IIAS Newsletter 23

Page 19

SOUTH Bengal and modernity should always be seen in connection with the rest of South Asia, and not as an isolated area. Within Indian Studies, it is often argued that Bengali is only a provin­ cial language, one of the fifteen Indi­ an languages, but not the major lan­ guage. It’s always very difficult to say, ‘but look, this is also the nation­ al language of a nation state, albeit a small nation state’. There are about four to five hundred million speak­ ers of Hindi at the most, and often it’s not their mother tongue, but a second tongue. There are two hun­ dred fifty million Bengali speakers. So we’re not really talking about a small language. It should also be said that Bengal Studies are not terribly well funded. [It’s continuation in Europe] is very much due to the devotion of various scholars. Sometimes they are not even appointed for Bengal Studies but for something else. Why is the Bengal Studies Page an importatit/eature in the HAS Newsletter?

It has become quite an interesting feature of the HAS Newsletter, I think, and, as far as I know, it’s the only one of its kind. It was initially thought to be a kind of forum, the only forum that was available for scholars in Europe that is part of a larger framework [of Asian Studies research news]. There are, for in­ stance, new and sometimes impor­ tant books on Bengal - let’s say the sheer fact that there exist more than one translation of an important Ben­ gali novel, for example. The Bengal Studies Page would be an ideal forum either to ask whether there are other translations or just to in­ form an interested public about some important publications that have come to light. What are your plans/or the Bengal Studies Page?

Ultimately, it might be nice if it could become the starting point of a kind of journal on Bengal Studies, Bengal Cultural Studies, or Indian Cultural Studies, Because that’s still, more or less, what I have in mind and this is a sort of summary of that. However, as opposed to journal for­ mat, the informality of the HAS Newsletter enables one sometimes to write very small contributions. [In terms of the articles,] I do have to say that it’s still difficult to get a large variety of contributions. Often one gets something sent on the two or three major Bengali writers - always on Tagore. I feel that one cannot ig­ nore that, but it would be nice if there would be something else sometimes. I am very happy that van Schendel has asked me to review his book on the Chittagong Hill Traas, for example. I would actually like some more varied publications, and what I also hope for is to get other people so far that they would be stimulated to consider writing something for this page - on the vi­ sual arts, for example - or if others could break a little bit through the traditional disciplinary traditions, even those within Bengal Studies. (TC) ■


New Publications in Bengal Studies The C\utta$on$ Hill Tracts:

Peasant Revolts and Democratic

Living in a Borderland

Struggles in India

of that name had come into existence riginally, Suprakash chapter. As the region was seen as he Chittagong Hill in the early 1980s. In fact, the book it­ Roy’s Bengali work peripheral in British-India and sub­ Tracts in the south­ self was a source of inspiration in the on peasant revolts sequently in Pakistan and Bangla­ eastern part of pre­ early 1970s, when militant agrarian and anti-colonial democradesh, its history neither formed part sent-day Bangladesh are struggles reached a peak as Partha tic struggles: Bharater Krof the ‘great’ history of the civilizing home to about twelve dif­ Chatterjee writes in the foreword to ishak Bidroha O Ganatamnk mission of imperialism, nor the ferent peoples, of which the translation (p. 8]. According to Sangrnm [1966) was much longer. The struggle for independence, nor the the are the Chakmas and the MarChatterjee, Roy’s importance today English version contains the transla­ language movement and the war of mas. Not much seems to be known lies in the fact that he is an ‘example tion of the chapters dealing with peas­ independence from West Pakistan. about any of these peoples. Inhabit­ of politically committed scholarship’ ant rebellions in the eastern part of At best the Hill Tract peoples were ing the hills and mountains in the (p. 10]. Roy’s work in English transla­ India in the eighteenth and nineteenth seen as irrelevant, and at worst as in­ Southeast, on the borders with tion will ‘establish him better within centuries. Five rebellions are analysed surgents or traitors. Thus the Hill Burma and in the Northeast on the the history of modem Indian histori­ in these chapters: the Sannyasi revolt Tract people found themselves, and Indian state of Assam, they remained ography’. (1763-1800], the Chakma rebellion in many ways still do today, in what relatively untouched by the civiliza­ Roy’s work will be of great interest [1776-1787] in the Chittagong Hill can be legitimately called a subal­ tions of the plains. Linguistically for historians of colonialism and re­ tern position. According to the au­ Tracts, the Indigo cultivators’ struggle and culturally the peoples of the sistance to colonialism, because the (1830-1848], the Wahabi rebellion (1831) thors a ‘reintergration’ of their sub­ Chittagong Hill Tracts are said to be­ book examines grassroot-level forms and the Santhal rebellion (1855-1857]. long to the westernmost part of alternness into a redefined main­ of resistance to the state and its hege­ Roy was an avowed Marxist and stream history of the Bangladeshi Southeast Asia rather than South mony long before urban anticolonial wrote his work from that perspective. nation ‘requires historians to over­ Asia. British colonial administration nationalism began to challenge colo­ Nowadays, Marxist historiography come “nationalist” ideologies to regarded them as primitive and nial rule. has not only gone out of fashion, it is which they have so long been sub­ unimportant. This view remained The translator Dr Rita Banerjee has often looked upon with a patronizing servient’ (p 300]. The authors plead largely unaltered even after inde­ done her best to do justice to the orig­ smile. There are methodological and for a history-writing that allows pendence in 15147, when the Hill inal. In his Bengali original, Supra­ ideological problems with classical other voices to be heard besides the Tracts became part of East Pakistan. kash Roy quoted from English works Marxist historiography. The greatest mainstream Bengali - Bangladeshi In the introduction to their book but in his own Bengali translation. criticism one could level against it is one. Collecting ‘information and Willem van Schendel, Wolfgang Rita Banerjee has correctly identified its schematic and eschatological view making it publicly available is one Mey, and Aditya Kumar Dewan al­ most of these sources and quoted of history. Roy wrote this book long way of giving voice to ideas, perspec­ ready state that the ‘region remains them in their original form in Eng­ before post-modernist rereadings of tives, and interests of ordinary peo­ hidden behind a curtain of igno­ lish. In footnotes she gives the refer­ Marxism had come to the fore. This is ple who have been marginalized or rance’. These three authors, all spe­ ences wherever possible. (VvB] ■ why, at times, his interpretations silenced’ (p 302). The authors have cialists in the field, deserve credit for sound like official party-doctrine. For remarkably succeeded in the task having lifted this curtain and show­ instance, he firmly believed in the they had set themselves. [VvB] ■ ing the Chittagong Hill Tract peo­ Roy, Suprakash (Translated from revolutionary leadership of the work­ ples through more than four hun­ Bengali by Rita Banerjee) ing class. To the extent that agrarian - Schendel, Willem van, Wolfgang Mey, dred photographs, covering the peri­ Peasant Revolts and Democratic uprisings were not led by the working and Aditya Kumar Dewan od from the 1860s to the 1970s. Most Struggles in India class, they would fail. The Chittagong Hill Tracts: of these pictures were taken for pri­ Delhi: International Centre for A classic in Bengali, Roy’s book Living in a Borderland vate purposes and thus never formed Bengal Studies, 239 pp opened up space for subaltern histori­ Bangkok: W hite Lotus Press, 2000, part of any official colonial docu­ ISBN 81-85972-61-7 ography long before the actual school VIII + 325 pp, ISBN 974-8434-98-2 mentation. They have the impact of a first direct encounter. In the ab­ sence of much written records of the Hill Tract peoples, the authors offer Rabindranath Tagore in k this volume as a primary historical source. Four responses to a The authors have taken great pains to compile their book. The ne may well won­ Tagore in Germany, Helene Meyerphotographs were selected from over Franck, the translator, and Heinrich der: ‘Why another fifty collections scattered over the Meyer-Benfey, the literary inter­ book on Tagore?' globe. The book contains more than preter of Tagore. In presenting the This study by Martin twenty chapters. Every chapter deals Tagore encounter through these per­ Kampchen is, however, with a separate theme such as ‘map­ sonal contacts, Kampchen actually not only an extremely ping a region’, ‘the colonial overwrites a most engaging piece of in­ readable and interesting book, it also lords’, ‘religions of the hills’, ‘getting tellectual and cultural history of the C o n trib u tio n s to th is B engal fills a gap in our knowledge about around’, and ‘lifestyles’. The very recent past when Europe was the the Tagore phenomenon in Europe S tu d ie s pag e as w ell as lucid text gives a lot of background hub of a colonial world system. The between the two world wars. This su g g e s tio n s can be s e n t on information on the photographs Tagore mania in Germany during volume is a follow-up of Kampchen s p a p e r, disc o r th ro u g h e-m ail which are presented subjectwise the Weimar republic was not only a earlier book Rabindranath Tagore and w ith th e n a m e a n d th e a d d re s s chapter by chapter. The combination major mass media event, it also re­ Germany: A documentation (Calcutta: o f t h e c o n tr ib u to r to th e of the images and the text are an im­ vealed the deep anguish and search follow ing a d d re s s: Max Mueller Bhavan 1991). In the portant attempt to write the cultur­ for ultimate meaning in Germany. present study Kampchen documents al and political history of the region, Tagore and indeed the ‘East’ were the encounter between Tagore and while focusing on the everyday life DR VICTOR A. supposed to provide this meaning. four German intellectuals: count of the people involved. VAN BIJLERT In this book Kampchen shows us Hermann Keyserling, the personal The authors clarify their historio­ what sensitive German intellectuals friend, Kurt Wolff who published graphical allegiances in the last M a n a g e m e n t C e n tr e fo r were looking for in Tagore and why H u m a n V alues they promoted him and his writings. In dian I n s titu te of E R T l S t ’. (VvB] ■


cultural icon

M a n a g e m e n t C a lc u tta D iam o n d H a rb o r R o a d .Jo k a

- Kampchen, M artin Rabindranath Tagore in Germany: Four responses to a cultural icon Shimla: Indian In stitu te o f Advanced Study, R ashtrapati Nivas, 1999

P.O .B ox I67S7 C a lc u tta 700027. India E-m ail: v a v a n b ijle rt@ h o tm a il.c o m

128 pp, ISBN 81-85952-71-X

October 2000 •

i i as n e w s l e t t e r

TC23 • 1 $