By: TONISHA GUIN & ANOMITRA BISWAS
This paper seeks to look at how the people and social geography of the Sunderbans figure within narratives from mainstream Kolkata-centric bhadralok identity projects. The figure of the Bengali has long been conflated into the figure of the bhadralok within Bengali cultural productions, to the extent that within mainstream representations of the Bengali, the bhadralok is assumed to be the key if not sole spokesperson of the deeply heterogeneous Bengali communities. This normative stance creates in its wake a crisis of representation that would be reductive to name solely in terms of the binary of the bhadra and the abhadra. This paper translates and examines a ghost story for young adults by one of the most well-known names within the Bengali literary canon: Atin Bandyopadhyay— “Atapur’s Bhoot” (“Atapur’s Ghost”)— to see how the uncanny is produced, otherised and identified with even as it is alienated within the liminal spaces in-between Bhadralok domains and the hinterlands of the Sunderbans. Within the understanding of this paper, the hegemonic bhadralok gaze that informs (even as it is destabilised by) the story at hand is a crucial tool to access that which the story foregrounds as the haunting spectre.Further, a close reading of the story shows how Timothy Morton’s deconstructive reading of “nature” and paradigmatic shift to the term “ecology” extends to people(s) inhabiting the locations too “natural” to be accommodated in discourses of bhadralok modernity. It explores Atin Bandopadhyay’s perpetually liminal authorial identity as simultaneously a bhadralok and a refugee from the Sunderbans-Bangladesh borders, and links it to the ambivalences surrounding the surreal in his stories. In doing so, it argues that understanding these identity projects in terms of perpetual liminality or border dwelling is more productive than erstwhile Global South frameworks like that of Partha Chatterjee’s relevant but too insular demarcations between civil society and political society.
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