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Satire, Literary Realism and the Indian State

Fakir Mohan Senapati's literary device of using satire served a dual purpose. It was a strategy that made possible a veiled criticism of the colonial state and the norms it imposed but was also an admission of self-mockery. This tradition of satire and self-mockery is carried further in novels that depict the disillusionment the citizen experienced in the post-colonial state, most evocative in Shrilal Shukla's novel of post-Nehruvian despair, Raag Darbari. The use of satire strikes a bitterly mocking tone, yet the humour assuages, lifts the narrative from being a work of utter desolation to one the reader can understand, mourn and yet laugh.

Satire, Literary Realism and the Indian State

Six Acres and a Third and Raag Darbari

Fakir Mohan Senapati’s literary device of using satire served a dual purpose. It was a strategy that made possible a veiled criticism of the colonial state and the norms it imposed but was also an admission of self-mockery. This tradition of satire and self-mockery is carried further in novels that depict the disillusionment the citizen experienced in the post-colonial state, most evocative in Shrilal Shukla’s novel of post-Nehruvian despair, Raag Darbari. The use of satire strikes a bitterly mocking tone, yet the humour assuages, lifts the narrative from being a work of utter desolation to one the reader can understand, mourn and yet laugh.


his paper outlines the modes of political critique employed in Fakir Mohan Senapati’s seminal Oriya novel Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Third (1897-99)) in order to consider the relationship between Indian literary realism, satire and the Indian state over the last 200 years. Using the methodology made available by Chha Mana in its satirical critique of 19th century colonialism, the paper will proceed to explore the nature of power in early post-colonial India, through a reading of Shrilal Shukla’s Hindi novel Raag Darbari (1968). Raag Darbari, like Chha Mana, invokes forms of explosive humour central to the oral culture of Indian literary aesthetics in order to critique the political realities of the society it represents. In particular, the novel gives such humour a modern political inflection through the development of what can be called the descriptive logic of ‘ulti batein’, which, in turning on its head conventional understandings of the relationships between cause and effect, intention and result and other self-evident logics of realism, comprises a critical commentary on the particular kind of failure which characterised the post-colonial Indian state. By inverting conventional descriptive logic, Raag Darbari represents the utter failings of the ideals of the nationalist state in their post-colonial implementation and, more drastically, in their post-Nehruvian disintegration. In this way, Raag Darbari not only makes a humorous political critique, but also quite poignantly represents the extent to which the disillusionment of the era penetrates deeply into the Indian psyche – into the very crevices between the representation and the real.

Satire and Convention in Six Acres and a Third

In his introduction to the most recent English translation of Chha Mana Atha Guntha, Satya Mohanty points to the author’s “powerful indictment of many...forms of social and political authority”, which comprises a “critical vision [that] is embodied in its narrative style or mode, in the complex way the novel is narrated and organised as a literary text” (2006:2).1 Indeed, the novel’s form works in the service of a radical political critique established on another level by the novel’s plot, which details the depletion of ethical values in the face of individual greed and large-scale corruption – embodied in the eponymous chunk of land. Most significant in this regard is the novel’s metafictional quality, which “draw[s] attention away from the tale to accentuate the way it is told” [Mohanty 2006:3]. This results in a highly self-critical text, concerned not only with the seemingly tangential stories of its minor characters – what Mohanty calls the “rich metaphorical subtext” of the novel (2006:9) – but also with the experience of the “soft” power of literary conventions on the subjects of colonial modernity. Such conventions, such as those of literary realism, tend to elude direct critique because of their normative, rather than coercive power, and thus invite a more biting and subtle form of satire. It is, in fact, this level of satire that comprises Chha Mana’s critical edge and, ironically, its most “realist” representation of the experience of 19th century, Indian modernity.

Broadly speaking, we can trace the mode of critique in Fakir Mohan’s satire to the nature of its object, which we might define as colonialist logic, or the politics of “moral and intellectual suasion” [Viswanathan 1989:2] which defined British rule in the subcontinent in the 19th century. This logic was comprised of values developed in the metropole but propagated in India through colonial education. As many scholars have shown [Viswanathan 1989; Joshi 2003], the peculiar nature of British imperial power precludes an artificial separation by the critic of aesthetic convention and innovation from the politics of governance, as each was historically central to the other. Colonial values were propounded across the culture-politics divide, appearing in programmatic reforms of every sphere of Indian life, from the practice of politics [Stokes 1959; Pal 1945:9] to the excesses of religious Vaishnavism [Kopf 1979:76-77] to the fanciful poetry of the Indian epic [Joshi 2003]. It is easy therefore to see why Senapati’s critique of all kinds of political authority in Chha Mana is rendered in a form itself engaged in a critique of a concomitant literary authority.

Indeed, the norms propagated by the new value system brought about by colonialism comprised a new episteme, a new way of constituting the real and of structuring the relationship between the real and the represented. In literature, these values contributed to the rise of the realist novel, in which compared to epic or other classical texts, detailed description, the forward-oriented dynamism of prose and a contentious relationship to imagination and fancy served as aesthetic norms corresponding to the increasingly pervasive liberal values propagated in the public sphere [Mukherjee

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006 1985; Stokes 1959].2 However, despite the apparent selfeffacement of normative, as opposed to coercive, literary influences, very few were fooled. Thus Fakir Mohan’s narrator, like, for instance, Saratchandra’s in the first pages of his novel Srikanta (1933),3 is deeply aware of the complicity of aesthetic norms with other, more obviously political forms of colonial coercion. Rather than categorically accept or reject such norms, he chooses to incorporate them into the substance of his narrative, resulting in their thematisation through, rather than despite, their ideological instability within a colonial modernity.

Yet far from fragmenting the novel’s formal integrity, the narrator’s ambivalent position of complicity-cum-resistance vis-à-vis colonial modernity is internalised into the narrative of Chha Mana, to appear in the form of satire. In this way, Fakir Mohan mobilises a rich tradition of oral humour for specific, political ends. Thus the satirical invectives found in the narrative comprise a site of the novel’s critique of authority as rich and biting as the plot’s more direct critique of Mangaraj, the brahmins, the babus and other personifications of corrupt power. In fact, as a deliberate move away from the conventions of personification perfected by the epic tradition, Fakir Mohan’s particular use of satire in this novel is much more suited to the new mode of rule characteristic of the British colonial state, where power emanated not from individuals or types but from a more pervasive normalisation of the very conventions of representation and reality. Accordingly, the novel’s satire addresses the particularly modern concern of early Indian nationalist thought, of the inescapability of colonial forms even in the service of anticolonial critique.4

Although the narrative is dotted with more direct critiques of the sanctity of literary conventions, both Indian and foreign,5 the most damaging satire occurs at moments of self-awareness, when the narrator’s complicity with literary norms is exposed, even while on the surface disowned. As critics Rabi Shankar Mishra and Jatindra Kumar Nayak point out, the central axis of the novel is defined by the ambivalence of a narrator who employs the very forms that he critiques, and it is this trait which allows the novel to refuse simple categorisation into a pre-defined political position [Mishra and Nayak 1991:136]. Although these critics refer specifically to Fakir Mohan’s use of Sanskrit verse, this is even more true in the case of colonial norms, to which early nationalist attitudes were defined more than ever by such ambivalence. Thus for example a norm such as restraint or economy, which as we have seen was a paramount goal for colonial reforms of both “pre-modern” literary forms (to which it appeared as the norm of narrative economy) and “pre-modern” political and religious life, is explicitly mocked in the novel through the garrulity of its individual passages, at the same time as it is implicitly conformed to in the overall economical telling of the novel’s plot. This double layer of critique, which allows the narrative to call attention to colonial norms while more or less abiding by them on one hand, and to abide by them while critiquing their complicity with colonial rule on the other, results not only in a humorous telling but in deep insight into the peculiar experience of modern subjugation:

On the western side of the village, in the weavers’ quarter, lived 150 families. The village path running through this quarter looked neat and clean; there were no compost pits or manure heaps anywhere. You might suppose that a regulation was in force here, and that the municipal carts came daily to take away the rubbish. We warn you not to jump to conclusions before hearing us out; we are writing on the basis of a thorough investigation and of ample proof. We would not want you to get any wrong ideas, for then there would be no point in our working so painstakingly hard. Also, it would be against our nature to record irrelevant things. We refuse to pay attention to anything that has not been supported by irrefutable proof or that is not consistent with the principles of logic as they are laid down in the Nyaya Shastra. We are prepared to logically establish everything we write, so that you will have no legitimate complaints (‘Apana mana kaleni, athare pancha aain jari achhi, municipalityra sagada asi alia sabu uthai neijae. Apananku sabadhan kari deuachu, apanamanakatharu nasuni kaunasi katha sidhanta kari pakaibe nahin. Aneka anusandhana aneka pramana sangraha kari ambhamananku lekhibaku hue. Apanamanankara epari bhrama apanodana nimante ambhamanankara ete parisrama, nohile prayojana kana? Puni enutenu gudae lekhi pakaiba ambhamananka abhyasara biparita. Akatya pramana napaile kimba jaha nyaya shastra sangata nuhe emanta kathagudaka ambhemane sunu nahu. Jaha lekhibu, se katha gudaka nyaya sastra anusare pramana karai debu, apanamanankara pati phitaibara bata nathiba’) (CMAG, pp 80-81). Anyway, it is quite unfair of us to keep you guessing any longer (‘apananku aau sandeha re pakai rakhiba uchit nuhe’); we must now tell you, clearly and without ambiguity, who the two women huddledtogether near the trees were, and what passedbetween them. Some people provide a long preface, and give a long lecture before they tell you anything; but our nature is not at all like that. We waste no time in saying what we have to say (‘ja bolibara pariskara kari jhat-pat kahi pakau’) (CMAG: 112). In the first passage, we see a clear valuation of civic sanitation

embedded in a scathing critique of the rationalism used to justify it, through the suggestion that the values of “thorough investigation”, “ample proof” and logic can be wielded in the defence of the most illiberal of claims. It is as if the narrator is saying, “There is no trash collection but at least we are representing the situation accurately”. This is confirmed in the second passage, which sets up the values of clarity, unambiguousness and narrative economy in the service of “knowledge” that is little more than village gossip.

Such ambivalent and indirect complicity with colonially-instituted norms in the service of illiberal ends upsets the ideological power of these norms even more subversively than explicit critique, as it exposes their coercive quality and their implication with colonial rule. Along with these values, scientific accuracy, rational plausibility and god’s-eye omniscience are satirised as well by the witty narrator who sees through their pretension while at another level recognises their utility in the formal construction of the novel. Narrative omniscience is an especially telling example:

It is no surprise that the descendants of the wretches who crucified Christ, and had Goddess Sita banished to the forest, are now busy slandering the kind and pious Mangaraj. We are forced, very much against our will, to repeat what these slanderers have to say (‘ninduka mane jeun katha kahi bulibe, ambhamananku nachar halatre se katha bolibaku heuachhi’): that his cousin, whose property had so far been spared, finally fell into his trap, and that to feed the brahmins for having eaten onion, Shyam was forced to sell his land to Mangaraj. These same people add that the women in Mangaraj’s very own household regularly send Champa to get onions from the market. Now, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that Champa does indeed buy onions at the market. Do we have any proof that anyone eats them? True, according to the Laws of Manu, eating onions is wrong, but where in the scriptures is purchasing them prohibited? These critics are sullying the

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reputation of the women of a respectable family. We simply refuse to respond to such charges (CMAG: 38-39).

The double-edged quality of narrative omniscience is revealed in this passage: its requirement to give all sides of the story, to present all available information, and at the same time its potentially voyeuristic presentation of sleazy or scandalous stories that do not really belong in public light. True also of the rise of the novel in 18th and 19th century Europe, narrative omniscience as Fakir Mohan’s narrator conveys it is both democratic in its ability to represent all characters, no matter what their social position, with the same, distanced and objective eye,6 and at the same time subject to abuse as an indiscriminate penetration into intimate and private lives. Fakir Mohan’s narrator uses the democratic potential of omniscience to expose the truth about Mangaraj, while at the same time exaggeratingly condemning that very omniscience for the toll it takes on “respectability” and social decorum.

In this way, like any good realism,7 Fakir Mohan’s narrative penetrates to the contradictory core of the society it represents; however, it is through its satirical mode of representation and, indeed, its humour that it captures this particular, 19th century society’s precarious position within a colonial modernity aware of the subversive political potential of the very norms that are subjugating it. And yet the novel’s significance only begins here. For the complex interaction between forms of narrative humour and socio-political critique sets the stage for a tradition of satirical realism that continues in Indian literature to this day. At each historical moment, however, forms of narrative humour relate in different ways to forms of political authority that operate in society at large. While Chha Mana offers us, on one level, a singular “view from below” of late 19th century colonial modernity, it also, on another level, establishes a critical viewpoint from which to interrogate the relationship between satire and the state – a viewpoint whose value can only be elaborated by later novels which take up Fakir Mohan’s challenge. It is to one of these later novels that this paper now turns, where satire and the state find pairing again, more than half a century later, within the post-colonial purview of Raag Darbari.

Strange Inversions in Raag Darbari

In our ancient books of logic it’s written that

wherever there is smoke there is fire. To this

should be added that wherever there’s a bus-stand,

there’s filth (Raag Darbari: 315).8

Shrilal Shukla’s Hindi novel Raag Darbari was published in 1968, four years after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and what many historians regard as the seal on the coffin of the idealism of the nationalist movement, which had extended into the postcolonial era but which could no longer sustain itself in the face of its increasingly disappointing actualisation [Nayar 1975:4]. While Nehru’s charismatic leadership had carried over much of the excitement culminating in 1947 to the post-colonial state, ingrained in large part in the promises held out by heavy industrial development, large-scale reform projects in the agricultural sector and the goal of socio-economic equality [Nayar 1975:18-19], it was increasingly clear by the 1960s to India’s average citizens, the supposed beneficiaries of these measures, that the realities on the ground were looking less and less like the ideals which had served as the ideological engine of the anti-colonial movement only a few decades earlier. Although Raag Darbari is set in the 1950s, its preoccupation, especially evident in its plot, with the generally failed ideals of independence confirms what many see as its post-Nehruvian “cynicism” [Gupta 2005:22].9

Political scientists have studied this era characterised by profound disillusionment primarily from the perspective of the planners and reformers who witnessed a failure of implementation of well-meaning policies at many levels of the state structure [Chopra 1968; Nayar 1975; Bhargava 2000]. Thus while on one level the 1960s tested the very existence of the independent nation state, from the Chinese invasion in 1962 to the numerous corruption scandals, communal rioting, Nehru’s death and the “small” leadership of Lal Bahadur Shastri [Nayar 1975] and the ultimate victory of the bureaucracy over the ideal of socialism [Chopra 1968:242], on another level the policies of state engineering faced their biggest challenge in the translation and transfer of centrally-conceived projects to the complex and alterative epistemic structures that marked the diverse life of India’s newlynamed citizens. This process, the importance of which the term “implementation” can only partially convey, resulted in significant shifts and perversions of not only particular political values [Bhargava 2000], but of entire modes of conceiving politics and its practice in the first place. As Sudipta Kaviraj writes, of the same period:

Long-term historical memories and time-tested ways of dealing with power of the political authority took their revenge on the modern state, bending the straight lines of rationalist liberal politics through a cultural refraction of administrative meaning. The logic of new legislations was twisted to produce strange travesties [...] [Kaviraj 2000:47]. Thus, already, at the end of the Nehruvian era, a strange inversion had taken place in the arrangement and functioning of India’s expanding state apparatus, inscribing it with the mark of indelible bad faith. Already, the thinking and serious argumentation behind it was getting displaced by a very different actuality. Early redistributive ideas were turning into its rhetoric, or its ideology covering and justifying actual forms of private aggrandisement mediated through the state machinery [Kaviraj 2000:51-52].

The language of refractions, bends, travesties and inversions captures the abject experience of the state by highlighting the process by which the one-to-one relationship between represented and representor, whether in the political or literary domain, can lose its identity under conditions in which the very ontology of the real – defined, before 1947, as inextricable from the ideal

– has undergone a qualitative change. This changed ontology penetrates to the core of the literary enterprise, altering the relationship between the real and the represented, and distorting the nature of the prose which seeks to make its political critique of the state by representing such despondency. Thus as in Chha Mana, Raag Darbari mobilises a literary tradition of orality and humour in order to make a specific political critique – in this case of the failed idealism of the Nehruvian state – on one level as the novel’s convoluted plot of conspiracies, strange alliances and corruptions, and on another level in the form of biting and hilarious satire. In its plot, the novel tells the story of Shivpalganj, a typical north Indian village which was one of the ideal beneficiaries of government policies of village development, specifically through the grassroots institutions of cooperative unions, the village council and the college.10 Yet far from ensuring village upliftment, the rural programmes initiated by the state end up providing countless sites at which the local village administration can consolidate their power and pad their

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006 personal incomes. Rangnath, nephew of Vaidyaji, the village leader, is an urban-educated young man who comes to Shivpalganj to be immediately immersed in its factionalism, its in-fighting and its corrupt breed of cronies and sycophants. Like Chha Mana, the narrative twists and turns around the central plot actions, which involves a rivalry between two factions of college teachers, into which Rangnath is dragged. He witnesses huge infractions of justice in the name of democracy and village development, yet realises that the self-righteous, idealistic attitude he prides himself on is completely unsuited to the new political environment. As the college principal says to him in one of the novel’s closing lines: “Babu Rangnath, your ideas are very elevated. But all in all, they just prove that you’re a fool” (RD: 343).

Along with the plot’s representation of the corruption and greed which characterises the post-colonial state, however, is a more biting level of critique that manifests itself in particular modes of satire – satire which, as mentioned above, operates on the unstable identity between real and representation that characterises this post-idealist era. On one level, the nature of this satire is indexed by the syllogistic logic of the Nyaya Shastra, embodied in the epigraph above and, as we saw, used as a focal point of inversion in Chha Mana as well. At the same time, the ‘ulta’ logic of the shastra is given modern incarnation in the particular inversion of a conventional, realist understanding of the relationship between cause and effect, appearance and essence, and result and intention, which the experience of failed idealism makes manifest and most complexly satirises. This is not merely a literary innovation, but, as Akhil Gupta argues (2005), a mode of capturing the experience of the post-Nehruvian state from the perspective of those interacting with it on the most grassroot level, from where the ontology of the state itself arises out of a confusion of intentions and effects.11 By invoking the relationship between realist logic and the ideals of the liberal state, and then proceeding to invert such logic, the novel represents and thus critiques the collapse of nationalist idealism into its manifestly dismal reality.

Politics of Ulti Batein12

The descriptive logic of Raag Darbari, which comprises the novel’s humour and, along with its plot, contributes to its deep critique of the post-colonial state, operates along a number of inversions of conventional, realist description. This ulta logic presents effects before or as causes, appearances before or as essences and results before or as intentions. The effect of such inversions in the descriptive logic of the novel is to produce a disjuncture between “common sense” (read: realist) assumptions about the way the state works and the experience of the state from a perspective of those on the receiving end of its programmes, from where the whole thing looks significantly different. Two simple examples give a basic sense of what these ulti batein look like as a general principle, before they are mobilised in the service of a critique of the state:

Nearly all of [the shops] offered one of the favourite drinks of

the Indian masses, which was prepared from dust, dirt, tea leaves

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

which had already been used several times, boiling water and so forth (jise wahan gard, cheekat, chai ki kai baar istemal ki hui patti aur khaulte pani aadi ke sahare banaya jata tha) (RD: 1). There was a sheet of tin in front of the room on the roof. Rangnath was underneath the tin sheet and a charpoy was underneath Rangnath (RD: 87).

In the first passage, tea is described as “prepared” with dust, dirt, and used tea leaves, as if these ingredients were added together intentionally; compare with a hypothetical, more conventional, realist description: The tea tasted like dirt. Likewise in the second passage, rather than project the setting from the character, the character is introduced as contingent to the setting, belying the realist logic that sees shelter as supplementary to human existence. We can see, then, how easily this ulta descriptive logic gets mobilised to more explicitly critical ends:

The obvious advantage in having so many boys was that if you put them indoors they became a college, and if you put them outside they became a meeting (RD: 161). An ancient Sanskrit verse explains a point of geography – that is, that the sun doesn’t rise depending on where the east is, but where the east is depends on where the sun rises. In the same way senior officials (uttam koti ka sarkaari aadmi) do not go on tour depending on their work, but whenever they go anywhere it automatically becomes an official tour (RD: 159).

In the first passage, the institutions of college and meeting are presented, satirically so, as dependent primarily on the quantity of persons assembled rather than on the intended use of their spaces – education and politics, respectively. Likewise, in the second passage the location of the official tour enacted by the state is described as contingent to the movement of senior officials – not, as might be presumed within realist logic, the other way around. Both passages suggest a disjuncture between intentions and practice – specifically, that practice is more “real” than intentions. They suggest, along with the other passages like them, that not only are the intentions of the state subsumed to the contingencies and realities of politics on the ground, but more radically that the politics on the ground, however far from their intentions, have come to comprise the essence of the state in its post-colonial incarnation. The novel’s form, in coordination with its plot, thus puts forward the contention that more than the corruption of state ideals, the 1960s have witnessed the evacuation of idealism from the state, by signalling the end of an era where intentions and causes can remain ontologically distinct from their results and effects – a key distinction in which hope resides. Thus whereas the realist novel has historically reflected on individual corruption through the foil of character, Raag Darbari witnesses the externalisation of a much deeper corruption of society and state to the form itself, where it disrupts the very descriptive logic of the novel that tries to represent it.

In this way, the persistent pattern along which the novel operates, besides for its obvious humour, can also be understood as a symptom of the crisis of the post-colonial state in its 1960s incarnation. Whereas “good intentions” and “noble ideals” had ensured a precarious legitimacy for the Indian National Congress through the 1920s and 1930s, and through the initial establishment of the state in the 1950s, by the mid-1960s the words rang hollow, in the face of the extreme subversion in injustice and deviations from the substance of the ideals as imagined, however misguidedly, by the citizens of the new nation. The “strange inversions” of political rationality became the rule rather than the exception. And indeed, Raag Darbari is particularly receptive to such a shift, as its very form carries the historical weight of association with a particular brand of liberal political thinking, so that it bears the dismantling of such thinking in the sacrifice of its realism. It is here that Shukla’s mode of ulti batein satire emerges as a particular device to reconcile the realist tendencies of the novel with the historic sellout of realist values by the Indian state, to mourn the loss of the imagination that had been required to sustain an earlier era of Indian realism, when to represent the real was to imagine a better future for the as-yet actualised state.

Yet as we have seen, even a satire as pointed as Shukla’s did not require to be created anew, but was part of the critical tradition of Indian realism at least since Fakir Mohan’s time. Or, more precisely, Fakir Mohan set the stage for further elaboration on the relationship between satire and politics by mobilising the rich cultural history of humour in the service of a political critique whose language of dissent was inextricably bound up in the very object at which it was directed. Thus even where it borders on the absurd, satire is revealed to be an elaboration on realism rather than an opposition to it. The result of this critical project, even in a context as hopeless as that described by Raag Darbari, is a level of poignancy that refuses to be taken for cynicism. In fact, the overt humour of the form can be found to paper over a deep disillusionment, one that is belied by the term “satire” and its local and cultural associations with laughter. As critic Namwar Singh said of Shukla, “He tried to discover the lie so that he could reach the truth”.13 It is this contradictory impulse which binds the two novels and lies at the heart of Indian realism’s incursions into political satire. Indeed, both novels bring the reader intimately close to the workings of the societies they represent, even where they appear to merely point and laugh.




[I am grateful to Satya P Mohanty and Harish Trivedi for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper, and to Annapurna Pandey for her generous help in transliterating the original Oriya passages.]

1 Other critics have also remarked upon what Biswamoy Pati calls Chha Mana Atha Guntha’s “humanistic concern for the poor” (2001:33), although most have stopped short of interrogating the role of the novel’s form in communicating such concern.

2 As Priya Joshi writes of 19th century India: “The need and interest in the novel lay in discovering through it a new and different way of organising everyday life and its experiences” (2003:146, emphasis in original).

3 As Srikanta’s eponymous narrator satirically disclaims, “I am singularly unfortunate in this that god has not blessed me with the faintest trace of a romantic imagination. I see with these eyes only what there is to see. Where there are trees and mountains I see trees and mountains. Where there is water I see nothing but water. I may look up at clouds till my head spins but not a strand of those dark tresses that unfailingly appear to the eyes of poets is visible to me. I have stared at the moon till my eyes were glazed but seen no semblance of a beautiful face. It is not, therefore, for me to tell a romantic story. I can only describe the events of my life as they actually happened and that is what I shall do” [Chattopadhyaya 1993:3-4].

4 Sudipta Kaviraj (1995) has described this as the “unhappy consciousness” of Indian modernity, speaking specifically of the works of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay; this paradox has also been described in slightly different terms by Chatterjee (1986), Nandy (1994), Chakrabarty (2000) and Kaviraj (2003). The internalisation of this paradox into the plot of the narrative can be found in other early Indian novelists besides Fakir Mohan and Bankim, including O Chandumenon in his Malayalam novel Indulekha (1888) [see, for instance, Mukherjee 1985:77-91].

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5 For example: “[O]ur writers have a major weakness [‘granthakar manankara khaslat achhi’]. When it comes to talking about the heroine of their tales, they behave as though they have chanced upon something very delectable and do nothing but describe her beauty, forgetting everything else about her. As for us, it is not that we do not know how to describe the beauty of a heroine. Consider how ridiculously easy it is. According to classical literary techniques, all one has to do is find parallels between specific attributes of our heroine Champa and different fruits, such as bananas, jack-fruits, or mangoes, and common trees, leaves, and flowers. But such old-fashioned methods are no longer suitable; for our Englisheducated babus we now have to adopt an English style. Classical Indian poets compare the gait of a beautiful women to that of an elephant. The babus frown on such a comparison; they would rather the heroine ‘galloped like a horse’. [‘Matra ajikali separi marahatti barnana chaliba nahi. Ingraji padhua pathaka mananka manoranjan sakase ingraji dharanare rupa barnana abasyaka. Bharatara kabi mane sundari strinku kahanti, “gajendra gamin”i,; ingrej kahibe ‘chhi, chhi’. Taha ta nuhe ghoda pari je ‘gallop’ chalipare, sehi sina parama sundari’.] The way English culture is rushing in like the first floods of the River Mahanadi, we suspect that our newly educated and civilised babus will soon appoint whip-cracking trainers to teach their gentle female companions to gallop” (CMAG, pp 56-57). All English citations from Chha Mana are from the recently re-translated edition [Senapati 2006]. Page numbers will be referenced as CMAG.

6 As compared to representation of an epic hero, in which “the authorial position immanent in the epic and constitutive for it... is the environment of a man speaking about a past that is to him inaccessible, the reverent point of view of a descendent” [Bakhtin 1981:13] and which “displays a profound piety toward the subject described and toward the language used to describe it” (p 17).

7 Like Satya Mohanty, who defines Fakir Mohan’s realism as “complex and sophisticated, not simply mimetic” (2006:2), I take as my starting point a complex notion of realism such as that put forward by philosopher Georg Lukács, who argues against “the narrow triviality of naturalism” (1964:135) and “vulgar-sociolog[y]” (p 145) to advocate a realism in which “everything is linked up with everything else. Each phenomenon shows the polyphony of many components, the intertwinement of the individual and social, of the physical and the psychical, of private interest and public affairs” (p 145).

8 “Hamare Nyaya-Shaastra ki kitaabon mein likha hai ki jahan-jahan dhuaan hota hai, wahan-wahan aag hoti hai. Wahin yeh bhi badha dena chahiye ki jahan bus ka adda hota hai, wahan gandagi hoti hai” [Shukla 1968:304]. All English citations from Raag Darbari are from Gillian Wright’s English translation [Shukla 1992], page numbers will be referenced as RD.

9 Shukla’s “cynicism” is directly conveyed in passages such as the following, which refer specifically to the failed ideals of the nationalist movement: “Gandhi, as some people will still remember today, was born in the land of India itself and after his bones and ashes, as well as his principles, had been submerged in the holy confluence of the Ganga [unke asthikalash ke saath hi unke siddhanton ko sangam mein bahaa dene ke baad], it had been settled that from then on only brick and concrete buildings would be erected in his memory, and in this tumultuous activity the platform in Shivpalganj had been constructed. The platform was most useful for sun-bathing in the winter months, and mostly dogs used to sunbathe here. And since no bathrooms are made for them, while sun-bathing they would pee on one corner of it. As they watched, sometimes men would use the shelter of the platform for the same purpose” (RD, pp 10203). And: “Over in the town sat eminent scholars of village uplift [gaonsudhaar ke dhurandhar vidvaan] deep in thought about the problem of lavatories for villages. They had in fact been thinking, and only thinking, from 1947 to the present day” (RD, p 315).

10 These three institutions, Shukla has said, were “the three instruments of change and also the institutions which dominant castes in the villages soon learnt to master in order to perpetuate their control of village matters” [Shukla quoted in Wright 1992:vi].

11 Approaching the novel from the perspective of an anthropologist of the state, Akhil Gupta argues that Raag Darbari “provides us with astute insights into the everyday practices of state institutions, the interests of various parties involved, the creative employment of nationalist and developmentalist discourse to quite different ends by variously positioned actors, and a wonderfully textured sense of how different subjects inhabit the state and are interpellated by it” (2005, p 28) and in doing so represents “what states mean to the people who inhabit them (for example, state officials) or are interpellated by them (as subjects and citizens)” (2005, p 28, emphasis in original).

12 In response to Rangnath’s sarcastic question to Singh Sahib, “Even after taking so many bribes you haven’t managed to build yourself a mansion?” (RD, p 123), Ruppan explains to Singh Sahib, “Inki baat ka bura na maanna chahiye. Kuch zyada pade-likhe hain, isliye kabhi kabhi ulti batein karne lagte hain” [Shukla 1968:120]. Gillian Wright translates this as “Singh Sahib shouldn’t take anything he said to heart; his ‘dada’ was a bit too well educated and so occasionally put the cart before the horse” (RD, p 123). I use the term ulti batein slightly differently in this paper, in order to suggest that beyond this particular dialogue, the term points to a larger logic at work in the text as a whole: a logic of inversion, which mobilises idiosyncratic sarcasm such as Rangnath’s to comment on the inverted/ perverted logic of the post-colonial state as a whole.

13 Quoted in ‘Shrilal Shukla Turns 80, Felicitated by Peers’, on


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    Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

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