ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Modernity and its Discontents: The Colonial City and its Imaginations in the 1940s


Mukherjee Anuparna - IISER Bhopal, Humanities and Social Sciences, Bhopal, India


08 – Imagining the city: Literary and religious practices of urbanity in early modern and modern South Asia


 My paper delves into the transformation of Calcutta, the erstwhile capital of the British Empire in India in the decade of 1940s through a series of cataclysmic events— World War II, the famine and the 1947 Partition. By engaging with a range of literary and artistic works, the paper analyses the city’s contested negotiation with colonial modernity in its various moments of rupture. The research specifically evokes the affective registers of trauma and nostalgia to chart the fraught transition of the urban space and its neighbourhoods in the final years of British rule. Studying the cultural and literary productions of the time in vernacular Bangla and English, the paper explores through the cartographies of remembering and forgetting and their complex affiliation to affects, the various trails of migration amidst communal riots, air-raids and cries of hunger and penury. Thus, addressing the catastrophes and the chain of traumatic memories they engendered, the paper looks at how the accelerated movement of humans across the boundaries, old and new, and the internal experiences of displacement and exile, radically altered the contours of the metropolis and simultaneously redefined the aesthetics and techniques of representing the urban space in modernist literature and art in Bengal. It also demonstrates how the Modernist writers of this period were influenced by, and yet, took sharp departures from the tradition of urban literature they inherited from the long19th century.