David Lunn, SOAS University of London
In his 1960 autobiography Apni Khabar, the Hindi writer Pandey Bechan Sharma “Ugra” commented that “forty years ago, patriotic writers chose harsh pennames to make the cruel rulers of the powerful British empire tremble”. While it’s not clear that his penname or writings struck at the foundations of imperial power, his stories were hugely popular and, though pushed to the margins of the Hindi literary canon today, frequently satirised contemporary events, mores, and politics in the harshest of terms.
This talk will take as its starting point a collection of Ugra’s short stories from the 1920s—Dozakh ki Aag, or The Fires of Hell—which dealt explicitly and satirically with Hindu-Muslim relations and intercommunal violence. The stories address many of the major concerns of the period—cow protection, music before mosques, conversion—and, in the wake of communal riots that had engulfed Calcutta, were thus a direct literary intervention in the most pressing issue of the day. Moving beyond that particular collection, we will situate that intervention in the context of Ugra’s broader oeuvre. By exploring the narrative strategies, literary resources, and humanistic critique that he deployed, we can begin to appreciate more fully not only this complex, unconventional, satirical and popular writer, but also the broader contours of the literary world that he inhabited.
Monday, January 29 at 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Will C. Hogg Building (WCH), Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118), UT Austin Campus
120 INNER CAMPUS DR, Austin, Texas 78712