Seminar:" The Politics and Aesthetics of Food Crisis in Twentieth Century Indian Literature" by Prof. Sourit Bhattacharya
In the last decades, India has witnessed a tragic rise in the conditions of agrarian and food crisis and farmer suicides. I will argue in this paper that this rise is not sudden but related to a long-term agrarian crisis beginning with the British modernization programmes of agriculture and industry from the late nineteenth century onward to the global historical conditions of the two World Wars, decolonization, soaring oil prices, etc. (Davis 2000; Sarkar 2002, Lazarus 2003; Singh, Bhangoo, and Sharma 2016). Reading twentieth century into a long durée framework rather than divided by colonial and postcolonial periods, I will first briefly situate my postdoctoral project of exploring the literary history of food crisis in twentieth century India – referring to works by Premchand, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Nanak Singh, Fakir Mohan Senapati, alindi Charan Panigrahi, Mulk Raj Anand, Kamala Markandaya, Srilal Shukla, MT Vasudevan, TS Pillai, Mahasweta Devi, and others. I will then closely read two novels based on the 1943 Bengal famine and its aftermath – Bhabani Bhattacharya’s So Many Hungers! (1947) and Amalendu Chakraborty’s Ākāler Sandhāne (1982). These novels hold modernizing agricultural programmes and war-time British capitalism as well as an irresponsible post-independence Indian government responsible for manufacturing the long-term agrarian and food crisis, and showcase how famines have now transitioned into the tragic condition of starvation and malnutrition in rural India. I will further demonstrate that they have adopted experimental realist aesthetics – while Bhabani Bhattacharya has employed an analytical-sensational narrative, Chakraborty has used a metafictional mode of writing. The choice of these modes, I will conclude, derives from the nature and contemporary form of a catastrophic crisis and from a deep sense of literary-political commitment.
Sourit Bhattacharya is Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Roorkee. He completed BA and MA degrees in English Literature from Presidency College, Calcutta and Jadavpur University, and an MPhil degree in Social Sciences from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (Jadavpur University). He received his PhD degree in English and Comparative Literary Studies from the University of Warwick in 2017, on a thesis that studied the novelistic representation of famines, peasant insurgencies, and state emergencies in postcolonial India. A monograph from this thesis is under review at Palgrave. He is currently involved in three postdoctoral book projects: on global postcolonial studies in the 21stC (under contract with Orient BlackSwan), on literary history of food crisis in 20thC India, and a collaborative project on non-translation and ‘worlding’ of literature. His broad research interests include postcolonial and global Anglophone literatures, modern/contemporary British and Indian writings, translation studies, literature, food, and environment, and materialist aesthetics. His research papers have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Irish University Review, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Ariel, Textual Practice, Interventions, etc., and in edited books (Cambridge Critical Concepts: Magical Realism, Cambridge UP, 2019; Postcolonial Urban Outcasts, Routledge 2017, etc.). Along with Dr. Arka Chattopadhyay of IIT Gandhinagar, Sourit co-edits Sanglap: Journal of Literary and Cultural Inquiry.