- Travelling with Feluda: Mapping Memory and Literature through New Media | October 2023 | Annual Conference on South Asia 2023
My paper focuses on the concept of ‘travel’ as an analytical category, and attempts to understand how travel and memory interact
with each other in understanding literature cultures better. It engages with Satyajit Ray’s famous detective series, Feluda, and
attempts to think about the role that the aspects of travel play in its popularity and how the readers' personal travels shape their
understanding of the text. Travel remains a backbone of Ray’s storytelling, and serves as an impetus for the crime to happen. My
paper analyze this very impetus, and how the concept of travel can mitigate many limitations that Ray faces as a detective
storyteller for children. The paper looks at the role of my memory of reading Feluda, and how travel blurs the lines of gender
between the readers and the characters. My paper is based on a new media project, which uses interactive maps and geo-tagged
photographs to map my personal experience of ‘travelling with Feluda’, and the memories associated with retracing Feluda’s
journeys. The paper builds on that project by using new interactive media to think about the space occupied by the Feluda series
and its readers and the way literature and the embodied space of its readers intersect. The paper, therefore, methodically uses
memory and new media in understanding and analyzing literature and tries to think about the role travel plays in making Feluda a
universally loved series. My paper attempts to not only analyze travel as an critical category, but also opens up scholarship on the
contemporary South Asian Detective Novel and the many modalities that it takes on space and post-coloniality. The paper
therefore examines if the Feluda Series becomes universally accepted not just through but because of the travel narratives, and its
blurring of various differences between the characters and the readers.
- Narrating the ‘Hippie’: Bengali Perceptions of the Trail | September 2023 | The Midwestern Conference for Asian Affairs 2023
With this paper, I will attempt to shift the focus of the Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s from the Global North and examine how it affected cultural norms and perceptions in the Global South. My presentation will look at the ‘Hippie Trail’, a colloquial way to refer to a travel route taken by many European and North-American youth to the East at the height of the counterculture movement. The East, therefore, served as an allegory, and could mean a variety of things; but travellers often came by land from a European centre like London and Amsterdam to anywhere relatively east, often ending in South and Southeast Asia. In this presentation, I try to understand the perceptions of the trail in the Bengali cultural milieu, through the literary representation in Satyajit Ray’s detective Novel, Gangtok-e-Gondogol.
- Ghosts (of) in Calcutta: Viewing the Cities ‘Dead’ | April 23 | British Association for South Asian Studies Annual Conference 2023
(Supported by the BCNM Conference Grant and Centre for Contemporary India Rapid Response Grant, UC Berkeley)
Ghosts (of) in Calcutta: Viewing the Cities ‘Dead’ My paper looks at will focus on the ideas of spectrality and its relationship to urbanity in Calcutta, and will attempt to answer the question, How does the Calcutta Narrative deal with the trauma of colonisation, the extremely violent decolonial process and then the reducing importance in a post- liberalised open economy? It tries to think about how the three narratives use spectrality to deal with dissonance, and how the modern Calcutta Narrative is using ghosts to cope with the loss and trauma of decolonisation and post-colonisation. I study, and the local epistemology of Bengal is rooted in memory and ghost-like beings. What is the bizarre telling us about its people, its many memories, and what has been lost? How does one understand this through lived experiences of modern Calcutta?
How does one think about the scientific nature of the detective narrative genre in the context of the colonial peripheries, spaces that are not imagined as the centres of modern techno-science? My work is in conversation with that Joseph Agassi's paper, The Detective Novel and Scientific Method. This paper analyzes the science and the scientific method in the Byomkesh Bakshi series by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, which is produced between 1930s-1970s in India. It approaches Agassi’s idea of the eurocentric scientific method with Indian forms of knowledge. The central question that it attempts to answer is do peripheral forms of science find their way into the Indian detective novel? How are representations of local forms of knowledge framed within this euro-centric scientific approach that is thought to be pertinent to the detective novel? Does it change the genre itself or there is an Indianisation of these methods? My objects of enquiry of cocaine and snake poison have long histories and associations in 20th century India. They were also widely researched by Indian doctors who published both case studies and original research in the Indian Medical Gazette. I attempt to answer these questions with a study of these histories along with their representation in the detective series. My attempt is to think about ‘peripheral science’ and how its representation in Indian detective fiction moulds and subverts the representations of modalities of the science of the scientific metropole.
How Tintin became Bengali? Herge's Afterwork in India | The Society of French Studies Postgraduate Conference 2022: After Work/Après Le Travail, May'22
Belgian-French cartoon character Tintin is one of the most recognizable media icons of the 20th century. One look at the first page of Tintin albums shows us how far and wide it has travelled, and how many countries it has been published in. Global cultural phenomena usually either allow for a large-scale absorption of the original material or allow for a localization of its features that can fit into a multitude of contexts. Tintin is one that falls into the second category, with many ‘un-official’ homages coming to the character from all over the world. In this paper, I am particularly interested in its after-work and afterlife in West Bengal, India. It is here that the first South Asian translation of Tintin is produced by Nirendranath Chakraborty and Ananda Publishers. In the forthcoming years it becomes very popular within West Bengal’s cultural landscape, the legacy of which still lives on. I first study the vernacularization through Tintin’s translation into Bengali and how that itself is an after-work on the original comics. Here I would be in conversation with Mariam Hansen’s idea of vernacular modernity to understand how these translations function to create a vernacular after-life for Tintin. I then look at readership to see how Tintin is read in Calcutta and what sort of allegories it produces in Bengali children’s culture. Here I study memoirs, interviews, and other fictional narratives that cross-reference Tintin. Finally, I look at its contemporary life-- at its modern representations and meanings. I will be in conversation with Laura Doyle’s idea of horizon reversal, to see how Tintin becomes a Bengali cultural icon. This paper aims to study how Herge is ‘working’ far from home and long after his death to create new forms of representations within Indian Bengal.
Snakes have an important place in the culture and mythology of Bengal, and a strong presence within folklore and religious worship. Historical evidence for this can be found in literature and artistic representations of early modern and modern Bengal. What happens when they encounter Western medicine? This paper takes a microhistory approach to the animal-human interaction to study the relationship that snakes and their poison have with two doctors at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine-- R.N. Chopra and G.S. Chowhan. These two colonial doctors spent significant years of their careers working with snakes and their poison, between the 1930s and 1950s. They start their research on the antidotes for snake bite, moving to full-scale research on developing therapeutics from snake poison. They work with several kinds of snakes in their research and look at their place in both Indian and western religious and mythic traditions. This paper will look at this evolving medical history largely through a variety of scientific publications, primarily published in the Indian Medical Gazette. The work of Chowhan and Chopra is not just scientific but is heavily mitigated through the literature and cultural traditions in relation to snakes. This paper is an attempt to look at the history of animal-human interaction in the medical realm, and how medicine itself interacts with culture. It is an attempt to decentralize the discourse of animal histories from wild or domesticated animals to one that lies in between.
The Adventures of Tintin are a set of 24 comic books written by Georges Remi (pseudonym Herge), originally published in French, that have since become a global cultural icon as a harmless children’s comics, due to the absence of sexual tension in them. They are immensely popular in India, especially in Bengal. However, a discourse that has been often ignored about the comics is the colonial gaze and colonial framework within which the comics were conceived and written. One-third of the comics are set outside the Western world, with a considerable amount of them set in Asia, in areas like West Asia, India, China, and Tibet. This discourse is also crucial as the comic book is a unique form coming from a Western literary tradition, which combines both the textual and the visual mode simultaneously to build a narrative. Hence, to historicize Tintin, and subsequently the origins of post-colonial comic writing, understanding the gaze becomes extremely crucial. My paper, therefore, explores the question, “How is Asia represented in The Adventures of Tintin, and in what manner does the colonial gaze manifest itself?” The paper is a largely comparative spatial analysis of the comics, which also draws upon the representation of Africa and Europe in Tintin. This paper will also try to find the fault lines within the inward colonial gaze and see if it is somehow returned by the colonized through an analysis of Tintin’s translation in Bengali.
The program of the conference can be found here.