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Stories For Children, Histories of Childhood / Histoires d'enfant, histoires d'enfance. Tome II

 | 
Rosie Findlay
, 
Sébastien Salbayre

Children’s Literature in Nineteenth-Century India: Some Reflections and Thoughts

Swapna M. Banerjee

Résumé

Children’s Literature in Nineteenth Century India: Some Reflection and Thoughts.
In 1962 the National Library of India, known as the Imperial Library under the British Raj, compiled a bibliography of children’s literature in Bengali that listed 5060 books and 133 periodicals published between 1818-1962. With Calcutta as the imperial capital of the British until 1911, this Bibliography on Bengali literature represents the works and engagements of the burgeoning Indian middle class who envisioned through their writings a reformed family, an ideal woman, and a "perfect" child. My paper focuses on the 19th-century periodical literature for children that became an equally important vehicle for shaping the minds of children and the ideas and cultures of childhood in colonial India. The confluence of different literary styles, genres, and writers in the periodicals prove particularly instructive in locating the authors' concern with class, gender, national identity, modernity, and progress. Engaging with the contents of the periodicals, my paper asks to what extent the articulation of different themes in the diverse genres of children’s literature was tied to the projects of colonial and postcolonial modernity. Was Bengali children’s literature an epistemological space based on colonial difference created by the colonized subject or was it a derivative discourse and if so, to what extent?

Texte intégral

  • 1 In 1962 the Indian Library Association adopted a unanimous resolution for compiling a bibliography (...)
  • 2 Divided into several categories the Bibliography lists 13 entries under Philosophy, Psychology, Et (...)
  • 3 Although the focus of this paper will be confined to the colonial period it may be worth mentionin (...)

1The National Library of India, formerly known as the Imperial Library (formed by merging a number of Secretariat Libraries in 1891) in colonial times, first opened up its children’s section in 1960. In 1962 the National Library of India compiled a bibliography of children’s literature in Bengali that spanned the period from 1818 through 1962.1 The bibliography contains 5060 entries of books and 133 entries of contemporary journals and periodicals on or for children. Categorized by various subjects such as philosophy, psychology, ethics, religion, sociology, technology, poems, plays, and stories this vast repertoire of texts represents the works of the “respectable” Bengali middle class who envisioned through their writings a reformed family, an ideal woman, and a “perfect” child.2 Bengal, with Calcutta (now Kolkata) as the imperial capital until 1911, was the major cultural, commercial, and educational center in British India. Nineteenth-century Bengal witnessed the emergence of the “respectable middle class” (the bhadralok)a heterogeneous body of upwardly-mobile cultural community of professionals, bureaucrats, and servicemen acting as intermediaries between the British rulers and the Indian populace. In colonial Bengali literature, the middle-class child occupied the center stage as the future citizen subject if male and the “good” mother and housewife if female. While the different varieties of literature capture the rapidly changing mental, social, and cultural worlds they also help us locate the authors’ concern with class and national identity, modernity, and progress.3 My paper asks to what extent the articulation of different themes in the diverse genres of children’s literature was tied to the projects of colonial and postcolonial modernity. Was Bengali children’s literature an epistemological space based on colonial difference created by the colonized subject or was it a derivative discourse and if so, to what extent?

2The staggering number of written texts indicated in the first Bibliography (and the subsequent exponential increase as reflected in the second) points to several directions.

  • 4 Krishna Kumar, The Political Agenda of Education: A Study of Colonialist and Nationalist Ideas. Ne (...)
  • 5 See Satadru Sen, “A Juvenile Periphery: The Geographies of Literary Childhood in Colonial Bengal” (...)

3The sheer numbers clearly bear out the assertion of Krishna Kumar, a leading scholar in the field, that for children in colonial times a “more vital education, as a process of reconstructing worthwhile knowledge and disseminating it, was taking place under the auspices of magazines and literature.”4 This literature, on or for children in Bengal, is also reflective of the Bengali intelligentsia’s ongoing concern with its younger generation and future progenies, the concern with how to shape the minds and psyche of India’s would-be citizens. We may also think about the concerns represented in the texts as a form of “juvenile periphery”— “ the experimental and institutional spaces” created via the interaction with colonial government.5 What is striking, however, is the fact that far from being a monolithic category, children’s literature in its early phase was constituted by varied textual forms and different literary genres. But who were the children for whom this collective body of literature was produced? Who were the founding fathers of this literary movement that delineated a new culture of childhood? To what extent was children’s literature in colonial times a “derivative discourse”? Or, can we deem children’s literature as “border thinking” (å la Walter Mignolo) by the subaltern subject? To answer some of these questions we need to examine, at least in some depth, the history of what evolved as children’s literature in Bengali.

CHILDREN AND CHILDHOOD IN INDIAN HISTORIOGRAPHY

  • 6 See the works of Meredith Borthwick, Changing Roles of Women in Bengal 1849-1905 (Princeton: Princ (...)
  • 7 Neera Burra. Born to Work: Child Labor in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press: 1995); Myron Wein (...)
  • 8 Sudhir Kakar, The Inner World: A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. Delhi, 1 (...)
  • 9 Pradip Kumar Bose, “Sons of the Nation: Child Rearing in the New Family” in Partha Chatterjee ed. (...)
  • 10 Bagchi, Jasodhara. Loved and Unloved: the Girl Child in the Family. Calcutta: Stree Publishing, 19 (...)

4In the past decade South Asian history has produced a rich body of literature, particularly on colonial Bengal, on the changing roles and expectations of women. In the context of the new domestic culture scholars such as Meredith Borthwick (1989), Chakrabarty (1993)), Partha Chatterjee (1993), Geraldine Forbes (1996) and Tanika Sarkar (2001) have addressed the themes of rearing and socialization of children in the context of the role of the “ideal” mother and the “good” wife.6 But the question of children and childhood, which constituted the domestic culture, tended to remain marginal in these studies. The literature, that took up the question of children and childhood in India, focuses mainly on the postcolonial period and revolves mostly around issues of poverty, exploitation, and abuse of child labor and state policies as reflected in the writings of Burra (1995) and Myron Weiner (1991).7 Sudhir Kakar (1981) has left a detailed psychoanalytic history of growing up as a child and literary critics have recently started exploring the important connection between colonialism and children’s literature.8 Pradip Bose’s “Son’s of the Nation” (1995) is a singular piece that takes up the question of rearing of male child in the setting of the colonial Bengali family.9 Yet his explicit focus is on the “discourse” of the “new family” and not on children. Jasodhara Bagchi’s ongoing research on the socialization and bringing up of the girl-child (Bagchi 1993, 1997) provides important insights into the gender difference that marked the raising of children.10 While this literature raises important questions, it still does not offer a social or cultural history of family life with children as its primary focus. More importantly, children and childhood both remain unproblematized and hence are treated as stable categories in these earlier studies.

  • 11 Sivaji Bandyopadhyay, Gopal-Rakhal Dwandwa Samash: Upanibeshbad o Bangla Shishusahitya. Calcutta, (...)
  • 12 Iswarachandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891), one of the ardent social reformers and champions of widow re (...)

5Sivaji Bandyopadhyay’s Gopal-Rakhal Dwandwa Samash: Upanibeshbad o Bangla Shishusahitya (Colonialism and Bengali Children’s Literature, 1991) and Satadru Sen’s article “A Juvenile Periphery: The Geographies of Literary Childhood in Colonial Bengal” show substantial engagement with Bengali children’s literature. Bandyopadhyay, deploying the tools of literary criticism, explored the construction of the binaries of “good” (read Gopal) and “bad” (read Rakhal) boys underwriting Bengali colonial literature for children.11 He also effectively shows the reproduction of class and gender boundaries in children’s literature within the restrictive limits of a colonial culture. For him the constrictive and polarized mechanism of good vs. bad, Gopal vs Rakhal introduced by Iswarchandra Vidyasagar through his Bengali primer Barna-Parichay melts away with the liberating metaphors and literary imagination of Rabindranath Tagore embodied in his children’s primer Sahaj Path.12 As incisive and pertinent his analysis is, Bandyopadhyay fails to problematize the notion of children’s literature and blurs the distinction among the different literary genres. Besides using Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and Rabindranath Tagore, the two stalwarts in the field of children’s education and literature, his other examples, albeit interesting are rather haphazard without sufficient justification and historical contextualization.

  • 13 Satadru Sen, “A Juvenile Periphery: The Geographies of Literary Childhood in Colonial Bengal.” Jou (...)

6Satadru Sen, more specific about his sources, offers an incisive analysis of children’s literature in Bengal produced in the early decades of the twentieth century between the Russo-Japanese War (1905) and the Second World War (1939). He identifies this literature as a part of the “juvenile periphery” which he describes as “a set of experimental and institutional spaces” as explained above.13 Closely examining some of the most acclaimed fictions, fantasies, and thrillers produced by the maestros of Bengali children’s literature, Sen identifies the tensions, disjunctures, convergences, and overlaps in the models of Bengali childhood offered by the colonial writers.

  • 14 For an insightful study of children’s magazines in Hindi see Nandini Chandra, Siting Childhood: A (...)

7My paper probes into the world of literary production that presaged the emergence of fantasy and fiction as a staple of children’s literature in Bengali. My focus will be the 19th century and I will trace the genealogy of what came to constitute children’s literature in Bengali in the later years. My paper seeks to understand how childhood was cultivated and who cultivated them in the early years? Who performed fatherhood in the field of literary production and how? I will examine these issues by focusing mainly on the periodicals that became an equally important vehicle for shaping the ideas and cultures of childhood and children in colonial India. The confluence of different literary styles, genres, and writers in the periodicals proves to be particularly instructive for my purposes here.14

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE (SHISHUSAHITYA) IN BENGALI

8Any discussion of children, childhood, and children’s literature calls for our attention to the veritable unstable and variegated nature of the terms. While children and childhood are conceived as always in the sense of becoming and at an evolving stage, children’s literature as a literary genre is ever elusive in terms of its audience and readership. Children’s literature, at its best, is consumed by both children and adults while there are some targeted productions of literature that are meant for fulfilling just the needs of the child. Children’s literature in colonial India, that this paper is concerned with, was targeted toward producing and training a particular group of “reformed,” “civilized” children necessary both for the colonial state and the colonized subject.

  • 15 See Khagendranath Mitra, Shatabdir Shishu-sahitya. Kolkata: Pashchimbanga Bangla Academy, 1199 (fi (...)
  • 16 See Bani Basu compiled Bangla Shishusahitya: Granthapanji, Calcutta: Bangiya Granthagar Parishad, (...)

9The term shishusahitya (children’s literature) was first used in Bengali by Ramendrasundar Tribedi (1864-1919), the eminent Bengali thinker, educator, and nationalist writer, in the year 1899.15 But according to Bibliographers and literary historians, the history of children’s literature in Bengali can be traced to the establishment of the School Book Society in Calcutta in 1817.16 The genealogy of children’s literature in Bengali has been generally divided into three broad periods: the age of School Book Society (1818-1846); the age of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1847-1891); and the age of Rabindranath Tagore (1891-1942) or post-Vidyasagar. Scholars have tended to treat the periodical literature separately, which both overlapped and coincided with the books both thematically and temporally.

  • 17 Radhakanta Deb and Tarinincharan Mitra, known for their various educational activities in associat (...)

10The Calcutta School Book Society, a non-religious institution founded jointly by Europeans and educated Indians, was set up with the objective of writing and publishing vernacular textbooks and supplying them to schools and madrasas in and around Calcutta. The first publication of the Calcutta School Book Society Neetikatha (Moral Tales), that came out in 1818, was a compilation of eighteen moral tales and it owes its origin to the joint effort of Radhakanta Deb (1784-1867), Tarinicharan Mitra (1772-1837), and Ram Comul Sen (1783-1844), the three active Indian members of the Society.17 It may be worth pointing out here that both Radhakanta Deb and Tarinicharan Mitra were ardent social conservatives who, despite having close ties with the colonial government, vehemently opposed the government-sanctioned ban on sati or widow immolation in 1829 through their newly formed reformed organization Dharma Sabha. More interestingly, these moral tales were mostly translations of Aesop’s fables and other Arabic tales. Despite the best efforts of the authors to make the texts more attractive the books that the Society published all belonged to the genre of “dry” school textbooks meant for building the character of children. The first illustrated volume for children that also appeared from the School Book Society was Pashwabali (Animal Tales) in 1822, to be followed by Ushtrér Monoranjan Itihash (The Tale of Entertaining the Camel) and Thakurdadar Hostibishayak Itihash (The Grandfather’s Tale about Elephants) both published in 1851. However, a controversy exists among literary historians as to whether Paswabali was a book or a monthly periodical. Although bibliographer Bani Basu lists Paswabali as a book, Khagendranath Mitra (1896-1978), an eminent literary critic and writer for children, traces the history of Paswabali by drawing upon various examples from its different issues over a period of time. The tales presented in Paswabali were first collected by the missionary Lawson. Subsequently, W. H. Pearce translated them into Bengali. After Lawson’s death Ramchandra Mitra, a professor of Hindu College took Paswabali over. Each issue of Paswabali focused on a particular animal (such as lion, bear, elephant, tiger, cat, rhinoceros and hippopotamus) with its picture on the cover. According to Mitra different issues of Paswabali were compiled under one volume by the School Book Society to be presented as a prize to the deserving students. This has probably led Ms. Basu to consider Paswabali as a book.

11This controversy over Paswabali is somewhat indicative of the importance of periodicals in children’s literature of colonial India. An interesting point to reckon with is the fact that Paswabali, following the rules of the School Book Society, used to be written in English and the translation in Bengali appeared on the opposite page. In fact, Ramchandra Mitra brought sixteen issues of Paswabalii in both English and Bengali. Because its texts’were translated from English Paswabali also displayed a strikingly developed and different prose style marked by comma, semi-colon, and periods—the punctuation system and syntactical style that were yet to develop in Bengali prose and therefore, absent in other children’s texts.

  • 18 See Bani Basu, op. cit., p. 33, preface.

12However, Paswabali was not the first magazine for children. The first Bengali periodical Digdarshan edited by the missionary John Clark Marshman, son of the Baptist missionary Joshua Marshman, came out from the Srirampore Missionary Society as a “set of advice for the youth” in 1818. It covered a wide range of topics—geography, agriculture, life-sciences, physics, and “discoveries” of countries such as the Americas. Raja Rammohun Roy was one of its contributors, particularly for the scientific articles published there. While Digdarshan was avowedly for “youth,” the first monthly, however short-lived, that appeared for children was Jnanodoy edited by Krishnadhan Mitra in 1818. There is a long hiatus in children’s magazine between 1818 and 1878. There were a few, such as Rajendralal Mitra edited Bibidhartha Sangraba and Rahasyasandarva (1863) and Christaian Tract Society’s publication Jyotiringan (1869) that came out between 1851 and 1869. But these periodicals only had a children’s section and were not exactly meant for children.18

  • 19 See Khagendranath Mitra, op. cit. p. 15.

13The first “real” children’s magazine was Balakbandhu (Friends of Boys) brought out by the social reformer and Brahmo leader Keshub Chandra Sen (the grandson of Ram Comul Sen) in 1878. Keshub Sen (1838-1884) introduced Balakbandhu (Friends of Boys) with the objective of disseminating scientific and general knowledge among children that they could devour with pleasure. The bi-weekly betrayed refined taste and a different concern: it was well illustrated with small, neat type-setting and contained poems, stories, short articles, puzzles, mathematical games, and a Sanskrit shloka embodying a moral placed in a dialog box, all within the limit of eight pages. Significantly, every issue of Balakbandhu included one or two pieces written by children, most likely boys. The way the child was represented was nonetheless interesting: only the initials of the first and the last name were printed along with the name of the school. There was no indication of age anywhere. Balakbandhu displayed a lucid, simple prose style envisaging the modern era and for the first time produced a few serialized stories. There was a conscious effort in Balakbandhu to educate its readers in the art of writing “correct” Bengali prose.19

14Balakbandhu acted as a precursor of the more highly evolved children’s magazines such as Promodacharan Sen edited Sakha (1883), Bhubanmohan Sen edited Sathi (1893), which later merged with Sakha in 1894 and Sibnath Sastri edited Mukul. Editor Promodacharan Sen introduced the first issue of Sakha in the following manner:

  • 20 Bani Basu, op. cit., p. 34, preface.

In our wretched country not too many people think about the worthiness of knowledge and characterbuilding for boys and girls. ….To fulfill that objective Sakha is being born. Sakha will carry both the advices from parents and impart the education provided by the teacher.20

  • 21 See Aruna Chattopadhyay, ed., Sakha, Sakha o Sathi (Calcutta: Bangabani Printers, 2002).
  • 22 Promodacharan Sen, “Bhim-er Kapal” in Sakha year # 1, January 1883-. October 1883. See Aruna Chatt (...)

15Sakha was indeed the first most beloved children’s periodical in Bengali. While Sakha followed in the footsteps of its predecessor Balakbandhu it was highly distinctive in its quality of printing and publishing, both aesthetically and contentwise. It included high quality wood-carved illustrations and for the first time published biographies of many famous international figures.21 Promodacharan Sen, Sakha’s editor, also a Brahmo, was a man of liberal persuasions and his editorship ensured that the young readers were made aware of the conditions of peasants, the working classes, and the poorer sections of the society. Sakha was also instrumental in bringing out the first serialized novel for children, “Bhim-er Kapal” (“The Fate of Bhim”) written by he editor Promodacharan Sen. “Bhim-er Kapal,” that came out in the first issue of Sakha and was serialized over ten subsequent issues, revolves around Bhim, a Bengali youth and his sojourn from rural to urban Bengal.22

  • 23 See Aruna Chattopadhyay, ed. Sakha, Sakha o Sathi, p. 272-278.
  • 24 Promodacharan Sen died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six.

16The different genres of nineteenth century children’s literature can be gleaned from the way Sakha was formatted. It was broken up into several thematic units, such as (a) Stories (e.g. “Bhimer Kapal”) (b) Advice (e.g. “Who is Rich?” “Smoking”) (c) Descriptions (e.g. White Bear) (d) New Knowledge about Science (e.g. presented as “Thakurdada-r Galpa” or “Stories from the Grandfather”), (e) biographies (e.g. David Hare, Keshub Chnadra Sen) (f) Poems, (g) Riddles, and (h) Miscellaneous. Sakha printed its set of rules and even issued instructions as to how to read the magazine.23 On the cover was printed “The child is the Father of the Man.”24

  • 25 Ibid., p. 3-4.
  • 26 See Bani Basu, op. cit., p. 35, preface. For a detailed study of Sakha, Sakha o Sathi see Aruna Ch (...)

17Following the sudden death of its founder Promodacharan Sen in 1885, Sakha flourished under the stewardship of several editors, including that of Sibnath Sastri (1885-1886). In 1894 Sakha merged with another leading periodical of the times—Bhubanmohan Ray edited Sathi and came to be known as Sakha o Sathi.25 Prior to the year of merging with Sakha, Sathi was first published in 1893 with an avowed objective that made it quite distinctive from the outset. In the very first issue Jogindranath Sarkar, one of the contributors, hailing the “brothers and sisters” for membership categorically stated its non-didactic position-shorn of any advisory motives it claimed not (emphasis mine) to have “a cane” or “rebuke” for children. The purpose behind Sathi was pure joy.26 By consciously denying itself the moral high ground Sathi introduced an element of lightness and fun in children’s literature.

  • 27 See Khagendranath Mitra, ShatabdirShishu-Sahitya, I8I8-I960 (Calcutta: Pashchimbanga Bangla Academ (...)
  • 28 Ibid.

18Not surprisingly, it was in the pages of Sakha and then in Sakha o Sathi that most of the later writers for children, such as Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri, Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay, Dwijendranath Basu, Nabakrishna Bhattacharya, Bepin Chandra Pal, Bhubanmohan Ray, Jogindranath Sarkar, Ramendrasundar Tribedi, Sibnath Sastri, and a few women writers like Hemlata Debi, made their debut in writing. It was also Sakha that first produced a political essay by Bepin Chandra Pal on the imprisonment of the early nationalist leader Surendranath Banerjea. Addressing the readers as “Boys and Girls!” Bepin Chandra pleaded with them to shed a few tears for their “hapless motherland.” He urged that “one day they will purify the prison, one day their hard work will bring an end to their country’s misery. One day the “nation” (jati) will shine in the pride of their glory.”27 Unlike Bepin Chandra Pal and Bhubanmohan Ray not all writers of Sakha o Sathi were inclusive of both sexes. Engaging in a serious discussion about knowledge writers like Rajnarain Basu would invoke the divine only in boys and address them as “sreshtha jnani (“the best knower”), the Rish i (the” Saint”) and the Devala (the “divine being”).28

19Chronologically, Sakha was followed by Balak in 1885, the magazine that came out of the Tagore family of Jorasanko. It was also the first journal to have a woman editor Jnadanandini Devi. Balak tended to remain as a family magazine and most of the writings came from Rabindranath Tagore, including the collection of plays called " Heyali," perhaps the first plays to be written for children in Bengali. It covered the same range of topics—science, history, geography, poems, travels, riddles, and plays. Balak, despite its high quality, did not thrive very long. It soon merged with Bharati, another accomplishment of the Tagore family, that catered more to an adult audience.

  • 29 Bani Basu, op. cit.

20Periodical literature for children in the 19th century reached its apex with the publication of Sibnath Sastri edited Mukul in 1895. “Mukul” meaning blossom, was launched, in the words of its editor, to bloom the “blossom of knowledge, of love, of human flowers.”29 In addition to all the earlier ones active in Sakha o Sathi almost every intellectual of the period—Rabindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Ramananda Chattopadhyay, Ramesh Chandra Dutta, Ramendrasundar Tribedi—published in the pages of Mukul. Sibnath Sastri was quite clear-cut as to the targeted readers of Mukul. He stated at the very beginning of the second issue: “Mukul is not really meant for little children. It is meant for the age-group between eightnine and sixteen-seventeen.” While there were almost no publications geared for eight-nine year old children, Jogindranath Sarkar and Nabakrishna Bhattacharya did write a few poems in Mukul that children of that age may enjoy. In terms of content Mukul did not deviate much from its predecessors. It included the same genres and style—poems, stories, science, biographies, geographical accounts, and puzzles. It also had more stories about animals than the earlier magazines. A particularly new element for Mukul was its editor’s engagement with the readers’question, often in a very humorous way. Mukul also published works of children. In its second year, Jaishtha issue, Mukul published a poem called Nodi (River) by a eight year old boy. This boy was no other than Sukumar Ray, the maestro of children’s literature, the son of Upendrakishore and the father of the famous film-maker Satyajit Ray.

21There were a few other periodicals, such as Anjali (1898), Kusum (1898), and Prakriti (1900)—the latter to first include works by Bengali Mulsims— that came out after Mukul. But none of them gained the popularity and stature of Mukul or Sakha o Sathi.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

22The nineteenth century was by no means the golden age of children’s literature in Bengal. But it witnessed the emergence of a nascent field that will constitute one of the strongest literary movements in colonial and postcolonial India. The literary productions for children in the early 19th century acted as a palimpsest in which the new concerns of the new Bengali intelligentsia were registered. The movement started out with a drive for educating the new generation—to make the latter “modern” by making them aware of the marvels of science and by informing them of what was going on in their immediate and greater surroundings. Furthermore, this whole package of educating the new minds was informed by a moral philosophy and an ethical code of conduct that in spite of harping on the newly envisioned notions of good and bad, right and wrong, underwent changes over the subsequent years. This endeavor to inform, educate, and mould children was a concerted effort of the representatives of the colonial state, the missionaries, and the newly emerging colonial intelligentsia. With its rhetoric on self-improvement and building of character, children’s literature in its early years reflected a gnawing concern for “reform” of the existing culture—a concern that not only aimed to expand and enrich the cognitive world of children (and possibly adults) but also to refine and modify the Bengali language itself, cleansing it of its rustic vulgarity. Needless to say, towards the close of the century children’s journals became the early repositories of nationalist ideas and sentiments, as evinced in the writings of Bepin Chandra Pal and others. The form, format, and content of this new literature, although touching upon several subjects, did not betray a wide variety of genres or styles in the nineteenth century.

  • 30 Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-94) was the doyen of Bengali literature and the nationalist writ (...)
  • 31 After reviewing the first issue of Sakha in 1883 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay made the above remar (...)

23A foray into the 19th century children’s literature enables us to problematize both the notion of children and their literature. Mainly constitutive of textbooks, heavily loaded with morals in its early phase, the assumed readership of the literature revolved around a fluid audience—it did not always make specific distinctions between a girl or a boy, rich or poor, urban or rural. Interestingly, gender and class issues were mostly elided in the early publications. Some of the later publications were more specific—often times including both boys ad girls but targeting a wide range of readers from age seven to seventeen and beyond. This was evident in Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s remark after reviewing the first issue of Sakha.30 Chattopadhyay applauded the editor for bringing out a magazine that gives pleasure not only to young boys and girls but to the “grey-haired elderly” as well.31 The issue is not the question of age alone but who these children were for whom the books were written. While we may surmise who the reading public would be (namely, the male scions of the educated middle class or bhadralok) there was hardly any mention of the lower social orders as a consumer of this new literature.

24What is significant in this literature, mnning parallel to the dominant discourse on women, is the reclaiming of children as valid subjects and ascribing them agency through their own writings manifest in the pages of Balakbandhu, and later in Sakha o Sathi and Mukul. In this regard it is important to remember who the founding fathers of children’s literature were. The native champions were no other than the active members of the Brahmo community who were also the architects of the “new woman,” a “new family,” and the “new nation.” In their new discourse on family and women, children played an equally important role. It is high time now that we pay attention to these important players—both as valid subject of historical inquiry and as sites for production of meanings and knowledge.

  • 32 See L. Elena Delgado and Rolando J. Romero, “Local Histories and Global Designs: An Interview with (...)
  • 33 Buddhadeb Basu, “Shishusahitya” in Probondha Sankalan (Kolkata: De’s Publishing, 1982) pp. 130-155
  • 34 I am not going into the many meanings of the wild and barbarian natives that are embedded in the c (...)
  • 35 Walter D. Mignolo’s concept of “border thinking” compels us to think “with, against, and beyond th (...)
  • 36 See Walter D. Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Mode (...)

25This brings me to my final point—a point that I raised at the beginning of the paper. Analyzing the content of this literature that consisted of a substantial amount of translated texts, bibliographers and literary critics have unequivocally dubbed the genre of Indian children’s literature as largely derivative from the West. I argue against such a labelling and propose an alternate reading of this literature in the light of Walter D. Mignolo’s ideas of “border thinking” that compels us to think “with, against, and beyond the legacy of Western epistemology.”32 The history of the school textbooks and the later periodicals that we examined were a product of imperial local histories that built upon colonial difference from a subaltern perspective. In this regard the observation of the famous Bengali litterateur Buddhadeb Basu becomes particularly instructive. Basu (1952) pointed out that children’s literature in any language and culture is always adaptive or derivative from indigenous or foreign sources—either from folktales or ancient epics, or from popular cultural items and icons.33 Children’s literature, in its scope and imagination, transcends the boundaries between the colony and the metropole, the periphery and the center. While translations of Robinson Crusoe and Robin Hood thronged the pages of children’s books and Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson cast their shadows in the writings of literary maestros for children, we also witness a character like Mowgli “invented” by Rudyard Kipling that enthralled the imaginations of predominantly Western readers.34 In my reading it may be useful to think of children’s literature as a new epistemic space created by the subaltern subject, revealing an attempt at parallel assertions of authority made possible by the print media. The knowledge that this literature vouched to disseminate was conceived at the “conflictive intersection of the knowledge produced from the perspective of modern colonialisms (rhetoric, philosophy, science)” and knowledge produced from the perspective of newly conceived notions of an alternate modernity and a new nation. One may locate in those efforts “border thinking” of a colonial subject delineating the lineaments of its future generation.35 In this incipient literature we may identify an intense battleground in the “long histories of subaltemization of knowledge” and the legitimation of colonial difference.36

Notes

1 In 1962 the Indian Library Association adopted a unanimous resolution for compiling a bibliography of children’s literature in India. Following the initiative of the Centre, the government of West Bengal shortly adopted a plan for creating a catalogue of children’s literature in the regional Bengali language. The result was a 500-page long list of children’s literature in Bengali covering the period from 1818 to 1962. The Bibliography titled Bangla Shishusahitya: Granthapanji (literally, Children’s Literature in Bengali: A Bibliography) was compiled by Ms Bani Basu, the then technical assistant of the Bengali division in the National Library of India.

2 Divided into several categories the Bibliography lists 13 entries under Philosophy, Psychology, Ethics; 65 under Religion; 167 under Sociology; 39 under Linguistics; 170 under Science; 83 under Technology; and 97 under Arts; The category of Literature was broken further into several branches—221 entries under Anthologies, 458 under Poetry, 236 under Plays, 2560 under Stories. Furthermore, there were 41 entries under General Knowledge. See Bani Basu, Bangla Shishusahitya: Granthapanji (literally, Children’s Literature in Bengali: A Bibliography),

3 Although the focus of this paper will be confined to the colonial period it may be worth mentioning that under the initiative of the members of the West Bengal Library Association a subsequent Bibliography on Children’s literature (in Bengali) came out in 2002, which covers the period from 1963 to 1990. The total number of entries included in the recent one is 7,511. The recent Bibliography claims to include all those works pertaining to children and early adults that were published during those twentyeight years. It is interesting to note the numerical breakup according to subjects in this latest Bibliography. The numbers will indicate the nature of changes and the new emphasis in the print media. General Knowledge: 128; Philosophy: 10; Religion: 161; Sociology: 498; Language: 35; Science: 498; Applied Science: 138; Arts: 374; Literature: 4459; Geography and Travel: 129; Biography: 918; History: 177. Archana Srimani and Kalyani Pramanik, compiled and edited, Bangla Shishusahitya: Granthapanji (Children’s Literature in Bengali: A Bibliography). Kolkata: Rupa Prakashani, 2002.

4 Krishna Kumar, The Political Agenda of Education: A Study of Colonialist and Nationalist Ideas. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1991.

5 See Satadru Sen, “A Juvenile Periphery: The Geographies of Literary Childhood in Colonial Bengal” in Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 5:1, 2004.

6 See the works of Meredith Borthwick, Changing Roles of Women in Bengal 1849-1905 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Difference-Deferral of a Colonial Modernity: Public Debates on Domesticity in British India,” History Workshop # 36 (Autumn) 1993, pp. 1-34 (Also published in Subaltern Studies, VIII); Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Women” and “Women and the Nation” in The Nation and Its Fragments (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Forbes, Geraldine. Women in Modern India. Cambridge, UK: 1996); Tanika Sarkar, The Hindu Wife and the Hindu Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001)

7 Neera Burra. Born to Work: Child Labor in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press: 1995); Myron Weiner, The Child and the State in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991).

8 Sudhir Kakar, The Inner World: A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. Delhi, 1981. For the angle of literary criticism see Sivaji Bandyopadhyay, Gopal-Rakhal Dwandwa Samash: Upanibeshbad o Bangla Shishusahitya. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1991.

9 Pradip Kumar Bose, “Sons of the Nation: Child Rearing in the New Family” in Partha Chatterjee ed. Texts of Power. Minneapolis: 1995.

10 Bagchi, Jasodhara. Loved and Unloved: the Girl Child in the Family. Calcutta: Stree Publishing, 1997. “Socialising the Girl Child in Colonial Bengal” in Economic and Political Weekly, October 9, 1993, pp. 2214-2219.

11 Sivaji Bandyopadhyay, Gopal-Rakhal Dwandwa Samash: Upanibeshbad o Bangla Shishusahitya. Calcutta, Papyrus, 1991.

12 Iswarachandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891), one of the ardent social reformers and champions of widow remarriage in 19th century colonial India, was also one of the earliest educators and writers for children. In his first and foremost primer for Bengali children Barna Porichoy (literally An Introduction to Alphabets) written in 1855 and which still holds even today, he idolized the virtues of a good child in a boy called Gopal and embodied the negative virtues in a boy called Rakhal. Thus Gopal and Rakhal appeared in stark contrast to one another. See Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, Barna Parichoy (1855). Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the first Asian Nobel laureate in literature and the most illustrious figure of Bengali literature and a social thinker, wrote his Bengali primer Sahaj Path after seventy-five years of Barna Porichoy Tagore’s Sahaj Path liberated children from the dichotomies of good and bad and through Tagore’s own creative genius let children’s imagination fly as they master the language and diction. See Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindra Rachanaboli, vol. II, Kolkata: Visvabhararti Prokashan, 1976.

13 Satadru Sen, “A Juvenile Periphery: The Geographies of Literary Childhood in Colonial Bengal.” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 5:1, 2004, p. 1.

14 For an insightful study of children’s magazines in Hindi see Nandini Chandra, Siting Childhood: A Study of Children’s Magazines in Hindi, 1920-50. Doctoral thesis, Centre for Linguistics and English, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2001.

15 See Khagendranath Mitra, Shatabdir Shishu-sahitya. Kolkata: Pashchimbanga Bangla Academy, 1199 (first published in 1958), p. 138.

16 See Bani Basu compiled Bangla Shishusahitya: Granthapanji, Calcutta: Bangiya Granthagar Parishad, 1962. Also see Khagendranath Mitra, Shatabdir Shishusahitya 1818-1960. Calcutta: Pashchimbanga Bangla Academy, 1999 (100th birth anniversary Academy edition. First published in 1958.

17 Radhakanta Deb and Tarinincharan Mitra, known for their various educational activities in association with the colonial government and missionaries, were both known for their social conservatism and founded the Dharma Sabha in 1829 to protest the colonial legislation on abolition of Sati in 1829. Ram Comul Sen was a scholar, writer, and bibliographer who held different positions with the colonial government. His grandson was Keshub Chandra Sen, the leader of the Brahmo Samaj.

18 See Bani Basu, op. cit., p. 33, preface.

19 See Khagendranath Mitra, op. cit. p. 15.

20 Bani Basu, op. cit., p. 34, preface.

21 See Aruna Chattopadhyay, ed., Sakha, Sakha o Sathi (Calcutta: Bangabani Printers, 2002).

22 Promodacharan Sen, “Bhim-er Kapal” in Sakha year # 1, January 1883-. October 1883. See Aruna Chattopadhyay, ed., Sakha, Sakha o Sathii, op. cit., pp. 19-44.

23 See Aruna Chattopadhyay, ed. Sakha, Sakha o Sathi, p. 272-278.

24 Promodacharan Sen died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six.

25 Ibid., p. 3-4.

26 See Bani Basu, op. cit., p. 35, preface. For a detailed study of Sakha, Sakha o Sathi see Aruna Chattopadhyay ed. Sakha, Sakha o Sathi, op. cit. It is important to note that Sakha o Sathi was also the first magazine to introduce advertisement in its pages.

27 See Khagendranath Mitra, ShatabdirShishu-Sahitya, I8I8-I960 (Calcutta: Pashchimbanga Bangla Academy, 1999; first published in 1958) p. 16.

28 Ibid.

29 Bani Basu, op. cit.

30 Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-94) was the doyen of Bengali literature and the nationalist writer who first popularized the Bengali prose style. In 1872 he brought out the famous Bengali periodical Bangadrashan which subsequently published many of his own novels. His novel Anandamath (1882), a patriotic tale of the sannyasis against the Muslim forces of the East India Company, provided the nationalists with the slogan of “Hail to thee, Mother” (Bandematartam) which was later adopted as the national anthem of India.

31 After reviewing the first issue of Sakha in 1883 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay made the above remark to Promodacharan Sen, Sakha’s editor. See Aruna Chattopadhyay ed. Sakha, Sakha o Sathi (Calcutta: Bangabani Printers, 2002) p. 1.

32 See L. Elena Delgado and Rolando J. Romero, “Local Histories and Global Designs: An Interview with Walter Mignolo” in Discourse, 22.3, Fall 2000, pp. 7-33.

33 Buddhadeb Basu, “Shishusahitya” in Probondha Sankalan (Kolkata: De’s Publishing, 1982) pp. 130-155.

34 I am not going into the many meanings of the wild and barbarian natives that are embedded in the character of Mowgli.

35 Walter D. Mignolo’s concept of “border thinking” compels us to think “with, against, and beyond the legacy of Western epistemology.” See L. Elena Delgado and Rolando Romero, “Local Histories and Global Designs: An Interview with Walter Mignolo” in Discourse, 22.3, Fall 2000, pp. 7-33.

36 See Walter D. Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Modern Thinking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000) pp. 5-12.

Auteur

Is an Associate Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She specializes in Modern South Asian History. Her research focusing on gender, domesticity, family history, and class relations in colonial Bengal, India, examines the identity formation of a colonial elite vis-à-vis other subaltern groups such as servants and children. Her book Men, Women, and Domestics: Articulating Middle Class Identity in Colonial Bengal (Oxford University Press, 2004) employs the lens of the employerservant relationships to examine the construction of national identity in colonial Bengal. She also has articles and reviews published in The Journal of Social History, Gender and History, and the Journal of Asian Studies. Further extending her research on family history she is currently working on children and childhood in colonial Bengal. Swapna M. Banerjee received her Ph. D. from Temple University, Philadelphia in 1998 and her ΒA and MA from Presidency College and the University of Calcutta, India.

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