Between Worlds: Hindi Literary Activism, the Magazine & the Short Story in the 1950s

Francesca Orsini (SOAS)

Already a tradition several decades old, in the first decade after independence (in 1947) the short story emerged as the primary genre in Hindi, but also in other Indian literatures, to grapple with contemporary experiences and to learn about other Indian and world literatures. The short story was so popular that magazines were started that were only devoted to it, primary among them Kahānī (Short Story, 1954), established by Shripat Rai, one of the two songs of the hallowed Hindi-Urdu writer Premchand. Already since the 1940s, the Hindi literary field had been deeply polarised between the Progressive Writers’ Association, controlled in the early ’50s by a hardcore group of critics and writers, and those who protested the Progressives’ ideological emphasis. In the 1950s, this polarization got strengthened by Cold War literary interventions and translated into two different visions of world literature: one clearly oriented towards China, the USSR, and Eastern Europe and a canon of communist or leftist writers from western countries (Howard Fast, Upton Sinclair, etc.), and another more open to and interested in writers from other countries.  But the 1950s were also the first decade of Indian independence, and theysaw magazines like Kahānī undertake literary activism in other ways, too, namely: (a) by emphasising translations of contemporary writing in other Indian languages, which formed more than half of the magazine’s content; (b) by having at least one foreign short story in every issue; (c) by democratising access to reading and encouraging “democratic” discussions of literature through the establishment of a “Kahani Club” and inviting readers to participate. This paper will explore and evaluate Kahānī’s literary activism in the context of the political polarization of Hindi and world literature in the early Cold War, of the relationship between Hindi and other Indian language literatures, and between them and English, and in relation to the work that the short story as a genre was called upon to perform.


How do we stop being somebody else’s image?” : The Struggle for Cultural Freedom and the Poetics and Politics of Modernism in Cold War Bombay

Laetitia Zecchini (CNRS, Paris)

This paper presents itself like a follow-up of my presentation at the workshop in Newcastle last year (“What filters through the curtain”), in which I discussed how Indian literatures and literary cultures were changed by the worldliness, the travelling literatures, the “new conversations” (Quinn) made possible by the Cold War; and tried to re-examine modernisms in India through a perspective I had previously overlooked, ie. the politics and economics of literary circulation. I would like to concentrate here on the struggle for cultural, literary and critical independence which certain spaces (like the journal Quest) and writers represented or embodied in the 50s and 60s, and focus on two figures: Nissim Ezekiel, who although recognized as a canonical figure of Indian poetry in English is paradoxically often dismissed, and his critical / editorial work largely neglected, and on J. S. Saxena, a writer and Jodhpur University professor whom Mehrotra regarded as one of his “heroes” but who died in the 70s a totally forgotten figure.

Ezekiel’s whole quest has been to foster a “critical spirit”, to carve a non-conformist, pluralist space mindful of “little truths” and “many voices”: “Again and again, that question: to be free. What did it mean?” he asked at the turn of independence. His question resonates with an article Saxena published in Quest: “How do we stop being somebody else’s image?” where he articulates the poignant need for an “alternative” – beyond images of Europe, Roosevelt’s America, Stalinist Russia -, which can be found in the “pure logic of refusal” for instance produced by “real” blues, whose practitioners also represent a “permanent reserve of misfits” condemned to “perpetual minority”. This essay articulates three of my concerns here: the question of mimetism (how do we stop writing like…); the question of form; and the question of minor modes and minor cosmopolitanisms. The struggle over the political and aesthetic implications of “freedom” which is a defining feature of the cultural Cold War is also a struggle over the meanings of modernism and of the avant-garde, and a struggle over form (art or literature that is ‘formalist’, individualist or autonomous, versus art that is ‘progressive’, realist and demotic). Refusing to be straightjacketed by ideology, by the state or state-supported institutions, by foreign patrons, or by models imported from elsewhere, Saxena and Ezekiel, along with other writers of the 70s, struggled to clear a space and a voice for themselves, and to define what modernism, freedom and the avant-garde meant to them.


Tambimuttu and Sivanandan: Cold-War America and International Socialism

Ruvani Ranasinha (Kings College London)

After living in Britain for over a decade, in 1952 the Sri Lankan poet and editor of the influential Poetry London magazine Tambimuttu (1915-1983) exchanged London’s Fitzrovia for bohemian artistic communities in New York’s Greenwich Village (1952-1968).  My paper explores how his autobiographical short-stories on Sri Lanka’s social and cultural structures published in North American literary magazines were interpolated by larger propaganda movements against communism and shaped by the political culture of cold-war America. Like the Encounter magazine, these magazines aimed to produce a counter-intellectual movement to communism.  Tambimuttu’s interactions need to be seen in relation to the expanded role of the USA on the world stage when North America represented its anti-communism as anti-imperialistic.  What role did native informants from formerly colonised countries play in bolstering this North American self-representation during the Cold war years? In contrast Sivanandan’s (1923-2018) involvement with the Trotskyite Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) as a student in Sri Lanka clarifies his affinity with International Socialism on his arrival in Britain in 1958. He remoulded the Institute of Race Relations in London into Britain’s first anti-imperialist, anti-racist think-tank and provided a venue for Marxist internationalism and Third World socialist struggles world-wide. What are the political implications of their divergent diasporic or transplanted perspectives?


Ousmane Sembène and the Aesthetics of Third Worldism

Duncan Yoon (NYU – Gallatin)

The Senegalese cineaste, Sembène Ousmane, is primarily known for being the “father of African film.” However, before turning almost exclusively to cinema, Sembène was first recognized for his politically engaged fiction and poetry, receiving the Lotus Prize for Afro-Asian Literature in 1971. The Lotus Prize was awarded by the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association (AAWA), the cultural wing of the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization. Through its publication of the Lotus magazine, the AAWA promoted a highly politicized aesthetic, which many writers from the Third World interpreted as the aesthetics of decolonization. The AAWA promoted the multipolarity of Cold War Third Worldism as just as important to formulating a postcolonial national consciousness as “writing back” against the colonizer. This paper examines Sembène’s poem “Fingers,” which was published in a 1971 issue of Lotus, as well as his 1981 novel, Le Dernier de l’empire (The Last of the Empire), against the aesthetic platform articulated in AAWA publications. I argue Sembène uses the trope of a global Cold War, which manifests in references to the Soviet Union, Maoist China, the Vietnam War, as well as to political instability on the African continent, to interpolate Third Worldism into the Senegalese context. In the novel, Sembène blends griot storytelling techniques, flashback (analepsis), and Soviet montage to depict the threat of military coup to the succession of power. Sembène thus uses Third Worldism to shift the focus of critique from the politics of decolonization to the rise of neocolonialism in the postcolony.


Ethiopia as the “Biggest” of the “Small” Nations: Pan-Africanism and Blackness in Amharic Literature and Political Thought (1960s)

Sara Marzagora (SOAS)

Historical surveys of Pan-Africanist, Rastafari and black nationalist movements always underline the central role played by Ethiopia in the thought of African and black activists. The term ‘Ethiopianism’, for example, refers to an ideology of African liberation embraced by secular and religious movement in South Africa, North America and the Caribbean. What happens if we shift the perspective, and look instead at how Ethiopian intellectuals responded to Pan-African and black nationalist ideologies? This paper traces Ethiopia’s relationship with Pan-Africanism and black nationalism, from the initial reluctance of Ethiopian elites to identify with colonized Africans to their strategic repositioning of Ethiopia as the ‘mother’ of newly independent Africa in the 1960s. I will discuss the pivotal role of the Harlem-based newspaper Voice of Ethiopia, run by the Ethiopian medical doctor Mälaku Bäyyan and his African-American wife Dorothy Hadley. Voice of Ethiopia campaigned for Ethiopia at the time of the Italian occupation using the language of black solidarity, but according to Fikru Gebrekidan, Mälaku remained a marginal figure in Ethiopian intellectual history. Thirty years later, the poet and playwright Mängəstu Lämma was still satirizing his compatriots’ rejection of blackness. From the mid-1960s, though, new generations of Ethiopians, such as the poet Ṣägaye Gäbrä-Mädhən, embraced Pan-Africanism much more firmly and closely participated in the South-South conversations of the non-aligned movement.


Publishing the Resistance: Giulio Einaudi, Third-Worldist Writing, and Resistance Aesthetics in Postwar Italy

Neelam Srivastava, (Newcastle University)

Publishing houses and other cultural firms were key players in shaping the Italian cultural sphere after 1945. They also focused public attention on anti-colonial liberation struggles by translating works by Fanon, Cabral, Guevara, and other major Third-Worldists for Italian audiences. The editor Giulio Einaudi was particularly instrumental in helping to reconstruct Italian culture after the end of fascism, and was a highly committed and politicized publisher, with links to the Italian Communist Party and the more radical section of the Italian left; so much so that throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (and beyond), the Einaudi book was perceived as “explicitly militant” (Lolli 71). Einaudi promoted a series of books on the Algerian war of liberation against colonial France. In this paper, I explore how Italian “resistance literature” took shape in those years across anti-fascist and anti-colonial contexts, through a look at publications in the Einaudi catalogue. Einaudi editors such as Italo Calvino, Giovanni Pirelli, and Raniero Panzieri were instrumental in creating a literary canon, later called Letteratura della Resistenza, that took on a multi-generic form. Narratives of the Resistance, relying as they did on testimony and documentary, traversed the categories of “saggistica” (or what today we would call non-fiction) and “narrativa” (or fiction). By looking at classic anti-fascist texts such as Primo Levi’s If This is A Man and Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli alongside anti-colonial/Third-Worldist writing published by Einaudi in the first 30 years or so after the end of WWII, such as Pirelli’s books of testimonies about the Algerian war, we begin to outline the features of a “resistance aesthetics” of narratives by Italian intellectuals and artists who had fought in the Resistance and who now turned to anti-colonial writing as an ideal continuation of their cause. This “resistance aesthetics” which draws on literary and artistic currents of the Italian postwar, such as realism and neorealism, played a central role in re-imagining the Italian nation both in anti-fascist and in internationalist, anti-colonial terms, and also widens the concept of resistance beyond Italy to encompass a shared solidarity with anti-colonial struggle.


Windows on the Berlin Wall: Postcolonial Catalogs in the Former GDR

Venkat Mani (University of Wisconsin – Madison)

What is the role of the state in the circulation of world literature? How are reading publics created through state-sponsored or state-subsidized translation enterprises? How does the catalog of world literature become politically and ideology inflected, sometimes through facilitation, other times through intervention by the state? These questions form the core of this paper, in which I present the former German Democratic Republic as the test-case of a state that was heavily invested in everyday cultural politics. While extant scholarship, especially within German Studies, has focused largely on the relation between the writer and the state, or the connections between GDR and the Eastern European Communist Bloc, in my paper I explore GDR’s print cultural industry’s investment in postcolonial literatures from Asia and Africa. Drawing on archival documents about a pedagogical plan for school children to read world literature, as well inexpensive editions published by Philipp jungen Reclam Verlag and Volk und Welt, I trace the creation and proliferation of a postcolonial world literary catalog in German translation. Specifically, my paper focuses on authors and works from South Asia and Latin America, which acquired a privileged status in GDR’s creation of world literature. Through these examples, I also shed light on postcolonial literatures beyond the Global Anglophone, in order to draw connections between world literary “bibliomigrancy” and what Francesca Orisini has termed “the multilingual local” of the world literary sphere.


Subsidy, Surveillance and Internationalism: the View from Britain

Asha Rogers (University of Birmingham)

This paper will begin making links between the worlds of metropolitan print culture and Cold War-inflected state surveillance routed through London in the 50s. Although formal literary subsidy from the Arts Council of Great Britain would only fully emerge in the mid-60s, networks of (often state-subsidised) institutional support was well established at mid-century, from the BBC to MI5, mediating literary texts from the colonial and decolonising world. This paper will endeavour to  build links between the official and the cultural worlds of literary and print mediation by focusing on the case histories of two nominally ‘postcolonial’ writers who received early publication and encouragement from the London-based literary publisher Michael Joseph. A former literary agent with Curtis Brown initially supported in publishing by Victor Gollancz Michael Joseph published Doris Lessing’s early seminal works on Southern Africa, including her 1950 novel, The Grass is Singing, which was scrutinised by the colonial security apparatus in Britain and South Africa for evidence of the author’s communist affiliations. Meanwhile, the Barbadian George Lamming’s notoriously difficult to categorise work of memoir, literary criticism, sociology, and global history The Pleasures of Exile (1960) was written in 5 weeks while waiting for a publishing decision from Michael Joseph for Season of Adventure (1960). Lamming, however, was not subject to British surveillance (as far as we know) unlike the Trinidadian and leading Pan-Africanist George Padmore. In keeping the literary work in play alongside evidence of publishing history, the consideration of editions, and the available state archive (the MI5 files on Lessing were released in 2015), I hope to frame these moments in metropolitan publishing history as demonstrative of the ambivalence of what historian Randall Hansen terms Britain’s category of ‘imperial citizenship’ (roughly 1948-1962), while also shedding light on the multifarious activities of the British state during decolonization and the Cold War, and the blurred (and blurring) role of migrant writers with complex political affiliations.


Progress Publishers: Realizing Gorky’s World Literature

Rossen Djagalov (NYU)

Over the past two decades or so, literary historians have been zealously reconstructing visions for world literature coming from writers and thinkers located across centuries and geographies. What distinguishes the Soviet project for world literatures and its composite elements such as Gorky’s idea of a world literature publishing house, which would translate all of world literature into Russian, all of Russian literature into the languages of the world, and all of the above into the languages of the non-Russian Soviet people, was that they were backed up by the resources of one of twentieth-century’s super-powers. Gorky’s actual publishing venture proved short-lived (1919-1923) and in the conditions of Civil War, it could not live up to its bold declarations (Khotimsky 2013, Tyulenev 2016).

Though of different institutional lineage, the Moscow-based Progress Publishers (1931-1991), a behemoth press, which at its peak brought out yearly over 2,000 books in over 77 languages and large print runs, came much closer to realizing them. And while many of these volumes circulated in the Western Europe and North America, the press enjoyed a disproportionate significance as a source of Russian and Soviet classics in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Its importance to the Russian reader was just as great: Progress was one of the major publishing houses for foreign literature in Russian translation and certainly the main source of Russian translations of non-Western literatures, which were then taken up by presses in the non-Russian Soviet republics as the basis for a secondary translation into their national languages. The volumes were supplied with an obligatory preface and other paratextual forms to suggest the correct lines of interpreting the text; ultimately, however, they offered unique access to readers from the USSR and the non-Western world to each others’ literature.

It is difficult to generalize about the quality and impact of Progress’s translations. Its practice—particularly common during late Stalinism and early Thaw—of relying on Russian speakers without native knowledge of the target language or its function as a source of employment for foreigners who happened to be staying in Moscow fuelled the numerous letters of complaint by foreign readers. At the same time, it occasionally employed well-known foreign authors such as the Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni, who in addition to their facility with language, brought to their translations and to Progress itself much cultural capital. All of this accounts to the hit-and-miss quality of translations. What is less debatable is the press’s function as a major site of developing Soviet translation theories.

With the help of its institutional archive, which included thousands of letters from foreign readers, and interviews with some of its Russian staff, this paper will offer a brief history of Progress as the realization of Gorky’s project for world literature.


The Inter-Asian Gaze: Travelling Writers and Travel Writings in the Heyday of India-China Cultural Diplomacy, 1950-1959

Yan Jia (SOAS, University of London)

This paper examines the travelogues written by Chinese and Indian writers who visited each other’s country in the 1950s, a period of high political romanticism between the two nascent Asian states. Cultural diplomacy, supported by leaders of both states, channelised by specialised institutions, and primarily taking the form of delegation visits, was the predominant force that brought about unprecedentedly dynamic cross-border travel of and direct contact between Chinese and Indian writers. Many of these writers, including Bing Xin, Yan Wenjing, Mulk Raj Anand, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, and Amrit Rai, embraced the literary form of travelogue to document, reflect on, and disseminate their travel experiences and observations. Focusing on several travelogues written in three different languages (Chinese, Hindi, and English), I argue that despite the shared willingness to foster mutual understanding and fraternity, distinctive asymmetries existed in how cultural diplomacy was carried out in China and India respectively, and how writers interpreted and represented the other country’s postcolonial realities. Partly because of different degrees of state involvement, while Chinese writers reported India almost unanimously in a positive way, Indian writers’ assessment of the newly established Communist China diverged largely along political lines. Often published immediately after the visit and with the author’s “eyewitness” perspective and objectivity emphasised, these travelogues were intended to (re)shape the public perception in one society of the other, either bolstering or challenging the official rhetoric of “brotherhood.” In this way, the act of writing travelogue was deeply influenced by (the absence of) macro-level ideology, and, at the same time, carried specific ideologies of its own through the author’s careful selection of perspective, information, and narrative strategy.


Why Not Eat a Pustak and Read a Fulkobi—Chandrakant Patil’s Inventive Translations across Marathi and Hindi

Anjali Nerlekar (Rutgers University, New Jersey)

The Marathi writer, Bhalchandra Nemade’s position when leaving Bombay and moving to Aurangabad was to emphasize the role of the interiors or the rural world of Maharashtra in the creation of Marathi culture. One of his collaborators and long time associate, Chandrakant Patil highlights another aspect of these peripheral spaces–the rich deltaic space they provide in helping grow hybrid and composite cultures and literatures. They also provide different frameworks through which to assess seemingly monolinguistic cultures or literatures.

More translator than poet as he himself admits, Patil says: “I realised very early I was not a major poet. So I decided to translate the best from Marathi and Hindi and thus do something meaningful for the cultures and literatures I love.” Living in Aurangabad and associated initially with the radical little magazine that is seen as Nemade’s creation, Patil is also closely associated with the legendary Bharat Bhavan in Madhya Pradesh, and to poets like Vishnu Khare and Chandrakant Deotale, besides Ashok Vajpeyi, in Hindi; and to Nemade, Kolatkar, Manohar Oak and others in Marathi. Patil edited groundbreaking anthologies of contemporary poetry in both Marathi and Hindi and provided a documentary history and of poetry writing in the two languages. These exchanges between Marathi and Hindi and Marathi and Urdu created an intra-regional network of influences, exchanges and shared visions that developed a complex and multiple modernism across these languages. Some questions that will be asked in the paper: What kind of influence did each literature (in Hindi and Marathi) exert on each other in the 70s and beyond? When Patil introduced modernist Hindi poetry in some of the college curricula in Maharashtra, did that change the perception of the “national” language and literature in the state? What impact did Marathi avant-garde literature have on the Hindi writing world?

In one of the poems of Raghuvir Sahay translated into Marathi by Patil, the speaking voice wonders what would happen if one read a “fulkobi” (cauliflower) and ate a “pustak” (book). And the poem bemoans the workaday world that will not easily allow for such a playful transference of categories and activities. Patil’s extensive traverses across Hindi and Marathi provide precisely that kind of mixing and merging of writing worlds and categories that Sahay’s speaker bemoans as impossible in the world of profits and losses.


The Traveller as Internationalist: Syed Mujtaba Ali

Supriya Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University)

Syed Mujtaba Ali’s Deshe Bideshe (At Home and Abroad), the record of a year’s stay (1927-28) in Afghanistan by a scholarly Bengali, born in Sylhet and educated in Tagore’s Visva-Bharati, was published after India’s independence in 1948. The book is deservedly well-known as a travel narrative in Bengal (it has also been recently translated into English), and its author is celebrated for his cosmopolitanism, wit, scholarship in many languages, and peripatetic career across national boundaries (he taught and studied in India, Afghanistan, Germany, Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Like certain other Bengalis of his generation, Mujtaba Ali has also achieved some notoriety for having hoped for a German victory in World War II to rid India of colonial rule, though he was not a fascist sympathizer. My paper will focus on the time of publication – 1948 – of Mujtaba Ali’s record of his Kabul experiences, dating from nearly two decades earlier. The narrative itself records a political crisis in Afghanistan’s history: the attempt in 1928 by its ruler, Amanullah Khan, to introduce social reforms including a measure of emancipation for women, followed by a violent tribal revolt that led to his abdication. Mujtaba Ali’s account was published just the year after the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi in 1947, where the seeds of the Non-Aligned Movement had been sown. Syed Mujtaba Ali himself was the first director of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (from 1950), and in charge of publishing its journal. I would like to examine these conjunctions of politics and print – especially in the light of Naeem Mohaiemen’s recent three-screen film on the Non-Aligned Movement, Two Meetings and a Funeral, shown at Documenta 14 in Kassel and in contention for the Turner Prize this year.


Distant Star: Roberto Bolaño and Print Culture of the Cold War

Paulo Lemos Horta (NYU – Abu Dhabi)

The myth of the solitary genius of Chilean author Roberto Bolaño writing furiously in an lonely exile in the small town of Blanes, north of Barcelona, has obscured the networks of print culture that enabled his career as a novelist in Catalonia. In the United States, the perception that he authored a vast oeuvre in a short half-decade burst of creativity before his death at age 50, writing 2666 against the looming approach of death, is very much part of his legend. And the marketing of the author in rebellion against the statist socialism of the generation of Gabriel García Márquez resonated with publishing markets. But this mythology overlooks the fact that some of the works published to wide acclaim between 1998 and 2004, dates of The Savage Detectives and 2666, were first attempted and drafted and sometimes finished in the years before Spain joined the EU in 1986 and the fall of the Berlin wall. In 1986, for instance, he wrote A.G. Porta, his sometimes co-author, that he had finished The Ice Rink, only published in 1993. Porta and Bolaño met through their involvement with small literary magazines that published poetry in both Catalan (as the case with Porta) and Spanish in the late seventies, at a time of transition to democracy when the linguistic decolonization of literary culture with reference to Castilian was still very much contested. This paper takes as a point of departure the collaboration between Porta and Bolaño that reflected a wider exchange in the print culture of the period, their first published novel Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce, which remains curiously unavailable into English despite the translation of even manuscripts rescued from the vault. In the vast emerging scholarship on Bolaño numbering over forty monographs to date the rubric of exile and the exilic, as privileged in a monograph by his translator Chris Andrews, has acquired a certain currency, helping locate Bolaño beyond the left of Latin American writing. My paper suggests the need to read Bolaño within the print culture of his own time, and his work, a surprising amount of it completed before 1991, against the backdrop of the tensions of linguistic decolonization and the cold war. Graphic novel and dramatic adaptations of Bolaño’s fiction today more explicitly ground his writing in his experience of Pinochet’s Chile and the Mexican dirty war of the 1970s, and print culture study of Barcelona in the 1970s and 1980s can likewise root an understanding of the ‘lone genius’ within wider contested cultural and political currents.