The Politics of Nationalism in Literary Imagination (1920s -1960s): A Study of Five Hindi Novelists (tentative title)
This research seeks to examine the birth, spread and surge of nationalism in India, with all the complications and mutations it brought to the society, as reflected in the novels of five Hindi writers Rahul Sankrityayan (1893-1963), Gurudutt(1894—1989), Bhagwaticharan Verma(1903-1981), Yashpal(1903-1976) and Amritlal Nagar(1916-1990). While the novels were written during the 1940s-60s, the narratives cover a span of nearly a century beginning with the late 19th century. Written with an acute historical awareness, an awareness that they are attempting to write the history of a great civilization in a literary frame, the novels create a site at which narratives of the past, the anxieties about the Raj and concerns of the future are well articulated.
All the five writers have varying interpretations of the past; they often offer differing views over the political events associated with the freedom struggle and Independence. Yet, they seem to agree at a pivotal point that the struggle was not merely for political liberty and had larger ambitions. Proposing a politics of their own, these novels are essentially political texts that demand to be read as the sites of history as it unfolded between 1920s and 1960s. In multiple voices they narrate the stories about the making of nationalism, the national movement and the emerging communal divide.
Of considerable significance is the realization is that unlike historians, these novelists narrate the tales of people who mostly remained unheard and unseen in the din of history both during the colonial rule and in Independent India. One noticeable difference with historians is that the historians focus more on the national movement, peoples’ struggles in the colonial period history but when they deal with the post-colonial history focus shifts more to the government’s policies. In the literary narratives any such shift of focus is not clear. The literary focus is more on the pains of the Indian partition and historians’ attention is more on Independence and the nation-building.
This research, undertaken by a researcher who is trained as historian, tries to look at the India as told by the five novelists. A narrative for which there might not exist any verifiable sources or corroborative evidences, but that nevertheless remains supremely legitimate. The historical characters of these narratives are real, but their representations are drawn from the novelistic imagination.
The study will take up some major issues: the birth of nationalism, its spread in the phase of popular nationalism, the ideological contestations operational in Indian political domains, the Hindu-Muslim divide and the partition riots and the process of ‘nation building’ after 1947.
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