ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Satire and Everyday Urbanity in Nehruvian Delhi


Geva Rotem - Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Asian Studies, Jerusalem, Israel


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


 My paper centres on the writings of Fikr Taunsvi (1918-1987), an Urdu satirist and columnist who captured the everyday experiences of post-independence Delhi. Taunsvi, born Ram Lal Bhatia in western Punjab, was a member of the literary circle of Lahore before partition; he went by the pen name Fikr Taunsvi. Taunsvi had hoped to remain in Lahore after partition, but the violence that engulfed and transformed the city forced him to migrate to India. In Delhi, Taunsvi joined Milap—an Arya Samaji Urdu daily which, like most Hindu- and Sikh- owned Punjabi papers of Lahore, shifted to Delhi after partition and became an important mouthpiece of the city’s refugee community. From the 1950s through the end of the 1970s, Taunsvi chronicled the life of the city and the nation in a highly popular satirical column entitled “Pyaaz ke Chhilke” (Onion Peels). My paper explores the intimate relationship between the column’s main tropes—corruption, poverty, and failed socialism—and the genre of the satire in which they are articulated, in portraying a powerfully critical image of postcolonial urbanity.