Towards a Theory of Subaltern and Nationalist Genres: The Post-1857 Lakhnavi Tall Tales and Their Nationalist Appropriation in Premchand’s “The Chess Players” (1924)

  • Reena Dube
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Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)

Abstract

Modern studies of Indian nationalism make frequent reference to the literary-cultural genres of Indian nationalism as sources or texts, yet the implicit assumption made by these scholars of nationalism is that one can gain access to nationalist literatures without theorizing the literary-rhetorical conventions that govern each of the literary forms associated with nationalism. This is a serious drawback, given that Indian nationalism began as literature before it assumed the form of political theory. Cultural production pre-dates the political phase of Indian nationalism; nationalism emerges in the nineteenth century primarily as cultural-social movements and only later constitutes itself as anti-colonial political movements.1 While the tropes, mythologies and narrative structures of Indian nationalist historiography and political thought have received careful attention, the dominant tendency in the analysis of nationalist literatures is to treat the literary text as a historical document unmediated by genre conventions, a transparent vehicle of discourses and ideologies.2

Keywords

Dust Europe Assimilation Posit Arena 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Social reformers like Rammohan Roy, Ishwarchand Vidyasagar, Dayanand Saraswati, B. G. Tilak and G. K. Gokhale gave primacy to the cultural struggle against empire in the debates about sati (widow self-immolation), widow remarriage, age of consent and the education of women. For an informed account of the transition from the cultural and social to the political movements and debates see Radha Kumar, The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800–1990 (1993) 7–52.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    An example of this inattention to genre is Susie Tharu and K. Lalita’s assertion that women’s nationalist writings in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries “are best read as documents” and these texts “document the many faceted and often contradictory configuration of the nation-in-process even as they shape it.” Even though Tharu and Lalita make a token gesture to Indian women’s nationalist writings as imaginative constructs, their unmistakable suggestion is that nationalist literatures are historical documents which do not require careful attention to the literary–rhetorical features (“The Twentieth Century: Women Writing the Nation”, Women Writing in India, Vol. II: The Twentieth Century, ed. Susie Tharu and K. Lalita [1993]) 43–44. When genre analysis has been executed, there is a latent ethnocentrism in the notion that the dominant literary genres are First World in origin, for instance Timothy Brennan’s exclusive attention to First World literary forms like the novel in order to theorize the work of British Indian authors like Salman Rushdie, see “The National Longing for Form” in Homi K. Bhabha ed., Nation and Narration (1990) 49–56. In contrast see Shahid Amin’s Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura 1922–1992 (1995) which provides a good example of the attention paid by postcolonial scholars to the historiographical narratives concerning an instance of subaltern pre-Independence resistance.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Subaltern Studies historians have made it axiomatic that postcolonial analysis of the discourses and ideologies of Indian nationalism cannot be conducted without at the same time paying attention to the subaltern communities and classes, histories and forms of resistances that are excluded and depriveleged by elite nationalism. The best example of the critical examination of Indian nationalism in relation to subaltern classes is provided by Ranajit Guha’s A Disciplinary Aspect of Indian Nationalism (1991).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Some of the best-known post-Independence literary and cinematic celebrations of Lucknow culture are Urdu language novels like Qurratulain Hyder’s I too Have Idols (Mere Bhi Sanamkhane, 1949) and The Heart’s Sorrow’s Afloat (Safinae Ghame Dil, 1952) and Attia Hossian’s English language novel, Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961); as well as the film Chaudvin ka Chand (1962).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    I see no need for Partha Chatterjee’s preoccupation with the distinctions between First World nationalism and the specific development of Third World nationalisms, in terms of whether the latter is a “derivative” formation that owes its history of ideas to Western political thought, or can be said to have innovative and creative features of its own (see his Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse [1993]). This preoccupation with the binary of derivative/innovative features of Indian nationalism is played out in postcolonial theorists’ ongoing dialogue with Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Sudipta Kaviraj, “The Imaginary Institution of India”, Subaltern Studies VII, ed. Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey (1993).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Jennifer Wicke and Michael Sprinker, “Interview with Edward Said”, Edward Said: A Critical Reader, ed. Michael Sprinker (1992) 221–264.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    W. H. Sleeman, Oude: An Abridgment of W.H. Sleeman’s A Journey Through the Kingdom of Oude in 1849–50 [1858] [1971] 101.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    For a sound discussion of de-industrialization in colonial India see Amiya Kumar Bagchi, “De-Industrialization in India in the Nineteenth Century: Some Theoretical Implications”, Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 12 (1975–1976) 135–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 20.
    For a discussion of the connection between satire and shamanism, see Robert C. Elliott, The Power of Satire (1960).Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    For the best English language commentaries on Premchand, see “Introduction”, Nandini Nopany and P. Lal, trans., Twenty-four Stories by Premchand (1980) 1–34; David Rubin, trans., The World of Premchand (1969); S. R. Bald, Novelists and Political Consciousness: Literary Expressions of Indian Nationalism 1919–1947 (1983);Google Scholar
  12. Norman H. Zide et al., A Premchand Reader (1962);Google Scholar
  13. Govind Narain Sharma, Munshi Premchand (1978);Google Scholar
  14. Robert O. Swan, Munshi Premchand of Lamhi Village (1969); andGoogle Scholar
  15. Madan Gopal, Kalam ka Mazdoor (1965).Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    Here I make alliances with Aijaz Ahmad, who notes the need to “explore some of the difficulties” we encounter “in constructing” Indian literature as a theoretically coherent “category” for the language-literature clusters in India. See his In Theory (1992) 243. See also Homi K. Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994).Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    George Trevor, “Oude”, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. LXXXIII, No. DXI (May 1858) 634.Google Scholar
  18. 31.
    For an excellent account of the ways in which British administrators dismantled the Hindu–Muslim model of assimilation and replaced it with a new discursive construction of communalism see Gyanendra Pandey’s The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (1990) and his “Partition and Independence in Delhi: 1947–48”, Economic and Political Weekly (6 Sep. 1997).Google Scholar
  19. 36.
    For an excellent discussion of Gandhi’s instructions for crowd control and his hostility towards the subaltern mob see Ranajit Guha, “Discipline and Mobilize”, Subaltern Studies VII, ed. Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey (1993) 69–120.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    Amrit Rai, Premchand: Kalam ka Sipahi (1962), trans.Google Scholar
  21. Harish Trivedi, Premchand: His Life and Times (1991) 387.Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    See Parita Mukta, Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai (1994).Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    See Antonio Gramsci’s “Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Economism” (1928–1935), Selections From the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (1971) 160–168.Google Scholar
  24. 52.
    British colonialism prescribed a specific set of attributes for the male colonizer like aggression, violence, denial of the affective self, and sexual restraint. There was a strict code of appropriate manly behavior which was circumscribed with prohibitions concerning activities and social behaviour that were deemed “unmanly.” Ashish Nandy suggests that unlike Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonialisms the English colonial discourse was marked by upper-class notions of “sexual distance, abstinence and self-control” and the “built-in fears about losing potency through the loss of activism and the ability to be violent” and “the fantasies which underlie these fears . . . castration and counter-castration” (The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism [1983] 10, 55). See also Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The “Manly Englishman” and the “Effeminate Bengali” in the Late Nineteenth Century (1995).Google Scholar
  25. 75.
    In this context see Carlo Coppola, “Premchand’s Address to the First Meeting of the All India Progressive Writers’ Association: Some Speculations”, Journal of South Asian Literature, op. cit., 21–39. There is also a tradition of Marxist literary criticism of Premchand’s text. In Hindi language criticism I specially recommend Manmath Nath Gupta, Premchand: Vyakti aur Sahityakar (1961).Google Scholar

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© Reena Dube 2005

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