Monday, 21 March 2011

Issue 1, Vol 4: Indian Popular Fiction

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Literature - it’s a touchy subject whenever brought up, or wherever – be it in the Law faculty canteen or at the family dinner table. Throughout the ages that it has existed in the public realm, it has always had its share of critics, forever ready to dismiss it as a paltry area of study for those of a whimsical bent of mind. It has also always had loyalists, those who take pleasure in dissecting the yellowing pages of a text with a variety of theoretical scalpels. Literophile is an effort by the loyalists, returning after a long hiatus.
It was almost half a decade ago, in August of 2005, when two young women decided to chase a daydream, leading to the inception of this beloved journal. Needless to say Amrita Singh and Sumi Saikia, the leading ladies behind this venture, had their fair share of running from pillar to post to make this dream come true. And even with their efforts, the journal wouldn’t have been made possible without the constant support of a dedicated team of students and faculty members from various colleges.

This was the first time in Delhi University that a journal specific to the interests of English Literature enthusiasts came into being. And to add to that, it was one of the few independent initiatives to be run by DU students. It was the first time that innovative literary discourse and debate was given a forum outside the classroom. Literophile gave literature students a medium to express their opinions, or to explore them through well-researched articles. With a new literary theme in each issue, a new line of thought was encouraged to which students always responded positively.

Over the next couple of years, Literophile grew and its presence spread across campuses. Students began to talk about it, teachers recommended it and the team took to promoting it through active distribution, word-of-mouth and print; the journal was also extended beyond DU into the JNU campus. Things were going well for the journal.

Being a student-run publication, funds were usually hard to come by. In spite of this, to keep Literophile affordable, the original team sold the journal at a loss. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, the journal came to a standstill after the November 2007 issue.

Efforts to revive it had proved futile until a ray of hope appeared in the form of a bright team of students who approached me last year with the intent of reviving this venture. And today, I write to congratulate them for taking the initiative to carry forward this legacy. Having been a part of this journal once, I, amongst others, know how hard it is, to take time out from our schedules and take this forward. I feel great joy and pride for the current team and hope that their hard-work bears fruit.

Now without more ado, I urge you to sit back as this wonderful labour of love takes you on a fantastic flight, replete with literary gems which may well be priceless.

Best Wishes,
Moosa Khan
(Editor; Issue 1; Vol 3)

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...again: contexts...

So here we are again. Beginning, struggling, trying to find an entry into the larger discourse which we ourselves hope to strengthen. But it’s not so much a beginning as a rebirth, a renaissance. An old journal in a new avatar. A new Literophile.
It is a pleasure, gentles, to be introducing the first issue of volume four of Literophile. We are a hoping to achieve new horizons, but keeping in mind the best of what was. Reviving Literophile has been quite the uphill task, but we’ve finally managed and here it is, right where it should be: in your hands, attentive, critical reader.

Let’s contextualise a bit. Literophile, as you must have deduced from the previous note, was started long, long ago as a journal for amateur academic research. It had a long and exciting run, passed hands and patrons, came out in the open and then, like so many other exciting and engaging youth ventures, died. What you have before you is quite literally the phoenix from the ashes – and ashes long cold and scattered too, for this comes after the considerable hiatus of three years or so. The team is made up of young, misguided literature-wallahs who have slogged to make this happen, though we don’t have any connection with the old guard.

No connection except one: literature, criticism. One thing to hold them all, one thing to find them, one thing to bring them all and in literary criticism bind them!

If Literophile is here again, it is more or less this desire which guides us. There is in this university no lack of forums for students to express themselves. The past five years have seen a spurt in the number of both affiliated and independent student ventures in the field of literary production, creative writing as it is generally understood. However, if there has been a spurt there, the opportunities for publication of amateur academic writing – which by some strange quirk isn’t regarded creative – have actually diminished.

Opportunities for publication only, for the incentives for research continue to increase. What with independent magazines and newsletters, commercial offshoots of professional media and institutionalised ventures of various departments at various levels, the literary scene at the university level is more vibrant today than, say, a decade ago. Within this overall structure is a niche for amateur research as well, for now that departments have started democraticising and allowing students a voice, there are greater opportunities for discussion and debate on the academic platform. Again, in this university at least, student seminars have become common enough and there is a growing sense of a distinct, if only mimetic, student space for research and criticism.

That space, however, has yet to manifest as the written word. This is where we come in, to hopefully fill in the lacuna for amateur research and criticism in not just the University of Delhi but the wider, exciting literary scene in this country. Indeed, this is precisely what Literophile is being revived as, as a bimonthly, theme based journal for amateur academic research by any student of English Literature, Literature in English, Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies affiliated to any university or institute in India. In reviving Literophile we hope to generate discourse on a range of issues, theories and ideas and so orient the fledging community of English Literature students – a community whose very increase is cause for some worry – to these same.

This we hope to do through subscriptions. What we mean is that like a majority of journals and magazines, Literophile will be made available through subscriptions; however, unlike others, these alone will be our source for expenditure. By thus remaining free of sponsors, institutes or otherwise, we hope to maintain in the overall social context our freedom to be free. Not just this, for being so, having fellow amateurs directly vested in our continuance and consolidation, we hope also to derive some comfort from the presence of like-minded people at hand: as ever, it is still a solace to the wretched to have companions in woe.

In all of this, Literophile will assume a position as neutral and unbiased to the range of opinion submitted to it as can possibly be. As long as actual genocide or hostility is not advocated, we will not discriminate on the basis of the ideological import of the contributions submitted to us by members of the student community at large. Nor, indeed, will we be responsible for the veracity of this research. Debate and dissent have for long been the premise for the much nuanced and complex tradition of criticism and theory and we would not like being committed to only a particular point of view to deny ourselves the opportunity of being part of this.

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And now it’s time to introduce our theme for this issue: Indian Popular Fiction.

Problematic? Undoubtedly. Much has been said in recent times on the nature of categories, on the ills of categorisation as a whole and on the dangers of being sans categories in these post-everything times. These three words, Indian Popular Fiction, are embedded deep in these scholarly disputes and by themselves reflect some of the major literary concerns of the day. Nationality has effectively been deconstructed and is quite often dismissed; popularity is increasingly the only driver to the cultural dynamics of the day and fiction has come to represent literature in a way that is the appealing to the most. If we are indeed Indian nationals, then what from the host of our literary production is popular and fictitious is a question that merits deep and prolonged consideration.

Much is a matter of perspective. The way many of us in universities and colleges look at it, authors self-confessedly post-colonial are much more worthwhile, followed and, in that sense, popular than those otherwise. Like always, this hierarchising is interesting in itself, for in considering it so we embody it with an otherness that purposely, whether or not sensibly, differentiate between canons of taste and style, canons of popular literary tastes and canons of popular mass tastes. This sort of fetishisation is, of course, good for our own use, but at some level it engenders yet more deeply the divide between popular academic literary studies and popular literary tastes.

Indeed, for why must there still be such a divide?...

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Of canons and Canons  ...5
Or Some Observations on Canonicity and Post-Colonialism
Anubhav Pradhan examines the meaning of the term “Indian Popular Fiction in English” and draws attention to the lack of critical attention by literary scholars which the genre as a whole suffers from by questioning the elitism of the literary ‘canon.’

Events  ...6

Anything for You, Readers   ...7
An Examination of Indian Campus Novels
Sankalp Khandelwal explores the public demolition of images of happy college life through a critique of the emergent genre of the Indian Campus Novel, noting in the process forces which contribute to the consolidation of the same as one the most publicly visible literary genres in India.

The Secularisation of the Indian Epic    ...9
Anhiti Patnaik examines the production of the Indian epic for mass consumption through the Amar Chitra Katha series of ‘comic books’, showing how it evades strict categorisation because of the way it straddles the traditional binaries of the canonical and the popular.

Popular Culture and its Populist Fiction    ...11
The Myth of Devdas
Ananya Borgohain closely examines two film adaptations of Saratchandra Chatterjee’s Devdas (1917), showing the way the two different takes on the same story reflects change in popular tastes and ideology over the years with regard to the representation and perception of women, sexuality, and love.

Litter       ...12

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Of canons and Canons
Or some Observations on Canonicity and Post-Colonialism

It’s difficult to believe, but these are the facts as they stand and we must embrace them sooner or later: no one reads Indian Popular Fiction in English.

Well, okay, not no one: no, by no one I mean people like us, people in literature and criticism as, well, scholars and critics. When I say no one seems to have read or be inclined towards reading Indian Popular Fiction in English, I mean very, very few people from the many from our literary ilk I have talked to seem to have bothered with this, um, genre.

Yeah well, genre. Indian Popular Fiction in English. Ahmed or not, it has to be a genre, right? I know it’s problematic and nuanced and so on and I know a thousand post-colonial culture-wallahs can spend a thousand years debating what exactly this phrase means so I’m going to spare you that. The genre of Indian Popular Fiction in English merits critical consideration, which has it has not been getting, though hopefully this journal will change that.

Which is why I’m going back on my word and doing a little analysis of the term “Indian Popular Fiction in English” and what kind of literature it implies. Don’tworry, only a little.

First, the term ‘Indian’. This raises numerous questions. What’s ‘Indian’ and what’s not? Is the the modern nation...

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Anything for You, Readers
An Examination of Indian Campus Novels

In popular imagination, college campuses are these really rocking hubs of incessant excitement, youthful vigour, perennial action, interesting characters, with a smattering of academics and extra-curricular activities thrown in. While for those who are yet to or who never make it to a college, this imaginative picture persists until personal experience strikes. For those who do get to go to a college, this rosy picture all botched and bungled once the nervous initial weeks come to an abrupt end.

The aforementioned campus picture of endless excitement is produced and directed in popular imagination by various channels of mass media such as television, cinema, newspapers, radio etc. These channels, with rare exceptions, propagate a thrilling image of campus life- an image which is prejudiced, incomplete and incomprehensive. The campus reality for the majority is actually a lot different.

The public demolition of such images should make for great art. In India, since movies, television and newspapers have largely refused to undertake this enterprise, the ever-dependable literature seems to have come to the rescue. This deconstructionist exercise was weakly initiated by Five Point Someone, Chetan Bhagat’s 2004 debut novel that still features on the best-seller popular fiction section of all bookstores.

Since the incredible success of Five Point Someone, a number of writers have trodden in Bhagat's footsteps, such that an entire sub-genre of campus novels has come into existence under the wide gambit of ‘Indian Popular Fiction’. It is pertinent to analyze how this deconstructionist exercise has been ushered in and where it is headed.

The Writers

Almost all Indian campus novels to date have been authored by young 20-something writers, many of whom did not have an “arts background”. Many of these novelists were also first-time novel writers—their campus novel being their debut work.

So, this sub-genre has largely been dominated by amateur reader-turned-writers...

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The Secularisation of the Indian Epic

The Amar Chitra Katha as literature is perhaps a prime example of a complex genre that evades categorization. Is it a graphic novel or comic book, children’s literature, alternative reality or the Indian classical religious epic, biography or historiography? Nevertheless, its contribution to the corpus of Indian Literature is visible and immense, especially at a time in the sixties, when the nation came into being and was in the process of becoming a metropolitan bourgeois identity. The Amar Chitra Katha straddles binary opposites in Indian Literature- the Canonical and the Popular. This is not a new idea in art. Quoting Raja Ravi Verma, “I think we cannot do better than classical subjects to appeal to the popular”. Nandini Chandra’s book The Classic Popular; Amar Chitra Katha 1967-2007 asks two important questions as regards the epic-

1. How are we to read the consolidated image from a mythic structure when it enters a national and secular frame?

2. How is the rational-scientific approach to be reconciled with the religious paradigm as a frame of reference?

To answer these questions, we must explore the beginnings of the Amar Chitra Katha in 1967...

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Populist Culture and its Popular Fiction: The myth of Devdas

Popular fiction in India is a recent phenomenon which has been widely disseminated through various agencies of mass communication. Some of the novels belonging to the genre have been vibrant and exuberantly creative and have also marked a crucial shift from the more ‘serious’ types of Indian Literature in English to something more light-hearted. It has been a gradual segregation from the presumably accepted state of being and is moving towards a new, populist ideology.

In India, popular culture began to appear in novels towards the end of the 20th century with the spread of Industrialization and the consequent mobilization of different forms of economy. With the passage of time, the bourgeoisie as well as the working class now have access to differing forms of Literature and Mass media, and these agencies with their ability to reach a mass audience have been making their impact time and again. In this respect, Indian Popular fiction becomes a vital representative figure which addresses the pressing concerns of people in the existing times. As time passes, appropriate changes have been made in the genre of Indian Popular Fiction to fit into the changing tastes of people, as is always the case with popular forms of entertainment.

However, one can still not discard certain literary conventions that continue to preside over the genre. This paper shall take into account the case of the classic novel Devdas by Saratchandra Chatterjee (1917) and explore the divorce between the aesthetic and the populist that its adaptations have constructed to suit the fancies of audiences. In doing so, the objective of the paper would be to examine the emergence of Indian Popular Fiction as a genre in its own right, and to substantiate the same, this paper shall refer to two films in particular, namely, Devdas(1955) by Bimal Roy and DevD (2009) by Anurag Kashyap.

Bimal Roy’s Devdas is undoubtedly included in the most famous tragedies produced in Hindi cinema. Hindi films may not always have happy...

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