Premchand’s Fantasies and the Nation as Allegory

On April 13, 2014 by admin

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Paresh Chandra

I

This essay comes after, and is an attempt to rethink, parts of a longer study of Premchand’s novels that I had completed (after a manner) almost a year ago. In that study, I had suggested that the processes at work in these novels produced certain ideological constellations (in the pejorative-bourgeois-lying sense of the term). If I were to stay with those conclusions – whose validity I continue to be convinced of – then even the most avowedly nationalist-myopic films of the 1950s and 1960s, which bear an immediate and palpable relationship withfantasies of Indian statehood, were only fulfilling Premchandian possibilities. I feel the need not so much to qualify those conclusions as to complete them by stripping them of their seeming finality. The way I see it, in order to be completed the argument must be restated against its grain. This essay is a preface to this restatement.

The questions that concern this essay have as much if not more to do with literary history as with Premchand; in particular, the question of periodization. For instance: Is Premchand a kind of vanishing moment between two bourgeois fantasy formations – the one that preceded the independent Indian state (Bhartendu Yug reformist novels, the Indian Ideology), and the one that declared and strengthened its hegemony (a significant portion of 1950s/60s Hindi cinema)?

II

Premchand as realist. A key quality common to various realist styles associated with the 19th century novel inEurope (the kind of realism we are concerned with) is the injunction that space and time must both be specified. If such preoccupation with specificity is an important marker of realism, the short story’s claim may be stronger than the novel’s. In “The Storyteller”, Walter Benjamin emphasizes the specificity of experience from which stories germinate – experience that leads to wisdom which can be communicated to the community through the story; it is sign of community, it consolidates community.

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The Premchand short story, in its conjoining of realism and particularization, presents a paradox: What gets symbolized, and communicated to the reader, is the impossibility of ever being able to symbolize the singularity of experience.

“Kafan” and “Poos ki raat”. At first glance, both stories seem to explore how human beings respond to extreme physical duress. “Poos ki raat,” with its freezing peasant protagonist clutching his dog for warmth, reminds one of Jack London’s “Making a Fire” stories; London too was fascinated by extreme physical conditions that reduce a human being to a condition where s/he is capable only of animal responses. Such conditions force a suspension of the self’s fashioned-regularity, the normal self, constituted of ethical/social habits and responses. The immediate is so overpowering that thought of the future and of the other is momentarily suspended (“species-being” really seems like an idea only philosophers could cook up).

In “Poos ki Raat” Halku sleeps in his fields to protect his crop. Come the moment, however, he, refuses to wake up from the hard-fought for stupor of sleep even as his crops are destroyed. The story begins with Halku giving up his only chance of buying a blanket just so he can pay a debt. He is constructed in a few strokes – a hard-working peasant who is unable to escape his poverty (exactly what Ghisu and Madhav refuse to become in “Kafan”) – and because he is so constructed, his inefficiency is not enough to deduce indolence. Having been given access to Halku’s consciousness, to his experiences, the reader is able to explain his (in)action, and since you can explain, you do not condemn. In “Kafan”, it is the clause of “responsibility” toward the other that is bracketed in the face of hunger; in the background Premchand paints for Ghisu and Madhav’s tale he achieves an effect similar to the one in the previous story.

For characters in the story the only available truth is that Halku, Madhav and Ghisu shirk their duties, perhaps their most important duties; Halku in order to sleep, and the other two to eat and drink. Those who judge them (Halku’s wife at the end of “Poos ki Raat” and the benevolent landlord in “Kafan”) are never entirely dismissed by the narrative; they could not understand and they cannot be blamed for not being able to understand. The rhythm of the everyday differs from the one which these individuals inhabit; it is incomprehensible to those who are outside it; the reader has momentary access through the story. His moment of empathy is the product of an aesthetic intervention. The story, acting like Henri Lefebvre’s little window that opens onto the street[ii], allows the reader to be insider enough to experience this rhythm, and outsider enough to comprehend it.

If realism begins with the particular, then to explore the particular is to explore it in terms of its internal logic. The explanations that Premchand’s realist representations achieve are objective insofar as they accept the objectivity of every subject-position – the implication being that these explanations are historical, not moral. An individual’s actions are not wrong; they are always right when understood as responses to specific conditions. If Kant’s Copernican Revolution was a result of turning the gaze inward, and exploring the subjective constitution of the object, Premchand’s historical gaze is interested in the objective constitution of the subject. It circumvents the deification (and reification) of ethics and the “ethical self” (that can make the world better by bettering itself) which, though it may not have been the Kantian enterprise, is certainly one of the many bourgeois ideologies that fed off it. The first lesson of Premchand’s realism is quasi-structuralist in nature – the self is not responsible; the first cause is external.

In a short story called “Nasha,” we witness a friendship between a young clerk and a zamindar. The clerk, also the narrator, is very critical of zamindars, likening them to violent beasts (“hinsak pashu”) and parasites (“khoon choosne waale jonk”). But after spending a few weeks with his zamindar friend at his familial abode, he becomes so used to its comforts that he quite forgets himself, and while returning to his older town life, pushes a man who is standing too close to him in a crowded train. (Something similar happens in the novel Kayakalp,when the principled Gajadhar, after having spent some time in his father-in-law’s palace, kills a villager for refusing him help at an absurd hour.)

Once again, the self is swayed by circumstance, the ethical self-image is shattered. Nor can this individual be judged; Premchand’s narrator, especially in the novels, is never stable enough to become the locus of judgment. He tries to know, often pretends to know, but is repeatedly found ignorant by a narrative that twists and turns as if it has no internal logic.[iii] Nobody has knowledge of this world, and no one knows what is to be done. The narrator and the characters bump into the same walls.

Through its representation of environments, and the embeddedness of subjects in environments, Premchand’s realism contains the following lessons.

1)      The self is shaped by its circumstances (remember Zola’s motto “heredity and environment”). The attempt to construct an ethical self, or the attempt to present an individual as being more ethical than another is futile (even bad faith), for no self-fashioning can transcend circumstance. This is the very definition of an ordinary self (person) that has often been the object of novelistic representation.

2)      That being the case, all of society’s problems emerge not from the subject, but from objective conditions (from the structure, that is to say).

These conclusions bring us to another question,

3)      If the subject is so determined by objective conditions, then how is change ever to come? Or rather, how is the subject to ever bring about change? Is there a point to asking that old question “what is to be done?” if that other one, “who is to blame?” is pointless?

And it is the search for these answers that will take Premchand outside the domain of (his) realism. A study of his novels offers results different from a study of his short stories. The novels make possible and depend upon a plot – a sequence of events, a sequence that furthermore maps movement in a chosen direction. Where the story seemed appropriate for the depiction of an episode, or a situation, the Premchand novel explores causes and solutions. His essay “Upanyas” can be read as a response to the question of change formulated above. But in attempting this response, the essay reveals other interesting things too.

 

III

Premchand’s 1925 essay, “Upanyas” is reminiscent of Balzac’s famous preface to The Human Comedy. Like Balzac, Premchand too thinks of the novel as a form suited to the exploration of variety in the human species. Balzac’s preface begins with a discussion of the “natural sciences,” in which he sketches the procedures that constitute a scientific typology – the analytical movement from the generality of the species to systematic particularization, through genus etc. down to the individual being. A similar method, he argues, can be employed in order to understand and represent the human species. All human beings are made from the same mold, environment introduces variety.

Premchand, in a similar vein, argues that individuals vary from each other in degree, in varying degrees. The same fundamental impulse (the love of one’s offspring, for instance) can manifest itself differently in different individuals – there we have variety. The novelist must understand human psychology well, and thus be able to represent particularities. Each character has to be individuated accurately – this is the core of the novelist’s task.

Premchand goes on to say that novelists are divided into two camps, depending on whether they believe they should only create characters that they think actually exist in the world, or that they should also create “ideal” characters. Premchand’s kind of novelist is an “idealist-realist” who creates ideal types in addition to real ones.

“Upanyaskaar ki sabse badi vibhuti aise charitron ki srishti karna hai, jo apne sadvyavhar aur sadvichar se pathak ko mohit kar len. Jis upanyas ke charitron mein yah gun nahin hai, vah do kaudi ka hai. (Rachna Sanchayan 697)

“The splendor of a novelist lies in the creation of characters that captivate readers with their good conduct and ideas. A novel whose characters do not have this quality is worthless.”

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So far, the manner in which Premchand describes the form, it appears (like it did in Balzac’s descriptions) synchronic. But the form, at least the one that Premchand (and Balzac) worked with, was also diachronic (this being the significant difference from the short story) – the plot is no less essential than characters. So the idealist-realist does not only have to create ideal-type characters. He also has to construct a plot; furthermore, the Premchand plot invariably moves, or tries to move, along the path of the 19th century bildungsroman – which means that the plot explores the construction of selfhood through experience. In the Balazacian model, the synchronic and the diachronic impulses worked together because of his construction of character systems. One novel may concern itself with one, or a few characters, but these characters reappear as minor characters in another novel. Premchand, of course, never conceived of such a model. And so, the knotty question he was faced with is: What is the relation between the real and the ideal, real characters and ideal characters?

Premchand speaks of the notion of “parivartan,” or transformation of a character (Rachna Sanchayan 696). He also asserts that the ideal-type should not remain an abstraction (“siddhanton ki murti”); it has to be brought to life (“pran-pratistha”). This can be done, he suggests, by humanizing these characters with flaws, but also through struggles they have to face. So, the ideal character will have a narrative, hence a plot; and the possibilities of a realist plot, we know, are circumscribed by the principle of causality[iv], though not necessarily direct – billiard balls – causality. As a result, we reach the most obvious of problems: How is the ideal formed? What “real” experiences lead to its formation? “Real” and “ideal”, “reality” and “ideas”, how are they to coexist in the novel?

The ideal can exist beside the real, on a parallel but unconnected plane. The ideal character can be an abstraction, an idol made of principles, which is not limited by the reality that other characters have to face. This is the domain of pure idealism that Premchand rejects. Two other possibilities that the Premchand novel invariably moves toward:

1)                          The ideal character faces the same reality, but responds better than others because he isnaturally superior to them. Superiority has to be natural, that is pre-social, because the social is the domain towhich these characters respond differently. A man may seem ordinary, like all others, but after a point he sheds this ordinariness, to transform into who he “really” is.

2)                          The ideal character is not naturally superior; he is superior because of the special position he occupies in reality/society.

So how will the real and ideal relate to each other? What structures this relation?

IV

Vardan

Though Vardan is usually not considered a part of the yatharthvaadi Premchand’s oeuvre – because of its beginning (perhaps also because of the way it ends) – for us it remains a useful point of entry into the nature of his representations. Leaving aside its extraordinary/magical beginning, the novel has all the characteristics needed to place it in the tradition of the 19th century English novel. It is concerned primarily with domesticity. The middle portion of the novel is given to exploring psychological transitions that individuals are subject to as a result of specific conditions. It depends to a large extent on the epistolary style, popular in the earlier period of the English novel and also in the Hindi novels of the Bhartendu Yug.

Pratap and Virjan, who thought they were destined to be together, got separated because Virjan’s parents had other designs. Pratap is deemed unsuitable despite his many qualities because the death of his father had left his family very poor. Virjan is married into a richer household but to a nincompoop, Kamlacharan. Over a period of time she tries to make peace with her fate, even as her love for Pratap does not subside. Kamlacharan too tries to change himself for Virjan, but fails, and because of his waywardness, dies. In the meanwhile, after much heartache over Virjan, Pratap exiles himself, and notwithstanding occasional reports, disappears from the novel.

A very long passage in the work is made up of letters written by Virjan to Kamlacharan, over a period of separation. Because of an outbreak of plague, Virjan, along with Kamlacharan’s parents has had to leave town and retreat to the country.  Virjan’s romanticized image of village life is shattered by the reality of utter destitution in the village, and the sorry state of villagers occupies much space in her letters. Her letters draw a picture of village life and various kinds of evil that haunt it – poverty, superstition, moneylenders, and so on. After Kamlacharan dies, trying to escape a tight spot his indiscretions had landed him in, Virjan undergoes a series of trials, leading to her final transformation into a poet, at which point the novel leaves her. The focus shifts to Madhavi and through that to Pratap till we finally arrive at the end, which is Pratap’s metamorphosis into Balaji.

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Balaji (who some believe to be based on Vivekananda[v]) is literally an extraordinary person. He has no private life to speak of and is entirely the embodiment of the will to transform an ailing civilization. Balzac’s reasons for not writing a novel (which was for him a form that deals with private life) about extraordinary men (one can write about the Napoleonic, but not Napoleon) become clear here. The novel looks at Pratap’s private life, but this exploration cannot really explain his metamorphosis into Balaji – heartbreak may have turned him away from love and domesticity but still does not explain such broadening of the soul.

This is where we return to the beginning of the novel, which we had earlier bracketed out. The novel begins with Pratap’s to-be mother Suvama, asking a goddess for a boon. She wants a son who will serve the nation. It is Pratap’s destiny to transform into Balaji. The set of experiences represented in the novel do not make him what he is – we are far far away from the bildungsroman, where subjectivity is formed in the play of experience and memory. The novel is rapidly transformed from being a story of individuals into an enumeration of evils that necessitate the coming of Balaji (the similarity with the tales of Vishnu’s avatars is unmistakable).

The novel breaks into two, representing the two impulses that Premchand is trying to bring into dialogue. The first is a critical realist impulse that through the lives of individuals relates the story of society. The resolution to society’s problems is to emerge from society itself (this being the basis of reform). The novel should then be a tale of the journey an individual makes, where his experiences bring him to the subjectivity demanded by the situation. But the creation of an extraordinary subjectivity (Balaji) leads one well beyond the scope of the realist novel. The middle portion of this novel, really the bits that are properly realist-novelistic, cannot produce Balaji, who is nonetheless needed to resolve the problems enumerated here, and so to fashion the end. The second impulse, seeking a solution, an answer to the question “what is to be done?” gets embodied in the end that ruptures the form, and demands, perhaps retrospectively produces, the magical beginning to explain itself. The middle, the novel proper, is structurally prior to the “beginning-end”, because it creates the need for Balaji, but the chain of causality will never arrive at this resolution. The tale of a private person’s transformation into an extraordinary individual, a person who can change society, can only seem like a tale of contingencies, of coincidences (Sevasadan). At the moment Premchand chooses a different method – destiny, but also the fantastical (paralleling structural determinations that Premchand would explore later in Sevasadan)[vi]. We return to the two (ideal) possibilities (although we are in this essay concerned only with the first) that we spoke of following our discussion of “Upanyas”:

1)                          The ideal character faces the same reality, but responds better than others because he is naturally superior to them. In Vardaan Pratap was a form that merely had to be shed for “Balaji,” the Goddess’s gift to emerge as he is. But the reason for Balaji’s existence lies outside the reality. The reality of realism can offer no explanation for his existence; he’s either an anomaly or a product of divine intervention.

2)                          The ideal character is not naturally superior, but superior merely because of the special position it occupies in the real. Padm Singh (Sevasadan) is part of the municipality. Is this a coincidence or is the will of an abstract structure – bureaucracy, the state etc.? (Grist to a different mill.)

 

V

There has been a tendency to read Premchand as a novelist in the tradition of the serious, and boring, novels of the late 19th century. Even scholars honest enough to admit the significance of writers like Devkinandan Khatri, Kishorilal Goswami and Gopalram Gahmari in creating a Hindi readership are usually at pains to demonstrate that Premchand’s work is a break from this tradition of fantasy, even at the cost of ignoring all novels that came before Sevasadan. The strangeness of the suggestion that Premchand turned (overnight!) a readership addicted to fantasy toward the more serious form that is realism speaks for itself.

By publishing the “longest Hindi novel of the 19th century” (Print and Pleasure 200) in 1891, Devkinanadan Khatri became the first truly popular novelist in Hindi[vii]Chandrakanta, an important step in the formation of a readership for the Hindi novel, was a “tilismi” novel. Two characteristics, which Khatri highlighted are of special interest to us.

1)      The first is the use of “ordinary” language. Khatri:

Kisi daarshnik granth ya part ki bhasha ke liye kisi bade kosh ko tatolna pade to parwah nahin; parantu saadharan vishayon ke liye bhi kosh tatolna pade to nisandeh dosh ki baat hai. Meri Hindi kis shreni ki hai, iska nirdharan mein nahin karta, parantu mein yah jaanta hun ke padhne ke liye kosh ki talash nahin karni padegi. (Hindi Upanyas ka Vikas 24-25)

If one has to make use of a dictionary while reading a philosophical work or essay, it’s nothing to worry about; but if a dictionary is needed even for common subjects, then that is a fault. I don’t discourse upon the quality of my Hindi, but this much I do know, a dictionary will not be needed in order to read it.

The quote explains itself, and against the backdrop of the reformist Hindi novels of the 1870s and 80s, which often used a highly Sanskritised Hindi, is of some significance. To a great extent, it is Khatri’s kind of language that one finds in Premchand’s work.

2)      The second is Khatri’s attitude towards the fantastical. Madhuresh:

Ek upanyas ke rup mein ‘Chandrakanta’ aur ‘Chandrakanta Santati’ ka vaishishtya yah hai ki ek tilismi kahani mein bhi ve alaukik chamataaron jaadu-tone ke tatvon ka tiraskar karte hein. Yahaan bade se bada chamatkar manviye buddhi  ka parinaam hai. Isi tathya ki or sanket karte hue, upanyas ka ek part, siddh nath baba kahta hai, “jo kaam aadmi ke aiyaron se nahin ho sakta, use mein bhi nahin kar sakta…”(Hindi Upanyas ka Vikas 24)

As novels the significant thing about Chandrakanta and Chandrakanta Santati is that despite being “tilismi” narratives they avoid fantastical miracles and magic. Here, even the greatest miracles are products of the human mind. Indicating this fact, a character, Siddh Nath Baba, says, “That which a man or an aiyyar cannot accomplish, nobody can accomplish.”

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Khatri was not simply a writer of fantasy; he was trying to figure out a way to contain fantasy. Khatri argued that fantasy was merely an inadequate attempt to understand/represent the real. In the world of the daastango(Frances Prichett will tell us) the fantastical was an aspect of the real. Khatri’s assertion clearly indicates a shift in symbolic horizons. He is, as a matter of fact, delimiting the space for the fantastical as is possible only after its death knell has been rung[viii].  Realism has already begun. A new code that Khatri recognizes as being more adequate for his times. Premchand considered Khatri the most important novelist in Hindi, and echoed Khatri’s opinion early on in his career.

Where Khatri was actively killing the fantastical (by calling it fantasy), by the time Premchand came around, the fantastical was dead (it was just fantasy now). And yet Premchand used elements of the fantastical. In Premchand, however, the relative positions of fantasy and realism were reversed. After losing its place as a key used to decode (or code), to symbolize reality, the gradual decline in the use of the fantastical transformed it, transformed the role it played in representation. Where in Khatri the real was being used to contain the fantastical, in Premchand the fantastical becomes a way of containing the real – its metamorphosis into fantasy(symbolic wish-fulfillment) was complete.

An example comes to mind. The figure of the “aiyyar” arrives into Khatri’s novel from the tradition of the Persiandastaan. In Chandrakanta an aiyyar, using tools at his disposal, is able to resolve political issues without kingdoms having to go to war. Something similar continues in Premchand. The figure of the extraordinary man[ix]enters Premchand’s novels repeatedly, often without an anchor in a world rife with problems and becomes the bearer of resolutions. The only major difference, probably, is that in Khatri the aiyyar is also the one setting up problems (and so for him problems are games), where in Premchand the problem precedes and demands the coming of the extraordinary man.

In any case, it is this search for resolution, which leads to quasi-fantastical results, forcing Premchand (especially in his early novels) to make use of elements alien to the discourse of realism. This aspect of Premchand’s handling of the political is, unlike his realism, unique to his novels.

VI

On the question of continuity between Khatri and Premchand: Was it a partnership that brought realism to the Hindi novel? Did a reader searching for realism, finding a glimmer in Khatri, finally come home to Premchand? Or did Khatri’s readers take easily to Premchand because Premchand too was for them a writer of fantasies, of more believable, readable fantasies perhaps? An interesting question with a boring answer: both. And yet one must not make the fool’s error of thinking of this as a simple coexistence of two: “the reader was looking for a bit of realism and a bit of fantasy”. Surely we can offer something better.

Let us return to Khatri’s Adorno-and-Horkheimeresque statement about magic. The assertion is in-itself proof of a new order of discourse that has superseded the old. Magic is primordial science trying to control the uncontrollable; fantasy is an inadequate attempt to understand/represent reality. By this logic, realism is a better tool for representation, a better instrument of control; realism is, in the final analysis, fuelled by (the) fantasy (of control). This is by no means a novel proposition. Detective fiction, it has been noted, emerged with the attempt to cognitively, and materially, map the metropolis; Hogarth and Dickens were doing something similar. In his canny, if finally inadequate, rethinking of working class history Dipesh Chakravarty looks at how knowledge about the conditions of the working class was produced as part of an organized attempt to safeguard the interests of capital. In the same work he observes that in the absence of adequate new institutions of representation (read fantasies), older forms tend to continue, albeit in a tint they steal from the new situation; in the absence of the bourgeois democratic institution, of the trade union, leaderships in the jute mills tended to be structured by residual feudal relations. In Premchand too we have seen the older form of fantasy reappear at moments in which realism seems unequal to the task.

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Premchand’s fantasy of representing this world was echoed by (though I would not say determined by) a bourgeoisie that had been coming into its own for over half-a-century, which was looking to find its bearing in a world it was also simultaneously struggling to shape. In the larger work I mentioned earlier, I read the Premchand novel as a play of two conflicting desires – one seeking to represent and the other to resolve. The first is his structuralist moment, the second will at times lead him to a reformist nationalist formulation of the problem.

This essay too has continued along that line of argument. It is time to make an obvious alteration: In a sense, representation is resolution. But in Premchand, the final moment of completion (logically but not necessarily chronologically) in which representation truly gains its identity, and finds its Truth in the semblance of Wholeness, never arrives. The literary imagination, in that final instant, is unable to map the world and its determinations; the political imagination is unable to adequately formulate the problem. At this point fantasy, in the narrower sense of the word, appears to complete representation, to resolve what could not be resolved. (In this light then, what was meant by the assertion that in Premchand fantasy is used to contain reality? In Premchand, fantasy completes representation by containing reality. We will return to this.)

And so Premchand has to use ideal characters, “hridaya parivartan”, and in the specific case of the Nirmala-Gaban dyad, melodrama. We have looked at the easy, but relatively uninteresting case of Vardaan. InSevasadan, the fantasy-machine is the bourgeois state that becomes the locus for representation and resolution, in Premashram it is the benevolent nationalist landlord. What is not discovered is willed, though this act of desire disguises itself as one of pure reason.

We must resist the urge to fish out the address to the Progressive Writers’ Association, or “Mahajani Sabhyata”. Little is gained in making these gestures. Little is gained in calling Premchand a “socialist” (for we cannot, after all, call him a Marxist!). No point calling him a reactionary either.  What makes Premchand important in the history of Hindi literature is also what makes his relation with his moment difficult to pronounce upon.

Premchand’s realism was fueled by a desire that in its historical determinateness is hard to distinguish from the bourgeoisie’s urge to know and shape (to contain?) the world; but the final intervention of fantasy is also the acknowledgement of the problems of this desire and the inadequacy and violence of its fulfillment, of containment.

If we read politics in terms of history, then Premchand was merely trying to construct adequate national-bourgeois fantasies which would be perfected by others in years to come (most ably by those who would come to rule the film industry, the same industry that Premchand too made an unsuccessful attempt at joining). If we choose, however, to brush history against its grain, to read history in terms of politics, then the obviousness of fantastical interventions in Premchand could also seem a sign of a split, of a something that is stopping Premchand’s hand. The gradual perfecting of bourgeois fantasy need not be the natural course of the path that starts at Premchand, although that is the course that history took. Our task, having noted this (and only after having noted this) is also to do a history of possibilities. And so I submit that in Premchand’s work we do not merely read national allegories; we read the nation as allegory.

Notwithstanding the ubiquity of terms like “jati”, “desh” etc., the nation is not really a concept of great substance in the Premchand novel, as if the relation between the signifiers and what they seek to signify has not yet congealed. On the question of change, we noted that Premchand reaches a kind of structuralist impasse. Among the ways to sidestep this impasse, a particularly popular one is nationalism. Nationalism resolves the anxiety caused by the dawning recognition of the structural nature of problems by displacing affect onto an outsider, transference Freud might say from what seems an unrepudiable part of reality to a part that has already been repudiated, conquered.

So: Who is to blame? The colonial rule, maybe the zamindar. What is to be done? The obvious.

This displacement is a symbolic act, an ideological act that makes an incomplete image of reality seem complete. The way in which the national emerges in Premchand, aligned with fantasy, as that which resolves the plot and gives representation the veneer of totality effectively maps the emergence of nationalism in history. Over the years the language of nationalism gains a self-evident character, its signifiers begin to hegemonize the field, and a fantasy will colonize history. But in Premchand we still encounter a moment in which this representation, this manner of structuring of reality was a choice that could have not been made. The national, here, is firstly an entity of discourse. The change in its status from an element of discourse, one fantasy among others, to the closing, shaping maneuver (which it becomes in Premchand) does not seem inevitable.

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Endnotes

[1] This essay is a somewhat modified extract from a dissertation I wrote under the supervision of Dr. Nandini Chandra. I should thank Dr. Prasanta Chakravarty for giving me the push I needed to extract it, and Anirudh Karnick for helping me improve it by patiently reading, editing and commenting on it

2 See Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis, especially the third chapter “Seen from the windom”.

3One could go as far as to say that in novels like KarmbhoomiRangbhoomi, this ignorance is what shapes the work.

4 This assertion needs explanation and qualifications. But neither is within the scope of this essay.

5 See Dr. Kamalkishore Goyanka’s chapter on Vardan in the third part of Premchand ke Upanyason ka shilp vidhan.

Sevasadan, in fact, is a far more interesting case that we have discussed elsewhere.

7 Gopal Rai discusses Khatri’s popularity in his Hindi Upanyas ka Itihas, and what he thought to be the originiality of Khatri’s contribution in the history of the Hindi novel in Upanyas ki Samrachna. Madhuresh too includes Khatri as a prominent figure in the first chapter (“Hindi upanyas: udbhav or vikas ki prakriya”) of his Hindi Upanyas ka Vikas. Other important discussions of Khatri’s work are to be found in Rajendra Yadav’s chapter onChandrakanta in Atharah upanyas (New Delhi: Akshar Prakashan, 1981), and Francesca Orsini’s chapter (“Chandrakanta and Early Hindi Fiction in Benares”) in Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2009).

8 See Michael Mckeon’s discussion of literary morphology in the early pages of his The Origin of the Novel: 1600-1740. In the introduction to the work (“Dialectical Method in Literary History”) Mckeon uses Marx’s concepts of “simple” and “rational” abstraction (extracted from the Grundrisse) to explicate the relation between older and newer forms.

9 For reasons of simplicity, let us stay away the associations this term has gained since Bazarov and Raskolnikov, although these two Russians do share a likeness with the extraordinary men that people Premchand’s novels. Not for nothing is Premchand’s Shatranj ke Khiladi considered a brilliant exposition of “Oblomovitis”

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References.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. New York: Schocken, 1969/2000. Print.

Chakravarty, DipeshRethinking Working Class History: Bengal 1890-1940. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989. Print.

Goyanka, Kamal Kishore. Premchand ke upanyason ka shilp vidhan. New Delhi and Allahabad, 1973. Print.

Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. New Delhi: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

Madhuresh. Hindi Upanyas ka Vikas. Allahabad: Lokbharati Prakashan, 2008. Print.

Mckeon, Michael. The Origin of the Novel: 1600-1740. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001. Print.

Nirmal Verma and Kamal Kishore Goyanka (Eds.). Premchand: Rachna Sanchyan. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2002. Print.

Orsini, Francesca. Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2009. Print.

Premchand. Vardaan. New Delhi: Sadhana Prakashan, 2008. Print.

Premchand (trans. Ruth Vanita). The Shroud and other Stories. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. Print

Rai, Gopal. Upanyas ki Sanrachna. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2012. Print

Rai, Gopal. Hindi Upanyas ka Itihas. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2011. Print.

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Paresh Chandra is part of the Radical Notes collective and teaches at the Department of English, Hindu College.

 

 

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