order to make a claim on that nation, alongside their other, multiple allegiances. Assumed

Notes to Pages 126–126


here is that the novel is from the outset unreceptive to radical critiques of the nation. Yet this approach takes for granted what the novel in fact is, and how open it is to generic innovation and alternative subjectivities. What Mufti argues, in particular in his reading of Faiz, is that a critique of the nation can only be found in nonmodern genres, at least insofar as modernity was being defined by the mainstream of the nationalist movement (i.e., a modernity that is prosaic, progressivist, totalizing, and so on). Thus in his resignification of the ghazal in the early decades of postcolonial Pakistan, Faiz uses what was considered an outdated lyrical mode to call for a rethinking of the dominant paradigms of modernity. Faiz’s poetry is deeply invested in “the dialectic of a collective selfhood at the disjunctures of language, culture, nation and community” (Enlightenment 211). In this context, the “deep respect and love” Faiz shows “for [the culture and religious language of mystical Indian Islam] . . . represents an agonistic embracing of a particular religious tradition . . . in order to produce out of it the resources for modernity” (“Toward” 260). Rather than seeing lyric as inherently a site of retreat from the social world, then, “Faiz’s exploration of the affects of separation and union with the beloved enables us to examine the subject, the ‘I,’ of Urdu writing” (Enlightenment 211) in a more meaningful, yet no less modern form. I suggest that elements of these alternative generic registers can be found within novels as well. This is not only the case when the novel adapts fragments from other genres – such as the poetry interspersed among Twilight in Delhi’s prose – but also when the novel is seen as a much more open and uneven genre, and realism a precarious and aspirational mode. In these cases the novel becomes able to do just what Mufti says, to question the universality of nationalism. For other critics as well, it is primarily in poetry that alternatives to universal nationalism emerge. Jalal makes a similar argument about Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal, “a Muslim, an Indian and a Punjabi of Kashmiri ancestry, all at the same time . . . [whose] own individuality and sense of community was shaped in equal measure by these multiple affiliations. Despite the overwhelming emphasis on the Islamic ummah in Iqbal’s mature philosophy and poetry, the entire corpus of his work is marked by a celebration of individual freedom as much as of the Muslim community” (166). Jalal contrasts Iqbal to Tagore, both of whom were critical of “territorial nationalism” – yet because Iqbal was Muslim, it is he who is considered the “religious” poet and Tagore the “nationalist” one: “Tagore’s evocation of universal humanity was not devoid of a religious sensibility. By the same token, Iqbal’s thought was not religious in the doctrinal or dogmatic sense of the term. . . . Iqbal turned to Islam as a political weapon with which to give full play to his poetic prowess” (170). The relationship between national partitions and literary form is also discussed by Cleary, who shows in the context of a partitioned Ireland how the national romance emerges as a truncated form, which “can almost never deliver the sense of confident consummation or triumphant closure that characterises the Latin American romances . . . [in which] the sexual embrace of the lovers is concomitantly a political embrace since their union functions as a metaphor for political unification” (113–14).


Notes to Pages 129–138 5 A i m l e s s Bi l du ng a n d t h e L ong i ng f or F or m

1 All English citations from Aparajito are taken from Gopa Majumdar’s translation (1999). Bengali citations come from the Mitra and Ghosh edition. 2 This list is partially taken from Buckley (17). 3 Although Pather Panchali was first translated into English in 1963, Aparajito was not translated until 1999. Meenakshi Mukherjee hypothesizes that this late date was due to “a fear that Lukacs seems to have predicted (before the novel was written) as a danger inherent in this particular type – the danger of sentimentality and disintegration of form” (Realism 141). The digressive narrative style of both novels was particularly criticized by their English translators, who took it upon themselves to reign in what they interpreted as the excessive straying of the narrative threads in order to construct a more recognizable novel in the European tradition (Mukherjee, Realism 128). In particular, Pather Panchali’s English version was subject to significant editorial cuts, with the entire final section removed (see Tickell; Mukherjee, Translation). As Meenakshi Mukherjee records, “In the Introduction the translators [of PP] argue that this [final] part is extraneous to the requirements of the novel’s formal integrity and imply that the exclusion improves the work of a writer who was essentially an untutored genius” (Realism 131). 4 Ray extends the plot of the novel Aparajito over two films. Pather Panchali is typically translated as “Song of the Little Road,” Aparajito as “The Unvanquished,” and Apur Sansar as “The World of Apu.” 5 In her book on post-independence modern art, Kapur describes the trilogy’s achievement of harmonious Bildung: “The Apu trilogy, then, has two overlying motifs, one devolving and the other evolving. If the first motif is a kind of sublime fatalism, the second involves the rites of passage for a modernizing youth adult. Ray establishes a perfect synchrony in these two primary motifs, pivoting them on childhood adventure but seeing them prefigure the demonstrably allegorical extension to Apu’s quest for knowledge and sovereignty” (218). 6 “‘No; I am Kim. This is the great world, and I am only Kim. Who is Kim?’ He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this roaring whirl of India, going southward to he knew not what fate” (Kipling 166). 7 As discussed by Smith (108) and Abel, Hirsch, and Langland (8–9). 8 I undertake a fuller reading of Nirmala’s dilemma in Anjaria (“Why?” esp. 160–4). 9 Tagore’s urban poem “Bansi [The Flute]” is discussed by Chakrabarty (Provincializing 164–72) and Chaudhuri (Flute 116–18). The poem tracks the process of transcending the urban milieu, as the poet discovers, for instance, that “this lane is a terrible lie/like the insufferable delirium of a drunkard” and that in the city, “there is no difference at all/between Akbar the emperor and/Haripada the clerk” (qtd. in Chakrabarty, Provincializing 167). Tagore’s novels also offered visions of transcendence from the mundane life of the city;

Notes to Pages 138–143


for instance in Gora, “a morning in Calcutta [is described] with a baul singing in the street about a strange bird which flits in and out of the cage. It captures this very mood of surprise at the constant craving to rediscover one’s identity, and aspiration for a new life beginning all over again with day dawning on the city” (Bhattacharya, “Calcutta” 1007). 10 Beginning in the nineteenth century, writers often intermixed genres or used them counterintuitively as a commentary on the ambivalences of modern life. A common example was the use of lyric to describe the ugliness of modern life, as in the nineteenth-century poet Baldeb Palit’s ironic ode: “At last, before my very eyes, Calcutta,/Capital of India under British rule!/Wherever I turn I see/Brick, brick, brick and more brick” (qtd. in Dasgupta 251). And, in another verse by Premendra Mitra: “Receive in your head today,/O my city,/The dawn’s blessing,/On your tangled, dust-and-smoke-bejewelled head./Folding your hands,/Machine-stabbed, blood-and-ink-stained,/Bow to the morning,/Tearing with both hands the mist-bound, nightmare set” (qtd. in Dasgupta 253). Some more examples of modernist lyric are given in Chakrabarty (Provincializing 155). 11 Burke discusses the terrifying aspect of buildings in the “Power” (59–65), “Vastness” (66–7), and “Magnitude in Building” (69–70) chapters of his book on the beautiful and the sublime. Contrast Burke with Macaulay, who envisioned that through the university “the Indian subject would enter a dimension of aesthetic universality that was theoretically available to all humans” (Schwarz, “Aesthetic” 578). Viswanathan confirms: “British education was not seeking to assimilate Indians to the European model by urging them to cast aside their Indian identity. . . . Rather, the suggestion is that English education was designed, in a Platonist sense, to awaken the colonial subjects to a memory of their innate character, corrupted as it had become, again in a Platonist sense, through the feudalistic character of Oriental society. In this universalizing narrative, rescripted from a scenario furnished earlier by missionaries, the British government was refashioned as the ideal republic to which Indians must naturally aspire as a spontaneous expression of self, a state in which the British rulers won a figurative place as Platonic Guardians” (Masks 132). 12 This is not the “social death” that Bengali cultural discourse associated with Calcutta, but it does engender a similar sensibility of the “uncanny”; as Swati Chattopadhyay writes, for many in the countryside “Calcutta occupied a conveniently close yet distant space – its unfamiliarity arising from unfamiliality (no close relative lived in Calcutta) rendered it distant, even immoral” (226). 13 Contrast also with Lucien’s “first stroll in the Tuileries Garden after he has just reached Paris, in Illusions perdues, where he encounters the signs of everything he will have to understand and master” (Brooks 132). 14 As the Marquis of Wellesley, governor-general of India from 1789 to 1805 announced, somewhat to the chagrin of his superiors back in London: “I wish India to be ruled from a palace, not from a country house; with the ideas of


Notes to Pages 143–161

a Prince, not with those of a retail trader in muslins and indigo” (qtd. in Chatterjee, “Town Planning” 134–5). Wellesley’s Government House marked the culmination of “the Baroque-Neoclassical phase” of colonial architecture in Calcutta, and cost the government Rs. 1,300,000. As Choudhury writes, “Wellesley has been variously called the ‘Augustus of Calcutta,’ the ‘Shah Jahan of the Company,’ ‘the last of the Great Mughals,’ and a ‘Sultanized Englandman.’ Unfortunately, such lavishness left the Company’s Court of Directors aghast; and Wellesley lost his job” (162). 15 Passages like the following abound in the Calcutta sections of Aparajito: “He owed the college ten months’ fees, which came to sixty rupees. How was he going to find all that money, when he did not have enough to pay for a square meal?. . . He did not have to buy fuel. The little pieces of wood that were strewn on the floor of the factory where the carpenters worked were enough to light his stove. Even his limited resources were stretched to obtain a packet of rice and some potatoes. Sometimes he could even get an egg or two. He boiled everything together. A meal like that seldom cost him more than five or six paisas” (125–6). 16 Chattopadhyay (217) and Sarkar (“Calcutta” 100) discuss the class associations of objects found in the drawing rooms of the Bengali elite. 17 Apu’s sister Durga plays a similar role to Anil’s in Pather Panchali, providing the more grounded foil for Apu’s imaginative nature. Mukherjee argues that, unlike Apu, Durga is “attached to the palpable aspects of reality” – demonstrated in the various objects she stows in her toy chest: “bits of a broken mirror, beads from a string, a gold sindur-box,” and others (Realism 137). Unlike the shiny objects Apu acquires at the marketplace, these objects anchor Durga in the material world. Like Anil, then, it is not surprising that Durga too dies prematurely, eclipsing the possibility for the realization of this kind of realist-materialist sensibility in the pages of what is ultimately a very different kind of novel. 18 As Andrew Robinson confirms, regarding the final scene of Apur Sansar: “Apu has transcended his grief at last, and is a better, more whole person. The music which plays out The World of Apu, as Apu carries off his son on his shoulders to a new life together, expresses this complex of emotions: the basic notes are recognisable as those of the Apu-Aparna theme last heard in the carriage, but they have a nobility and serenity of emotion more reminiscent of a hymn” (104). 19 See writings by Simon and Froula for examples of author-centered analyses of Künstlerromane. Bibhutibhushan’s early life does have many parallels to Apu’s: his village upbringing, for example, his schooling, his higher education in Calcutta at Ripon College, the early death of his wife (although of pneumonia rather than childbirth), and his retreat from the city to live in the forests of Bihar. However, Bibhutibhushan finished college and went on to earn advanced degrees in law and philosophy, and his own son was not born until more than fifteen years after Aparajito’s publication (Chattopadhaya 2–5, 23).

Notes to Pages 165–168


A f t e r w or d 1 This line is also quoted in Kumar (“I Can’t” 176). 2 Midnight’s Children begins with the following statement by the narrator, revealing the inextricability of the problem of storytelling from storytelling itself: “I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more. . . . On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world” (3, all ellipses in original). 3 Manto’s Partition stories in general tend to be dark and disturbing; “Toba Tek Singh” is as well, but because it is set in a mental asylum and the premise is a patient who cannot comprehend the reality of Partition it has a surrealistic quality that the others do not, and thus is often interpreted as a work that breaks from realism to “cause the reader to question the consensus reality surrounding Partition” (McLain 155). Rushdie is infamous for having called “Toba Tek Singh” the only postcolonial Urdu story that achieves the standard of Indian fiction in English (Introduction viii), and it is likely that he sees its achievement precisely in the story’s inscription of Partition as a surreal reality, thus lending itself to a fantastical, magical mode. 4 Karline McLain makes a similar move in her article on social realism and magical realism; whereas on one hand rejecting the dichotomy between the terms and seeking to point out continuities between the two literary movements, she also singles out “Toba Tek Singh,” along with Ismat Chughtai’s “Lihaf,” as two works in which social realist writers “turned, at times, to the fantastic as a means of questioning consensus reality.” These she distinguishes from the majority of Urdu writers of the 1930s and 1940s, who “did not attempt to question the boundaries between reality and fantasy,” but were instead “focused entirely on the accurate portrayal of empirical reality” (143).

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Adiga, Aravind, 30, 166, 178 African literature, 3, 173, 176 agrarian novel. See rural novel Ahmad, Aijaz, 173 Ali, Ahmed, 6, 13, 14, 29, 119, 165, 169 Angare (Embers), 105 “Baadal Nahin Aate [The Clouds Aren’t Coming]”, 6, 105 The Land of Twilight, 108 Ocean of Night, 29, 105, 110 Twilight in Delhi, 6, 26, 103–05, 106–27, 164–65 alienation, 123, 134–35, 136, 144, 147, 148, 165 in The Sword and the Sickle, 75, 77 urban, 55, 138–40, 142, 145, 148 allegory, 22, 61–62, 65, 77, 95, 170 and Gandhi, 64, 67, 76, 77, 96–97 in Ghare Baire, 22–23, 176 in Godan, 56–58 in Kanthapura, 85–86, 88, 90, 93–94 in The Moor’s Last Sigh, 167 national, 23, 26, 57, 71–72, 77, 86, 87, 93, 97, 130 and realism. See realism and allegory in Untouchable, 72 All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA), 1, 2, 4, 10, 66, 105, 129, 168, 183 Alter, Joseph, 63, 64, 179 Amin, Shahid, 63, 178 Anand, Mulk Raj, 6, 10, 29, 65–67, 84, 103, 105, 164, 165, 167–68, 169, 172 Conversations in Bloomsbury, 1, 67 Coolie, 67, 75, 135, 153 Seven Summers, 116, 121 The Sword and the Sickle, 25, 65–66, 74–77, 89, 91 Untouchable, 8, 25, 65–66, 67–75, 76, 77, 81, 87, 89, 90, 96, 166 Anderson, Benedict, 72, 108, 122, 124 Angare (Embers). See Ali, Ahmed Aparajito (film). See Ray, Satyajit

Aparajito (novel). See Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Auerbach, Erich, 10 Bahadur Shah Zafar, 113–14, 121, 122, See also Mutiny of 1857; Mughal Empire Bakhtin, Mikhail, 5, 60, 130 Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan, 29, 165 Aparajito (The Unvanquished), 26, 29, 128–34, 136–63, 190 Pather Panchali (Song of the Road), 128, 130, 131, 132, 158, 163 Bengal, 2, 16, 30, 63, 102, 144, 155, 161, See also Bengali literature; Swadeshi Movement Bengali literature, 2, 129, 131, 137–38, 147, 161, See also Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan; Chattopadhyay, Bankimchandra; Chattopadhyay, Saratchandra; Tagore, Rabindranath Benjamin, Walter, 23, 62, 64 Bhabha, Homi, 5–6, 174 Bharat Mata (Mother India), 17, 20, 22, 102, 118, 167, 185 Bildungsroman, 138, 149, 183 Aparajito as, 26, 128, 130–31, 133–36, 139, 141, 143–44, 145–46, 147, 149–51, 154–57, 158, 159, 161 Calcutta, 133, 136, 138–42, 144, 147, 151, 154–55, 189 caste, 33–34, 69, See also untouchability Chakrabarty, Dipesh, 14, 137, 144, 157, 178, 185, 189 characterization, 13, 15, 20, 24–26, 27, 40, 50–51, 52–59, 65, 69, 81–82, 88, 97, 165 epic, 2, 25, 60, 62–63 flat, 2, 20–21, 24–25, 36, 39, 46, 47–49, 177 rounded, 24–25, 33, 39, 41–42, 48, 60 Chatterjee, Partha, 5, 18, 34, 144, 147 Chatterjee, Upamanyu, 164, 165




Chattopadhyay, Bankimchandra, 157 Anandamath, 63, 85, 102–03, 118, 175 Rajmohan’s Wife, 2 Chattopadhyay, Saratchandra, 138, 146 colonialism, 4–5, 61, 115–16, 135, 157, 167, 173 and architecture, 142–43 and realism, 1–2, 11–12, 29, See also realism and colonialism Congress Party. See Indian National Congress Coolie. See Anand, Mulk Raj Dalits. See untouchability Day, Lal Behari, 2, 171, 177 Delhi, 103, 104–05, 106–07, 110–11, 113, 115–16, 117, 119 Delhi Durbar, 106, 115–18, 121, 122 Devdas. See Chattopadhyay, Saratchandra disillusion. See postcolonial disillusion domesticity, 144, 146–47, 151–53, 154 English August. See Chatterjee, Upamanyu English language, 2, 85, 94, 105, 109, 121, 154, 164, 182 epic. See characterization, epic Esty, Jed, 9, 12 Faiz, Faiz Ahmed, 108, 124–25, 126, 184 Fanon, Frantz, 24, 167 film. See Ray, Satyajit Forster, E.M., 41, 46, 48, 60, 69, 177, 180 Foucault, Michel, 7, 116, 173 Gandhi, Leela, 76, 85, 181 Gandhi, Mohandas K., 8, 18, 25, 34, 60, 63–64, 66, 126, 137, 156, 177, 178, 179 and allegory. See allegory and Gandhi in the novel, 25, 62, 64–68, 71–80, 84, 86, 87–90, 93–97, 165 gender, 125 in Aparajito, 147, 149–50 in Ghare Baire, 21–22 in nationalist discourse, 185 in Nirmala, 135 Ghare Baire. See Tagore, Rabindranath Gikandi, Simon, 3 Godan (The Gift of the Cow). See Premchand Gopal, Priyamvada, 2, 4, 24, 27, 171, 172 Great Expectations, 135, 144, 150 Guha, Ranajit, 7, 27–28 Hindu epics, 25, 84, 88–89, 96 historical consciousness, 2, 14, 28, 101, 103, 108 historical novel, 23, 26, 101–04 Home and the World, The. See Tagore, Rabindranath

humanism, 6, 24, 25, 27, 28, 44, 46, 66, See also realism and the human hybridity, 3, 90, 165 independence. See Indian independence Indian independence, 1, 12, 170 Nehru’s speech commemorating, 14, 28 Indian National Congress, 7, 178 individual, 62, 65, 67, 71, 74, 77, 83, 89–90, 170 freedom, 21, 61, 64–65, 72–73, 77, 91 ideology of, 19 industrialization, 35 interior space. See domesticity Jalal, Ayesha, 184, 186, 187 Jameson, Fredric, 15, 23, 61 Joshi, Priya, 116, 122, 123, 142 Joyce, James, 75, 132, 135, 144, 161 kabaddi, 56–57 Kanthapura. See Rao, Raja Kaviraj, Sudipta, 14, 102, 157 Kipling, Rudyard, 135 Levine, George, 8, 28, 142, 152, 153 Lukács, Georg, 8–12, 20, 94, 102, 115, 168, 188 review of Ghare Baire, 18–19, 20–21, 23–24 Macaulay, Thomas Babington, 139, 171, 189 magical realism, 4, 165, 191, See also realism and fantasy Manto, Saadat Hasan, 123, 125, 126, 167 “Toba Tek Singh”, 168 melodrama, 104, 120, 183 metonymy, 43, 46–47, 48, 50–51, 54, 57, 71, 86 Mill, James, 171 mimesis. See realism and mimesis modernism, 3–4, 6, 12, 16, 27, 28–29, 51, 75, 105, 128, 132, 135, 157 modernity, 4, 14–15, 23, 26, 28, 34, 39, 42, 62, 103, 122, 138, 157, 170 Moretti, Franco, 134 Mother India. See Bharat Mata Mufti, Aamir, 8, 124–25, 126, 184 Mughal Empire, 50, 106, 109, 110, 113–16, 122, 123 Mukherjee, Meenakshi, 11–12, 38, 48, 102, 130, 158, 171, 172, 182, 188, 190 Muslims and nationalism, 26, 104, 118, 122, 123–27, 184 and nostalgia, 104, 106, 117–18 representation of, 183 Mutiny of 1857, 106, 112, 113, 116, 117

Index Nandy, Ashis, 17, 18, 119, 137, 138, 174 Narayan, R.K., 105 national allegory. See allegory, national nationalism, 119–20, 156, 158 and minorities. See Muslims and nationalism novel and, 63, 72, 108–09, 122, 124, 127 as universalizing project, 8, 127 nationalist movement, 7–8, 14, 17, 26, 30, 34–35, 65, 84, 88, 91, 96, 106, 123, 126, 129, 165, 178, See also Swadeshi Movement naturalism, 10, 105, 167–68, 177, See also realism and mimesis Nehru, Jawaharlal, 8, 14, 27, 74–75, 169, 182, 185 nostalgia, 26, 27, 118, 170 in Aparajito, 145, 158 in Godan, 54 in Twilight in Delhi, 103–04, 107–08, 112–15, 117, 119, 126, 164 objects, 148, 151–53, See also realism and the material Orientalism, 6–7 Pakistan, 106, 127 Partition of India, 106, 108, 124–26, 168, 191 paternity, 134 and Bildung, 155–59 Pather Panchali (film). See Ray, Satyajit Pather Panchali (novel). See Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan performativity, 26, 104, 107–08, 112–15, 118, 120–21, 126–27, 184 postcolonial disillusion, 12, 16, 26, 28, 39 literature, 3, 90, 180 theory, 4, 6–7, 11, 94–95, 97, 108 poststructuralist theory, 3 Premchand, 2, 4, 10, 14, 25, 27, 30, 33–34, 37, 84, 103, 104, 105, 164, 165, 167–68, 169, 170, 172, 174 AIPWA speech, 1, 3, 13, 29, 41–42, 53, 55 critical writings, 171 Godan (The Gift of the Cow), 12, 25, 37–60, 64, 68, 165, 166 Karmabhumi (The Field of Action), 33, 34–35 Nirmala, 135, 150 Premashram (The Abode of Love), 33, 34 Rangbhumi (Playground), 25, 33, 35–37, 39, 41, 65, 78–84, 85, 87, 89, 90, 96 “Shatranj ke Khiladi [The Chess Players]”, 50 Pritchett, Frances, 50, 113, 184


Raag Darbari, 165, 178 Rangbhumi (Playground). See Premchand Rao, Raja, 30, 103, 164, 165 Kanthapura, 25, 65, 84–97, 163 The Serpent and the Rope, 29 Ray, Satyajit, 26–27, 131–32, 134, 138, 155, 161 Aparajito (The Unvanquished), 131, 136–37, 140, 156 Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), 131, 150, 154, 156, 159, 161–62 Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), 131, 136 realism. and allegory, 22–24, 25–26, 28, 61–62, 64–65, 69, 73, 77–78, 84, 85, 90–91, 93–95, 97, 176 and colonialism, 6–7, 29, 90, 174, See also colonialism and realism as experimental, 8, 48, 56, 108, 128, 170 and fantasy, 2, 9, 11, 102, 168, See also magical realism and mimesis, 2–4, 6, 9–10, 27, 29, 127, 168–69 and performativity. See performativity and progressivism. See realism as political project and the human, 33, 35–37, 38, 39, 41–43, 45, 48–52, 54, 56, 58, 170, See also humanism and the material, 19–20, 27, 28, 147, See also objects as metafictional, 4–6, 26, 29, 127 nineteenth-century, 4, 24 as political project, 1, 4, 7, 41–42, 46, 51, 53, 55–56, 58, 70, 105, 129, 165–66 and the potential, 27–28, 40, 169 rejections of, 28, 93, 95, 128, 165–66 and time, 26, 101–03, 108–12, 118–19, 122, 126, 130, 170 and utopia, 15, 59 Roy, Arundhati, 2, 166 rural novel, 25, 30, 33–35, 164 Rushdie, Salman, 2, 30, 65, 77, 180, 186, 191 Midnight’s Children, 164, 166, 169 The Moor’s Last Sigh, 168–70 Ruswa, Mirza Muhammad, 101–02, 110 Said, Edward, 6–7, 155 Sarkar, Sumit, 190 Sarkar, Tanika, 22, 183 Schwarz, Roberto, 15 Senapati, Fakirmohan, 166, 172 Slaughter, Joseph, 141, 156–57 social realism, 30, 40, 42, 105, 164, 166, 191, See also realism as political project



Sorensen, Eli Park, 3 Spivak, Gayatri, 27, 41, 172, 179 Stewart, Susan, 107, 140, 152 Subaltern Studies, 7 sublime, 138–39, 142–43 Swadeshi Movement, 16–17, 20, 22, 23, 103 Swarup, Vikas, 166, 167 symbol, 22, 25, 57, 60, 61, 66, 69–70, 72, 77, 79, See also allegory Tagore, Rabindranath, 64, 137–38, 187 Ghare Baire (The Home and the World), 16–24, 26, 57, 60, 103, 137 temporality. See realism and time The Sword and the Sickle. See Anand, Mulk Raj Tolstoy, Leo, 9–10, 19

Trivedi, Harish, 86, 109, 111, 125, 182 Twilight in Delhi. See Ali, Ahmed untouchability, 8, 67–68, 72, 86 Untouchable. See Anand, Mulk Raj Urdu literature, 105, 108–11, 113, 121, 126, 172, 184, 191 utilitarianism, 16, 17, 19 Viswanathan, Gauri, 8, 72, 189 von Humboldt, Wilhelm, 134–35, 156 Watt, Ian, 23 Williams, Raymond, 61 Woloch, Alex, 24, 46, 48 Zaheer, Sajjad, 105, 171