Postmodern Bangla Short Stories: the arrival of the departure (Part III) |
Premodern Kalikshetra to Postmodern Kolkata
Malay Roy Choudhury
Modernist discourse and discursive practices, irrespective of whether they arrived with the British rulers or through glossy Soviet despatches, legitimised Occidental canons and hegemony. Canons, aesthetic or military, imply legitimization. Destruction of the Bamian Buddhas is legitimization of homocentric canon. It is against nature. It thinks that the rainbow does not have so many colours. Rabindra Guha, who does not have any roots permanently like an arborescent, has articulated the dangerous consequences of a peculiar cow-belt hegemony in his micro-narrative Contactile. The little magazine explosion I have been talking of was postmodernist rupture from modernist discourse and encirclement of the centre by periphery. Two thousand fiction writers are sustained by six hundred periodicals within and outside West Bengal. This excludes magazines published in Bangladesh as well as Web little magazines. In an epoch having two thousand living fiction writers---several of them write postmodern poems--proliferation of new forms, diction, semiotic and syntactic practices, wordplay, spaces and experiences, is bound to push the Bangla short story beyond any conceivable frame. Canonical disarray was inevitable. It is not possible to bind some texts within academically-defined genres.
It would be interesting to note that when the Indian nationalist leaders in their anti-imperialist discourse gave a call for Civil Disobedience (1932) and Quit India (1942) movements, they did not advise writers to disobey and quit colonial canons. It took three earth-moving literary movements, lives of thousands of Naxal intellectual youth, jails of Indira Gandhi's Emergency and putrescence of Establishment Marxists to get rid of them. Thereafter it was plenitude of the multivocal, unprecedented freedom for the author, subversion of academic dictats. And propensities of parataxis, nonlinearity, hybridity, rhizomatic, syncreticity, heterogeneity, openness, playfulness, irony, aptativeness, disjunction, displacement, immanence, fragmentation, disorientation, disruption, hagiographical, indigenous, talkative folk forms, subaltern, eco-feminism etc. became widespread in the fictions published in little magazines. This phenomena has drawn the wrath of modernist critics who have been selectively castigating authors. However, they are aware that postmodernism is the only umbrella beneath which such a diverse discourse may be brought together for a unifying congregation.
Despite such subversive and multivocal texts of the literary movements being eventually subsumed into the mainstream, even if selectively, based on political, media-centric, upper caste or post-Partition diasporic inclinations, the challenge has permanently affected the way the postgeneric has impacted the present, and will impact the future, discourse, as has already been experienced in the case of certain Hungryalist and Shastravirodhi fiction writers like Basudeb Dasgupta and Ramanath Ray. Any literary defiance embodies the provocation of a literary code into socio-cultural, or tangentially, political code. Understanding of a postmodern text's interpellated and interpetalled designs definitely entails active collaboration on readers' part. The reader, the reader-as-critic, cannot afford to take his own position as granted, since certain problems will always remain unresolved at his own level. Any interpretation of a text will depend on the reader's understanding of the macro and micro cultural constructions and the socio-political givenness it was written from.
The postmodern Bangla short story generally aspires to resist memory's appropriation technique of vernacular newspaper literature or of textbook history, as the narrative proceeds mapping out counter-hegemonic strategies and obeys a memory-triggered structure in which textual swings develop ethnic elasticity. Postmodern short stories are worlds away from the metafictive self-consciousness of Parichoi-Kallol-Pragati and Notun Reeti authors, who gave primacy to the one single voice. Certain postmodern stories are a polyphonic mélange which need not be seen as productive of meaning but necessarily reflective or expressive. There are still some academicians who humiliate their graduate and postgraduate students if they are unable to locate the produced meaning of a text. Evidently, the discourses are basically plural, and there can never be a monocentric correctness as demanded by modernist critics.
It is pertinent to note that during the Emergency when Indira Gandhi suspended fundamental rights of the individual, and texts were subjected to censorship, several authors adopted a secret slyness in their fictions to enable the narrative to speak in different voices from behind textual masks in order to de-structure and deconstruct the centre of power. During the last decade of the 20 th century, in certain semi-urban and rural areas of West Bengal, ravaged by political violence, authors are forced to employ this technique to rescue language and literature from the terrorizing stasis around them.
As a result of the culture of political violence, villagers affiliated to one political party are hounded out of their ancestral hearth and farmland forever, or till the balance tilts, by villagers affiliated to the locally powerful or ruling political party, something unimaginable during premodern/precolonial and modern/colonial days. Such values are completely alien to West Bengal where Muslim farmers never fought with each other. However, the postmodern feature is that such violence and terror have got nothing to do with Marxist and Gandhian ideologies that the parties brag about. All ideologies, commitment and virtue have withered away. Loyalties can be switched at will, one's own or someone else's. Though in their youth in 1950s they had shouted Yeh azadi jhutha hai (Frantz Fanon in 1961 called it 'the farce of national independence') on the streets, the now-bloated top bosses of political outfits do not appear to be seriously bothered about present smithereening of West Bengal's ethnic life/world, of people who have lived together since thousands of years. As a result of political violence, the subject (just a digit to the State) is territorially deappropriated; his forefather's land has become a recognizable locus for incessantly unresolved problems. And this is one of the subject-positions where postmodern Bangla textual reality develops as a complexity. In Tripura the division is between tribals and non-tribals where the violence is defined by ruthless firepower.
Certain dominating media networks have their maximum security prisons of authorial world of customer-friendly consumerist language, which have been subverted by the micro-narratives of such authors as Udayan Ghosh, Atindriya Pathak, Barin Ghoshal, Subimal Basak, Ajit Ray, Kamal Chakraborty, Mrinal Banik, Samir Basu, Tarak Rej, Nabarun Bhattacharya, Manab Chakraborty, Bhagirath Mishra, Abhijit Sen, Subimal Mishra, Prasun Bandhopadhya. Arupratan Basu, Subhas Ghosh and Abani Dhar. Fluidity of their micro-narratives undermine the logic of power; the reader is forced to unravel the intertextuality and the power-structure that weave subject-positions within societal complexities. The subject refuses to be a digit. Their texts undermine the readers' search for a fixed subject-identity through semantic, semiotic and syntactical flux. The texts function as filter as well as amplifier of suppressed voices and fragmented undefinable subjectivities. The narrative involves the reader in the textual problems of the story which resist creating modernist stereotypes. As a result the identities, instead of getting lost in the quagmire of fixity, engage themselves in perpetual remaking.
Titles of postmodern Bangla short story go beyond logocentric modernist norms to metonyms of plurality. It may be intentional or unconscious. Instead of calling them 'titles', it would be ontologically and historically proper to call them 'rubric'. Prior to the invasion of colonialism, nature could never be owned by a native of West Bengal, be it land, water surface or forests. There were no concepts of title, title holder, deed, registration, rights, will, probate, affidavit, advocate, dalil, sastavej, wakil, wakalatnama, tauji, mauja, jameendari, shariq, munim, mukhtar, peshkar, etc. pertaining to ownership of nature or dispute relating thereto. All these words were alien to Bangla ethos and ethnos; they did not and do not have Bangla synonyms. These concepts were aimed at containing land, flora and fauna, subordinating them to human will, and rendering nature's infinititude into computable minims. It was settlement and seizure of Bangla territory through language.
Bangla nature represented, in innumerable forms, gods and goddesses. Even Buddhism was forced to have gods and goddesses. Today, most of the political violence in villages erupt out of disputes relating to ownership of farmland, orchards or water surfaces. Land reforms have reached a dead end as fragmentation of land has crossed limits. There is now no scope to absorb the surplus farmers in cultivation. No industries have come up to absorb them either. Rather, the majority of those that already existed, especially those owned by indigenous people of West Bengal, have either been struck off through alien ontology or locked off by disgusted entrepreneurs. Rural areas swarm with illiterate, unemployed farmhands while urban and semi-urban areas swarm with educated unemployeds, fifty years after Independence and twenty-five years of quasi-Marxist rule. Several of the authors have been groomed in this postmodern condition. A strange post-Industrial scenario indeed! Time packaged in a coffin!
In premodern Bangla, oral or written narrative was nature's gift to mankind of this specific geography. The text was not the private property of the writer. In fact, the concept of author itself arrived with Occidental poetics. The premodern writer did not have authority over the text prepared by him. In case of some Mangalkavyas, the writer claimed that a particular god directed him in his dreams. Even as late as 1970, Komol Kumar Majumdar has written almost all his stories after obeisance to his personal deities in the first sentence of his texts, which he ethnicised in an incomparable discourse based on premodern semantic, semiotic and syntactic nuances.
In case of premodern writers, any subsequent writer was free to add his own contribution to anybody else's texts, or change the entire structure of the earlier narrative. Valmiki's epic Ramayana has hundreds of versions in various Indian languages. All of them are accepted at all levels of the particular language-society. Nabaneeta Dev Sen in her essay The Hero's Feet of Clay (2000) has cited women's re-tellings of the epic, dating from 16 th century to the present day.
Prior to invasion of modernity, there was personal possession in Bangla life/world, and no idea of private property existed. The concept of ownership of text created violence in native philosophy, society and culture. No text had a title in premodern Bangla literature, and the writer was not at all a title-holder author. Title meant seizure and fixity. Title identified the center of power. Titles of narratives arrived with Occidental poetics, and became inseparable from the center of power of the content during Porichoi-Kollol-Notun Reeti span. The title identified the core of the subject matter. Since the title-holder or the author owned the text, the entry and the exit of the text had to be securely closed. Hence the twist of the key in the last para or thereabouts of a story became essential to keep the exit-door of the story carefully clicked shut. The close-endedness of a text was perfected with imperialism's foray into indigenous unowned cultures.
Political internecine violence may also be interpreted as emergence of a tool to reopen indigenous cultures, be it in West Bengal, Tripura or African countries. Naxal violence in West Bengal, and fragmentation of this school of thought into thirty-six warring camps, had gone beyond political domain. In fact, the efforts of Hungryalist, Shastravirodhi and Neem Sahitya fiction writers to dismantle the single core of the subject matter, were carried further by writers who emerged after the above fragmentation. The gol gappo sndrome became limited to newspaper literature. The postmodern fiction writer employs rubric instead of title, as an external unifier of his narrative thoughts, as a measure of decentering, and for the purpose of highlighting the periphery. With emphasis on the periphery, the focus of the text shifts to micro-territory of characters. However, the micro-territory remains increasingly plagued by neo-colonial ills; economic disorder, social malaise, political scams, criminal as politician, government corruption, influx of famished Bangladeshi Muslim families, repression by state and political party apparatuses, digitalisation of individuals as voters, indifference and apathy of public sector institutions. The progressive time of modernity has evaporated in thick polluted air. Amid this hypochondria, the postmodern texts are forced to probe their own narrative ways out of the disillusion. There are authors who have declared in print that they do not own copyright of their books.
Not having a title and title-holder, the postmodern text has evolved ability to be both of specific micro-territory and yet also peregrinated. In its tension between the micro and the macro, local and non-local, particular and general, between domestic and public environs of characters, there is constant rubrification of identity. The alterity of the text is constructed on the principle of self-difference rather than as a self-identical whole. A postmodern mixture has taken place after the indigenous communes of West Bengal were overrun by influx of displaced persons from East Pakistan, leading to titlelessness of micro-cultures, micro-rituals, micro-customs, etc., and interweaving thereof in pluralistic discourses. A rubric emancipates postmodern Bangla short story from the major colonial anchorage of history. Titlelessness attacks ossification of text as art, and avoids commodification. Since postmodernism is mobile and on the random nomadic move, title of the text is an impossiblity, superimposed and artificial.
From premodern to postmodern Bangla literature has moved quite fast, much faster than Europeans. Language developmen, however, has not been able to keep same pace. The geographical space called Kalikshetra, spanning from Behala in the north to Dakshineshwar in the south, was handed over to Rai Majumdar Lakshmikanta Choudhury for raising revenue from the produce of the area vide a 1608 order of Emperor Nooruddin Muhammed Jehangir. Only people of subaltern castes viz. heley kaivarta, jeley kaivarta, namashudra, mahishya, sadgop, rajvangshi, poundra-kshatriya, etc., lived and toiled in the villages of the area. Not a single upper-caste family lived in Kalikshetra. Lakshmikanta, a Brahmin, built his residence on the outskirts of Behala. Kalikshetra became Calcutta when the descendents of Lakshmikanta, better known as Sabono Choudhury, were forced by the then Nawab of Bengal to transfer intermediacy and revenue rights to the East India Company in 1698. Premodern Kalikshetra became modern Calcutta. The original subaltern inhabitants were driven out, and in came hordes of middle-caste business families to seize upon new business opportunites. And with the transfer of Diwani Rights in Bengal to the Englishmen in 1765 and establishment of Fort Wiliam College in 1800, the entry of upper-caste families to the area became unstoppable. Modern Calcuta became postmodern Kolkata in 2001, as all original inhabitants, both premodern and modern, have been hounded out of the hub of the metropolis.
(to be continued)
Malay Roy Choudhury is a poet/novelist who was the founder of the 'Hungry Literary Movement' in the 1960s. He lives in Kolkata.