The Nationalist Male Subject: Agyeya's Sekhar: A Life and Sarat’s Pather Dabi

Nikhil Govind, South and Southeast Asia Studies

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The paper will argue that the inaugural moment of modernist nationalist subjectivity in South Asian literatures as evidenced by these two novels is often marked by this inability to disentangle an isolable “Indian” male self from an inter-subjective, gendered otherness, an otherness that is both self confirming in certain forms of intimacy ( an intimacy consisting of all the contradictory tones of romance, filiality, friendship), but also self injurious in its irredeemable alterity, the inability to form stable socially sanctioned relationships to state or family.

9/8/10 CRG Forum: Violence, Gender, and the Construction of Communities in the 20th Century Indian Novel

"The Nationalist Male Subject: Agyeya's Sekhar: A Life and Sarat’s Pather Dabi," Nikhil Govind, South and Southeast Asia Studies

The widely read Bengali novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhaya (1876-1938) serialized and then published an immensely popular novel Pather Dabi in 1926, one that was immediately proscribed by the British government “on the grounds that the said book contains words which brings or attempt to bring into contempt and excite disaffection towards the government established by law in British India.” This is odd because a strong critique of the central figure and his politics and values, especially regarding racial violence against the colonial oppressor, exists within the book itself in the form of a female “friend” whose argumentation is effectively twinned to that of the male figure. Likewise, in the Hindi novelist Agyeya’s (1911-1987) novel Sekhar: A Life, the affective and ideological rhetorics of the protagonist Sekhar is often countered and mediated by a twinned female Indian protagonist, Sashi. The novel remains however named Sekhar though much of the latter half of the novel, and to many its most powerful sections, centre on the interrelationship of Sekhar with his distant cousin/friend/lover Sashi. It is the unnameable nature of this unboundaried space between friendship, romance and filial love that make it difficult to demarcate the subjectivity of Sekhar from Sashi for a large part of the novel. After Sashi’s death at the end of the novel, it is as if the novel cannot go on, and indeed Agyeya never published the promised third volume in the remaining four decades of his life.

The paper will argue that the inaugural moment of modernist nationalist subjectivity in South Asian literatures as evidenced by these two novels is often marked by this inability to disentangle an isolable “Indian” male self from an inter-subjective, gendered otherness, an otherness that is both self confirming in certain forms of intimacy ( an intimacy consisting of all the contradictory tones of romance, filiality, friendship), but also self injurious in its irredeemable alterity, the inability to form stable socially sanctioned relationships to state or family. While the singular protagonist often seeks autonomy, and often even grandeur, the gendered and racial (i.e. nationalist) element provides the counterpoints of skepticism, greater affective range, and a different sense of community, conscience and courage from, for example, violence-conscientized racial nationalisms that the protagonists of Pather Dabi and Sekhar articulate. The novels are thus produced and invested by this double engine of contradictory desires and political action.