Grant Period: One year and six months
Barun Chattopadhyay completed his PhD thesis in Bengali on Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Religion of Man’ in 2010 from the University of Calcutta. He has taught Bengali language and literature in various colleges for 6 years. He is also developing a special mode of teaching literature to blind students. He has training in video editing from Roopkala Kendro, Kolkata and has been part of multiple fiction and non-fiction film projects. He regularly writes book-reviews, fiction and short plays in Bengali. He has received a fellowship from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to work on Tagore’s only film script ‘The Child’. He has been the recipient of a senior research fellowship from Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, Ministry of Culture (CCRT), Government of India.
Barun has been researching on the lives of Dr Kadambini Gangopadhyay, one of India’s first women doctors to be trained in western medicine and her husband Dr Dwarakanath Gangopadhyay. For his research he studied the work of eminent proponents of the women’s empowerment movement in 19th century Bengal, like Rammohan Roy and Dwarakanath Tagore. Rammohan’s move to abolish the practice of Sati and Dwarakanath Tagore’s patronage to establish the Calcutta Medical College prepared the ground for women’s emancipation in the region. The establishment of Brahmo Samaj helped take this forward in the subsequent years. Doctors feature prominently in this new milieu and there are enough evidences of cultural clashes between the traditional and modern societies at the advent of Western medical systems. It is further complicated by the rise of a new profession popularly referred to as the ‘Lady Doctor’. There were ideological, colonial and religious debates between the traditional Indian and modern Western methods of medical treatment on one hand; and the fight against deep seated patriarchy on the other. Before the ‘Lady Doctor’, women’s health and hygiene used to be the concern of midwives belonging to the lower castes and class. However, most of the new women doctors belonged to high class Hindu and Brahmo families. The time was rife with conflicts along the lines of class, caste and religion. The move towards women’s education and the setting in place of various laws concerning sexual practices, made the area of women’s health a fertile field for a plethora of debates. It had wide ranging cultural impact on society and a variety of materials including medical journals, personal letters, advertisements, books, songs, plays, satires, novels etc. from the period bear witness to it.
Using these historical materials available at various personal collections, libraries and archives, Barun wants to create an experimental prose-narrative on the period and the phenomenon, tentatively titled Harilo Shaareer Kachhe Pajama Mohima ('The Glory of The Pajama Loses to the Sari', in English). He consciously wants to stay away from calling it a novel, as he will experiment with the written form and book making. Text will be used in collaboration with the archival visuals (as against using visual material as illustrations) to form the narrative of this fictional work. He will work with a visual artist since the visual imaginations and design inputs would be necessary from early stages of the project. His attempt is to challenge the traditional textual form of a novel and reading this book would be impossible without reading through the archival material. Some parts of the book will also be designed in the manner of the ephemera they represent. Such experiments are missing from Bengali literature and book making, except for Abanindranath Tagore’s Khuddur Ramayan, a handwritten retelling of the Ramayana using text and visuals of everyday objects. Barun wishes to print only a collector’s edition run of this ‘art-book’ as mass producing this will not be possible due to the costs.
While there has been some academic work on this area and the period of study, the subject has been in need of a more creative representation. Given the sensibilities of the time, many issues would have been deemed ‘un-publishable’ or simply unworthy of paying attention to. Also, academic research papers can seldom use materials that are fictional, speculative or unsubstantiated. However, a fictional narrative on the period, written from contemporary sensibilities now would allow the plethora of material to be used in a creative manner. Since the question of evidences and substantiated information is always debatable in colonial and post-colonial histories, a work of fiction can challenge the standard narratives of the period and point towards the complex, fractured and multiple histories at play. Given the formal experiment he wishes to undertake, it is a unique attempt in Bengali literature and printing culture.
The outcome of the project will be the book. He will deposit the manuscript of the book, published copies of the collector’s edition of the same, and photographic and digital documentation of artworks created for it as deliverables to IFA archive. Later he would also like to create an e-version of the book and a blog for wider circulation which are plans for after the grant period. Given the scope of the work his budget seems to be adequate.