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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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/313068 . 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-

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

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

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self-irony played an irreplaceablepart.8For this ironyprovideda of centreto twotypes significant historical processes-the large,viswhichpeople soughtto reconstruct ible,spectacularactionsthrough theirpolitical world;and equally,the almostinvisible readjustments of behaviourin the everyday-theinescapable worldof etiquette, thoseunspectacular eventswhichnevertheless conversation, civility, fillup mostof individual and social lives. Laughter before Bankim's Kamalakanta humour Ironywas by no means new in Bengali literature. Literary came from severalsources,classical,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, subtleanxiety good whichtheywere elevated,by theirassociationwithBritishrule, to of undeserved eminence.'This produceda genre positions evidently oflocal townhumour whichconsistednot onlyin lowerclasses satirbut his izingthemorefortunate, also thebabu'0 bantering ownbreed, a trendluxuriating witty, in oftensomewhatsmutty songs.Colonial forself-advancement created inexplicablecases of rise opportunity to fortune whichattracted acerbiccomment. ModernBengali literature not startlaughingly. did The language drawnout of the integuments Sanskrit Ram Mohan of awkwardly by serious.In Ram Mohan, it had the function disputing of sombrely and philosophic abstractions withmissionaries Hindu and theological and conservatives, had littleoccasion to laugh,least of all at itself. In Vidyasagar, the new,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. Vidyasagar had littleliterary imagination, onlyan urge to devise a language of
8 I have stated this argumentmore fully in 'Signs of madness', Journal Arts of andIdeas,Special Numberon Representations, g99o, and in Unhappy Consciousness,

Roy (1772/4-1833)

and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1820--91) was

chapter 2.

and probablybefore that, this corrosivebanter writing, 9 Apart fromliterary of against the pretensions the babu, a political and culturalcreatureof colonial rule,appeared in popularsongs. 10 A term the educated elite of colonialBengal. denoting middle-class

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

notaimed anyone, observed (myemphasis)Indeed,I did not forget at but all. to include in sketches.16 myself these

SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ 384 each ofthemit instituted subtlerupture, a such thatit is misleading to see him as a humorist who continuedany single one of these traditions. Beforehis Kamalakanta (1875, enlarged 1885), Kaliprasanna Sinha had produceda forceful ironicalportrait Calcutta socof in his Hutom Naksha(1862) whichdeclared,in a typical Penchar iety mixture acknowledgement responsibility renunciation, of of and I havenotuseda single idea thatis fanciful untrue my in sketches. is or It truethatsomepeoplemight in discover themselves its pages,butI need All add hardly thattheseare notthemselves. thatI can sayis thatI have

is the Kamalakanta similarto thesewritings: majordifferApparently, ence is thatalthough problematizing the selfis lightheartedly the of mentionedin Sinha's agenda, it remainsunrealized.And the tone of the entirepiece is too frivolous raise seriousdiscussion, to beyond acerbicsocial banter.In KaliprasannaSinha's case thephrase'I have not forgotten includemyself these sketches'goes beyondthe to in He did not realize yet the gravity, and the tragictaste of reality. bantertowards self.Sinha is speakingof an insignificant the turning whileincludedin the collective individual, personalself,which, portraitofthe Calcuttababu, mustretaina certaindistinctiveness from themforhis utteranceto become philosophically formally and possible.Yet thereis an insubstantiality, insignificance thisbanter an in when comparedwiththe ironyof Bankim'sKamalakanta. suggest I thatthisarisesfortwodifferent reasons.Bankim'sirony informed is of by a muchdeeper and intricate understanding the publicfateof his people, a darkly ironic sense of historyachieved through reflection and impositions westernmodernity. of upon the benefits Historicalreflection modernity not an easy intellectual on was pastimeforwriters his time.Bankim'sgeneration of was brought on up a narrative European modernity of which,partlymythically, partly describedit as a processof attainingautonomy and selfjustifiably, determination." The economic, of social,and politicalachievements the modernperiod were primarily the effects that miraculous of
these two high canons. The narrativeis taken fromthe Ramayana, but is read an whichowed muchto Paradise Lost. through inverting interpretation 16 Penchar introduction. Sinha,Hutom Naksha, " Kaliprasanna For an interesting discussionon Bankimchandra's view of the West, Tapan Reconsidered Press, Delhi, g99o).Partha Raychaudhuri, Europe (OxfordUniversity a and ChatterjeeanalysesBankimfrom different angle,Nationalist Thought theColonial World.

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

enlightenment,Sukumar Ray (1887-1923),

the creator of its most

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

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

cha. VI, pp. 312-17.

ed. Natyashastra, K. S. Ramaswamy Shastri(OrientalInstitute, Baroda, 1956),

ch. 2.

The best example of thisis of course the poetry Kalidasa. of Kamalakanter Daptar(1875) was enlargedin 1885 as Kamalakanta. I have discussedthe function thisdouble irony The Unhappy of in Consciousness,

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

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

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I shall renounce mother to my tongue speakyourlanguage; abjuremy and instead writing of ancestral babuuse faith; religion adopttheBrahmo Mr as a prefix myname, pleased be with me. to I havegiven mealsofrice,and takenup eating bread:I do notfeel up fed I of meat[beef]; make I properly until havepartaken someforbidden to for it a point takechicken snacks; therefore,Englishman, pleasekeep O
me at yourfeet.

If youcannotgrantthese,inviteme at least to yourat homesand dinners;

Pleasegrant wealth, me fulfil mydesires. all me honour, fame, Appoint to highoffice, raja,maharaja, or of a raybahadur, a member theCouncil.

me or nominate to a high committee thesenate;makeme a justiceor an of Please takenotice myspeeches, read myessays, honorary magistrate. I not of me; encourage then, would takeheedofthedenunciation theentire Hindusociety. At Clearly,thereare two levels of meaningin this false hymn. the first thereis a caricatureof both the collaborating babu and level, the Britishwho conferhonourson him. Characteristically, Bankim to the pregoes straight the heart of the matter,cuttingthrough tences.Only in appearanceis colonial societya realmwherecareer is open to talent; in fact,colonial administration does nothingto merit. can he The Englishman giveanything likesliterally encourage to anyone:it is the arbitrariness his conferments is emphasthat of self ized,whichmakesthebabu's supplicatory abasementits entirely propercomplement. High honourin colonialBengal is hardly recognition desert, for service ability, ofcompetitive or but public servility. Colonialismendowstheordinary official withmystical British powers of nomination: can name anything he into existence;and the essential pointis to be so named by the rightauthority. The Englishcan rename all social and moral descriptions.3' all this, the babu's In and rationalismis shownforwhat it is. He is adoptionof reform a rationalist of opportunism, entirely out and unclear about how a rationalist argumentis to be grounded.He would do all the right break tradition, things-accept modernity, 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. Two typesof acts mentally
eminencein the colonialworldin hisMuchiram (188o), BR, ii, 1 13GuderJibancharit. 28.
3

Bankim wrote immortal an satireon thisprocess theriseofa Bengali of to

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

Babu, BR, ii, 10-12.

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the qualities of theirmaster.I am however selves,to servants celebrating some people whoseonlyaim in lifewouldbe to spenda fittingly babu existence. If anyonetakes it in any othersense his hearingof the Mahabharata in would be fruitless; a subsequentbirthhe would be born as a cow and constitute part of the babu's dinner.... Anyonedevoidof understanding a with an execrable musical taste, whose only knowledgeis about poetry, to crammedin childhood, and who regardshimself as confined textbooks omniscientis a babu..... Like Vishnu,the babus would incarnatein ten forms: newsclerk, Brahmo, doctor, teacher, broker, lawyer, judge, landlord, woulddestroy editorand idler.LikeVishnu,in every incarnation, they paper fearsomedemons. In his incarnationas a teacher he would destroythe as student,as stationmaster the ticketlesstraveller, Brahmo the small as his priest,as brokerthe Englishmerchant, doctorhis patient,as lawyer as judge the litigant, editorthe ordinary as idler the as client, gentleman, fishin the pond ... Anypersonwho has one word inside his mindwhich becomestenwhenhe speaks,hundred whenhe writesand thousands when is he quarrels is a babu. One whose strength one time in his hands, ten times in his mouth,hundredtimes in his back and absent at the time of actionis a babu ... He whosehousehold deityis the Englishman, preceptor is the Brahmopreacher, and are scriptures newspapers, place ofpilgrimage is theNationalTheatreis a babu. One who giveshimself as a Christian out to the missionaries, a Brahmoto Keshabchandra, Hindu to his father as a and an atheistto the Brahminbeggaris a babu. One who drinks waterat receivesabuse at the prostitute's kicksat and home,alcoholat his friends', his employer's a babu.... O king,thepeoplewhosevirtues have recited is I to youwouldpersuadethemselves thatbychewing pan, being proneon the tobaccothey willregenerand conversation smoking pillow, having bilingua! ate theircountry. Apparentlyan astute observerof men and their manners,Janmejaya, had formed a clear idea of what sort of beings the babus would be, and requested the sage to turn to some other theme.

III. The Self-Ironical Tradition in Tagore


Every humoristwrites his individual nonsense; and Bankim, Tagore and Ray had their own individual styles of being nonsensical. But it is all the more remarkable that despite such differencethey seem to be sketching the same collective portrait of the babu. It could be argued that nothingwould reveal deep secret beliefs more than nonsense writing. When people are saying something on a subject as dear to ourselves as ourselves it is easy to slip into pleasantly delusive beliefs, things.In nonsense writingdeeper structuresof self-referring the signature of an objective mind as it were, may find expression, precisely because the invigilationof reason is loose at the time.

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

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

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ives. We shall see later that there is also a complementary logic of belonging which is set in motion in these critiques of the babu. This would be a logic of belonging to the 'others' to those who have been conquered, disenfranchised,dispossessed. Let us compare another storyfromTagore's next work,Sonar Tari (1893).35 This poem, too, is fundamentallysimilar to Bankim's original travestic writingin two respects: it is a nonsense storyand its subject is the babu. The ruler of a mythical kingdom was once troubled by incomprehensible dreams. Along with his ministers and subjects, he lives in a meaningful,not a causal world. Dreams therefore must be taken seriously,not laughed offas illusions. They must also be uncoded correctly.In the king's dreams three monkeys pick lice lovinglyfrom the royal hair, but they slapped him if he stirred. At intervals the nit pickers uttered a mysteriousslogan: 'hing ting chhat'. In his bewilderment, the king, like modern governments, turned to scholarly consultants. Savants from several countries and continents are called in, including several from Europe. They tryin their differentways, but fail, and some of them are given punishments that must appear somewhat disproportionalto what was after all an intellectual failure. 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. The riddle, as one can expect, remains unsolved until a scholar arrives fromGaud, trained by Europeans, but already surpassing his The relevant sequence then chela.36 gurumara masters,jaban panditder follows: At thishourarrived the scholarfrom Gaud, trainedbyforeign masters, onlyto surpassthem. dressedto the pointof beingshameless Bareheaded,shabbily his clothesthreatened slip offhim at times. to So thinhe was thatpeople could doubthis existence whichwere of coursedecisively dispelled as soon as the wordsbegan to emerge. Indeed, theworldwonderedat howso muchof sound could be producedbyso slighta machine. he Arrogantly asked: what is the subjectof dispute? I could say a fewwordson the subject
Hing Ting Chhat. SonarTari,Sanchayita Calcutta, 1972), 118. (Visvabharati, The phrase literally means a pupil of foreign scholarswho has destroyed (i.e. surpassed)his instructors.
35 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bidal,BR, ii, 85-8.

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

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

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

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in surrounded that immediately him, the babu reality, the history tendedto recoil,and erase it fromhis long and eloquent memory. Yet in spite of this,Bankim'sfeelingof indignity yieldsa sentimentthatis truly and deeplypolitical.It permeateshis entirecreative life,whileTagore passes through thisin a moment his artistic of In Bankim, this ironysimplyshapes a question to development. which his later novels tryto providean answer. Evidently, these in ironicpoems do not have such significance Tagore's intellectual or do biography: they notindicatea highpoint, crisisor a newdeparture.On the contrary, mannerof irony wouldgradually this decline in his poeticwork.In his autobiographical he fragment would treat these sentiments 'warming as ourselvesin the comfortable of fire and dismissthemas less thanserious.His art,accordexcitement'5' would enter,and indeed flourish inside, the 'enclosed space' ingly, of uppermiddleclass life.Of coursethisis not trueofTagore alone, but represents generalhistoric turnin Bengaliliterature. The irona ical alternative thathintsat politicalmilitancy givenup as fanciful, is unrealistic.Bengali fiction returnsfromthe desert to the mango fromthe smoke of the battlefields, which signs of a lost in grove, and bitterwar can be hazilyseen, to the security the domestic of of space, fromthe joys and sufferings collectiveaction to personal heartbreaks. sense ofhistorical Its shrinks and retreats. The tragedy of literature the babu, in successiveperiodsof its development, has from world, the home,to the bed, his ultimatetheatre moved the to and stage.52 and assume a more torIronywas also to change form, direction. Kamalakanta's tured,melancholy despiteits sense of irony, had notlost mixedwiththe historical indignity present, ineradicably its touchentirely withlaughter theordinary in sense. The predominant typeofirony Bengali literature in afterthe forties wouldappear in the deliberatecontradiction betweenthe utterance and the form, like the famous poem by Sukanta Bhattacharyya announcingin theend ofpoetry, birth a worldofutterdisillusionment, of the poetry whereall enchantment tornto shreds.In a worldof hunger,the is witha verydifferent onlylanguage,he said withan ironydripping the rhetorical desecration, full anger,was prose,and in a wonderful moon, in an invertedmetaphor,becomes a half burnt piece of
Rabindranath (Visva Bharati,Calcutta, 1968) pp. 78-9. Thakur,Jivansmriti The last stagereachedin morerecentnovelsimitative Europeanexistentialof ist literature.
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order bread.53This is also irony;but emerging from a verydifferent of disenchantment. In my longer study of Bankimchandra I have attributed this selfironical laughter to a peculiar, almost miraculous, configurationof artistic and political circumstances in Bengali history.54 created a It sense that two different ways of being in the world,coming fromtwo civilizations,were available to the cultivated Bengali, 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,each providing entirely sensible grounds for criticizing the other. European culture offeredarguments undermining superstitions of traditional Indian social norms. But Indian culture, equally, offeredreasonable grounds for being sceptical about the immodest claims of western, especially, colonial rationalism. This kept the 'Bengali' character, his collective personality,in a state of tension, of unfinishedness and search. By the 1940s, the Bengali babu, along with political groups all over India, had overcome their historical anxiety, and found an answer to the uncertainty about the collective self. Consequently, there is a decline in this form of humour and selfirony; but with that they renounced a great principle of intellectual creativity.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, for fear of betraying cultural uncertainty.By turninga communist,the babu has not overcome his historical imperfections, but simplygiven them a left-wing form.His excesses, as anyone conversant with Bengali politics verbalizing would know, had not diminished. Left politics has provided him with a more appropriate theatre for kindling more fearsome verbal fires. But he had lost the rare ability to turn the humour against himself, and get rid of his pretensions.
'He Cal(Saraswat Library, 5 Sukanta Bhattacharyya, Mahajivan', Chhadpatra cutta, 1382 Bengali) p. 87. ch. Consciousness, 2. 54 SudiptaKaviraj,The Unhappy