Colonial Governance, Disaster, and the Social in Bhabani Bhattacharya's Novels of 1943 Bengal Famine

Sourit Bhattacharya

Abstract


How does a creative writer, situated in a geography of disaster, represent a disaster? What happens if that writer is also a professional historian, journalist, or social scientist? Which areas or factors of the disaster are projected and which discarded? These are some of the questions that this article asks through a reading of the representation of the 1943-44 Bengal famine in Bhabani Bhattacharya’s novels. There are two-fold investigations here: the first section concerns the relations between late colonial governance, disaster, and violence in So Many Hungers! (1947), and the second analyses the role of caste, law, and subaltern agency in the famine times in He Who Rides a Tiger (1954). In doing so, the article also engages with the crisis in anti-colonial bourgeois leadership in India. It argues that the Second World War, the class-basis of the disaster, and the immediacy of suffering compel the writer to take a deeply analytical-ethnographic mode that has to also negotiate significantly with the literary. In a close study of the novels and their representation of the economic, historical, and political elements, the article attempts to situate through literature the wider horizons of the social in famine times.


Keywords


famine, caste, Bhabani Bhattacharya, anti-colonialism, disaster studies

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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