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Saturday, June 5, 2010

* Dazzled by Dr. Majumdar’s Erudition

On 29th March 2005 Dr. Santanu Majumdar read a paper titled “Why is there so little Indian English poetry in contemporary Bengal?” and now more than five years later the paper has been published in a collection of scholarly articles by Pearson, India. The book is titled Indian English and ‘Vernacular’ India and is edited by Professor J. G. V. Prasad and Professor Makarand Paranjape. Unfortunately the book is full of printing mistakes and we can only hope that the second edition of the book will be error-free.

The paper argues that, though Indian English poetry began in Bengal, it has not been able to find favour with readers and writers from Bengal (in contradistinction to fiction writing in English by Bengalis) because mainly due to an indigenous revival of provincial (the term is used in a non-judgemental sense) theme in the dominant stream of Bengali poetry that flourishes today. Cosmopolitanism is no longer a felt need for this dominant stream and so there is little urge to use English, the symbol and instrument of cosmopolitanism. Of course, the stream of poetry written by the former generation of poets like Jibanananda Das, Buddhadev Bose, Sudhindranath Dutta, Bishnu Dey (interestingly all of them were professors of English) was cosmopolitan in nature. They brought the West to Bengal perhaps as a reaction against the likes of Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Rabindranath Tagore, Toru Dutt, Sri Aurobindo, etc. who brought India to the West. Even when someone like Jibanananda Das focussed on rural Bengal the consciousness and sensibility was essentially European. But the subsequent generation of Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, and Joy Goswami break away from this cosmopolitan tradition and initiate and make flourish a vigorous ‘provincial’ (again in a non-judgmental sense) tradition. Most of the practising Bengali poets are monolingual and generally with a Bengali medium schooling. Their assertion of Bengali culture is ‘by a consciousness and sensibility that owes little to European norms or tropes, and which shuns and eschews engagement with the pan-Indian and the cosmopolitan dimensions of Bengali life.’ This is true even in their depiction of urban Bengali milieu because, as Dr. Majumdar says, ‘poetry is provincial or cosmopolitan not according to its setting or locale but according to the consciousness or sensibility which engages with the setting or locale.’ It is somewhat a return to the roots of Bengali poetry seen in its historicity but it may as well be an unacknowledged postmodernist celebration of specificity at the cost of universality.

Dr. Santanu Majumdar’s book Dazzled by a Thousand Suns: The Impact of Western Philosophy on Indian Interpretations of ‘The Gita’ (Dasgupta & Co., Kolkata, 2008) has been highly appreciated by Professor J. L. Shaw of Victoria University, Wellington, and will be shortly reviewed in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy. The book is a monograph produced as part of the UGC-assisted DRS (SAP-III) research project of the English Department of Calcutta University. It examines Indian responses to The Bhagabadgita – an ancient and much revered Hindu religious text – under the influence of colonial education and of the familiarity, among major Indian thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with Western philosophy in its technical sense, consequent upon such education. Dr. Majumdar argues that Western education and in particular the fundamental assumptions and procedures of Western Philosophy was an important enabling factor for these thinkers to become interpreters of this sacred text rather than to remain mere commentators. No doubt an interpretation interrogates a text in fundamental ways quite beyond the scope of a commentary. The thinkers treated in this monograph are Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Lokmanya Tilak, Swami Vivekananda, and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. Unfortunately, this book is also not free from a number of typos.

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