Prabhat Kumar, University of Heidelberg
'Household event' in the late 19th century Bihar
This paper is primarily an attempt to delineate a complex story of normative framing of a ‘new’ conjugality in late 19th century colonial India through a textual and contextual reading of an early Hindi novel Gharau Ghatna or Household Events. The novel was written by Bhuvaneshvar Mishra from Muzaffarpur, Bihar and serialised in 1893 in the weekly Hindi Bangabasi, published by Calcutta’s Bangabasi Press. From 1894 onwards it was reprinted till 1908 by the famous Naval Kishore Press of Lucknow. Little known author of the novel, we find, was an employee in a district court in Bihar and he was associated with the journal Hindi Bangavasi for a few years.
If one is alive to the tensions of the period when the revivalist streak of Hindu nationalism witnessed an upswing in the wake of anti-Age of Consent Bill (1891) agitation (not coincidentally Bangabasi Press was leading this agitation in Calcutta), this novel provides an interesting historical insight into the nuanced literary responses to the colonial intervention in the ‘private domain’. Unlike the other early novels based in urban setting, Gharau Ghatna reconstructs a novel imaginary of rural Hindu household in Bihar. It focuses on issues of marriage, conjugal love, marital relationship and daily happenings. It redefines gender roles and conjugal norms, and more importantly creates a parallel ‘reality’ of a domestic world. A world, where a romance of a companionate conjugality – described in exceptionally vivid detail in the novel – could flourish even after a ‘traditionally’ arranged marriage, and above all, where the intervention of colonial regulations like the Age of Consent Bill, arguments in its favour become redundant and the reformist agenda is foreclosed.
The paper shall highlight the textual strategies of framing conjugality in the formation of novel’s narrative structure as well as underline how the text itself, despite being framed by the context of nationalist morality, transgresses its self-reticence and invites the readers to enjoy the description of pleasure and romance of conjugal love.
Source: Early Hindi novels, biographies of and by the contemporary literati, periodicals published from Calcutta and Patna, Native Newspaper Report.