Colonial governance, disaster, and the social in Bhabani Bhattacharya’s novels of 1943 Bengal Famine

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Abstract

How does a creative writer, situated in a geography of disaster, represent a disaster? Which areas or factors of the disaster does he highlight and which does he ignore? What happens if that writer is also a professional historian, journalist, and social scientist? These are some of the questions that this essay asks through a reading of the representation of the 1943–44 Bengal famine in Bhabani Bhattacharya’s novels. The first section concerns the relations between late colonial governance, disaster, and violence in So Many Hungers! (1947), and the second analyses the roles of caste, law, and subaltern agency during this famine in He Who Rides a Tiger (1954). This essay argues that the Second World War, the class basis of the disaster, and the immediacy of suffering compelled Bhattacharya to write in a deeply analytical-ethnographic mode that also had to negotiate with the literary. By studying the novels’ representations of the economic, historical, and political elements of the era, this essay attempts to situate the wider horizons of the social in times of famine.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-70
JournalARIEL: A Review of International English Literature
Volume47
Issue number4
Early online date6 Oct 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

Keywords

  • famine
  • caste
  • Bhabani Bhattacharya
  • anti-colonialism
  • disaster studies

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