South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Manto, Bedi, and Krishan Chander: Progressive Fiction between Realism and Modernism

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Jefferson, Mezzanine Level

“I have often wanted to write about Kalu Bhangi [Kalu the sweeper], but what can one write about him?” In this opening question to Krishan Chander’s 1948 short story “Kalu Bhangi,” the narrator asks what is to be the proper subject of literature following India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947, as well as, how can one narrate the experiences of marginalized groups such as untouchables (now called Dalits), of which Kalu is a member? For progressive writers, formal choices were also political.


This paper investigates the relationship between realism, romanticism, and progressivism in canonical short stories by some of the leading Urdu writers associated with the Progressive Writers’ Movement in India and Pakistan: Sadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, and Krishan Chander. Through new readings of their short stories “Open It,” “Lajwanti,” and “Kalu Bhangi,” the paper uncovers how progressive writers, whose work is usually associated with realism and the rejection of art for art’s sake, in fact used modernist and romanticist literary techniques at key moments in their stories. Though the Progressives’ commitment to the idea of literature as an instrument of social uplift led in many cases to didactic fiction, writers experimented with multiple literary techniques, drawing from romanticism, Soviet realism, and global modernism in fashioning path-breaking short stories. This paper emphasizes progressive writers’ internationalist and multiple affiliations, characteristic of Urdu literary practice in the 1930s through 1960s.

Jennifer Dubrow

University of Washington, Washington

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