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City of Spectres: Spectral Spatialities of Calcutta and their Depiction in Bengali Ghost Stories


Be it stories of Calcutta’s origin in the marshes plagued by wild animals or the ruthless dacoits dominating its streets in its early years later to be replaced by the solitary, lurking criminal, Calcutta has, for centuries now, been a witness to the danse macabre of corpses. In an article titled, perhaps ironically, ‘A Real, Live City,’ Rudyard Kipling wrote about sleeping among the vicious odours of late nineteenth century Calcutta ‘…it is remarkably like sleeping with a corpse.’ This macabre description of the colonial city sets the mood for its continual depiction as a necropolis or the city of the dead. The paper will begin its analysis of Calcutta’s depiction as a Gothic city in various works of fiction and non-fiction. In this it will take into account the etiology and the evolution of the ‘urban gothic’ offered by Robert Mighall in The Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction, and relate it to Calcutta and Bengali ghost stories set in it.
Subsequently, the paper will closely examine Bengali ghost stories and the way urban space is represented therein to exacerbate, as it were, the sense of the uncanny. It will explore the interaction of supernatural presences, both spectral and non-spectral, and the urban space of colonial and postcolonial Calcutta. Take, for instance, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s 1930 story, ‘Andhakare’ or ‘In the Darkness.’ Here, the narrator finds himself stranded in the waterlogged city in the middle of a massive power failure. In the eponymous, and typically urban darkness, a ghostly voice guides him home through the labyrinthine city. Here, the ‘total’ sensory perception of the city barring the visual offers a fascinating construction of a dark city which both produces and is produced by supernatural presences. My paper will look into this Gothic production of urban space.

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