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Paper 34

Laughter and Colonial Bengali Subjecthood: Rajshekhar Basu's Satire and

the Caste Question

Ms Durba Mandal, PhD Scholar, Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India


In this paper I take up a few stories by the Bengali satirist Rajsekhar Basu and analyze

how he constructs a unique Bengali selfhood by blending together satire, parody and

cosmopolitan awareness. Using his signature witty use of humor, he succeeds in creating a

subject who is a product of their Bengali cultural roots as well as the global dilemmas of the

colonial world. Even more interesting is this subject's political sensibility that constantly

oscillates in the twain between the modern and the traditional. This paper intends to note a gap in Basu's idea of a 21st century (post)colonial Bengali subject, that is of caste and caste identity. Most of Basu's protagonists belong to the educated urban middle-class society that he himself represents; the issues of caste in this modern Bengali society are not addressed in his stories as such. Baidik Bhattacharya in his fascinating essay on some of Rajsekhar Basu’s works notes that the processes in his parody "rearticulate and reconfigure” the reality of the Orient and can help us deterritorialize the topographic Orient away from mythic notions of orientalism that facilitate colonial governmentality. While I do not disagree with Bhattacharya, I would like to add to his argument that this "reality" of the orient is positioned upon internal obliterations. An attempt to reverse colonialism and racism through political humor, in the case of Basu, lacks an acknowledgment of multiplicity within the Hindu social systems. This at once brings my attention to the socio-political predicaments that might have influenced Basu’s authorial decisions, as well as the issues of subjectivity and authenticity in writing humor. In case Basu had chosen to represent certain layers in the society he was personally not familiar with, would that have rendered the political potency of his satire inauthentic or offensive? In this paper my intention is to attempt an understanding of a progressive upper-caste satirist's attitude towards a contested issue like caste in colonial Bengali-Hindu society.

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