[Reader-list] [Deewan] SARAI posting

Avinash Kumar avinashcold at gmail.com
Mon Aug 14 15:22:39 IST 2006

Dear Kamal,

Thanks for your detailed reply and apologies for late posting as I have not
been checking my mails regularly.
Am taking your three broad assertions for response, some of which actually
continue from the previous mails.

1. still I think the picture is much more complex as, here too,its mostly
chance which use to play an important role in solving a case than the
rationale of detection.

It would perhaps demand a long essay once again to discuss the meritocracy
debate between 'chance' and 'detection' yet, i would merely like to revisit
some of the specific contexts within which this genre appears in both west
and east...and this is merely to do a loud thinking ...

In the west, as we know, it specifically arose as one of the genres just
like 'positivist hitoriography' to assert the 'rational, causation theory'
which formed the bedrock of the 'modern, scientific method' of enquiry; its
self-affirmed belief which almost defined the 'new west'. On a specific
level, Holmes' investigations into the labyrinthine, mysterious streets of
London were also an acknowledgement of the kind of unfathomable challenges a
newly developing 'urban civilisation' was posing before the west itself. The
art of 'detection' tried to do both, to unravel these mysteries through a
'methodology' (still evolving though) which was seen as the only way out.
In the colonially subjugated contries like India, where perhaps it was still
too early to fully be aware of all the contours of this rationalist enquiry,
esp. when the context was quite different, I think the very first question
that fascinates me is the amazing popularity that this genre received and
that too in all its myriad forms, from the translations of extremely popular
novels like 'Mysteries of the court of London' ('Landan Rahasya)- little
known in its own land of birth though, to Khatri's so-called
pseudo-scientific tilismi world of adventures (which very soon came under
severe attacks from those advocating 'realism' like Guleri) to those
pretending as the 'classic' of the genre like the ones written by Gahmari.
In fact, Gahmari himself has a range of all of this. In this context, and
this relates to your second point in my response, i.e. the presence of/
resistance against, colonial authority:

2.''Apart from Khatri we have lots more from other known and less known
writers who do undermine or remained silent towards the reality/ies of  the
colonial present in their own particular ways.''

my assertion once again would be that in no way you could 'remain silent'
towards colonial authority, not after 1857 which was still fresh and the
myriad ways in which this authority was making its inroads in each and
every  nook and cranny of the vast hinterlands even though symbolically
through a 'chowkidar' if not daroga...Yes, the debate could be around the
way in which one 'negotiates' (sorry, but its my favourite word!) this
presence..In fact, the way you have discussed this vis-a-vis 'Bhayankar
Jasoos' reminds me of the ways in which Rajendra Yadav has discussed
'Chandrakanta' and that brings me back to your first point, ie 'chance vs
detection'...It is Yadav's observation that in order to negotiate,
undermine, call whatever you like, the colonial presence, the form of
Khatri's 'chandrakanta' is what it is, that of a curoius  combination of
older stories borrowed from Persian tales of 'Dastan-e-Amir Hamza' and that
of newly emerging 'technological prowess' of the 'scientific west'...Khatri
makes use of all these tools to battle the colonial might, as it were where
in fact it has no direct presence. But that's precisely my point, even
where it might not have a direct role in the narrative doesn't mean state is
not present!

Yes, 'chance' is there, but to what end and to what purpose? Do we simply
see it as a marker of 'oriental identity' and leave it at that? Or do we
explore this further in terms of contemporary writers' difficulty in
comprehending the art of scientific detection itself? An associated question
with its immense popularity would be why does it peter out by late colonial
period to remerge later of course? Also, what about its presence in Urdu
literature? Ibn-e-safi BA is still on the shelves of many conossieurs, lets
look at that as well.
What I am trying to plead here is to look into the way the form has evolved
over these years and it has not remained fossilised into any one slot...

As for your third point with respect to Jati, esp. Gahmari's rajput heroes,

3.Could we say that like the discourse of criminality it also confirms the
colonial stereotype. Or Its so because of some deep rooted structures? Or is
it a sign of fractured colonial modernity?

I can only say that yes, it does have a strong bearing of the colonial
discourse on criminality on one hand and that of caste on the other..Just to
illustrate, it would be important to refer to Kitchener-Curzon debate here
on 'martial races theory', which included Sikhs and Rajputs, esp. those who
had helped the Britishers retain their Raj in 1857. Yes, the valorisation to
a great extent I would say also comes from this.

I hope I have made some sense in attempting to understand this really
enriching world of hindi detective fiction...


On 10 Aug 2006 18:49:19 -0000, Kamal Kumar Mishra <kamal_bhu at rediffmail.com>
>   Dear Avinash,
>             Thanks a lot for your comments and suggestion. I thought I was
> careful enough not to simplify or give a misleading picture while I was
> responding to the queries of Andrew regarding the uses of fingerprints and
> 'aspects of bio power' as it appear in these hindi detective fictions. To
> avoid such confusions I have been using words like 'mostly' n 'often' and
> not 'always'.
> By the way I am thankful to you for bringing the complexity of subject in
> for a discussion .I think I have nothing much to say about the uses of
> fingerprints as you also agree that we don't see it even in the texts of
> Gahmari.
> Gopal Ram Gahmari is a very important hindi detective fiction writer  thus
> he requires special attention. Though I agree what you say about the
> characteristic feature of the novels of Gopal Ram Gahmari ,regarding a keen
> and detailed analysis of crime scene still I think the picture is much more
> complex as, here too,its mostly chance which use to play an important role
> in solving a case than the rationale of detection.
> Pursuing a few issues a bit further such as the question of jati in the
> novels of Gahmari and all pervasive nature of colonial authority might not
> only help us understand Gahmari's works better but it could also be of some
> interest.
> As far as my reading of Gahmari is concerned ,I would like to ask why is
> it so that most of the 'original' detectives of Gahmari a part from Md.
> Sarwar are rajputs? ( for deciding what is his original and what is not I am
> using one of Gahmari's own account where he gives the full list of his
> original ,translated and adapted works and he claims Md Sarwar to be one of
> his original creation) For example Sujan Singh,Sanwal Singh, Deven Singh
> ,Roshan Singh,Diler Singh and all .Does it have any thing to do with the
> idea of 'jawanmardi'  or 'bahaduri' attached to rajputs or its just a
> co-incidence? Or how should one look at this?
> Could we say that like the discourse of criminality it also confirms the
> colonial stereotype. Or Its so because of some deep rooted structures? Or is
> it a sign of fractured colonial modernity?
> "EK POLICE ADHIKARI KI ATMKATHA" by Vishwanath Lahiri  though confirms the
> important position of local police officers, like DAROGA, it also helps me
> ask- with what set of values do these local officers(mostly Indians ) use to
> operate?
> And above all what about the texts (jasoosi of course)which are direct
> descendents of tilasmi n ayyari tradition of kissagoi.Its mostly in these
> texts ,produced throughout in a considerable number we don't find the
> presence of colonial authority and even if its there its undermined as in
> 'BHYANKAR JASOOS' by Ram Chandra Singh (Rachit),gullu prasad
> kedarnath,Benaras city, 1935.
> In 'Bhayankar Jasoos', Daroga Tedhai Khan has been murderd by Shyama ,when
> she is on her way to search her husband and Tedhai Khan, who has been
> portrayed as nutfe haram(a born illegitimate ), tries to rape her. After
> this murder Shyama manages to escape and reaches to Usha Rani,her close
> friend who is married to a rich Bengali Rajnikant Mukherjee.Both the
> husband and wife tries to console her and say there is nothing wrong in
> killing someone while defending one's dharma( stri dharma here of course)
> and later they decide to inform another friend Bina
>   who is, "ek bahut chalak sakhi hai dooje wah fan ayyari men nipun  aur
> sujan hai .yon to hum log bhi kisi se kam nahin hain lekin wah hamjolion men
> sab se gunagar hai."
> As a consequence what we encounter is this long tussle going on between
> both of these groups, the detectives (in fact they are ayyars more than
> jasoos in any modern sense)of colonial state on the one hand who are trying
> to catch the murderer of Daroga as well as her companions and Bina and
> Shyama and co. on the other , using their magical powers in this struggle.
> What strikes most to a reader like me is the character of 'jungali Raza'(a
> tribal king) who has been portrayed ,sympathetically, as a powerful
> character and with his magical powers, like his control over the wild
> animals, tries ho help Bina. And here he comes in a direct confrontation
> with the colonial state/authority.
> Animals can fly and these ayyars/jasoos could transform themselves into
> animals. Nothing is impossible -of course- in this world of novel where
> there is enough space for such imagination.
> Finally ,the all mighty colonial state had to bow-down. Colonial
> authorities had to accept the request of setting a special court of hearing
> in this matter . where Shyama and her friends would not only be acquitted
> but would be awarded with other jassos for their bravery.
> In his jasoosi faisla writer says-
>   "aap donon dalon ka yahi kartvya tha .jo ki apne apne kala-kaushal
>   ko ek doosre ke tain khadyantra rach kar upanyas ke premi rasik janon
>   ko sarvada ke liye ek accha rasta nikala jise padh kar upanyas ke
> anugami bane rahenge"
> We also have in this very line the novels written by Devaki Nandan Khatri,
> for ex-Narendra Mohini , to name just one ,where one can read the presence
> of colonial modernity only between the lines. Apart from Khatri we have lots
> more from other known and less known writers who do undermine or remained
> silent towards the reality/ies of  the colonial present in their own
> particular ways.
> I am not sure if that is what you meant by investigation for negotiations
> and renegotiations of these different roles?
> regards!
> kamal
> On Tue, 08 Aug 2006 Avinash Kumar wrote :
> >Dear Kamal,
> >
> >Sorry for butting in without a legitimate ground. Nevertheless thought, I
> >would give my two cents.I haven't read too many early detective fictions
> in
> >Hindi, so it goes with a caveat.
> >
> >One of the most famous stories by Gopalram Gahmari, 'Malgodam mein Chori'
> is
> >a stark example of the way the 'modern, rational' practices of detection
> >methodology were sought to be acknowledged. As I remember clearly, even
> >though it does not talk of finger print, it talks of a 'keen, detailed'
> >analysis of the crime scene and not merely remains dependent on 'chance',
> >though, that as you correctly say, remained a principal feature in a lot
> of
> >fiction of that period.
> >What is further interesting in that piece is that, even as the crime has
> >happened somewhere in Bihar (i forget where, perhaps gaya), the detective
> >called into investigate is from Calcutta, the signifier for a 'modern
> city'
> >and who speaks with an English accent despite being a Bengali. Of course,
> >how he blends in with the local landscape singing popular Braj poetry
> while
> >doing his job, is another matter to investigate.
> >
> >Second, in another novel of Gahmari, I forget the title right now and the
> >Shivpujan Sahay classic , 'Dehati Duniya', Jati is very prominent as once
> >again rightly pointed out by you. Yet, I would see it still as a result
> of
> >the very presence of colonial discourse of criminality, which fixated
> >certain castes, tribes under the labels of criminality. Even, the colour,
> >physical attributes etc as a criterion, came under the same phenomenon
> >largely. We are now replete with studies around this theme.
> >
> >On the other hand, the role of daroga, the local police is so predominant
> in
> >these stories (and not only in these two works I am talking of) that the
> >picture you get is that villages are vacated en masse with the news of
> >arrival of the local 'daroga'. In this sense, what I would assert is
> given
> >the context, whether as a pseudo-detective posing as a city-bred man like
> >Holmes or as a daroga, the colonial state is omnipresent in these
> >narratives. What then is worth investigating is how they are
> renegotiating
> >these different roles...
> >
> >Sorry, for this long mail but this, as I said is an instant reaction with
> a
> >very limited knowledge of the subject...
> >
> >thanks,
> >
> >avinash
> >
> >On 7 Aug 2006 16:42:33 -0000, Kamal Kumar Mishra <
> kamal_bhu at rediffmail.com>
> >wrote:
> >>
> >>  Dear ANDREW,
> >>    Thousands apologies for not answering to your mail for soooo
> >>long,today when i was clearing my mail account i noticed this blunder i
> have
> >>done,i am extremely sorry!!!
> >>      True as you say the relationship between crime and detective is
> >>closely related to biometrics and fingerprinting in most of the
> cases...but
> >>you might find it surprising that in  Hindi detective ficttions this
> link is
> >>mostly absent.
> >>
> >>Hindi deteective fictions have a few peculiar characteristics par
> >>example-1) there might not be a single detective and this function might
> be
> >>performed by many people or 2) detective need not use modern or rational
> >>techniques to solve a mystry, role of chance is often crucial in solving
> a
> >>case.
> >>Thus one hardly finds this clue and puzzle type in hindi detective
> >>fictions.
> >>  I have not come across  a single piece translated ,adapted,or original
> >>where (here i am talking about the  early hindi detective fictons from
> >>1900-1940's) a detective solves a case with the help of
> >>fingerprints.Though, one may find  examples of foot prints, as a clue,
> but
> >>not so elaborate either.
> >>
> >>THEN what we have are discourse of criminality  mostly based on
> >>jati(caste)n lakchana (physical attributes n morality) where colonial
> state
> >>is often absent in these popular fictions.
> >>hope you find it interesting enough...with apologies again
> >>warm regards!!!
> >>kamal
> >>
> >>
> >>On Mon, 30 Jan 2006 Andrew MacDonald wrote :
> >> >Hi Kamal..
> >> >
> >> >  Nice to see your posting on SARAI and your research..I'm a post-grad
> >>history student based at Duban, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South
> Africa. I
> >>just thought, tangentially, since I have just finished reading it
> myself,
> >>The book Imprint of the Raj - how fingerprinting was born in Colonial
> India.
> >>Maybe you have seen it already, but the relationship between crime and
> >>detectives is closely related to biometrics and fingerprinting (which
> was
> >>only then becoming the kind of embryonic, precocious state project we
> now
> >>take for granted). I wonder if their is much in the Hindi literature on
> this
> >>topic? It would be quite interesting...
> >> >  I have worked/am working on aspects of biopower (to sound
> foucauldian,
> >>though i have some real problems with his arguments), concerned less
> with
> >>literature but more with labour and immigration in colonial South
> Africa)..
> >> >
> >> >  Anway, thought I would put my two cents worth in..
> >> >
> >> >  Andrew
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >---------------------------------
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