“Calcutta, Marwaris, and the World of Hindi Letters” – Dissertation Reviews

india-marwari-merchants-kolkata-antique-print-1878In January 2016, Rita Banerjee’s review of The Bazaar and the Bari: Calcutta, Marwaris, and the World of Hindi Letters, a dissertation by Rahul Bjørn Parson, was published in Dissertation Reviews.  Banerjee writes,  “The premise of Rahul Bjørn’s Parson’s dissertation, The Bazaar and the Bari: Calcultta, Marwaris, and the World of Hindi Letters, is an intriguing one. In the dissertation, Parson examines the history and reception of Hindi literary texts, particularly those produced about Marwaris and by Marwari writers from the 19th to early 21st centuries in Kolkata. In the latter half of his dissertation, Parson calls attention to the rise of Marwari women writers, and their role in shaping representations of their community, which had been historically, linguistically, and socially marginalized within the cultural metropole of Kolkata.

In the introduction, Parson makes a distinction between the Bengali concept of ‘baṛi’ or home and the Marwari notion of ‘deś’ or homeland. He notes that often in traditional Marwari households, the bazaar or market was part and parcel of the Marwari home, or baṛi. But neither the marketplace nor the home gave a fully accurate representation of the modern Marwari, whose identity and imagination was closely linked to a separation from the homeland, or deś. Moreover, Parson argues, the Marwaris, who were a merchant community from Rajasthan, ‘attracted a fair amount of resentment. The insular nature of their networks and the community contributed to the stigma of clannishness that was computed with a host of other stereotypes that attend to moneylenders’ (5). He notes that texts such as the Hindi journal Chānd capitalized on stereotypes of the Marwari community in order to push concepts of gender, education, and capitalist reform. Parson also notes how narratives of victimhood and social marginalization were automatically attributed to Marwari women until Marwari female writers such as Prabha Kethan, Alka Saraogi, and Madhu reclaimed their own authorial voice in texts such as Pīlī Āndhī, Kalikathā: Via Bypass, and Khule Gagan ke Lāl Sitāre in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. In order to interrogate these stereotypes of the Marwari community within the Bengali-dominated cultural milieu of Kolkata and within the rising world of Hindi letters at the fin-de-siècle, Parson emphasizes the roles that Marwaris, a heterogeneous community, played in the economies of colonial and late capitalism as well as in the development of Hindi language newspapers, presses, libraries, and authors in Kolkata…”  

Read the full review here.

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