Bengali writers, especially those from West Bengal, followed the capital-city-oriented colonial framework for quite a long time. Colonial concepts like mainstream literature and the idea of ‘major’ authors were suffocating the thought spaces of Bengali literature. Even when these hangovers were being rejected by the post-globalised world, Bengali writers continued to feel the burden of being part of the mainstream literature, generated by the financial and intellectual sponsorship of media houses. Impactful writers were sometimes marked as remote and subaltern and were pushed away and intentionally kept outside the city-oriented networks. However, for the last twenty years or so, this colonial yoke which can be termed as nothing but master-slave discourse, has been gradually shattered.
Any specific geographical location, literary hierarchy, or security circle has become useless in the world of Bengali writing. A powerful stimulator toward this change has been the Internet. The use of internet for writing since the start of the new millennium has been upgraded to a technically new level with the help of android smartphones in the last eight to ten years. Thus, the powers which used to divide Bengali authors into major, remote, and subaltern don’t exist anymore. Lots of regulatory provisions which had been holding the Bengali writers’ thought and writing spaces captive are extinct now. Hence the periphery of possibility has increased manifold.
The opportunities accessible now by an author sitting on a vantage point is no different than an author who resides in a marginal territory…
This advancement in digital technology has also captured the essence of deep-rooted folk traditions of Bengal. Contemporary Bengali writers are reaching through their boundaries and have been using several folk elements outside the conventional ‘exotic’ definition. Original and authentic identities of folk elements such as Kandna Geet, Bhaowaia songs and Baul songs are being included in today’s writings with new dimensions. Many writers have been able so far to deliver a different and unique statement through such assimilation. It’s a very hopeful thing for us. The opportunities accessible now by an author sitting on a vantage point is no different than an author who resides in a marginal territory—hence the scope to suffer from an imposed inferiority complex reduces to a great extent.
This recent open space in the world of Bengali writing has initiated a dialogue in the real world. Many unheard-of voices have their own space now where they can be heard. It’s polyphonic indeed and the dialogues are no longer linear. Now, the probability and planning for collaboration or a joint journey also seem very much possible. Not only the technological advancement of the internet, the political and social changes which took place in West Bengal in the recent times have also played a significant role in today’s context. Binaries, for example, ‘progressive-reactionary’ and ‘culture-subculture,’ which were deadest in the conscious and subconscious of the regimental left have been eliminated from many contemporary outlooks and perspectives. Since the 1990s, new formats of the familiar class-characterisation and new techniques of atrocities and social exploitation have become visible, which have unburdened Bengali writers of the narrow concept of ‘progressive’ literature, while some have shed the hollow and pseudo progressiveness themselves. It is absolutely important to mention the fiction penned by the late Nabarun Bhattacharya and plays by Bratya Basu which created a strong foundation of counter-writing in our times.
However, Bengali writings have not been spontaneous in dealing with many other subjects. Literature that doesn’t belong to the circle of heteronormativity, for instance, is not quite accessible to the readers.
Many issues and topics which were marked as ‘sub’ and ‘remote,’ and banished outside the margin are now capable of accessing a free movement in the vast extent of Bengali writing which is enhancing the possibility of checkered and multi-layered dialogues. However, Bengali writings have not been spontaneous in dealing with many other subjects. Literature that doesn’t belong to the circle of heteronormativity, for instance, is not quite accessible to the readers. As an example, we can state the LGBTQ domain has still not been explored in Bengali literature in the natural course of time. The mutuality of digital formats and conventional writing has provided Bengali Literature with a new momentum. Still, we have to overcome many limitations and dilemmas.
The existence of a specific kind of positive collaboration among the author-reader-critique that a linguistic thought space demands and deserves is very narrow and fragile in the Bengali writing space, because each and every segment here is restricted within a water-tight compartment. However, these walls are gradually turning thin and porous, transforming it into an open space for dialogues. But it’s also facing similar issues which are created and confronted in other virtual terrains. In the magnanimous scope of the net, especially in the social media, pseudo readers and pseudo writers are appearing in thousands. Many times, it so happens that a dedicated and committed direction of a certain piece of writing is lost between instantaneous expressions like LOL and TROLL.
The existence of a specific kind of positive collaboration among the author-reader-critique that a linguistic thought space demands and deserves is very narrow and fragile in the Bengali writing space, because each and every segment here is restricted within a water-tight compartment. However, these walls are gradually turning thin and porous…
It’s inevitable and compulsory for authors who write within any linguistic space in India to be intricately and deeply connected with writers who belong to other linguistic spaces. Earlier, institutional or organisational initiatives for these kinds of networking were completely restricted by decorum and protocol. Therefore, a sharing platform to provoke and share thoughts didn’t develop. However, recently, especially with proper use of the Internet, writers from several corners of the nation are able to share their discourses with each other. This has an unparalleled significance because right at this moment our country is passing through a lot of strange situations. A disruptive power dependent on hate politics is ruling our country. Definition of tolerance is changing in magnitude. The megalith of a pseudo patriotism is being enforced through an economic system which strengthens unemployment and insecurity. People are being driven towards conflict among themselves based on race, religion, language, and regional differences—baseless information and theories which are not supported by our history are clouding mutual trust, eligibility, and coexistence. Under these circumstances, writers from various linguistic spaces need to share their perspectives, opinions and thoughts and it’s happening quite spontaneously. A silver lining is visible. Atrocities and sufferings caused by the state machinery are bonding people from all sorts of spaces and angles together, which is the most positive thing to happen in this restless time. This has created a different dimension in the world of writing.
We’re able to experience this differently in this pandemic period. The space for public intellectuals is shrinking by the day. The concept of democratic dissent or the pattern of civic questioning is gradually narrowing down. This is not particular to India though – the entire world is facing crises in public intellectual discourse. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to talk about humanity and highlight the atrocities by the state machinery against a populist politics and arrogant leadership. And the concept of moral legitimacy according to the new avatar of social media—the legitimacy of public intellectual activities has hit rock bottom. Public intellectuals have become the easiest targets for stigmatising. I think it’s necessary to change and transform the familiar structure of public intellectualism. Because it’s a long-drawn war, and the strategies and tactics of a war requires transformation to serve its very purpose.
This essay is part of a larger series by Inter-Actions on the discourses and ideas emerging out of the different languages of India. As a growing number of ecological, environmental and humanitarian crises confront our society, we see a range of emotional and pragmatic responses in the public space. The one crucial element that remains missing, and which may be the key to effectively addressing and sustainably solving these problems, is the intellectual one. This series aims to understand the thoughts emerging from different languages of India, and situate where this thought may lead us. To read the other essays, click here.
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