In Search of the Real: Writing the Past in Colonial India


During the colonial period, writing the past became central to the self-hood of colonial subjects. The past came to be written in different genres and its ethics and protocols were widely debated in the public domain. My paper deals with one aspect of this debate Рthe meaning of historical reality. I shall explore this with reference to the work of the Hindi novelist Vrindavanlal Verma (1889-1969) and a few other Hindi litt̩rateurs of the late colonial period. Their work on historical subjects Рpoetry, play, novels Рbetrays an underlying tension between the positivist certitude about empirical facts and the romantic desire for a past that might not be accessed by positivist methods. I shall investigate this tension by examining their choice of form for narratives of the past and their use of oral and written sources for reconstructing the past. Falling outside the domain of professional history-writing, their works are indicative of the wider cultural tensions central to many post-colonial societies. Belying any totalizing narrative of modernity or colonial difference, they draw our attention to multiple oppositional discourses and practices within the West and the non-West and the complex web of interconnections between them.


Akash Bhattacharya
Research Scholar, CHS, SSS, JNU
Venue:  Committee Room, Central Library, JNU
Date and Time: 9th August 2014 (Saturday), 4:00 pm