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Sajal Kumar Bhattacharya
‘A Journal of Forty-eight Hours of the Year 1945’
Sajal Kumar Bhattacharya


 

Book Review

Kylas Chunder Dutt
A Journal of Forty-eight Hours of the Year 1945
Editor: Prof Somdatta Mandal
Kolkata: Shambhabi-The Third Eye Imprint. 2014
ISBN: 9383888156 | EAN: 978-93-83888-15-3
Pages 86 | Rs 519 | $ 8.3


From the pioneer in Indian Fiction in English

Bankim Chandra's Rajmohan's Wife (1864), which initiated the historic beginning of the genre of Indian Fiction proper in English, has completed one hundred and fifty years of its publication. Now that the genre has emerged as a mature, flamboyant and multidimensional one, claiming a commendable share in the corpus of world literature, it is perhaps time to take stock of things. The strength of a skyscraper lies in its rock foundation; that of Literature, in its history. The socio-cultural issues engendering a literary genre in a given time and space, together build its rock-foundation, and all along play a crucial role in shaping its future course. Hence the importance of all the literary attempts at the genre in the early days of history; with all their apparent insignificance, these attempts demand attention as important building blocks.

Much before the famous Trio brought the genre of Indian Fiction in English into recognition and labored hard to install it on a durable pedestal, the ground was being slowly yet steadily prepared by a group of Young Bengal enthusiasts, whose liberal exposure to the West and the English language, was grooming them for the task of writing back at the Empire before long. It was not only the flair for English that they picked up, but their strength lay in their growing confidence which was making them increasingly restless under the colonial subjugation – political and cultural – of the British. So it is no surprise that the first few attempts at Indian Fiction in English would be political tracts, exhibiting the subtle irony embedded in every colonial rule – how strategies to initiate the colonized in the colonizer's language and culture ultimately boomerang against the colonial usurpation. Kylas Chunder Dutt, an illustrious prodigy of the Dutt family of Bengal, was one such bringer of change, Shoshee Chunder being the other foremost example. So any historical exploration of Indian Fiction in English should necessarily begin with a discussion of Kylas and the then Hindoo College.

Yet, admittedly, over the last few decades most of us have been lured by the exuberance of the contemporary Indian Fiction in English so exclusively, that we have cared to look back at this early history only perfunctorily, admitting the presence of the early texts with a dismissive attitude, as if they are there only as names. In classrooms, seminars and research papers, most of us have clubbed these texts simply as 'early attempts', as if not much harm is done if one forgets them. This lack on the part of Academia, however, has been a result not only of a chilling indifference, but also of the unavailability of these texts. Even an enthusiastic scholar has not been able to grab a copy of any of these 'early texts' as readily as he has, say, a copy of Midnight's Children. Prof Somdatta Mandal of Visva-Bharati has finally come to the aid of all these enthusiasts by editing A Journal of Forty-eight Hours of the Year 1945 (1835), the first published English narrative by an Indian author. By taking pains in publishing the extant narrative and saving it from getting lost forever, she has earned the gratitude of us all, for her commendable job has saved all pursuits of Indian Fiction in English from a gross lacuna.

Prof Mandal's task has not been very easy, as she narrates in the third subsection of her Foreword to the edition. The history of the search for this book is very interesting, and contains within it seeds of a novel itself, as it were. From this Foreword, we come to know how a notable British scholar Alex Tickell, after a 'wild goose chase and search' throughout the last century, could finally trace the book in 2005 in a second-hand book-shop in Leeds! And admittedly, the fruit of such a painstaking job by Tickell would have remained beyond our reach, for God knows how many more years, had not Mandal taken keen interest in this project. We have at last had a first-hand access to this long-lost text, and we are really grateful to Prof Mandal for this.

Notably, the newly published copy of this narrative is a scholar's delight for more reasons than one. The edition, in fact, has come to us as a complete package. The mere seventeen page narrative has been supplemented with all that a researcher would require to map the text in the history of Indian Fiction in English and gauge its importance: apart from the biographical details of Kylas Chunder Dutt, we have in the Foreword, sections containing succinct analyses of the Young Bengal Movement and its role in shaping the early strands of Indian Literature in English as a whole. These scholarly analyses cumulatively prove a treasure-trove, with Mandal leaving in them very interesting clues to be picked up by aspiring researchers to pursue. For instance, in pp 35–36 of the edition, Mandal remarkably draws our attention to how Kylas' narrative (and the hero) has unmistakably been informed by the romantic radicalism that energized the Young Bengal. There are clear indications in the narrative of the zeal of the French Revolution in the use of the guillotine or the reminiscences of the siege of Bastille in the scene of the attack upon Fort William – which indicate the silent political influence of extant narratives like these on the gradual shaping of the 'nationalist' sentiments that would soon begin to rock the entire country. It is precisely here that the importance of a text like Kylas' Journal lies and further research in this area will surely reveal for us many more such nuggets.

And if this is not enough, there are three appendices attached at the end of the edition – the first two containing two very relevant articles by Kylas published in The Hindu Pioneer in 1835 and the third containing an article on Kylas published in Nineteenth Century Studies (Vol 4: October 1973: 489-96) by Kalyan C Dutt, a scion of the Dutt family. These appendices point to Mandal's illustrious sincerity as an editor and researcher. Her vast experience as a researcher has helped her to anticipate every available document a future researcher would need to explore the importance of Kylas Chunder Dutt in the evolution of Indian Fiction in English and she has meticulously collected them all and served them all in a plate before them! Research perhaps has never been made easier for scholars!

One should thank Shambhabi in the same breath for publishing the text in association with The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon, and publishing it with the care that matches the labour the editor has given in this project. By agreeing to publish this text, Dr Kiriti Sengupta has made a major contribution to the world of academic research in Indian Fiction in English. We would hope that the few typos we come across mainly in pages 21, 23 and 60 will be taken care of in the next edition. Only 200 copies of the first edition have been printed and the initial doubts in such a venture as this are not uncommon. But we are confident that the publisher will have every reason to plan printing many more copies of the second edition so as to ensure a steady supply of the text to the market. The cover design by Mr Tamojit Bhattacharya is perfectly in keeping with the theme, and it helps us to situate the narrative in the history of Calcutta.

Finally, as we convey our deep gratitude to Prof Mandal for this laudable project once again, let us also hope that this edition will soon be supplemented with an equally rich edition of Shoshee Chunder's The Republic of Orissa. Nothing would be more wonderful than that!

♣♣♣END♣♣♣

Issue 59 (Jan-Feb 2015)

Book Reviews
  • Ajit Kumar: ‘A Lake of Light and Clouds’
  • Ambika Ananth: ‘The Night Nectar Rained’
  • Durba Raychaudhury: ‘Images of Life’
  • Heera Nawaz: ‘Missing Woods’
  • Jaydeep Sarangi: ‘A Daughter Speaks’
  • K K Srivastava: ‘Frontier Lyrics’
  • Sajal Kumar Bhattacharya: ‘A Journal of Forty-eight Hours of the Year 1945’
  • Saptarshi Mallick: ‘Europe and the Hughli’