South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Where the Street Meets the Text: Crowds as Catharsis in Bangladeshi Literature

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Juniper, New Building

This paper explores the catalytic role of the people as crowds in Ahmed Sofa’s Omkar and Mahmudul Huq’s Jiban Amar Bon. In both stories, the march of an insurrectionary crowd coincides with death. The cathartic sacrifice is of the self for the sake of the collectivity. The female characters here are tragic victims to what Sofa calls the “storm of time” (kaler jhor). While in Jiban Amar Bon, the younger sister is killed by the crowd, in Omkar, the mute wife manages to echo the crowd by uttering her first meaningful word, which is the proper noun of a yet-to-be-born nation. The two male protagonists realize the urgency of history by losing what to them is the most treasured. By following the role of the feminine in the narrative resolution of the stories demands a rethinking of the category of the crowd in canonical social theory in light of their textual representations in post-Partition Bengali literature. In the former, the masses have always been the eclipse of reason and enemy of a well-ordered polis. This paper complicates the question of gender and the crowd from the vantage point of South Asian public life. While in Huq, the uncultured and unselfconscious crowd is a threat to the pristine domesticity of the sister’s existence, in Sofa, the crowd makes it possible for the wife to enunciate her first intelligible word, Bangla. The paper brings urgent theoretical concerns around the collectivity into dialogue with a relatively unexplored area of South Asian literary tradition. 

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