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The Nation and its History

Indians were depicted as weak, divided, and dependent on the British during the colonial period. These writings did not satisfy the tastes of the new Indian intellectuals. The intellectual Indian was not happy with the traditional Puranic stories of the past which depicted gods and demons and were filled with fantastic and supernatural beings.

Indians now wanted to read novels which showed Indians as independent and brave. In Bengal, many historical novels were about Marathas and Rajputs. These novels produced a sense of a pan-Indian belonging. They imagined the nation to be full of adventure, heroism, romance and sacrifice. These were qualities that the common man wanted to identify with.

Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay’s Anguriya Binimoy (1857) was the first historical novel written in Bengal. The hero of this novel, Shivaji, engages in many battles against a clever and treacherous Aurangzeb. The daring travails of Shivaji were welcomed by the readers. The novel was so powerful that it could inspire actual political movements.

Many novels during this time revealed the problems of the nation.

  • Was India to be a nation of only a single religious community?
  • Who had natural claims to belong to the nation?

  • The Novel and Nation Making

    The heroic past portrayed in the novels helped in brining about a sense of belonging to a common nation. Novels included various classes in the novel so that they could be seen to belong to a shared world.

    Premchand’s novels are filled with powerful characters drawn from all walks of society. Aristocrats and landlords, peasants and landless labourers, middle-class professionals and people from the margins of society feature in his novels. The women characters are

    strong individuals. Premchand rejected ancient history and look towards the future without forgetting the importance of the past. Premchand’s characters create a community based on democratic values.

    Premchand’s Rangbhoomi

    • Surdas, is a visually impaired beggar from a so-called ‘untouchable’ caste is the hero of Premchand’s Rangbhoomi
    • This characterisation has made the lives of the most oppressed section of society as worthy of literary reflection.
    • In the novel Surdas struggles against the forcible takeover of his land for establishing a tobacco factory.

    Premchand’s best novel is the Godan
    It is an epic of the Indian peasantry. The novel tells the moving story of Hori and his wife Dhania, a peasant couple. The Landlords rob their land and make them into landless labourers. Yet Hori and Dhania retain their dignity to the end.

    Rabindranath Tagore was yet another famous Bengali writer. His early novels were historical , but he later started writing stories about domestic relationships. He wrote about the condition of women and nationalism. One of his famous novels was Ghare Baire (1916). This was translated in 1919 as ‘The Home and the World’.

    Rabindranath Tagore

    Tagore’s works also shows the contradictory effects of nationalist involvement for women. His novels are striking because they make us rethink both man-woman relationship and nationalism.

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