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A Trope In Fiction

Rosinka Chaudhuri

By Nikhil Govind
Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 180, Rs. 419.00


The figure of the youthful revolutionary is the space, both fictional and historical, real and metaphorical, from which the concerns of this book arise. As the author puts it in his introductory chapter, ‘This book seeks to study the development of this trope of the revolutionary in the Hindi novel as a laboratory for the elaboration of a modern, introspective, and extrospective subjectivity’. Starting from the Bengali literary heritage that put in place many of the tropes in the construction of the ‘moral revolutionary’ that would then find an echo in novels in other Indian languages, Nikhil Govind explores real life revolutionaries as well as fictional figures as they emerged in modern Hindi fiction in the early twentieth century. Bhagat Singh and Gandhi’s ‘competing moralities regarding the question of revolutionary sacrifice’ is literally the title of the second chapter, while Jainendra Kumar, Agyeya and Yashpal’s novels then occupy a chapter each as they are individually studied to gain a perspective on the political revolutionary as figured in their narratives. A brilliant foreword by Professor Udaya Kumar helps grasp the direction of Govind’s reading, summarizing the urgent concerns of the book across different axes, of the ‘novel’s arrival as a new genre of public discourse’, of the ‘spaces of disjunction’ found in ‘the broken body of the injured prisoner’, or,  indeed, of the ‘different existential threshold’ that the prison is to the revolutionary, of the questions of the subject, the woman, and of the public and the political in relation to ‘transgressive sexual freedom’. Revolutionary violence, in this book, is interrogated in the broadest possible way, bringing in notions of subjectivity and modernity through the prism of not just political freedom, but rehabilitating the sexual too, from the traditions of ‘repressive convention’. The modernist Hindi novel, moving away from social realism and Premchand, brought in extensive experimentations in form and perspective,  while still  continuing within that larger canvas of realism and subjectivism in different ways. Work on the Hindi public sphere has picked up pace and body since Francesca Orsini first published her book of that name; Govind’s work is both an extension and a departure from much of that by virtue of its methodological insistence on negotiating the field not just through print culture and publishing history, but bringing in the literary text itself, its specific mechanics and narratological imperatives. Habermas’s injunction not to ...

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