Malay Roy Choudhury
The Daily Star: Postmodern Bangla Short Stories: the arrival of the departure
The Gift of the Colonial Magi
Malay Roy Choudhury
Having published a few English translations of Bangla short stories in this page I have of late been asked questions like ‘What kind of short stories were these?’ ‘What did they mean?’ ‘Were they written by ‘experimental’ authors?’ ‘I didn’t understand them at all.’
Fair enough. To readers of this page, the stories referred to seemed to violate all established norms of good storytelling: a beginning, an end, recognizable characters, a ‘meaning’ to be drawn from the tale, and the satisfied murmur at the end from a reader whose expectations have been skillfully aroused, and then met. However, the short stories published on this page broke away from the mould, seemed to zigzag in time, had no coherent pattern, had characters who drifted in and out from the margins, and, like the whole story, seemed to have no fixed center, in fact seemed at times not to inhabit any space at all, and the repeated authorial intrusions seemed to deliberately draw attention to the fact that ‘stories’ are artifices that should reveal the ‘hand’ consciously fashioning the tale (in fact, that seemed to be the real ‘story’ in each of these ‘stories’: how stories get made, that the process is the thing).
Obviously definitions of ‘literature’ and ‘fiction’ are undergoing changes. Fiction in English reflected one such change–a trending towards postmodernism– quite some time back. It arrived in Bangla literature and fiction more recently–granted, in the works of the more ‘experimental’ and ‘avant-garde’ writers, in out-of-the-way little magazines and journals, in volumes from the more outré publishers. One thing, however, is clear: Postmodernism, for good or bad, is here to stay in the fiction written in Bangla, both across the border and here.
So what is it? How did some Bangla short stories (and novels) arrive at this point? How does one make sense of it? The answer is attempted in the following long essay by Malay Roy Choudhury (Postmodern Bangla Short Stories 2002, Haowa 49 Publishers, Kolkata), long enough in fact that it has to be published in installments. It is difficult to read, and the author has tried to cover a broad –as well as a contentious–area. All of which means that the piece contains a fair amount of specialist literary terms and assumptions not easily grasped by the average reader. Plus the earnest style (the baggage of critical literary theory, which at times seems not to function without the words ‘episteme’ or ‘metropolitan’) and erroneous ad hoc declarations (that, for example, the ‘novel started in European antiquity’) can be wearisome. But the essay nevertheless has one radiant quality: its very theme! Malay Roy Choudhury does wish to answer the question what is the postmodern Bangla short story as honestly and comprehensively as he can. And in doing so necessarily provides an interesting interpretation of its history. At the very least, his analytic framework has the merit of consistency.
So to all those readers who have questioned me, and perhaps will continue to do so, on the subject of ‘experimental’ Bangla short stories being written by a younger set of writers interested in the politics of language and culture, who feel the press of postcolonial theory, who are sympathetic to the increasing assertion of forces, political and linguistic, of vernaculars previously considered marginal, here is my answer: Seek The Daily Star literature page from now on, and ye shall find. If not the answer, then at least the right questions.
—Editor, Literature Page
Chhotogolpo, synonym for short story, is a hybridized word. Chhoto having been derived from prakrita or plebianized Sanskrit chhudda or chutta, which meant short, small, tiny, dwarfish, low-pitched, little, reduced, puny, delicate, minor, etc. Golpo is a hybrid of gappo and jalpo. Gappo is plebianized Bangla version of Persian gupp that entered indigenous lexical domain consequent upon establishment of Islamic rule. It meant oral narrative, conversation, argument, gossip, prattle, etc. It had also entered English lexicon as gup, in the guise of an Anglo-Saxon slang during the gin-and-tonic days of the Empire. Almost all indigenous words which entered the imperial semiotics received a degenerated reception. Hindu gods became lords, and god Jaggannatha became juggernaut, a strange expression which meant a relentless destroying force; an example of colonial semiotic violence transforming the native’s protector into a destroyer. Jalpo evolved out of Sanskrit jalpan, and meant utterance, discussion, speculation, proposal, and establishment of one’s own opinion by refuting someone else’s.
Narratives at folk level as well as at the level of the court of kings, in brief or elaborate form, existed prior to the arrival of British Empire, written in poetic meters to enable people to memorize them, in the absence of literacy and nonavailability of nonmanual process of reproduction, as the texts were calligraphed on palm-leaves. In essence, therefore, indigenous story-texts existed since antiquity, outside the perimeters of the constructedness of fables, but within the confines of nature, i.e. tale. However, the indigenous culture did not have exact equivalents of fables and tales, since the genres were based on the Greco-Roman dialects of good and evil, and papal dialectics of God and Devil, which assumed human individual as a cultural product and subject to construction. Premodern Bangla had katha or narrative, and kathakata or narration of scriptural and mythological oral chronicles. The narrator was kathak-thakur or Brahmin priest, and may be found even today in a metamorphosed gaiety during any puja trying to re-root himself in antiquity in front of a loudspeaker mike; he would be worshipping goddess Durga, demon Mahishasura, and a veiled banana plant simultaneously, in a postmodern anomie, of course.
Fiction is indigenous, though in metrical form. However, the genres short story and novel came with colonial rule. Novel was a product of European Renaissance, and the original genre novella was Italian, which emerged during that great epistemic upheaval, though the rudiments thereof existed since second-century Greece. Novel was coterminous as an established genre with the appearance of Rene Descartes’ theory of knowledge. Descartes’ theory starts with the quest for certainty, for an indubitable starting-point or foundation on the basis alone of which progress is possible; the point of certainty had to be located in one’s own awareness of one’s own self. Renaissance and Descartes would not have been possible without such royal plunderers as Christopher Columbus, an Italian. Novel was generic outcome of the concepts of individuals’ self-location, progress and seizure of nature. None of these philosophical ideas existed in premodern life/world of Bangla people, for whom nothing existed outside nature.
In fact the synonym for culture, i.e. samskruti, had to be coined by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). The appellative upanyas, synonym for novel, was coined by Bankimchandra Chattopadhya (1838-1894) who had first written Rajmohan’s Wife (1864), a novel in English, before writing the first ever novel in Bangla literature, Durgeshnandini (1865), a fiction in prose. Economic and political powers in Europe, when novel emerged, were agriculture-centric and rested with landowners who had time for leisure.
Short story emerged in Europe with the Industrial Revolution, and the epistemic paradigm shift caused by European Enlightenment. Industrial Revolution replaced traditional agrarian economy by one dominated by machinery and manufacturing. This transferred the balance of political power from the landowner to the industrial capitalist, and created a huge urban working class. The slow agrarian idyllic life was replaced by a fast industrially-compartmented life without much leisure for a large population. The subject-position of the individual changed beyond retreat. While the history of rise and fall of the novel in Europe is associated with the rise and fall of imperialism, the rise and change of short story is associated with the centrality and fragmentation of the modern human individual. Novel emerged in European antiquity. Short story emerged in European modernity. Both of them arrived on the shores of Bangla literature at the same time, when the representatives of European Enlightenment, the Christian missionaries, settled at Srirampur in 1800, simultaneously introduced Bangla printing press, translated prose of gospels and the Bible, Bangla grammar books and Bangla dictionaries. The first gospel of the first century Christian apostle and evangelist St. Matthew was the mother of printed Bangla prose, which appeared on 18 March 1880. This was also the year of establishment of Fort William College. And this was the juncture when a Bangla speaker of letters left the world of nature to join the world of culture, in order to get constructed as an individual in the mirror image of Enlightenment episteme.
Groomed in the above episteme, a sizeable Bangla middle class originated, and spread with the British as their reliable appendages, throughout India. Bangla periodicals with news and fiction had to appear for, by and of the newly constructed individuals of this class. Though newsmagazines such Digdarshan (April 1818), Samachar Darpan (May 1818) and Sambad Prabhakar appeared first to cater to the cultural needs of this class, they contained the seeds of the subsequent literary periodicals like Bangadarshan (1872), Bharati, Sadhana, Hitavadi, Navajivan and Sahitya, published in the 19th century. For publishing Bangadarshan, Bankimchandra Chattapadhya had installed printing press at his own residence. The contentious issue relating to strict definability of novel and short story might not have been imported till then, and all fictions were golpo. The eighteen-page fiction Indira (1872) and fifteen-page fiction Yugalanguria (1873) written by Bankimchandra and fourteen-page fiction Madhumati (1873) written by his brother Purnachandra were all published under the rubric of upanyas or novel. It was more than eighty years later, when the power of definition, distinction and evaluation of literary discourse rested with academicians that the former two were declared to be neither novel nor short story whereas the latter was branded as a short story, since by then definitions imported from the West had piled up in the volumes stacked in college libraries. But the first canonisable perfect short story did not appear till Rabindranath Tagore wrote Postmaster (1891) in the weekly Hitavadi.
However, the works of Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847-1912), poet, novelist and playwright, failed to get canonised, primarily because formation of Muslim middle class individual in the new episteme of Enlightenment was delayed as the rulers whom the Empire decimated were mostly Muslim. The community initially refused to be subsumed in the language of emerging Bangla literature because of what was considered Hinduani semiotic and semantic features. For the Hindu individual, this also was one of the reasons to move closer to the new episteme. In third volume of Bengal in 1756-1757, historian Hill had written ‘Genuine (i.e. Hindoo) rajahs and inhabitants were much disaffected to the Moor (i.e. Mohammedan) government and secretly wished for a change and opportunity of throwing off their tyrannical yoke.’ The first fiction of a Muslim author to be canonised came quite late in Byathar Daan (1922) by Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1977). In fact, this is the only Muslim name I find in Budhed Choudhury’s voluminous dissertation on short story Bangla Sahityer Chhotogolpo O Golpokar (1962), spanning a period from 1800 to 1940, and no such reference in Sahitye Chhotogolpo (1956) by Narayan Gangapadhya, though the books are studded with names from classical and modern European literatures.
Thenceforth canonisation could be possible only within European maxims. But the strictest maxim was that no printed matter should be against the interest of the Empire. Short story therefore had to be confined to a defined freedom of the author, sort of a four-walled discourse. Indigenous diverse oral forms were never drawn upon and ultimately withered away in neglect. Since the first grammar books and dictionaries were written and printed by European missionaries, Bangla signifiers started developing catalepsy. Most the Bangla words had several meanings, depending upon context, and even contradictory meanings, as is now evident from the Bangiya Sabdakosh (1933), dictionary compiled by Haricharan Bandhyapadhya. Consequent upon alien intervention, the meanings of Bangla words were narrowed down to a few or even only one, and in several cases even change by colonial educators. Today a large number of Bangla words are explained with the help of English words. A huge lexical world at the social periphery simply vanished as the expressions were dubbed anchalik or non-metropolitan. Metropolitan Bangla flourished as language or literature articulated by upper caste Hindus, especially by the super-Brahmins of the 19th century, the gentry of Brahmosamaj. Our modernity emanated from colonisers’ values, and metropolitan Bangla evolved within those confines. Anchalik was tribal and lower-caste semiotic sphere. Similarly, words and expressions used in Muslim community were exuviated off metropolitan Bangla. The fund of words, diction, expressions were basically metropolitan till the emergence of the postmodern Bangla short story. That the language of the entire two hundred million people is the language of Bangla literature dawned quite late, when the Western rhetoric, poetics and canons became redundant and irrelevant.
From Bangadarshan onwards till the publication of the periodical Sabujpatra (1914) edited by Pramatha Choudhuri (1868-1946), son-in-law of Rabindranath’s elder brother Satyendranath Tagore (1842-1923), fictions were written in former old Bangla of letters, documents, verse, horoscopes etc., which was being articulated in flowery, Sanskritised, compounded, consonantal or vowel-blended words and long-winding sentences, beyond the reach of the uninitiated, so that the Brahminism of vocabulary could represent the fixity of power of the newly constructed individual. Pramatha Choudhuri was well versed in English and French languages and literatures, and had introduced triolet, terza rima, sonnet etc., colonial verse forms after he came back from England as a barrister. Sabujpatra gave prestige to spoken Bangla, i.e. the dialect spoken in and around the metropolis, which was the imperial capital till 1911. What had happened by the time Sabujpatra appeared was establishment of hundreds of jute mills in the same area, and convergence of a huge labour force from far-flung places who required a common medium of communication. A common medium of communication was also required by students from other provinces who came to the metropolis for studies at Hindu College (1817) and Calcutta University (1857). Sabu
Western canons, emanating out of anti-nature episteme, had far-reaching consequences on native Bangla life/world. Academicians such as Srikumar Bandhapadhya, Sashibhushan Dasgupta, Narayan Gangapadhya, Sisirkumar Das, Narendranath Chakraborty, Upendranath Gangapadhya, Haraprasad Mitra, Jagadish Bhattacharya and Bhudeb Choudhury have generally ignored native folk, tribal and indigenous Bangla grassroot discourses, but studded their books and articles with such alien signifiers as Iliad, Odyssey, Walter Scott, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Virgil, Dante, Boccaccio, Voltaire, Ralph Fox, Richard Burton, H.D. Bates, Elizabeth Bowden, Brander Matthews, Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Van Wyck Brooks, Ernst Rhys, Dawson Scott, T. Seltyer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Balzac, D.L. Thomas, A. Symons, Samuel Johnson, L.B. William and even Encyclopedia Britannica, in order to enforce their arguments to create a stasis each for novel and short story. It was only after the emergence of academics of the new school of subaltern studies in 1982 that the short story broke out of universalism and talked of power not as homogenous and split, but as universally distributed in different ways, in different sites, among different social groupings.
The values that the definitions of stasis sustained are worth deconstruction. Here are a few (italics mine): ‘The novel deals with the individual, it is the epic of the struggle of the individual against society, against nature, and it could only develop in a society where the balance between man and society was lost, where man was at war with his fellows or with nature’ (Ralph Fox). ‘The short story fulfills the three unities of the French classical drama; it shows one action, in one place, on one day.
A short story deals with a single character, a single event, a single emotion, or the series of emotions called forth by a single situation’ (Brander Matthews). ‘The short story is an emphatically personal exposition. What one searches for and what one enjoys in a story is a special distillation, a unique sensibility which has recognised and selected at once a subject that, above all other subjects, is of value to the writer’s temperament and to his alonehis counterpart, his perfect opportunity to project himself’ (Sean O’Faolain). ‘Short story is an impressionistic prose tale, a short, effective, single blow, a moment of atmosphere, glimpse of a climactic incident’ (Fred Lewis Pattie). ‘A short story usually presents the crisis of a single problem,’ (Webster’s Dictionary and Encyclopedia). ‘A short story must contain one and only one informing idea, and that this idea must be worked out to its logical conclusion with absolute singleness of method’ (Hudson). ‘Brevity and natural limitation give the short story a precision as an Art, beside which the art of the novel seem rambling and formless. Standing as a single crystalline episode or experience, the short story bears, perhaps, the same relation to the novel as a single parable to the whole gospel’ (John Cournos). ‘The imagination of the savage and the child are partly of the same power and quality. They float in a world of wonder in which the wildest wishes become realities and the most impossible fancies wear the look of truth, especially when they are given form and substance by the art of the storyteller’ (Masterpiece of Short Stories). ‘If the novel is the record of the emotions of an individual soul, influenced by and influencing some other soul, one cannot have the novel until some notion of individuality has come to the world’ (Stoddard). ‘A short story is a short work of prose fiction, which typically either sets up and resolves a single narrative point or depicts a mood of an atmosphere’ (The Wordsworth Encyclopedia).
The above Occidental abstractions were accepted and given the garb of Oriental abstractions, despite the fact that the indigenous society had no such concepts as individuality, Art, masterpiece, single linearity, opposition to nature, etc. Academic insistence and critical acclaim forced Bangla short stories to have design, purpose, bounded form, totalization, originality, unilinear, monocentric, metaphysics, determinacy, etc. The author of the short story, in order to get canonised in Bangla literature, had to produce a work of art that knew no other rules but its own, aspire to and transform the crude contingency of worldly relations into purified aesthetic forms. The claim for universality had to be inherent in the text, although it had to be a highly specialised discourse called short story. Authors who were canonized post-Sabujpatra and up to Kallol (1932) are Dhurijati Prasad Mukhopadhya (1894-1961), Nareshchandra Sengupta (1883-1964) Manindralal Basu (1897-1986), Dineshchanra Das (1888-1941), Gokul Nag (1894-1925), Achintya Kumar Sengupta (1903-1975), Premendra Mitra (1904-1988), Buddhadeva Basu (1908-1974), Shailajananda Mukhopadhya (1901-1976), Tarashankar Bandapadhya (1898-1972), Saroj Kumar Roychoudhuri (1903-1972), Manik Bandapadhya (1908-1956), Annadashankar Ray (1904), Banaphool (1899-1979), and Bibhuti Bhushan Bandapadhya (1894-1950). Obviously, modernist critics have identified some of them as major, great, original, etc. However, literature till then had not been commodified and integrated into post-Independence Five-Year-Plan capitalism and bureaucratic culture.
The Occidental definitions were succinctly Orientalised in these words by Narayan Gangapadhya in his book Sahitya Chhotogolpo (1957): ‘Short story is an impression-born prose fiction whose one single message achieves totality through crisis of unity of a certain occurrence or a certain circumstance or a certain mentality.’ He characterized short story in three categories, i.e. Occurrence-centric, Character-centric and Essence-centric. These centres were further classified in twelve categories for the benefit of modernist critics: philosophical, social problem, questions or relations between man and woman, psychological, romantic, protagonist-based, allegorical, satirical, poetic, idealistic or political, supernatural, and strange.
Bhudeb Choudhury had in his Bangla Sahityer Chhotogolpo o Golpokar (1962) highlighted the following essential ingredients of a short story: a) at every moment, at every juncture, in endlessly spread, mysteriously complex modern lifesite lay unfathomable secret depths. A total reflection of this may be encountered at a single point of deeply absorbed fullness of life; b) second ingredient of short story is the densely close perceptive raptness of the author-artist—his meditative self-absorption in ongoing life. A single moment of total life should be reflectable in the mirror of that serene consciousness; c) thirdly, what is required is suggestiveness of the composition. A location, an emphasis, or emotion of special moment of a life which transcends life/world of all countries and times; d) in these ingredients specialties lies the incomparable specificity of short story. A story whose climax does not reveal complete perception of the moment of rootsource of the life-ocean, even if the story is brief in size, it is not a short story; it may be a tale, fable, parable or whatever. Therefore, in the creation of suggestiveness of eternal life within limited life’s climactic moment lies the form-style of short story.
Though the target readers of the articulations of Bangla academicians were graduate and postgraduate students as well as their teachers, the academic framework provoked authors to aim to abstract the world through structures of imaginative control to enable them to establish a position of detachment (nirlipta) from which they could survey the field of appearances, claim to have privileged perspective of absolute truth as a universalizing tool for accusing others of error. Content of the story was given much more importance by academicians rather than construction of the language. They were oblivious of the fact that languages of European fiction were several centuries old. Unfortunately none of the academicians discussed the semantic, semiotic, syntactic, lexical, dictional etc. attributes of short story, and neither did they correlate the text with the ethnic and social structures. There were several Bangla linguists but no language philosopher such as, say, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), or Theodore Adorno (1903-69); forget about our own Sanskrit language-sages of yore, namely, Anandavardhana (AD 850), Bhartihari (AD 450), or Bhoja (AD 1000). Pramatha Choudhuri pulled up the language structure from antiquity to modern, but modernist Bangla literature remained within the strict confines of metropolitan, sophisticated, elite-friendly language. The modernist academicians created and fabricated a pattern and went on excluding all those who did not fit into their scheme of things. They tried their best to impose a monocentric order. To them the world was an object of willed action, raw material for short story, guided and given form by the authors’ designs. Meaning and design had become one. The world itself had inconsequential meaning for them because they were artists (shilpi). They imposed sense and purpose. The process went on as authors emerged on the pages of Parichoi(1931), Kallol (1932) to post-Partition diasporic platform Notun Reeti (1958), the kingdom of indigenous gods and goddesses as Nature got blurred; sarthakata or significance and effectiveness could be traced when nature was de-animated in the text. The modern assumption of the world as chaos endowed the authors with a compulsion to make order solid, obligatory and reliably founded. A short story had to be confined within ordered form, within restricted time-space, to be certified as a short story. Chaos meant contingency and therefore modernists thought that chaos was the enemy of canons, of Art. Precolonial versified fictions and hagiographs were found to represent raw human condition (people were not constructed as individuals with the tools of Enlightenment), and therefore, contingent. Those premodern texts were found uncanonable, as they were disorderly, open-ended, irrational, spontaneous and nature-centric. Reviving the premodern, precolonial ethos and ethnos became a felt need for a large number of fresh authors who could realize that the modernist epistemic violence made man devoid of meanings. They realized that the Notun Reeti breed of post-Partition modernist fiction writers had become order suppliers of consumer products. Nevertheless, Notun Reeti and its fellow travellers did invent the technique of fiction writing in the language of the customers. This brand of modernist authors started producing twenty sleazy novels and a hundred short stories each year during Durga puja alone to mop up the bonuses of white-collar labourers. Partition was a devastating blow to the social and cultural values of ethnic West Bengal. The influx of refugees still continues, though now in driblets. In this erosion of values, and superimposition of a post-Partition diaspora on the ethnic life of West Bengal, lay the seeds of indigenous postmodern Bangla fiction.
Premodern Kalikshetra to Postmodern Kolkata
Like in any other language, Bangla literary modernism had its own contradiction between radical disruption of form and traditionalism of content and ideology, as were exhibited on the pages of such periodicals bulletins as Kalikalam (1926), Parichoi (1931), Kallol (1932), Chhotogolpo Notun Reeti (1958), Hungry Andolon (1961), Shastravirodhi (1966), mouthpiece Ei Dashok and Neem Sahitya (1967). Epistemic and ontological modernism had, however, arrived in Bangla literature first on the pages of Bangadarshan (1872) edited by Bankimchandra Chattapadhya (1838-1894) who had already written first ever Bangla prose fiction Durgeshnandini (1865). However, Bangla prose got its real semantic, semiotic and syntactic breakthrough on the pages of Sabujpatra (1914) edited by Pramatha Choudhuri (1868-1946). But the rise, youth and putrefaction of Parichoi properly maps literary modernism as well as birth of cultural grace, and its ultimate degeneration and cultural disgrace.
Notun Reeti was the last bastion of metropolitan upper-caste dominated quasi-Occidental canons. In fact, fiction, including adventure stories for children, continued to be written by them in the image of the colonial genre, where White Man’s Africa was Indianized in imagination to enable children of well-to-do families have Bangla indigenous feel of H. Rider Haggard, G.A. Henty or Henry Morton Stanley. Colonial adventure stories have spawned a new genre of Hindu religious adventure stories wherein the protagonist or author visits supposedly inaccessible pilgrim places, a strange metamorphosis of the colonial discourse in which fiction writer Avadhoot specialised and wrote innumerable volumes. Satya Guhu in his history of contemporary Bangla literature Ekaler Godyo Podyo Andoloner Dalil (1970) has stated that all Notun Reeti authors were anthologized in Ei Dashaker Golpo (1960) by Bimal Dar. The short story writers included in that anthology were all upper caste youth, with the majority of them being highest-category Brahmins: Ajay Dasgupta, Amalendu Chakraborty, Dibyendu Palit, Dipendra Nath Bandhapadhya, Mati Nandi, Jashodajiban Bhattacharya, Ratan Bhattacharya, Shankar Chattapadhya, Shirshendu Mukhopadhya, Shyamol Gangapadhya, Sandipan Chattapadhya, Somnath Bhattacharya and Samarjit Bandhapadhya. Some of them charted an unprecedented course of prolific writing, having written 400 novels and 5000 short stories, apart from duplicating Rider Haggard in equal number of books for children. Despite the command over their craft, the immediate postcolonial authors named above failed to produce texts comparable to those of Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ngugi wa Thiong’ O, Elechi Amadi, Ayi Kwei Armah, J. M. Coetzee, Wole Soyinka, Jamaica Kincaid and Neil Bissoondath. But then, Ngugi wa Thiong’O took six years to write Petals of Blood; Salman Rushdie took the same period to write Midnight’s Children and Arundhati Roy for The God of Small Things. There are other factors in the make-up of the authorial self as well. Firstly, the Indian polity had been co-opted into the colonial power structure through inauguration of Provincial Autonomy and formation of native ministry way back in 1936, a decade before Independence. Secondly, the refugee writers knew nothing about and had no experience of indigenous rural West Bengal, the inexplicable panorama so vividly displayed by Bibhuti Bhushan Bandhapadhya (1894-1950) and Tarashankar Bandhapadhya (1898-1971). Fiction writer Shyamol Gangapadhya did purchase farmland and lived village-life for a feel of the ethnicity but was not accepted into the weave of the place by the locals.
Managed, written, defined and canonised within urban middle class values, Parichoi, Kollol, Pragati, etc. periodicals identified themselves with the Occidental canons and discourse whereas Notun Reeti adopted a mode of counter-identification by staying within the governing structure of above ideas, with a mix of Soviet discourse in case of some authors, but by nativising the terms. They combined aesthetic self-consciousness and formalist experimentation. The left-sympathisers among them tried to combine what they thought was social realism, though according to the Soviet definition social realism meant a dialectical interpretation of reality and its criterion in light of the needs and aims of an evolving socialist society. However, gradually lucre became their main driving force. For most of them lucre became the best mode to reroot them on the soil of West Bengal. The Neem Sahitya, Hungryalist and the Shastravirodhi literary movements attempted to go beyond the structure of oppositions and sanctioned negations of the discourse through disidentification. They located themselves in essentially adversarial relations to the prevalent aesthetic realism. Thereafter the post-Naxalite little magazine explosion-activated extrication of the discourse, as a result of which aesthetic realism completely collapsed; there was gradual deconstruction and dissolution of high and subaltern cultural distinction. This became more pronounced in films. Evacuation of commitment pervaded all spheres of Bangla life/world, and protean postmodern cultural politics emerged. So much so that an erstwhile Naxalite started fleecing Marwari businessmen at the Income Tax Office to bring out special issues of his periodical in order to honour a couple of left-leaning poets.
The vernacular news dailies which started newspaper literature (Narayan Gangapadhya had termed it magazinist literature) are actually Bangla tabloids which thrive on front page sensationalisations of rape, murder, collective lynching, kidnapping, gang wars, elite brothels, etc., as if these are the only events taking place in West Bengal. No comparison can be made with English news dailies. The readerships are poles apart. Each vernacular daily has its own collegium of captive geniuses, and mainly their books are reviewed and hoisted on manipulated bestseller lists. Such bestsellers are declared to be landmarks–an imperial concept to grab other peoples’ lands. There are authors who write Leninist stories on the pages of the Communist Party newspaper, and Mills & Boon stories on the pages of consumerist dailies. Krittibas (1953), which started as a parallel poetry magazine to Notun Reeti fiction, produced frighteningly money-spinning potboiler fiction writers, outsmarting the Harold Robinses. Jyotirmoy Datta, the ultra-rightist member of Krittibas, teamed up with ultra-leftist revolutionary Azizul Haque in order to bring out a tabloid. Amid this funniest of cultural intramurality, some authors emerged as ex-Naxalites who reportedly were anti-Naxal informers of the Police establishment!
Modernist discourse and discursive practices, irrespective of whether they arrived with the British rulers or through glossy Soviet despatches, legitimised Occidental canons and hegemony. Canons, aesthetic or military, imply legitimization. Destruction of the Bamian Buddhas is legitimization of homocentric canon. It is against nature. It thinks that the rainbow does not have so many colours. Rabindra Guha, who does not have any roots permanently like an arborescent, has articulated the dangerous consequences of a peculiar cow-belt hegemony in his micro-narrative Contactile. The little magazine explosion I have been talking of was postmodernist rupture from modernist discourse and encirclement of the centre by periphery. Two thousand fiction writers are sustained by six hundred periodicals within and outside West Bengal. This excludes magazines published in Bangladesh as well as Web little magazines. In an epoch having two thousand living fiction writers—several of them write postmodern poems–proliferation of new forms, diction, semiotic and syntactic practices, wordplay, spaces and experiences, is bound to push the Bangla short story beyond any conceivable frame. Canonical disarray was inevitable. It is not possible to bind some texts within academically-defined genres.
It would be interesting to note that when the Indian nationalist leaders in their anti-imperialist discourse gave a call for Civil Disobedience (1932) and Quit India (1942) movements, they did not advise writers to disobey and quit colonial canons. It took three earth-moving literary movements, lives of thousands of Naxal intellectual youth, jails of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and putrescence of Establishment Marxists to get rid of them. Thereafter it was plenitude of the multivocal, unprecedented freedom for the author, subversion of academic dictats. And propensities of parataxis, nonlinearity, hybridity, rhizomatic, syncreticity, heterogeneity, openness, playfulness, irony, aptativeness, disjunction, displacement, immanence, fragmentation, disorientation, disruption, hagiographical, indigenous, talkative folk forms, subaltern, eco-feminism etc. became widespread in the fictions published in little magazines. This phenomena has drawn the wrath of modernist critics who have been selectively castigating authors. However, they are aware that postmodernism is the only umbrella beneath which such a diverse discourse may be brought together for a unifying congregation.
Despite such subversive and multivocal texts of the literary movements being eventually subsumed into the mainstream, even if selectively, based on political, media-centric, upper caste or post-Partition diasporic inclinations, the challenge has permanently affected the way the postgeneric has impacted the present, and will impact the future, discourse, as has already been experienced in the case of certain Hungryalist and Shastravirodhi fiction writers like Basudeb Dasgupta and Ramanath Ray. Any literary defiance embodies the provocation of a literary code into socio-cultural, or tangentially, political code. Understanding of a postmodern text’s interpellated and interpetalled designs definitely entails active collaboration on readers’ part. The reader, the reader-as-critic, cannot afford to take his own position as granted, since certain problems will always remain unresolved at his own level. Any interpretation of a text will depend on the reader’s understanding of the macro and micro cultural constructions and the socio-political givenness it was written from.
The postmodern Bangla short story generally aspires to resist memory’s appropriation technique of vernacular newspaper literature or of textbook history, as the narrative proceeds mapping out counter-hegemonic strategies and obeys a memory-triggered structure in which textual swings develop ethnic elasticity. Postmodern short stories are worlds away from the metafictive self-consciousness of Parichoi-Kallol-Pragati and Notun Reeti authors, who gave primacy to the one single voice. Certain postmodern stories are a polyphonic mélange which need not be seen as productive of meaning but necessarily reflective or expressive. There are still some academicians who humiliate their graduate and postgraduate students if they are unable to locate the produced meaning of a text. Evidently, the discourses are basically plural, and there can never be a monocentric correctness as demanded by modernist critics.
It is pertinent to note that during the Emergency when Indira Gandhi suspended fundamental rights of the individual, and texts were subjected to censorship, several authors adopted a secret slyness in their fictions to enable the narrative to speak in different voices from behind textual masks in order to de-structure and deconstruct the centre of power. During the last decade of the 20 th century, in certain semi-urban and rural areas of West Bengal, ravaged by political violence, authors are forced to employ this technique to rescue language and literature from the terrorizing stasis around them.
As a result of the culture of political violence, villagers affiliated to one political party are hounded out of their ancestral hearth and farmland forever, or till the balance tilts, by villagers affiliated to the locally powerful or ruling political party, something unimaginable during premodern/precolonial and modern/colonial days. Such values are completely alien to West Bengal where Muslim farmers never fought with each other. However, the postmodern feature is that such violence and terror have got nothing to do with Marxist and Gandhian ideologies that the parties brag about. All ideologies, commitment and virtue have withered away. Loyalties can be switched at will, one’s own or someone else’s. Though in their youth in 1950s they had shouted Yeh azadi jhutha hai (Frantz Fanon in 1961 called it ‘the farce of national independence’) on the streets, the now-bloated top bosses of political outfits do not appear to be seriously bothered about present smithereening of West Bengal’s ethnic life/world, of people who have lived together since thousands of years. As a result of political violence, the subject (just a digit to the State) is territorially deappropriated; his forefather’s land has become a recognizable locus for incessantly unresolved problems. And this is one of the subject-positions where postmodern Bangla textual reality develops as a complexity. In Tripura the division is between tribals and non-tribals where the violence is defined by ruthless firepower.
Certain dominating media networks have their maximum security prisons of authorial world of customer-friendly consumerist language, which have been subverted by the micro-narratives of such authors as Udayan Ghosh, Atindriya Pathak, Barin Ghoshal, Subimal Basak, Ajit Ray, Kamal Chakraborty, Mrinal Banik, Samir Basu, Tarak Rej, Nabarun Bhattacharya, Manab Chakraborty, Bhagirath Mishra, Abhijit Sen, Subimal Mishra, Prasun Bandhopadhya. Arupratan Basu, Subhas Ghosh and Abani Dhar. Fluidity of their micro-narratives undermine the logic of power; the reader is forced to unravel the intertextuality and the power-structure that weave subject-positions within societal complexities. The subject refuses to be a digit. Their texts undermine the readers’ search for a fixed subject-identity through semantic, semiotic and syntactical flux. The texts function as filter as well as amplifier of suppressed voices and fragmented undefinable subjectivities. The narrative involves the reader in the textual problems of the story which resist creating modernist stereotypes. As a result the identities, instead of getting lost in the quagmire of fixity, engage themselves in perpetual remaking.
Titles of postmodern Bangla short story go beyond logocentric modernist norms to metonyms of plurality. It may be intentional or unconscious. Instead of calling them ‘titles’, it would be ontologically and historically proper to call them ‘rubric’. Prior to the invasion of colonialism, nature could never be owned by a native of West Bengal, be it land, water surface or forests. There were no concepts of title, title holder, deed, registration, rights, will, probate, affidavit, advocate, dalil, sastavej, wakil, wakalatnama, tauji, mauja, jameendari, shariq, munim, mukhtar, peshkar, etc. pertaining to ownership of nature or dispute relating thereto. All these words were alien to Bangla ethos and ethnos; they did not and do not have Bangla synonyms. These concepts were aimed at containing land, flora and fauna, subordinating them to human will, and rendering nature’s infinititude into computable minims. It was settlement and seizure of Bangla territory through language.
Bangla nature represented, in innumerable forms, gods and goddesses. Even Buddhism was forced to have gods and goddesses. Today, most of the political violence in villages erupt out of disputes relating to ownership of farmland, orchards or water surfaces. Land reforms have reached a dead end as fragmentation of land has crossed limits. There is now no scope to absorb the surplus farmers in cultivation. No industries have come up to absorb them either. Rather, the majority of those that already existed, especially those owned by indigenous people of West Bengal, have either been struck off through alien ontology or locked off by disgusted entrepreneurs. Rural areas swarm with illiterate, unemployed farmhands while urban and semi-urban areas swarm with educated unemployeds, fifty years after Independence and twenty-five years of quasi-Marxist rule. Several of the authors have been groomed in this postmodern condition. A strange post-Industrial scenario indeed! Time packaged in a coffin!
In premodern Bangla, oral or written narrative was nature’s gift to mankind of this specific geography. The text was not the private property of the writer. In fact, the concept of author itself arrived with Occidental poetics. The premodern writer did not have authority over the text prepared by him. In case of some Mangalkavyas, the writer claimed that a particular god directed him in his dreams. Even as late as 1970, Komol Kumar Majumdar has written almost all his stories after obeisance to his personal deities in the first sentence of his texts, which he ethnicised in an incomparable discourse based on premodern semantic, semiotic and syntactic nuances.
In case of premodern writers, any subsequent writer was free to add his own contribution to anybody else’s texts, or change the entire structure of the earlier narrative. Valmiki’s epic Ramayana has hundreds of versions in various Indian languages. All of them are accepted at all levels of the particular language-society. Nabaneeta Dev Sen in her essay The Hero’s Feet of Clay (2000) has cited women’s re-tellings of the epic, dating from 16 th century to the present day.
Prior to invasion of modernity, there was personal possession in Bangla life/world, and no idea of private property existed. The concept of ownership of text created violence in native philosophy, society and culture. No text had a title in premodern Bangla literature, and the writer was not at all a title-holder author. Title meant seizure and fixity. Title identified the center of power. Titles of narratives arrived with Occidental poetics, and became inseparable from the center of power of the content during Porichoi-Kollol-Notun Reeti span. The title identified the core of the subject matter. Since the title-holder or the author owned the text, the entry and the exit of the text had to be securely closed. Hence the twist of the key in the last para or thereabouts of a story became essential to keep the exit-door of the story carefully clicked shut. The close-endedness of a text was perfected with imperialism’s foray into indigenous unowned cultures.
Political internecine violence may also be interpreted as emergence of a tool to reopen indigenous cultures, be it in West Bengal, Tripura or African countries. Naxal violence in West Bengal, and fragmentation of this school of thought into thirty-six warring camps, had gone beyond political domain. In fact, the efforts of Hungryalist, Shastravirodhi and Neem Sahitya fiction writers to dismantle the single core of the subject matter, were carried further by writers who emerged after the above fragmentation. The gol gappo sndrome became limited to newspaper literature. The postmodern fiction writer employs rubric instead of title, as an external unifier of his narrative thoughts, as a measure of decentering, and for the purpose of highlighting the periphery. With emphasis on the periphery, the focus of the text shifts to micro-territory of characters. However, the micro-territory remains increasingly plagued by neo-colonial ills; economic disorder, social malaise, political scams, criminal as politician, government corruption, influx of famished Bangladeshi Muslim families, repression by state and political party apparatuses, digitalisation of individuals as voters, indifference and apathy of public sector institutions. The progressive time of modernity has evaporated in thick polluted air. Amid this hypochondria, the postmodern texts are forced to probe their own narrative ways out of the disillusion. There are authors who have declared in print that they do not own copyright of their books.
Not having a title and title-holder, the postmodern text has evolved ability to be both of specific micro-territory and yet also peregrinated. In its tension between the micro and the macro, local and non-local, particular and general, between domestic and public environs of characters, there is constant rubrification of identity. The alterity of the text is constructed on the principle of self-difference rather than as a self-identical whole. A postmodern mixture has taken place after the indigenous communes of West Bengal were overrun by influx of displaced persons from East Pakistan, leading to titlelessness of micro-cultures, micro-rituals, micro-customs, etc., and interweaving thereof in pluralistic discourses. A rubric emancipates postmodern Bangla short story from the major colonial anchorage of history. Titlelessness attacks ossification of text as art, and avoids commodification. Since postmodernism is mobile and on the random nomadic move, title of the text is an impossiblity, superimposed and artificial.
From premodern to postmodern Bangla literature has moved quite fast, much faster than Europeans. Language developmen, however, has not been able to keep same pace. The geographical space called Kalikshetra, spanning from Behala in the north to Dakshineshwar in the south, was handed over to Rai Majumdar Lakshmikanta Choudhury for raising revenue from the produce of the area vide a 1608 order of Emperor Nooruddin Muhammed Jehangir. Only people of subaltern castes viz. heley kaivarta, jeley kaivarta, namashudra, mahishya, sadgop, rajvangshi, poundra-kshatriya, etc., lived and toiled in the villages of the area. Not a single upper-caste family lived in Kalikshetra. Lakshmikanta, a Brahmin, built his residence on the outskirts of Behala. Kalikshetra became Calcutta when the descendents of Lakshmikanta, better known as Sabono Choudhury, were forced by the then Nawab of Bengal to transfer intermediacy and revenue rights to the East India Company in 1698. Premodern Kalikshetra became modern Calcutta. The original subaltern inhabitants were driven out, and in came hordes of middle-caste business families to seize upon new business opportunites. And with the transfer of Diwani Rights in Bengal to the Englishmen in 1765 and establishment of Fort Wiliam College in 1800, the entry of upper-caste families to the area became unstoppable. Modern Calcuta became postmodern Kolkata in 2001, as all original inhabitants, both premodern and modern, have been hounded out of the hub of the metropolis.
There are at least six hundred Bangla little magazines throughout West Bengal and Tripura, apart from those in other states of India and in other countries. Though the West Bengal government wants them to be registered, a real little magazine, by its very nature, cannot be registered. Lifespan and number of issues of most of the magazines are negligible, varying between one-issue, one-time affair to irregular issues continuously for forty years. But shelf-life in certain cases are incomprehensible, much more than large number of books published each year. This has led to a little magazine library boom and connoisseurs collecting specific issues. Subrata Rudra and Satya Guha are reported to be using their collections as beds and sofa sets after placing covers on them due to lack of space. None of the governmental institutions, including national and state libraries, Shahitya and Bangla academies or universities have any arrangements or inclination to preserve such a huge micro-cultural production. The job was taken up in 1978 by an individual, Sandip Dutta, who started a Little Magazine Library and Research Center at Tamer Lane, and has filled up his entire family home with innumerable little magazines, being received by him almost every working day.
This phenomenon of little magazine explosion, and the scope for their preservation, has been a major contributory factor in the proliferation of postmodern Bangla short stories. In a way the magazines embody the flux of Bangla reality and relativity, and contest centers of authority and imposed canons in their own sphere. The ethics of the postmodern is that little is better than big. Little magazines are micro-level power formations. Micro forms, because they are so unhindered by rules and contexts, and therefore so open to so many indefinite interconnections, are superior to totalising macro-forms. Until the little magazine phenomenon exploded, Bangla literature was controlled and canonised by a Kolkata-based governing class, despite the tremendous subaltern impact of Hungryalists and anti-canon war cry of Neem Sahitya and Shastravirodhies. Little magazines keep themselves activated as a decentering process. The fringes of urban and semi-urban locales, as well as rural West Bengal, swarm with the culturally dispossessed, and most of the little magazine editors and their contributors come from such social segments.
Six hundred little magazines, ranging from the sixteen-page Sahitya Setu edited by Jagabandhu Kundu to the four-hundred page Bibhab edited by Samarendra Sengupta, fortnightly to annually, edited by innocent teenagers to experienced eighty-year-olds. And two thousand fiction writers. Most the magazines publish both poetry and short stories, and even novels and drama. However, certain magazines exclusively publish short stories and analytical essays relating thereto, such as Tibra Kutha, Golpo Guccha, Ubudas, Anyabhumi, Notun Golpo, Golper Kagoj, Golpo Mela, Anarjo Sahitya, Sahasrabdo, Golpo Sarani, Anya Golpo, Golpo Ekhoni Dibaratrir Kabya, etc.
When the little magazines started appearing one by one, initially they were mouthpieces of particular groups trying to do something new, and members of one group were not allowed entry into another group. There were group rivalries and muck-raking for some time. But these flimsy screen covers broke down quickly as it dawned on the editors that an exclusive serious readership has emerged devoted to little magazine literature, and that little magazines were no more stepping-stones for lucre-sniffing, aspirant authors. They were enabled to accept heterogeneity of Bangla life, and recognize its syncreticity. The little magazine groups realised that for them there was no more space for collectively negotiated and collectively proclaimed rules and canons; no more manifestoes, group actions, brotherhood of ideas, joining forces and closing ranks like in earlier literary movements. Now the world of little magazines itself was called The Little Magazine Movement. Contributors were free to write in any magazine they preferred. Samaras Dasgupta, associated with this new phenomenon, established a Chotto Golpo Academy at Asansol.
In the above perspective, magazines exclusively devoted to the short story became a necessity in order to publish narratives with their foci upon the centrifugal tendencies of current social transformations and their dislocating character; narratives that saw the self as dissolved or dismembered by the fragmenting of experience; narratives that understood current transitions in epistemic terms or as dissolving epistemology altogether; narratives that regarded co-ordinated political engagement as precluded by the primacy of contextuality and dispersal, especially after Naxalite failure and subsequent disillusionment created by a senile Left Establishment; narratives that articulated the powerlessness of the Bangla individual digitalized as a voter; narratives that handled terrors of urban life and totalization of rural life as a result of the nerve-shattering intrusions of abstract systems. Of its own, the short story went beyond modernist confines. The magazines were not bound by any market or had to face such pressures as public demand. They broke free from, and de-created, the prisons of inherited words, dictions, syntax, forms and stories in order to discover fresh realities. They helped cross-fertilizations of the narrative voice by enabling authors to employ contrastive merging of standard language and local dialects. They allowed free play of historicism as a means of destabilizing orthodoxies of micro-level patriarchies. They nursed construction of sentences without the use of verbs, and intermixture of elite diction with subaltern expressions. They gave full freedom to authors to interpolate analepsis and dexis within the story as frequently as the author preferred.
However, the craft was not as easy for the little magazine authors as it appeared to be. It was very difficult for an author to get rid of the fictional reinforcements supplied by the ruins of the colonial academic system lorded over by quasi-Marxist babudom, wherein metaphysical positions from Greek to Cartesian philosophy laid traps at every step. But the little magazines have tried to dismantle the suzerainty of time, the Western phantom framework within which most short story anthologies are confined. Instead, they have re-installed space, as a result of which one gets opportunities to read stories written by authors who do not vagabond around newspaper offices and coffee-house tables at Kolkata, as they reside far away from the metropolis and do not write much. The academic jargon called ‘art’ is relevant only in time and irrelevant in space. Installation of space proves the hollowness of the popularity of oft-repeated names, which in time are marketable brands, uncalled for in little magazine world, where feel good (as in feeling good about a story) is not the measure of analysis of text.
The semiotics of mapping as an actual expression and fulfillment of forms of Kolkata-centric metropolitan domination make the imagined, conceptual and geographical spaces of little magazines very important. The little magazine which could define such a spaceimagined, conceptual and geographicall combined in Ishpater Chithi, published from what is called the Rahr area, covering the mining and industrial belt of Asansol, Durgapur, Kulti, Chittaranjan, etc. Edited by Prithwish Chakraborty, the magazine published 714 ethnico-spatial short stories between 1971-1999 which created possibilities of discursive self-determination at the periphery. The Kolkata-centric system of literary power authorizes certain representations to proliferate, makes every effort to block, prohibit and invalidate the representations of fiction writers of the Rarh area. For example, those associated with Ishpater Chithi, such as Udayan Ghosh, Biman Chattapadhya, Birendranath Shasamal, Moti Mukhopadhya, Prodip Das Sharma, Samaresh Dasgupta, Rabindra Guha, Nanda Choudhury, Manab Chakraborty, Pratim Sarkar, Mrinal Banik, Ashok Tanti, Prafulla Kumar Singha, Parthajit Bhakta, Arunkumar Chattapadhya, and Subrata Mukhopadhya. The Kolkata-centric literature have been constructing a heavily circumscribed system of images and categories of thought for which the non-metropolitan ethnic-spatial discourse not only creates cultural and political threats, but even may be seen as an attack on the vernacular market and customer values.
Kolkata-centric metropolitan language has evolved a metropolitan culture, which has negligible connectedness with micro-level Bangla life. Micro-level dialects, which non-metropolitan authors have interjected into their texts, are replete with cultural meanings. Metropolitan language spawns non-ethnic cultural attitudes. The majority of postmodern fiction writers do not contribute to periodicals which are not little magazines, do not get their books reviewed other than in little magazines. Almost all short story magazines have their own publication wing. The short story collections published by them in limited editions are sold generally at district-level annual book fairs and a few avant-garde outlets like Shilalipi near Kalighat at Kolkata. These outlets function as spaces where micro-level counter-discourses get knitted into a pluralist discourse; spaces which are outside the power belt of metropolitan, centrist, homogenizing episteme. All little magazines are actually the inbetween spaces which carry the burden of the meanings of Bangla culture. Such spaces are momentary and impermanent by nature, but are continuously engaged in re-inventing themselves, a reality of complex web of relationships that cut across gender, religion, caste, class, dialect, geography and generations. A few little magazines even have their own small printing press, such as Mahadiganta. The cultural space of six hundred Bangla little magazines is a vast, borderless region with their own discourses and discursive practices which circulate without definable boundaries.
The increase in the number of little magazines and non-commercial fiction writers have led to a pastiche of the colonial genre of short story. The narrative structure is called anu golpo or micro-story. Since the conclusive twist had been made essential by modernist short story writers and academicians, the anu golpo or micro-story made fun of the colonial genre by articulating only the twist and making the rest of the narrative irrelevant. There is no build-up to the ultimate twist or a linearity ending up in last-minute shock to prove universality of human discourse, the doctrine of eternal truth floated by monocentric, imperialist, totalitarian epistemes. Anu golpo is different from the incident-oriented, brief short stories which fiction writer Bonophul mastered. Anu golpo dismantles the modernist definition of short story. The text disorders the order so that the reader is reminded that experience cannot be accurately reconstructed and reproduced. The speed and scope of the text are extremely rapid and hyperkinetic. It is a text for the very reason that it know itself as text.
De-narrativisation and De-canonisation
…short stories which started appearing exclusively on the pages of little magazines in the aftermath of the three movements (Hungryalist, Shastravirodhies and Neem Sahitya), more and more interjected micro-level dialects spoken in West Bengal, disproving the centrist metropolitan myth of universalism, as they staged discourses to the voices of those constituted as the Other. Their emphasis shifted on articulating the multi-ethnic margins of West Bengal. It was a matter of taking hold of hitherto unnoticed, actual micro-level cultural power, of the language, systems of metaphors and regimes of images that the modernist authors designed to silence in their fictions. The modernists, including Samaresh Basu (1924-1988), who himself rose from non-metropolitan slum and worked as a Communist Party activist among jute mill workers, rested his fictions, even when he strayed into magazinist, consumer-friendly populism, upon the ethico-discursive principle of usurping the signifying and representing functions of the margins, overriding their hybrid, pluralist, multicultural and non-universal reality.
The three literary movements had provided a cultural riposte to the modernist imagination of a unified destiny of mankind, an imagination which expunged particular and local narratives in its drive towards universal rationalization and technological progress. The post-movement fictions went beyond the riposte. The authors were confronted with a reality in which those who talked against the concept of private property had started on a spree of owning nursery schools, nursing homes, buildings, bungalows, cinema halls, cold storages, taxies, buses, trucks, etc.; criminals were selling utopia, peddling status quo; village bosses were stealing electricity; roadside villages were mushrooming with midnight robbers; non-Bangla criminal ghettoes were frighteningly increasing in urban centers; Tagore’s Vishwabharati and Santiniketan were in spiritual ruins; 40 per cent of Kolkata people were living in dirtiest shanty slums; political outfits were redefining ‘slums’, ‘starvation death’, ‘crime’, ‘lockup death’, ‘proletariat’, etc. through lexical maneuvers; helpless, people were resorting to lynching of anti-socials due to connivance of politicians with criminal elements. The final blow came when the eyes donated by the Marxist thinker and an architect of land reform, Binoy Choudhury, were allowed to rot in a flask after removing them at his death.
In the above hyper-real scenario, the text of fictions started getting inextricably entangled in the lives of their characters, in their interpellated matrix of identification, and in the conflation of the multiplicity of the narrator himself/herself. They carefully nurtured a bifocal vision of human experience, resulting into an obsession with the provisional, which has been identified as one of the defining characteristics of postmodern literature. Such narratives emanated from a disruptive temporality of enunciation as opposed to the homogenous serial time, highlighting the tensions between multifariousness and homogeneity.
However, during the post-movement periods, even till the end of 20 th century certain fictions maintained an abstracted stasis that had been nursed by progenies of post-Partition diasporic families who thought that in the bourgeois/proletariat binary, they were on the proletariat side, which logically led to the absurd conclusion that every ethnic middle-class West Bengali was bourgeois, and therefore, the geographic and cultural space should be blamed. Though it has petered out now, there had been a bloom of blame fictions, an instrumental textuality through which the author or the narrator created a non-blamable, sanctimonious position for himself, living within the protection of the fixation. When the reader removed the palimpsest layers of the short story, he/she encountered a situation in which what was absent became as important as what was there; encountered an ambivalent geographical and temporal location; an intersection of narrative, autobiography and immediate history. These short stories transformed the narrative to almost a snapshot of counter-biography or assemblage of broken mirror-memoir. Little magazines which functioned as platforms for such short stories were Dandwashook, Manusher Baccha, Bijnapan Parba, Shobdo Shabdik, etc., and the writers were Robin Ghosh, Sumantra Chattapadhya, Sisir Guha and others.
The most influencing factor for the stunted growth of prose has been Sagarmoy Ghosh, the editor of weekly Desh, who had the knack to identify the growing literary market segments and the upcoming fiction writers who had the potential to write in the language of the consumer. He picked up such authors when young, and blazoned them relentlessly on readers who remain glued only to vernacular newspapers. We do not yet have prose writers comparable to Fyodor Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Burroughs, Salman Rushdie or Gunter Grass.
The articulation of the margins has taken different forms in the fictions of women writers as their struggle is an ongoing process to find a form of self-definition. Theirs is not the obedient reproduction of patriarchal paranoid projections; rather it is simultaneous arguments to focus on the need for careful deconstruction of the very structures of dominant and marginal. Bangla fictions was initiated by Bankimchandra Chattapadhya with the placing of a female at the center of the discourse of Durgeshnandini (1865), which he continued in subsequent novels Kapalakundala, Mrinalini, and Devi Choudhurani. The first Bangla short story Madhumati (1873), written by Bankim’s brother Purnachandra Chattapadhya, also had a female at the center of the discourse. However, with the stranglehold of colonial modernity, the center of Bangla fiction became an irreplaceable Hindu male upper class domain.
Colonial modernity represented an effort to synthesize its progressive and emancipatory ideals into universalizing integrating narrative of the Hindu male individual’s place in history and society, and took it for granted that there existed a Hindu male legitimate center, an ostensibly superior and unchallengeable position from which controls are established and hierarchies determined. The domination of the center expressed itself in fictions as a linguistic subordination of every grammatical person to the upper-caste Hindu male called ‘hero.’ The premodern vision had a duality of two-in-one while placing the female prior to male, such as in Sita-Ram, Radha-Krishna, Laila-Majnu, Savitri-Satyavan, etc. Fiction by women writers had emerged through the family magazine Bharati (1879) edited by Rabindranath Tagore’s elder brother Dijendranath (1840-1926) and subsequently by his sister Swarnakumari Devi (1855-1932).
Swarnakumari Devi’s fictions preceded the all-pervading influence of Rabindranath Tagore and could therefore retain premodern literary values for which modernist academician Srikumar Bandhapadhya claimed that they were full of defects. She was much closer to the values of pre-colonial pregeneric rhymed fictions and hagiographs which used to be organized in an open-endedness inherent in the plurality of the ethnic space and religion, and were obviously considered as messy by the British colonialists. Consequently, post-Tagore fictions were packed in closed structures in tight and neat patterns to give them self-contained, self-sufficient and almost ineffable character. The premodern, pre-colonial texts had the capacity to sustain worlds. The motifs and devices employed in her fictions could not be catalogued by modernist critics to securely identify a genre, as their variations went beyond modernist stylistic regularity.
The first generation of women short story writers, Saratkumari Chaudhurani (1861-1920), Sharaladevi (1872-1945), Madhurilata (1886-1918), Indira Devi (1879-1922), Anurupa Devi (1882-1958) and Nirupama Devi (1883-1951), were groomed in the familial mirror image of European Enlightenment. Right from the very beginning, there had been a difference between language memories of women and men writers. Modernist male authors’ stories, including Shastravirodhi fiction, have been structured as quest narratives detailing the protagonist’s or author’s solitary progress through a maze of obstacles and difficulties, and are eventual triumphant emergence as a linguistically and culturally competent subject. This linear journey became more focused right through Pramatha Choudhury’s (1868-1946) intellectual individuality, Sailajananda Mukhopadhya’s (1901-1976) instinctive individuality, Samaresh Basu’s (1924-1988) internal individuality, to the author of Bonshi Baigar Abhishek Kanai Kundu’s (1935) avant garde individuality. On the contrary, women writers’ stories have had a less linear plot, and their protagonists have been less alone, as was evidenced in the fictions of women writers of subsequent generation such as Shanta Devi (1893-1984), Sita Devi (1895-1974), Shailabala Ghoshjaya (1894-1973) and Prabhavati Devi Saraswati (1905-1972). Generally, the most significant events or turning points of their texts involved the construction of meaningful relationships with others. Intersubjectivity, rather than just subjectivity, has been the cultural preoccupation of women writers. Nevertheless, women writers generally were socialized to metropolitan femininity prior to Mahashweta Devi. Incidentally, I do not find any women writer in the anthology Golpo Shaat Shottor (1987), i.e., Stories from the Sixties and Seventies, edited by Uttam Das. There was no woman poet of fiction writer in the Hungryalist, Shastravirodhi and Neem Sahitya movements.
…Postmodern women fiction writers employ trialectic of space, time and social being. Anuradha Gupta articulates an ecological ethics of alterity while in Jyotsna Karmakar’s stories, space is fundamental to the form of the commune and exercise of its power. Doli Dutta’s stories enter into and echo postmodernist discourse as they, in stages, deconstruct notions of reason, knowledge and subjectivity. Alpana Ghosh interpolates assmeblages through ruptured texts which facilitates proliferation of meanings, resultinginto spread of narrative energy in various trajectories, mainly postcolonial transvaluation of political, economic and social spaces plagued by disillusion. In case of certain women writers such as Shorni Pandey, Tilottoma Majumdar, Yashodhara Raychaudhuri, Rama Karmakar, Arati Kahali Goswami, Jaya Mitra, Jaya Goala, Meenakshi Sen, Madhuri Lodh, Anita Rana, Sudeshna Chakraborty and Neeta Biswas, their discursive practices open up venues of liberation aspirations, simultaneously stimulating their perfomative agenda for activating an altogether different vision. Stories written by them expose and reveal the shortcomings and dominance of mainstream literary values, undermines patriarchal cultural beliefs, and aspires to dismantle the very patriarchal Occidental orthodoxy of the genre. On the flip side, Ahana Biswas and Anita AgnihotriAhana is a Viswa Bharati-educated academic and Anita is a bureaucratexplore tensions and contradictions that are generated when micro-level discourses exploit the dominant structures to expose the secret and unspoken happenings within mainstream forms. As a form it creates opportunities to tell the untold, beyond traditional Bangla womanliness, and at the same time avoid Westerns feminist discourses. As a challenge to the status quo, both social and generic, articulation of the untold and the alternative, affects the dominant orthodoxy, and spawns fresh possibilities of producing new meanings.
…Postmodern short stories by women writers get interwoven in their semantic, semiotic and syntactic aspirations in a fashion that disrupt the decorous hierarchy of colonial literary genres implanted in Bangla literature by modernist upper caste male authors, and insisted upon by modernist critics and academicians, and even by the patriarchs of such para-academic institutions as publishing or broadcasting or journalism. Since the commercial, consumer-friendly magazinist literature, a colonial derivative, continue to be dominated by lucre-driven male editors, women writers have to continuously face the trap of modernist male derivativeness, a violence that a centrist, universalizing, hegemonist, patriarchal episteme does to its victims. There would be tremendous pressure on women writers to write like certain popular male fiction writers. Nevertheless, with substantial increase of women writers in the younger generation, one may assume that such pressures would be limited only to a few women who try to keep the patriarchs in good humour. Some of the branded feminist authors are in fact sponsored by literary patriarchs.
Compared to postmodern fiction by young women writers, such fictions by young men adopt strategies of portraying present Bangla nightmare that are curt and ruthless because of the anarchism they are forced to carry in a politically directionless scenario. Women writers explore social evils as manifestations of socio-cultural contradictions, and such explorations are more explicit in the fictions of Barak Valley, Tripura and West Bengal’s nonmetropolitan authors. However, almost all authors of the newer generation adopt complex interpretative strategies by rejecting the parameters of modernist definitions of short story, excepting for the magazinist writers, of course, who resort to the language of the consumer. Their postmodern texts are not all engaged in documentation, or in what avant-garde writers used to call ‘creative writing’, or what the diasporic leftists called chronicles of social reality.
Disentitlement and Metastasis: Muslim Writers
Postmodern texts of Bangla Muslim authors of West Bengal, Tripura and Barak Valley of Assam demand a very close reading and re-reading., as the articulations record opaque ecstasies and secret anguishes transformed into narrative power, while forces and fluxes of writer’s pre-colonial Islamic palimpsest memory are projected into the experiences of an apparently secular present. The texts may conceal tortured convergence of several tangential, parallel and divergent elements. The authors share the vulnerability of the Other. Here they are poles apart from Bangladeshi authors. The Hindu authors in Bangladesh are the Other.
…Bangla Muslim fiction writers were conspicuous by their absence for almost two decades after Independence, as the metropolitan creamy layer of the community departed for East Pakistan. The potential authors and the readers simply vanished. Emergence of an educated middle-class took some time. Even the Notun Reeti fiction manifesto that came up in 1958 to accommodate the first post-Partition generation of fiction writers failed to have space for a Muslim author. There was no Muslim participant in the Hungryalist, Shastravirodhi and Neem Sahitya movements. Syed Mustafa Siraj emerged subsequently, possibly because he was a Syed, who had to securely place himself within centralist metropolitan canon, to be accepted. In view of the universalized discourse, Siraj may not be stationed at the periphery as the Other, in the center-margin cartography.
Bangla Muslim fiction writers emerged during and after the Naxal upheavals who began to question universal principles of truth, as the Bangla polity was shaken from bottom to top, creating a level playing field for Muslim authors, to enable them to articulate their newly acquired confidence. However, no Muslim author has been included in Naxal Andoloner Golpo (1999) anthologized by Bijit Ghosh. Authors who subsequently appeared such as Badaruzzaman Choudhury, Joynal Abedin in Barak Valley, and Abdul Jabbar, Afsar Ahmen, Ansaruddin, Sohrab Hossain, Niharul Islam, Ebadul Haque, Helen Noor-e-Azad, Kamal Hossain, Murshid A. M. and others in West Bengal, developed and articulated a sense of cultural and subcultural imagination, opened up micro-cultural native forms to celebrate texts of indigenous heterogeneity and Muslim oral traditions. Another reason for their emergenceand reason for subsequent intra-community rural discordwas power restructuring due to land reforms. The largest segment of the community is engaged in agriculture. Author Murshid A. M. is actually Murshed Ali Mondol. During the post-Naxal period, the community started exuviating vocational surnames such as Mondol, Gharami, Laskar, Majhi, Kathami, Sardar, Mahajan, etc., to get rid of subaltern semiotic taint. Since Independence, these authors have a tendency to abbreviate their names, which may be explained in socio-cultural terms as postmodern paroxysms of self-mutilation, as have been done by A. Mannaf, S.M. Nijamuddin, M. Nasiruddin Khan, M. Abdullah Mollah, and others.
…The (Muslim) author faces a double-edged challenge. The readership comprise a Hindu majority which has very little knowledge of the multiple layers of micro-cultures of urban and rural Bangla Muslims. The critics and academics are Hindu, mostly upper caste, who generally do not have much knowledge either. If a Muslim hero is constructed at the center of the discourse, it may create a cartographic violence unless the margin is also fictionalized as Muslim. Eternal truth evaporates into thin air if a Hindu boy falls in love with a Muslim girl, even in fictions. If the author aspires to enter the centrist metropolitan consumer-friendly literature, he is doomed to create make-believe culture and characters for a majority-dominated book market. In the same manner that upper-caste Hindu writers mimicked, copied, borrowed, repeated, imitated and aped English authors and their canons during colonial rule, the Muslim author is forced to follow popular Hindu writers of the day. If he does not, he is doomed to be permanently marginalized, neglected and debarred from literary history. From the days of Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847-1912) and his periodical Ajijan Nehar through other magazines like Moslem Bharat,
Mohammadi to Ataur Rahman’s (1919-1997) Chaturanga, the entire oeuvre of Muslim fiction writers is completely absent in linear mapping of Bangla short stories by Sisir Kumar Das, Narendranath Chakrabarty, Upendranath Gangapadhya, Bhudeb Choudhury and Narayan Gangapadhya. The problem with these linearity-driven literary historians have been that they have confined themselves to dissection of the plot. In the short stories written by Muslim authors, the plots would have proved culturally uncharted and inaccessible. And for Muslim authors the complex cultural framing of the stories is vital to their meaning.
With the increase in the number of Muslim writers a well as the magazines to sustain them, the covert and overt local narratives of the periphery have started challenging and undermining the exclusive and universalizing pressures of the dominant discourses and discursive practices. Magazines such as Abar Eshechi Phiray edited by Ebadul Haque is published from rural rice-bowl of Bhagwangola; Digbaloy is edited by Kamaluddin Ahmed from Karimganj in Assam. It is obvious that is such a vast panorama the text of young Muslim authors becomes the site of struggles between conflicting discourses, a site where personal and communal trauma intersect, creating scope for alternative readings. The panorama is also replete with non-metropolitan Bangla discursive unconscious, a repressed sense which had been internalized from the hegemonic discourses. But the cultural spaces do not provide homogeneity to authors stationed in West Bengal, Tripura and Barak Valley. Postmodern canonless-ness for them functions as the external unifier.