Presented by Anuparna Mukherjee as part of the Literary Studies Seminar Series
My paper delves into the question whether the grotesque and the fantastic can work concurrently with mainstream historiography to interpret a postcolonial city through the affective windows of nostalgia and trauma. It is partially predicated on the stories of legendary haunted houses from British Calcutta, and partly on the ghosts of historical personages who have a reputation for haunting the city, to locate how Calcutta negotiates with the traces of its past. Some of these incidents of haunting are results of deep historical trauma for those colonizers whose nation was witnessing an accelerated economic decline after the loss of its prosperous colonies and the devastation of the two World Wars. Contrariwise, they also explode the secret that India’s freedom was after all not entirely free of sorrow. These unspeakable secrets, suppressed by a dense conspiracy of silence, became the symptom of a devastating trauma, and return as ghosts in postcolonial narratives of the nation. These accounts show how what is touted as the colonizer’s past can be can be appropriated, modified and owned by the recalcitrant colonized population to claim their stake in that history.
Anuparna Mukherjee is a PhD candidate in SLLL. She represented ANU at the Cambridge AHRC conference on ‘Time and Temporality’ and recently guest-edited with Arunima Bhattacharya a special issue of Sanglap on ‘City, Space and Literature’.