Laughter and Subjectivity: The Self-Ironical Tradition in Bengali Literature Author(s): Sudipta Kaviraj Reviewed work(s): Source

: Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2 (May, 2000), pp. 379-406 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/04/2012 02:00
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AsianStudies 2 (2000), pp. 379-406. ? 200ooo Modern Press 34, CambridgeUniversity

in Printed theUnited Kingdom

and Subjectivity: Self-Ironical The Laughter in Tradition BengaliLiterature
SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ an By the grace of the Almighty extraordinary species of sentientlife has been foundon earthin the nineteenth century: theyare knownas modern carefulanalysiszoologicalexpertshave foundthatthisspeBengalis.After cies displaysthe externalbodilyfeaturesof homo sapiens. They have five on fingers theirhands and feet; theyhave no tails; and theirbones and cranialstructures indeed similarto the humanspecies.Howeveras yet are thereis no comparableunanimity about theirinnernature.Some believe thatin theirinnernaturetoo theyare similarto humans;othersthink that are onlyexternally are human;in theirinnernaturethey in factbeasts. they Whichside do we supportin this controversy? believe in the theory We of whichassertsthe bestiality Bengalis.We learntthistheory from English to savants, newspapers. According some redbearded just as the creatorhad taken atoms of beauty fromall beautifulthingsto make Tilottama, in the from animalshe has all exactly same way,bytakingatomsofbestiality created the extraordinary characterof the modernBengali. Slynessfrom thefox, and from dog,cowardliness the from sycophancy supplication sheep, imitativeness fromthe ape and volubility fromthe ass-by a combination of these qualities He has made the modernBengali rise in the firmament of history: presencewhichilluminatesthe horizon,the centreof all of a India's hopes and futureprospects, and the great favourite the savant of Max Mueller.' To be tormented without a clear definitionof the self is a distinctly modern affliction. Apparently,human beings lived moderately contented lives for long periods in historywith what must appear to us moderns rather perfunctory images of what they were. Presumably, did not feel such urgent need to formthemselves into something they they had imagined throughreflection,and did not feel anchorless in their existence because they lacked such pretensions. What happens in modern historythat makes a picture of the 'self' such an essential part of social and individual being? Do all men living in modernity feel this need? or only those who are not only accidental inhabitants of modernitybut also ideologically modern? Do all those who enter a late modernity already soiled by its historical pioneers, become
anavali(SahityaSamsad, Calcutta, 1968) (hereafter, BR), ii, 2oo-1. 10 0026-749X/00oo/$7.50+$.

' Bankimchandra Vividha Bankim 'Anukaran', Chattopadhyay, Prabandha, Rach-


Delhi. Giddens.Modernity SelfAnthony Identity (Polity.thewaypeoplearewhatthey is are.1992).must be seen as being central to the history modernity.). analysisof the connectionbetween modernity Charles Taylor.Cambridge.retain sense of the intentions controlover the acts whichconstitute them. The historical of modernity involve introduction a sense ofchoice. Modem Postmodern Consciousness Press.Sources theSelf (CambridgeUniversity Press. transparent thatin moderntimeshumanbeings. in bothits senses. in thathumanbeingsliving moderntimes Thoughit is quite evident achieve nothingresemblingsuch transparency. of and in a different.the consequencesobey the purposes. the idea of selfis consciousness obviously centralto the projectof modernity. Jan NederveenPieterse (ed. form. of on Modernity imposes the necessityof historicalself-reflection its and transformations.4 2 For illuminating and identity. have a clear whichgo into the makingof events.Indifor ans.or (ii) the crystallization an idea of of a selfwhichdid not exist earlier. example. or theychoose to be whattheywere neverbefore. thisimperatpeople undergoing unfamiliar ive of self-reflection unavoidablebecause what undergoestransis formation theself. moresociological and direction. 1995). Bengalis in a newway. actors can analyse the difference and bringthe courseof eventsundercontrolat a subsequentstage.2lyrical an of A formof this idea would look upon the whole of history the rise as and making his historicalexistence of man to self-consciousness The claim appears exaggeratedif transparto himself.Hindus. Cambridge. ' I have dealt withsome as in marxist aspectsof thisproblem.make what theyare have newconsequences.People can chooseto be whattheyare.bothas encyis meantto imply individuals and collectivities. it affects thinking 'Marxismand the Darknessof History'. Emancipain tions: and (Sage.380 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ selves in the same wayand to the same extentas theirenlightened European predecessors?Or do subtle deflectionsoccur in this of assumption selfhood? It is a commonclaim that modernity and imposeson individuals communities historicalrequirement self-reflection. the of processes in twoways. London.1992).(i) as a gradualreflexive of clarification thenature of the self that alreadyexists.3 Thus in a moremodestand historical the idea of self-consciousness.1992). (OxfordUniversity 4 In myUnhappy .Muslims.and if theydo not. I have argued in myworkon Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay thatdifferent societiesarrangethisprocessof self-reflection varyin In the West the primary formof this kindof historical ing forms. understand what theydo.

Patra. on unconcludednessand. enormousand unendingmysteries could be explored throughthe noveland lyrical I psychological poetry.6 discovered. of University Calcutta.Department of History. always alwaysunfinished.The literand at undernegotiation. ary search forthe self turnsout to be a dual process.5 was texts that Bengalis came to formhistoricalideas through literary colonial processes.whatwas lacking erary in it.Many of his celebratednovels of and storiesdo of courseexplorethe natureof the individual selfand the mysteries of self-consciousness: Gora.and a morecollectiveidentity sharedby all. whichvariousschoolstooksignificant a and explainedwhat phases of history through kindof slow replay. if of course such an instance of cultural perfection the as modern Bengali could be said to lack anythingat all.In India. 28-30 March 1994. made it inevitable that the search for the collectiveself would occur first.Jogajog. I have triedto analyse the shaping of this language in Tagore in 'The Poetryof Interiority'. thenput together a collective. had to wait till the maturer worksof Rabindranath Tagore. It on came primarily reflection modernity through literature. 1986).and become even moreperfect self is thus a deeplyhistorical construct. formed unformed thesame time. newsensibility whichtaughtthemto value autonomy. Baire. Partha Chatterjee. the individualselves are plausibly notfirst in and social self. unboundability his personalself. also a universe. to contrary individualist theoriesof society. they thoughthad happened throughthese happenings. is It somewhatlater. (OxfordUniversity to 6 There is clear evidenceof a search fora collective self.7 wishto suggestthatin this historicalconstruction the Bengali self. sensibility is and its despite his apparent inconsequentiality.with the comingof Tagore's introspective literary that theydiscoverthat the inner life of the individual.The Bengali lacked.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 381 in was reflection social theory. and his late poetryis full of reflection the ambiguity. .Bengalis. Literary humourin particulardiscussed how theycould acquire what they than theywere.whichwouldqualify be called by the English word 'nation' in the worksof Bankimchandra Chattobut the fashioning a language forthe interiority the individual of of self padhyay. Ghare Strir eg.seekingthe selfat two levels: the individual self. a traditionof literary of see 5 For excellent discussionon the historicalcourse of such self reflection.Curiously.and about what had happened to them through by imaginedtheircollective selves-throughvarioussuggestions litwriters about whatwas centralto theirself. is thus not surprising that Tagore returnedrepeatedlyto writepoems on 7 It 'Ami' (I/Me). at least all educated.Delhi. paper for on in conference Identity SouthAsian History.Nationalist and A Discourse? Thought theColonialWorld: Derivative Press. endowedwitha Probablythe pressuresof livingundercolonialism.

folkand the peculiarly derisive wit that the fragile of colonial Calcutta gave rise to: the prosperity humour a peoplewhowerethemselves of somewhat bemusedat their ownhistorical a about the rapidity with fortune.classical. it had the function disputing of sombrely and philosophic abstractions withmissionaries Hindu and theological and conservatives.highly formalBengali language was slowly extendedtowardsliterary texts.Its extensionwas deeplyparadoxical: it was difficult make out ifit was trying differentiate to to itself from Sanskrit mergeback intoits enormous or grandeur. this corrosivebanter writing. In Vidyasagar.382 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ self-irony played an irreplaceablepart.viswhichpeople soughtto reconstruct ible.spectacularactionsthrough theirpolitical world. ModernBengali literature not startlaughingly. g99o.8For this ironyprovideda of centreto twotypes significant historical processes-the large. Literary came from severalsources. in oftensomewhatsmutty songs. denoting middle-class .least of all at itself. the theirassociationwithBritishrule. Roy (1772/4-1833) and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1820--91) was chapter 2. subtleanxiety good whichtheywere elevated.the almostinvisible readjustments of behaviourin the everyday-theinescapable worldof etiquette. civility.'This produceda genre positions evidently oflocal townhumour whichconsistednot onlyin lowerclasses satirbut his izingthemorefortunate. fillup mostof individual and social lives.Special Numberon Representations. thoseunspectacular eventswhichnevertheless conversation. had littleoccasion to laugh.and equally.appeared in popularsongs. Vidyasagar had littleliterary imagination. Laughter before Bankim's Kamalakanta humour Ironywas by no means new in Bengali literature. to of undeserved eminence. and in Unhappy Consciousness. 10 A term the educated elite of colonialBengal. 9 Apart fromliterary of against the pretensions the babu. Journal Arts of andIdeas. and probablybefore that. a political and culturalcreatureof colonial rule. onlyan urge to devise a language of 8 I have stated this argumentmore fully in 'Signs of madness'.Colonial forself-advancement created inexplicablecases of rise opportunity to fortune whichattracted acerbiccomment. a trendluxuriating witty.In Ram Mohan. did The language drawnout of the integuments Sanskrit Ram Mohan of awkwardly by serious. also thebabu'0 bantering ownbreed.

LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 383 great art forBengali culture.'2 as Bankim observedin a of discussion about Pyarichand his narratives were irremediably Mitra. Kavya(1861) is an excellentexampleofhow '5 MadhusudanDutta's Meghnadbadh writerscould exploit the possibilities of creatively opened up by the conjunction " . criticism.but that well-known well-loved classical tales could be retoldin it withoutdilutingthe His highserioustoneof the originals.the textbook a He neverinvented story he devisedforBengali children.his poeticimathe of ginationhad the daring to inverttheirmessages. indeed.Buro Ron (186o) and Ekei ki Bale Sabhyata Shaliker Ghare (186o) making funofthefunloving parasitesofcolonialCalcuttaand asking. despite theflimsiness the storyline thesecondplay. from derivative. attempt His was to showthat not because wonderful could be a high literary Bengali language. sensibility the leftist Bhrantivilas Vidyasagar. bothconcerned withBengali babus.It had undoubted connections with earlier strandsof humorousliterature. 14 A good exampleof thisidea of exaltedcanonsis the topicofBankimchandra's famousessayin literary Miranada evam Desdemona'. 'Shakuntala. worththe name. For althoughhis narrativeswere still takenfrom highclassicaltradition the Hindus.BR. ii."whichassumed essentially that to be was goodat Bengalione mustbe goodat Sanskrit.This resultedin an ironicoriginality. Shakuntalaand his Sita thereforewere somewhatmore sombreand mournful than the original heroinesof the Sanskrittexts.a largeand inescapof in able historical question. 12 Ishwarchandra (1869). '~ 'Bangala SahityePyarichand Mitra'.partlyno doubt from texts.It would be uncharitable suggest to that Vidyasagardid not appreciate the rasa of humour:he did an But adaptation of the Comedy Errors.BR.For the titleof the play raised the central ofcolonialculture:is thiswhatshouldbe called civilization? problem Bankim created a different kind of laughter.'4Literary imagination husudan Dutta (1824-73). 862-3. and storiescould be dreamed in its medium. which artistically imaginative was based on an entirely different and pedagogictheory.'3 Storiesalwayscame the two hightraditions early intellectuals eitherfrom Bengali literary regardedwithadmiration: fromKalidas and high Sanskritor fromhigh English. a massiveexample of a dramatically limitedimagination. 204-9. ii. of though late thishas offended anachronistic the of culturalcommissars. but with for withthe Varnaparichay (Vidyasagar's primer children)contrasts particularly in treatment Tagore's Sahaj Path (Tagore's primer. emphasizedthe factthat children mustlearn to read the worldbothliterally and artistically).preferably came to be unchainedin MadShakespeare.'"Madhusudan through inspiration Englishhightradition also wrotetwoshortfarces.

and the tragictaste of reality. determination.In KaliprasannaSinha's case thephrase'I have not forgotten includemyself these sketches'goes beyondthe to in He did not realize yet the gravity." The economic. g99o). insignificance thisbanter an in when comparedwiththe ironyof Bankim'sKamalakanta.Sinha is speakingof an insignificant the turning whileincludedin the collective individual. personalself. of of and I havenotuseda single idea thatis fanciful untrue my in sketches. .notaimed anyone.Hutom Naksha. of social. partly describedit as a processof attainingautonomy and selfjustifiably. through inverting interpretation 16 Penchar introduction. Tapan Reconsidered Press. bantertowards a typical Penchar iety mixture acknowledgement responsibility renunciation.and politicalachievements the modernperiod were primarily the effects that miraculous of these two high canons. Delhi. a such thatit is misleading to see him as a humorist who continuedany single one of these traditions. of upon the benefits Historicalreflection modernity not an easy intellectual on was pastimeforwriters his time. enlarged 1885).Bankim'sgeneration of was brought on up a narrative European modernity of which. suggest I thatthisarisesfortwodifferent reasons. is or It truethatsomepeoplemight in discover themselves its pages. ence is thatalthough problematizing the selfis lightheartedly the of mentionedin Sinha's agenda. Sinha.partlymythically.Bankim'sirony informed is of by a muchdeeper and intricate understanding the publicfateof his people. Kaliprasanna Sinha had produceda forceful ironicalportrait Calcutta socof in his Hutom Naksha(1862) whichdeclared. but is read an whichowed muchto Paradise Lost. " Kaliprasanna For an interesting discussionon Bankimchandra's view of the West. to beyond acerbicsocial banter. Beforehis Kamalakanta (1875.Partha Raychaudhuri. thatI can sayis thatI have is the Kamalakanta similarto thesewritings: majordifferApparently. a darkly ironic sense of historyachieved through reflection and impositions westernmodernity.butI need All add hardly thattheseare notthemselves.16 myself these SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ 384 each ofthemit instituted subtlerupture. The narrativeis taken fromthe Ramayana. Europe (OxfordUniversity a and ChatterjeeanalysesBankimfrom different angle.Yet thereis an insubstantiality. observed (myemphasis)Indeed.which.And the tone of the entirepiece is too frivolous raise seriousdiscussion. mustretaina certaindistinctiveness from themforhis utteranceto become philosophically formally and possible.Nationalist Thought theColonial World.I did not forget at but all. portraitofthe Calcuttababu. it remainsunrealized. to include in sketches.

cona summatemastery traditional of and a decided alankaric20 aesthetics. In all of them Tagore the centralfigure of course the babu. Those who could make simplerand less tragic self-ironical laughter.radically self-righteous. the winning or but and losing of municipaland state elections. an can be termeda literary stylistic or 20 Most generally.Its greattragedies wereno longerrelated to subtleironiesof self-construction experience. spluttering ineffectually theworks occasionalimitators in later generations. the educated middleclass is Bengali. Bankimchandra's Kamalakanta Bankimchandra showedin the formalaspects of his writing. whichwas to dominateBengali intellectualism nearlyhalfa cenfor and encourageit towards enormous moralsimplifications. the creator of its most .the image of intellectual perfection. of The choicesdid not need thisform self-understanding. becomBy ing entirely serious. '8 For example Gandhi. reflection Bengali literary slowlylost its taste forthe ineradicable of contradictoriness being. Afterhis time. alankara embellishment. H.I shall discuss simply three momentsof this tradition. and '9 markedby both technicalsimilarity utterphilosophic and is difference.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 385 This made the offer modernity of implicitin philosophic principle.disit tury certainties leftist of appearedintothe untroubled politics.'8 soundof this laughtercould be heard fromBankim through Tagore's early worksdown to the most enigmaticproductof the Bengali literary admirednonsenseverse. enlightenment.folstarting briefly lowed by twoversesfrom and SukumarRay. with Bankim. eitherautonomy without or revealeda tragicdichotomy: modernity It withthe acceptanceof subjection.'9 But afterthe arrivalof a leftistsensibility. withoutcontradiction whichhad recourseto a simply. one-dimensional. but altogether poetry SunirmalBasu. Reflection colonial modernity on their history deeply paradoxical. this formof self-ironical writing gradually in of declines. the enjoyless beguiling of able.a poetry whichdid notmake sense in single hissentencesor versesbut capturedsome of the mostfundamental toricalmeaningsof middleclass Bengali mentality when seen as a whole. A good example of poetrywhich is closely imitativeof Sukumar Ray. was that sectionof modernity the Bengali intelligentsiawhich could not answer this question and regret.Sukumar Ray (1887-1923). But the termalso generally means a combination rhetoric of and poetics.

vulgarity its made it unfit the new for techniquemight reading public. not and and althoughGupta's undoubtedmasteryof merelyto entertain.To be sure. strongly nineteenth the literary culturehad changedfundamentally. 22 In his Annadamangal.BR.unfit for poetry and particularly forinclusion intothe publicconsumption. whose work. welljudged criticism Ishwarchadra of 23 For an excellently Gupta's poeticworks. 835-60o. the eighteenth-century chose to in use vyajastuti displaytechnicalvirtuosity versifying. be diverting. was increasingly but to prurient unwilling admitthis as inVictorian thistastewas suppliedbya flourishing taste. ii. o under the Banyan tree. this formwas revivedwith great tion. salacious publications.a traditional objectofsuchironicaldevoIn time. writing Bengali Bharatchandra poet.widelyconfurtively demnedbut surprisingly consumed. however. England. which incidentallyincluded the newly-educated women. ature was meant to induce cultivation and enlightenment. This. explicitly nindakemane barnibel nindachchale kari stuti by the poet by the lines: BharatShiver Shankar bujhibe-Howcan Bharatwriteabuse of Shiva?I shall praise in the disguise of abuse: Shankarawill understand. But Bharatchandra'sobjectsof humour were solidly one formal sometimes resembledBharatchandra's. of underworld battala24 literature. . ineligible canons ofliterary of Litersensibility the newBengali intelligentsia.or praise-abuse. niques and mixed with these undoubtedly classical resourcesa taste for foundin vulgarliterature. the babu still retaineda great interestin the and thevulgar.386 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ or for of praise. His was increasingly condemnedas trivialand obscene. ofhis most famouspoemswas to Shiva. bodilyhumourcommonly recepLiterary tion of Gupta's poetryshowed the enormouschange in taste. circulated. preference the alankara vyajastuti21 counterfeit does not make his art traditionalin the ordinary sense.23 by the But terms. show that the metricand semanticcomplexity Sanskritrhymes could be emulated in Bengali verse. combination form of and content: used traditional he alankarictechto describewithderisionthe mannersof the Calcutta babu. (c1712-176o). century and this was reflected the controversial in receptionof Gupta's in babu literary Ishwar Gupta attempteda daring poetry society. Sati's denouncesShivain thepresenceofhis guests. but standingfor a genre of disreputable. see Bankim's'IshwarGupterJivancharit Kavitva'. more to and to of significantly. 24 Literally. widely is form an alankara of whichconsistsin wordplay produ21 Vyajastuti the technical cingcounterfeit praise.22 Bankimchandra's success by the poet Ishwarchandra Gupta.This partis prefaced father. thereare some famousstanzas in whichDaksha. humorous had long used vyajastuti withgreat skill.

The legitimateobjects of laughterin traditional were folliesof individuals.28 the more complex and mature pleasures of self-criticism. of Kamalakanter Daptar(1875) was enlargedin 1885 as Kamalakanta. than what is commonly A done. or courtship On the other least in this form. pp. Ramaswamy Shastri( produceda prudishly saintlyhigh whichmade itsreaderssuspectifBengali heroines were literary style withpowersofimmaculateconception. It was a markof frivolity. I have discussedthe function thisdouble irony The Unhappy of in Consciousness.because it is onlythe modernsensibility distinctly whichknowshow to troubleabout the self.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 387 The reception IshwarGupta was nota matter literary of of success of an individual. ed. irony fallenon bad indicatedan historictransformation literary of canons and taste. had learnt a It irony. anycase. 25 26 27 28 cha. Natyashastra. of a much subtlerkind. in he for Characteristicially. turnedmatters and of gifted and love intoexchangeof philosophical aestheticideas. the one hand.or double return. of serious unworthy let aesthetic. a converthe of has sationwithhiswifeon the pleasuresoffered theBengalilanguage. it returns transformed. Baroda. alone a vehicleof serioussocial reflection.was oftenassociatedwiththe erotic. The best example of thisis of course the poetry Kalidasa. expressescontempt seriousBengalifiction. in termsof the Natyashastra. ch. newreflexivity. 2. returned from exertions his office. 312-17. asking what the selfis. quite an unrestrained of traffic pettyvulgarity wenton profitably a subliterature obscene tales. 1956). Bankimcomin of menteddirectly the pretentious on of dishonesty thisdividebetween the publicand privateenjoyment one ofhis humorous in sketchesin whicha babu. but finds In had vulgarstoriesenormously diverting.25 certainformof hasa. The arrivalof a Victorianaestheticput an end to this complex aestheticof presentation the erotic.26 The Indian literary tradition had alwaysgivena centralplace to the of the erotic. object or or aesthetics any act that could be called. other viparita.the transience of the pleasuresof the fleshand the forgivable folliessurrounding it. With Bankim'sKamalakanta (1885)27 ironymakes a triumphant but as about the self.But the publicappearance and enjoyment materiality of eroticism of imposedrequirements obliquenessin the presentationof sexuality. idiosyncrasies. . irony It had achieveda newsubject. VI. a modernanguish. S.It bifurcated of into twowholly different of conventions literary production literary On composition. K. what are its historical and aestheticpossibilities.

Ironyhad achieved a new dignity.indeed an objectbeyond whichnothing couldbe moreseriousto themodern consciousness. irony came in Bankimto have a seriousobject. And the babu is nota new themebrought fora displayof thisnew in humorous in form theKamalakanta texts.But prose could offer ures whichverse. is undeniably part of thisgroup.all implicatedwiththe historical entirely world. out He is thusthe constant in humour.388 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ makesa transition fromthe highly mannered irony Purelyformally. of He a relationship contradiction. and in the writing.From a vehicleof frivolous enjoyment insignificant objects in the world.did not have a name forthisnew laughter.he is Bankim'sfirst love. the yet he could notaccept he was. the moreelusiveexperiment escapingfrom babu selfbyand through act ofwriting the Bankimis trying teach itself.It is hardlysurprising thatthe of elaboratetaxonomies traditional hasa.fromthe vehicle of unserious mirth(upahasa. Most significantamong these new enjoymentswas the attitude of reflection of prose expressed. and the civilization colonial India whichformedthe theatrein of whichthisdarkly comicspectacleof the search forthe selfunfolds. The obsessiveobject of the Kamalakanta text is the babu:: he is what is being written and he is also the self who does the about. exploitation of the infinite resourcesof punningand shlesha29 thingslike the tapsefishor on babus whoforaltogether reasonsincurred hostility the of contingent Iswar Gupta.Bankim verbalplayfulness associatedmainly Earlier. metric of and restrictive forms verseto the freeseriousness prose.fromthe vicious to the gentle to the forgiving.the collectiveof whichthe selfis a part. Two of his earliestpieces discovered this abidingobject of his the collectiveself with whichBankim has such a fertile sarcasm. atihasa)it had nowturnedintoa vehicleof something so seriousas to be nearlyunsayable. that comes closest to ironyin the classical Sanskrit 29 Shleshais an alankara repertoire. leadingto his founding tradition of Bengali self-irony. of was withverse.These are the self.indeed. it now reflected threeobjects not distinct fromeach other. all objectof Bankim'ssparkling its varying moods.of even the greatNatyashastra.could not. demonstrated that manyof the delectationsof verse writing could be capturedin imaginative otherpleasprose. to the Bengali educated personhow to writehimself of babuness. .at least of the traditionalsort. Instead of trivialthingsin a worldwhichis not fixed in a historically on seriousgaze.

a self-descriptionof an ascending or intensifying servility. eat withknife and fork. 'translated from the Mahabharata'. To be a stotra. indirectlyon the Englishman the object of thecorrect rendering of the meaningof the sentencewouldbe 'to winyourheartbydeception']. however. I donate to charitiesbecause you may call me an altruist. Stotras also exhibit an usually circular.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 389 The early Ingrajstotra30 (Hymn to the Englishman) with the helpful subtitle. Incomparability of the deity to whom the stotra is offered is conveyed by the mannerisms of descriptive excess.He was to reshape this fundamental form of invocation in the Hindu tradition to startlinglynovel immediately applies Bankim's favourite ironic means.just as a successful cartoonof ist would generate laughter by exaggerating the credible features of a face. I O one who can divinewhat is goingon insideour minds!whatever do is meant to win once establishes both the form and the content of this humour.for to yourapplause I shall set up schools:according yourdemandsI shall give I subscriptions. the alankara of deceiveyou. spectacleson mynose.. shall do whateveryou considerproper. after each cycle of excessive praise. In Bankim's early travesties of the stotra style there is a certain deliberate debasing of this formwhich can come only froma shrewdfamiliarity its formalprecepts. but also subtly on the doctrine of excess of the stotra form. The stotra (a rhymed incantation) formwould undergo unending experiments at Bankim's hands. running the whole gamut of sentiments from the ridiculous to the sentimentally uplifting.. Stylistically.I shall wear boots and trousers. If you so wish (or because you wish it) I shall establishdispensaries. the reciter whose discourse it encapsulates. [Thoughthe Bengali verbbhulaibarjanya more is and double-edged can mean equally. and its content is a double description: of the Englishman.a composition must conformto some purely formal properties of style.. the object. studyso that I you maycall me learned.coming back. Please keep me in yourfavour. dine at a put table. Early parodies like the Ingrajstotra are therefore pieces of convex satire which pour sarcasm directlyon the babu. . repetitive movement. but in terms which throw more light on the character of the subject. ii. g-Io. to the signature phrase describing the essential attributes of the object of worship. 30 BR.

make I properly until havepartaken someforbidden to for it a point takechicken snacks. ofcompetitive or but public servility.inviteme at least to yourat homesand dinners. the first thereis a caricatureof both the collaborating babu and level. the babu's In and rationalismis shownforwhat it is. I not of me. 3 Bankim wrote immortal an satireon thisprocess theriseofa Bengali of to .Englishman.whichmakesthebabu's supplicatory abasementits entirely propercomplement.and the essential pointis to be so named by the rightauthority. in fact. encourage then. raja.Only in appearanceis colonial societya realmwherecareer is open to talent. things-accept modernity. ii. me or nominate to a high committee thesenate. He is adoptionof reform a rationalist of opportunism.3' all this.He would do all the right break tradition. me fulfil mydesires. High honourin colonialBengal is hardly recognition desert.maharaja.390 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ I shall renounce mother to my tongue speakyourlanguage. If youcannotgrantthese. BR. a member theCouncil. to I havegiven mealsofrice.makeme a justiceor an of Please takenotice myspeeches. Two typesof acts mentally eminencein the colonialworldin hisMuchiram (188o). for service ability. honorary magistrate. all me honour. Colonialismendowstheordinary official withmystical British powers of nomination: can name anything he into existence. can he The Englishman giveanything likesliterally encourage to anyone:it is the arbitrariness his conferments is emphasthat of self ized. Pleasegrant wealth. At Clearly. Bankim to the pregoes straight the heart of the matter.thereare two levels of meaningin this false hymn. or of a raybahadur.cuttingthrough tences. read myessays. pleased be with me. pleasekeep O me at yourfeet. The Englishcan rename all social and moral descriptions. religion adopttheBrahmo Mr as a prefix myname. Appoint to highoffice. Characteristically. adopt altruism-always forthewrong reason-not because he can showor believethatthese are the right courseof actionbut because the British considerthem The babu's adoptionof westernrationalism fundais praiseworthy. markedand taintedby thisheteronomy.and takenup eating bread:I do notfeel up fed I of meat[beef]. the Britishwho conferhonourson him. 1 13GuderJibancharit. therefore. 28. would takeheedofthedenunciation theentire Hindusociety. abjuremy and instead writing of ancestral babuuse faith. fame. entirely out and unclear about how a rationalist argumentis to be grounded.colonial administration does nothingto merit.

LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 391 can be behaviourally indistinguishable: but whether it is an act of altruism or servilitycan be decided only by looking into its rational grounding.An approximate idea of Vaishampayana's characterization can be found from some of the passages. though translation would miss the insistence of the series of adjectives in Bankim's writing: Babus are invincible speech.and the king. Its significance lies more in the fact that it sets a pattern. Not in vain were the author and reciter of the epic called sarvadarshi. 10-12. It is the unapparent. and compared to his more mature irony this is somewhat unrefined.and steal questionpapers to do well at examinations. Vaishampayana. using and travestyingit at the same time. earn in orderto save. studyin orderto earn.until true motives are revealed. This is followed by a piece of such sustained satirical excellence. indeed. BR. all-seeing.turning its claim to all-seeingness. Even seemingly highminded action must be probed by this sarcastic mistrust.The upside down.32 Like the hymn.thewordbabu wouldbe many-splendoured in its meaning:thosewhowouldrule India in thekali age and be knownas wouldunderstand thatterma common clerkor superintendEnglishmen by ent of provisions. this too is purportedly taken from Mahabharata. with a great curiosity about the historical future. This was an early piece from Bankim's satire. travesticcharacter of colonial modernity is etched in briefly and powerfully through this supplicatory refrain: 'I shall do everythingyou ask for'. it is doubtful if even Bankim surpassed it. a structure.That is why colonial society is such an appropriate field for sarcastic demystification. is caught in the early part of his performance. therewould appear some babus of such amazing intellectthat theywould be altogetherincapable of conversing their in mothertongue..and hate theirown. Acts of apparent subjectivityare really ones of the deepest heteronomy.theyare proficient foreign in in language.. The babus are thosewho would save without purpose.. ii. Indeed. requests him to recite the guna (qualities) of those who would be known as the babus and adorn the earth in the nineteenth century. and it is curious how little this structure of babu-ness was to change in Bankim's mind. the sage who recited the Mahabharataat Janmejaya's court. turning the right actions into wrong ones. He compresses the historical features of the babu into an unsurpassable portrait. the poor it would mean those wealthierthan themto 32 Babu. verbal posing from genuine intellectual convictions. . indistinctintentionwhich can tell an act of kindness fromone of imitative servility.

teacher. landlord.. One whose strength one time in his hands. It could be argued that nothingwould reveal deep secret beliefs more than nonsense writing. One who drinks waterat receivesabuse at the prostitute's kicksat and home. III.. Anyonedevoidof understanding a with an execrable musical taste..alcoholat his friends'. preceptor is the Brahmopreacher. woulddestroy editorand idler. Tagore and Ray had their own individual styles of being nonsensical.. One who giveshimself as a Christian out to the missionaries. He whosehousehold deityis the lawyer as judge the litigant. lawyer. doctor.. had formed a clear idea of what sort of beings the babus would be.. ..the babus would incarnatein ten forms: newsclerk. ten times in his mouth. a Brahmoto Keshabchandra. his employer's a babu. Anypersonwho has one word inside his mindwhich becomestenwhenhe speaks. place ofpilgrimage is theNationalTheatreis a babu. The Self-Ironical Tradition in Tagore Every humoristwrites his individual servants celebrating some people whoseonlyaim in lifewouldbe to spenda fittingly babu existence.thepeoplewhosevirtues have recited is I to youwouldpersuadethemselves thatbychewing stationmaster the ticketlesstraveller. may find expression..LikeVishnu.I am however selves. and who regardshimself as confined textbooks omniscientis a babu. and are scriptures newspapers... whose only knowledgeis about poetry.hundred whenhe writesand thousands when is he quarrels is a babu. Hindu to his father as a and an atheistto the Brahminbeggaris a babu..392 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ the qualities of theirmaster. every incarnation. If anyonetakes it in any othersense his hearingof the Mahabharata in would be fruitless. being proneon the tobaccothey willregenerand conversation smoking pillow. to crammedin childhood. and Bankim. gentleman. editorthe ordinary as idler the as client. O king. Brahmo. Apparentlyan astute observerof men and their manners.hundredtimes in his back and absent at the time of actionis a babu . having bilingua! ate theircountry. judge.Janmejaya. they paper fearsomedemons. precisely because the invigilationof reason is loose at the time...In nonsense writingdeeper structuresof self-referring the signature of an objective mind as it were. Brahmo the small as his brokerthe Englishmerchant. doctorhis patient. broker. fishin the pond . a subsequentbirthhe would be born as a cow and constitute part of the babu's dinner. But it is all the more remarkable that despite such differencethey seem to be sketching the same collective portrait of the babu.. Like Vishnu. and requested the sage to turn to some other theme. When people are saying something on a subject as dear to ourselves as ourselves it is easy to slip into pleasantly delusive beliefs. In his incarnationas a teacher he would destroythe as student.

alwaysprone the modelof civility whenwe meet others. the of generousin breadth. And there is hardly any doubt or indecision about the babu's decisive choice. . Mazzini. Little has changed apparently from Bankim's picture of the babu except the noticeable addition of an impressive ancestryto his name. 1967). we smilewiththe pleasureof servility withhandsfoldedin obeisance. peaceable. The education prescribed solicitously by Macaulay's Anglicist reformgave the babu an opportunityof knowing about the history of the wide world. The educated Bengali now chooses he wishes to revere. Manasi (Visvabharati. Clearly. towards our homes. In a group of poems in the Manasi (1890). more subtly. Tagore sketches a very similar picture. Cromwell's exploits in the English civil war. In another poem in Manasi. and return home to expresspride in yourAryanancestors whoseveryname sent shivers downthe spineof thewholewide world.selects his tory own intellectual ancestry. the babu has evidentlycompiled a historyfor himself of sufficiently upliftingcharacter. in pickthe rice mixedwithcontempt eager fistfuls. 126-30. of idle bodies heavingwiththe effort motion. and through that. to choose between Indian or European historyas his own past. two studious brothers celebrate the great deeds of mankind: a list in which the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae. lives of Washington. Calcutta. perpetually gravitating shortin height.intensely tamed. children Bengal. with the differencethat the condensation of adjectives of the vyajastuti formhas disappeared. It also teaches the babu the the hisgreat principle of choice. In DurantaAsha33he writes we are verycivil. the battle of Nasby. our facescomposedin an unperturbable sweetness. in this expansive age of colonial reason. our souls thoroughly in contentment underour buttoned clothes. waggingtheirbodieswiththe prouddelight of beingat the feetof theirmasters. this is a narrative of world " Rabindranath Thakur. He has an option.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 393 Let us compare the hymns of the Lok Rahasya with another set of portraitsof the babu fromTagore's early satirical poems. Since Bankim's time. and Garibaldi hold pride of place. you lie opposed to the narrowparochialism which made his ancestors worship their own past.

140-5. the humanity whose history he because he believes that that formshis proper assiduously constructs.a surewayof achieving gradualgreatness.There is still some hope for my country.34 phrasewe must note. because an acquaintance comes in proposing a hand at cards. Look at me: I spread mybed in myroom.Manasi. theatre of existence. in which he so desperately. I listento greatthings. is the humanityshaped by western history. They cannot imagine what incalculable effectswould have followed 'had their countrymen really read Garibaldi's biography in full'. writevolumesmakingthings (giving I up a free rein to my imagination). speakgreatwords. in which its preferredcharacteristics are accentuated and what it dislikes suffersnarrative exclusion.and belongs to a mankind after its own heart.. are successful wars of liberation fromforeignoppression and The conclusions theydraw fromtheir reading of historyare tyranny. the Guru34 mara is standardly used to describea student.It is this history which he wishes to sneak into..gurumarachela.myheartcatchesfire. you indeed are immortal'. Each group after all makes its own constructionof human history.394 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ historyin which the luminous events. As a I result.we translatethemintoBengali and writecommentaries a tike. It is typical that the erudite adolescent is unable to read the account of Cromwell's exploits to the end.'Bangavi'. the blood runs faster in their veins when they recount what occurred at Marathon and Thermopylae. . a carefully in sharpenedlanguage.tikeis a commentary. there are some particular passages of history which move these citizens of the republic of letters to tears of joy. gatherand read great I I Who could ever stop us? books. perfectlyrationalistic: Who can say we are a lesser people thanthe English?The onlydifferences lie in physical and proportion manners.. Tagore's poems are important because they show the logic of the babu's quest for historical belonging. He is an illegal immigrantof narratGurumaraliterally meansmurdering teacher. I feel. The humanity that the babu would like to belong to.because we shall pass our masters[gurumara encounter again] .I roam it the librariesforbookson history.For we learn whatever theywrite: whichsurindeed. Here this clearly means commentaries whichexceed/ the destroy texts.I have to controlit by fanning myself. Predictably. and the youthful babu abandons his historical quest unfinished.and conclude 'Oh Cromwell... They feel ashamed at the amazing illiteracy of a countrywhose people do not know by heart Washington's date of birth.wishes to have a place. Entirely in accord with this education that extends the mental horizon of Bengali youth. foreverrecurringfor remembrance. still feel giddywith enthusiasm. cravenly.

Sanchayita Calcutta. but fail. surpassed)his instructors. Savants from several countries and continents are called in.Sonar Tari (1893).e. The ruler of a mythical kingdom was once troubled by incomprehensible dreams. 35 36 .LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 395 ives.shabbily his clothesthreatened slip offhim at times. 118.35 This poem. as one can expect. The riddle.In the king's dreams three monkeys pick lice lovinglyfrom the royal hair. including several from Europe. turned to scholarly consultants.not laughed offas illusions. 1972). but already surpassing his The relevant sequence then chela. and some of them are given punishments that must appear somewhat disproportionalto what was after all an intellectual failure. Along with his ministers and subjects.jaban panditder follows: At thishourarrived the scholarfrom Gaud. he Arrogantly asked: what is the subjectof dispute? I could say a fewwordson the subject Hing Ting Chhat. the king. remains unsolved until a scholar arrives fromGaud. he lives in a meaningful. trainedbyforeign masters. At intervals the nit pickers uttered a mysteriousslogan: 'hing ting chhat'. trained by Europeans.dispossessed. too. (Visvabharati. The phrase literally means a pupil of foreign scholarswho has destroyed (i. Indeed. to So thinhe was thatpeople could doubthis existence whichwere of coursedecisively dispelled as soon as the wordsbegan to emerge. Let us compare another storyfromTagore's next work. A humorous Frenchman was left to be devoured alive by dogs for suggesting that the complex of sounds was devoid of meaning but not of a certain aural melody. dressedto the pointof beingshameless Bareheaded.not a causal world. like modern governments. theworldwonderedat howso muchof sound could be producedbyso slighta machine. We shall see later that there is also a complementary logic of belonging which is set in motion in these critiques of the babu. SonarTari. In his bewilderment. is fundamentallysimilar to Bankim's original travestic writingin two respects: it is a nonsense storyand its subject is the babu. onlyto surpassthem. This would be a logic of belonging to the 'others' to those who have been conquered. They tryin their differentways.36 gurumara masters. disenfranchised. Dreams therefore must be taken seriously. They must also be uncoded correctly. but they slapped him if he stirred.

whatever was incomprehensible was dissolved and made absolutely limpid like the empty sky.. minology. 39 This pointedlysatirises trends in contemporary Bengalis which sought to defendtraditional ideas by illegitimate and specious uses of modern metaphysical science. repulsion. etc. The babu is no longer the interested and imitative pupil of European learning.37 To put all this quite succinctly. in the kaleidoscope of life the three forces are revealed in three forms. Gyan Prakash. trinayana. trikala.Most of the of individual termsused in Indian philosophy theology. absolutely lucid. logical or astrologicalscholarship of althoughtheymightbe perfectly legitimateaccordingto theirinternalsystems referencesand conceptualcoherence. differentforces lead to individual differentiation redoubled in contrarycases.396 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ if I knew what it was."3 Tagore emphasizes the intellectual presumption of the babu. . he said. 118-19. I can turn things upside down by elucidation. What shouldbe notedis the mixing conceptsfrom of traditional wholly like tyamvaka. In fact. terthought. or It conceptsare meaningful is also truethatsometimes of theoexplanations phenomenain termsof traditional would sound very similar to this to lay ears.But this particularamalgam is of course nonsensical.For an interesting detailed analysisof such trendssee. Forces like attraction.. indeed in one sense quite clear. one could say hing ting chhat. The poem makes clear in what ways exactly the babu has taken rationalism beyond the point where Europeans had left it. a feature not shared by Europeans. akarshan. said everyone . There is another decisive change. Everyone shouted: hing ting chhat. The court thundered to applause: it is clear. not at least in equal measure. and 'Science betweenthe Lines' (unpublished paper) 1993. 38 Hing Ting Chhat.38 We discern some changes in the scene now. On being told of the matter the Gaudiya master made a somewhat solemn face and took about an hour to explain what it meant. The meaning is in fact quite simple. His to the combination lucidity of and nonsensicality the of 37 It is impossible convey combination phrases the gaudiya scholar uses in his elucidation. but a gurumara chela: he has decisively excelled his preceptors. it is an ancient idea newly discovered: the three eyed god had three eyes. prapancha withmodernscientific vikarshan etc. propulsion are usually opposed to the forces of good. three times and three qualities.

Remarkably. common littlesystematic but babu jokes gradually turnedoutwards and showedthe confident disdain of the Bengali middleclass forthe whole non-babuworld. Unlikejokes about Sikhs whichare oftencharmingly and babu jokes of middleclass Bengal display generously self-referring.The babu's others-women. Unfortunately. havedisappeared. Bankim'sworld as showed. resident Madras. fromthe general vicinity of for the Rajasthana medo(slang Marwari)and from generaldirection of the South a madraji. but thisinsult was heartily returned. now the worldis the object of his banter. Although considershimself inheritor the classifactory of of fastidiousness Westernrationalism. Commonjokes ofthebabus are confidently ignorant directedagainst the people middle class Bengalis lived with and the he dependedon. a strong he an parochialaggressiveness.the bangal. into fashioned his transformed mouldsof subalternity by historically own hands. is so revealing the babu mind of Nothing as the astounding of the geography his contempt.It included not merelynon-Bengalis.In the structure thejoking of making commonin Bengali bhadralok some of the hisrelationships society. for Pejorativeform Oriya. blurs of of It the other. Earlierthe babu was oftenthe object of ridicule.misleading. the subaltern. easterners nomenclatures. closer home.40 chauvinistic The Bengali is quite contentto live with this indistinct of nationalities those he now conof map sidershis naturalinferiors.Africans. a of 40 Literally. thosewhoselabourformed things used parasita typically uncharitable fortheirworkat his serically. He now seems to have gained the unopposedrightthat of belongsto dominantgroupsin rare periodsof uncontested glory funof others. workhas been done on such matters. Slavs. 41 42 .The cultureof the Calcutta Bengali is repletewith jokes about the ude. Anyonecoming west of the hallowedland is a khotta. as the Europeans treatedpeople as just far and in such otherbroad. of torical transformations that period were enduringly inscribed.42 medo. Bangalwas used to refer to of pejoratively residents east Bengal. but also Bengalis fromother classes.the unfamiliar.withoutreply. the literary worldis now populated only with his admirers.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 397 criticshave disappeared. babu in and replicates theworldhe dominatesthe inattentive perfunctory classification othersso characteristic Europeancultures. fromthe minutely.all thosewhocould makefunofhimin an earlierage. recompense vice."4 and khotta. he does not have the patience to catalogue the surrounding world or withany degree of precision. West Bengal people were similarly called ghati.

the 4 Though that does not mean that he abandoned the projectof criticizing of for pretensions middleclass Bengali culture. shortlived. But in Tagore's early writings.vacuous verbalism. . purifying laughter. but sounds (shabdahai). benefits be gained by hearingthe narratto theyrecitedthe thisand otherwordly ives-an entirely understandable move in a culturewithsuch a teemingand commarket ennobling for stories.yawnand lie on yourback in thisuncertain worldthe onlycertaintruth in is thateverything the worldis made ofdelusions. it loses all taste for this cleansing. instance.formal.44 Bengali literature becomes more sombre and sanctimonious. whichare the onlythings The structureof this travestyis exactly the same as Kamalakanta. He wouldrealize in a momentthat the trueis false.398 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ Tagore's poem on the Bengali intellect offers a list of its own ennobling effectson its audience. describing extraordinary Usually.Its tone is one of the same intense self-irony. Lapse of time has done nothing to improve his arrogant incivility.Religious textswere not contentwith 4 a comof mode plex extension thiscritique. What impresses his audience is stilted traditional style. We are leftin no doubt that we are dealing with a direct descendant of the animal whose special giftwas the multiplication of words. What still constitutes his identityis the irrepressible. unproductive art. had changed:he would make muchless use of ironicalbanter. uses the same logic of it In Tagore's own artistic evolution this tone was rather inversion.the babu displays the same features.but the literary. He is adept not at producing ideas but at the parasitic functionof interpreting. petitive Tagore'spoem accordingly spoofsthisdeclarationat the end ofHing Ting Chhat.His physical scantiness is dramatized: the world could doubt his existence until he burst into speech. or sense. though his skill lies in a derivative. mentally and physically. He wouldneverbe led to take the trueas true.exceptthe dreamsthemselves one can call reallytrue.Gora. then.43 of Whoeverlistensto thishallowedstory dream would be ridof all errorsand delusions.His novel. until in modern times. This fatal gift is not an ability to produce arguments.he would diverge fromthis self-ironicaltraditionin which the babu constantly searched for the limits of his being. 120. in a perfectly the eventsoftheirdivineand mortalprotagonists. Come. He wouldneverbe deceivedintobelieving that thisworldis indeed thisworld. he is confident before he knows what it is about that he can improve on what is being said.

meets his denouement the handsofan uncomprehending But the most at lady. in his brieflife withinthis shortverse too. 1985).45 alreadybecoming This is a highly workand its nonsenseis so pure. in of 'the Cow'.Selected Choudhury. witha mixture admiration emergence. the famouspoem. Here the babu makes his appearTansgaru. directdescription the babu comes.The babu does not achieve Indian discourseor the scientific the coherenceof eithertraditional of modernrationalist of ideas.46He has now titled. if uncompelling but touchof the babu argument. by the depraving it degeneratesinto unmitigated drivel. fromthe social worldto the worldof neighbouring animals. interestingly.particularly his college-going through thislogic of westernization spread has vivid.naturally startling consequences. Calcutta. miraculously. turnedintoa buttof generalcriticism. Animals too can become decisively and dedicentirely was oncebySatyajit twice. Sukumar (Patra's Publication. elementsin thatgreatcolligation senseless conceptsare all individually ideas of classical significant it Indianphilosophy. Ray has a poem directly the Babu. In Ray.the logic of babu-nesshas spread so withappropriately far. Yet.Delhi.redefining everything habitsof food. Westernised ance even in the animal world. IV.It spread fromidle adults whomBankimderidedto adolescentsin Tagore. inverting imagination. In this tradition self-irony reliability thus the babu reflected the contingency his own historical on of of and secretanxiety. Khai Khai. is the babu.Hybridizationwitha low imitative westernism and the surrender cultural of afterBankim's time. 33- . 1987).oftenin an identicalform. It captures the identity proceedsrelentlessly fromstylesof speech to Bengali social world. Ray. where it is too light.and morerecently Sukanta by 45 Aboltabol translated cf Nonsense Sukumar (OxfordUniversity Cow'. it is worthy note that and of Ray's babu. the figure whichrecursin its verses. 41. The Meaning of Nonsense: Sukumar Ray's Aboltabol The last point where I wish to analyse this tradition. After all.I think. 'The Blighty of Ray Press. its idiosyncratic of so pleasureat defying expectations normalcy intensethatit is odd to expect social comment its delightful in pages.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 399 the but of in SukumarRay's Aboltabol(1923). couldproducea sensible. in SukumarRay. Rachanavali 46 Babu. together Put properly. theycould not live under colonialismfor so long and remain unaffected.

The enlightened cow finds unacceptable the list of food that unwesternised and indigenist cows would presumably enjoy. Even his physical characteristics are middle class-he sports a neat parting in his dark and immaculate hair (phitphat kalo chul. his obvious preference in positions is for lying down. he is not a cow but belongs to a species of bird. this list of rejected food contains a subtle hierarchy.theywould undoubtedlyhave produced something compelling about the invidious ideology of humanism. norgram. Inconstancy is the special mark of his character. Like babus in Bankim and Tagore. or he is indifferent the delicaciesof meat and payes to he lives. If cows had a theoretical apparatus comparable to that of modern cultural critics. he is a victim of misrecognized identity: in fact. In this poem. evidently an attempt to imitate the common Bengali officegoer'stoilet.just as the Bengali babu is unjustly classified by people as a mere Indian on purely racial grounds. the standard menu of grass. notably. From the cow's point of view. accordingly. he has an office.flour. sweetsmade of these. our tendency groundlessly to discriminate between human and animal babus. though in terms of his ideas. All the charcateristics Bankim had detected earlier reappear in the enlightened rule.with characteristic injustice denies him that title. our failure to treat all beings equally. as his residence.400 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ atedly westernized.on candles and soapysoup. who. we see his ways as ridiculous only because of our inexcusable anthropocentrism. a pioneer of westernization among its species. not a stable. hay and corn. there is also something deeply inappropriate and unjust. Clearly. For. The cow's residence. But the world. He rejects even the usual food of indigenous human beings: but here we must not ignore the sharp culin- . after all. is a male.Ray speaks of a cultured cow. but what decisively marks his identityis his choice of food: He does not eat fodder. Like human babus.the space of colonial reason.terikata chosta). the tansgaru merely re-enacts what every babu does everydaywithout causing the slightest surprise. he has everythingin common with the European rationalist. grass. symbolicallyrenouncing action. as befitsall animals of unusual intellect.leaves or hay. And the poem clearly implies that although there is something seemingly appropriate in our wonder at his general demeanor. like the babu's is a sign of his identity: with unmistakable symbolism.

would not.but to Bankim'sKamalakanta.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 401 are edibles of lower orders of people ary slope. drivenby the spiritof the age. Evidently. The list then rises through flourand sweetsto the ordinary of of Bengali cuisine.the babu had reached a sort of natural limit in his historicalcareer.once he trieda bovinefood. become a babu.and was laid up in bed piece ofordinary withindigestion threemonths.Even the individual it is self. not 47 Bidal.a piece of rag. the Tansgaru.preparations fishand meat great highpoints and payes. it.47 wrong to imitatehis superiors:he had simply.BR. Bankimis the of founder thisvery of different ofthought line about thehistorical self.but. The discourseof both the Kamalakanta in Bankim and the pieces in earlypoems of Tagore show a dualityof thinking this reflection about the Bengali self. 85-8. whichis a natural end of this ironiclament.anothertypeof belief-of a verydifferent tone and temper--crosses resoundsthrough This is a voice it.We are led to suspect that he but chose his foodon grounds rationalism. . ii. who could not conversein Bengali. ideological. Dreams of An Other Self But this discussionof the ironicaltradition will not be completeif we do not look at anotherset of signs. especiallymigrantlabourersfromneighbouring Bihar. The Tansgaru showed the extent.but is verydifferent from in tone.despiteour conceits. for At first sightthe behaviourof this cow mightseem strange. Meanwhile. in the case ofVaishamof As payana's babus.markersof a verydifferent movein theconsciousness theBengali middleclass.The primary discoursein both is powerfully ironical. V.But such sub(amish) rationalfoodfails to tempthim.on occasion. He admittedin his famous it conversation withthe socialistcat thathumanbeingssystematically discriminate of and againstanimalsin matters politicaltheory.the pointof eating to is not gastronomic.the ultimatein Bengali desserts. Chholaand chhatu fromNorthIndia. Only a Westernregimenof soup made ofsoap and candles--both Westernprovenance-appeals to of his cultivated taste. found in animals what theytook forgrantedin theirown objectionable The onlything withthiscowwas thathe had learnt species.the limitsand the ironicalconsequencesof the babu's conquest of societyand history.

He wishes to be and dreams that he is another. This is counterpointed immediately by the free life in the desert of the alleged Bedouins (in point of fact. day a spear in hand and hope in myheart. Afterrecountingthe ordinaryBengali's enjoymentof the pleasures of colonial servility. This poem can help us understand the curious connection between the two apparently irreconcilable moods. one poem comes to an immediate counterpoint. my moving endlessly and night. Marathas. I have shown elsewhere that this process of making a new self involves the Bengali intellectual in appropriating the historyof others.The collective self appears even more eligible for such correction. ii. The poem is called Duranta Asha. Would I were an Arab Bedouin withthe greatdesertundermyfeet to stretching the horizon. a self that is verydifferent from what it is. But it was typical of the babu to ignore such small errors of computation. the recitation of qualities that are absent in the character of the modern Bengali can lead to fantasies about another self. "8 The best exampleof thisis the essayAmar Durgotsav.402 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ beyond correction. on a gallopinghorse. something that is intensely desired and yet known to be unattainable. alas.49But in Tagore's youthfulpoems in his search for ingredients to make his new self he goes even to the Bedouins in the Arab deserts. just as a desertstorm movesthrough thatcomes in its way.a self that could be. But facts can hardly stand in way of such a rush of feelings. 79-81. In Kamalakanta often in the midst of ironical discourse there is a sudden change into a language of inspiration and dreaming. all irresistible. pouring lifeon to the sky.48 Tagore's poems reveal with graphic clarity another crucial move of early patriotism. This is precisely what gives rise to BR.The ironical babu is out to invent a different self. what was described there would constitute a portrait of all Bengalis only if all Bengalis were babus. 9 In Unhappy . an irrepressible wish. and others not equally renowned for their command of European rationalism. neverlying still. of Rajputs. Consciousness. Of course the earlier description is slander on Bengalis in a cloud of dust witha firekindledin mysoul. equally vulnerable to the forces of British imperialism). The tone of lament.

you have to acquiesce. These are typicallydreams that suffuseBankim's novels and his alternative historyof India. well groomed.Tagore's poetic utterer sets out the theme with admirable clarity at the start of the poem: 'when you are being ripped apart by desire' (obsessive or drunken desire. 'With a spear in hand and hope in my heart' is I think the crucial trope. part argument for the ascending of passive resentment into militancy. decorous in manner. part suggestion. 'in a cloud of dust'. This is not arbitrary. 'with firein his heart'. It accentuates the central contrast of the of verbalizing inefficacy the Bengali and the imagined decisiveness of the Arab. lying prone contented under his buttoned shirt. even the Rajputstheir unattainable heroic selves. then. with a domesticated soul(poshamanae pran). But this humour is not an end in itself. The depiction of the Bengali that follows replicates Bankim's list of adjectives meticulously: civil(bhadra). the impossibility . a slow walk.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 403 humour because all the contradictory aspects of this mentality cannot be captured in any other mode of discourse. Obviously the entire imagery of the poem develops a countertypeto what the Bengali is. 'when you lose yourself in anger' at the encumbrances that fate has placed around you. even then. his body filledwith the juices of sleep. the Bengali must have the opposite attributes. the permanent inhabitants of his dreams. his face always composed. and 'with a spear in his hand and hope in his heart'. deploying the same stream of adjectives of contempt. or the end or destination of this humorous discourse. Opposite to this dream are the crucial lines which indicate the failure of defiance. responding to the gravitationof his home.and militancy into arms. part dream. or by an irrepressible wish. more martial times. The transformedbabu would like to live a life of heroic action as opposed to the routines of his office-'on the horseback'. reaching a figure even more exotic. short in intelligence. A movement towards a cancellation of humour is contained within the humour itself. peaceable (shanta). To be other than what he is. an idle body. This search has now transcended the Bengali heroes of earlier. literally). because 'Bengalis are professional mammals' unfit for more strenuous exertion. He is no longer enclosed in the familiar space: 'like the storm of the desert that does not brook any bonds'. because it follows the same generative principle. large in width. The familiar geography of the mango grove and the enclosed space of the middle class home is now contrasted to the unfamiliar geography of the endless burning desert. Notice that even the style is similar.

this creates a laughter in which.Part of it is in the firstperson singular. to the folkloreof Rajasthan. These dreams were irrevocablyof the nature of dreams.he could have found nearer home. This is particularly apt. some who thought as long as the spear was in hand there was hope.and I think significantly. to the imaginary defiance of the Bedouins fora model of non-verbaldefiance. but they never come in for even the most oblique mention-they are wrapped in a strange forgetfulness. exactly like Kamalakanta. a vast silence at the heart of all this eloquence about the melancholy of servitude. includes itself without self-delusionin the larger collectivityit criticizes.It wavers constantly. contented in their enjoyment of colonial rule. tragically. The events of 1857 were not even thirty years past. It wavers between the single. this captures the tension between the individual and the collective self. . Can you everfeelbeside yourself withrage? are you evermaddenedbyinsults? does the bloodboil in yourveins? does the perpetualsmileof contempt. he justifies and rationalizes it: 'the prisoner boasts of the length of his chain'. because the self that speaks here. between two verb forms. Neither Tagore. shares another feature with Bankim's Kamalakanta. nor even Bankim. In search of this other and possible self. armed with his mastery of world history.there is of course a great silence. capturingwith great sensitivity vidual self implicated in a large collective which it can neither own nor disown. not so long ago.404 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ of the babu's feeling rebellious at the indignityof political servitude. the babu. ranges far and wide. critical rebellious self and others composing the communityof Bengali middle class. who 'had felt maddened by insults'. Like Kamalakanta. Within all this irony. part in third the tensions of an indiperson plural. sharppointof insult the pierceyourheartlike lightning?50 It is his ability to rationalize subjection through the delusive idea that he wins the respect of the British by his collaboration that makes the babu so contemptible. had he looked hard. if they threatened to become 50 Duranta Asha. Unlike others. The poem. Ironically. usually refer to that event even with a metaphorical indirectness. Duranta Asha. the Bengali does not merely submit to foreign rule. Technically. examples of people. the self is the victim. from his own early Bengali annals.

birth a worldofutterdisillusionment. the babu reality.Of coursethisis not trueofTagore alone. Yet in spite of this.Bengali fiction returnsfromthe desert to the mango fromthe smoke of the battlefields.whileTagore passes through thisin a moment his artistic of In Bankim. the history tendedto recoil.and erase it fromhis long and eloquent memory. The irona ical alternative thathintsat politicalmilitancy givenup as the bed.In his autobiographical he fragment would treat these sentiments 'warming as ourselvesin the comfortable of fire and dismissthemas less thanserious. sense ofhistorical Its shrinks and retreats. which his later novels tryto providean answer.In a worldof hunger. mannerof irony wouldgradually this decline in his poeticwork. 1968) pp.and in a wonderful moon. but represents generalhistoric turnin Bengaliliterature. of uppermiddleclass life. The predominant typeofirony Bengali literature in afterthe forties wouldappear in the deliberatecontradiction betweenthe utterance and the form.becomes a half burnt piece of Rabindranath (Visva Bharati. Evidently.LAUGHTER AND SUBJECTIVITY 405 in surrounded that immediately him.It permeateshis entirecreative life. which signs of a lost in grove. the home. like the famous poem by Sukanta Bhattacharyya announcingin theend ofpoetry.Calcutta.he said withan ironydripping the rhetorical desecration. this ironysimplyshapes a question to development. in an invertedmetaphor. full anger. to the security the domestic of of space. direction.Jivansmriti The last stagereachedin morerecentnovelsimitative Europeanexistentialof ist literature. 5' 52 . Thakur.was prose. ineradicably its touchentirely withlaughter theordinary in sense. in successiveperiodsof its development.and indeed flourish inside. and bitterwar can be hazilyseen. the 'enclosed space' ingly. Kamalakanta's tured. these in ironicpoems do not have such significance Tagore's intellectual or do biography: they notindicatea highpoint.the is witha verydifferent onlylanguage. has from world.accordexcitement'5' would enter. crisisor a newdeparture.Bankim'sfeelingof indignity yieldsa sentimentthatis truly and deeplypolitical. fromthe joys and sufferings collectiveaction to personal heartbreaks. The tragedy of literature the babu.52 and assume a more torIronywas also to change form.His art. had notlost mixedwiththe historical indignity present.melancholy despiteits sense of irony. of the poetry whereall enchantment tornto shreds. is unrealistic.On the contrary. his ultimatetheatre moved the to and stage. 78-9.

almost miraculous. and get rid of his a state of tension. Mahajivan'.but emerging from a verydifferent of disenchantment. but with that they renounced a great principle of intellectual creativity.the babu has not overcome his historical imperfections.406 SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ order bread. and a person of real refinementfound it hard to make a wholly one-sided choice. The two civilizations had been brought into contact by history. for fear of betraying cultural uncertainty.Eventually they would allow their intellectualism to sink to a level where even the most obvious decline in Bengali society and culture would not be described. especially.His excesses. 5 Sukanta Bhattacharyya. But he had lost the rare ability to turn the humour against himself.coming fromtwo civilizations. the Bengali babu. 'He Cal(Saraswat Library. Chhadpatra cutta. In my longer study of Bankimchandra I have attributed this selfironical laughter to a peculiar.54 created a It sense that two different ways of being in the world. This kept the 'Bengali' character. 87. But Indian culture. equally. ch.By turninga communist. 54 SudiptaKaviraj. as anyone conversant with Bengali politics verbalizing would know. 2. and found an answer to the uncertainty about the collective self. along with political groups all over India.53This is also irony. Left politics has provided him with a more appropriate theatre for kindling more fearsome verbal fires. Consequently. had overcome their historical anxiety. configurationof artistic and political circumstances in Bengali history. but simplygiven them a left-wing form. Consciousness. colonial rationalism.The Unhappy . European culture offeredarguments undermining superstitions of traditional Indian social norms. of unfinishedness and search. had not diminished. there is a decline in this form of humour and selfirony.were available to the cultivated Bengali. 1382 Bengali) p. his collective personality.each providing entirely sensible grounds for criticizing the other. offeredreasonable grounds for being sceptical about the immodest claims of western. By the 1940s.

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