The Fires of Hell: Communalism and Satire in the Hindi Short Stories of Pandey Bechan Sharma “Ugra”

Ugra, Matvala, Pandey Bechan Sharma

The Fires of Hell: Communalism and Satire in the Hindi Short Stories of Pandey Bechan Sharma “Ugra”

Tuesday, 3 May 2016 - 2:00pm
Venue: 
Fellows' Dining Room
Speaker(s): 
David Lunn (SOAS)
Convenor: 
Dr F Devji
Series: 
South Asia Seminar

Pandey Bechan Sharma (1900–67), known by his pen-name “Ugra” (“fierce”, or “extreme”) has an ambiguous place in the Hindi literary canon. Popular, populist, and unapologetically controversial, he is best remembered today for his autobiography (Apni khabar, tr. Vanita, About me) and the controversy that surrounded his 1927 collection of short stories on homosexuality (Caklet, tr. Vanita, Chocolate). This talk focusses on another set of his stories, most from the same period in the 1920s, which dealt explicitly—and satirically—with intercommunal tensions and riots. Addressing many major concerns of the period—cow protection, music before mosques, conversion, etc.—the stories represent direct literary interventions in the most consequential issue of Hindu-Muslim relations. Regrettably relevant almost 90 years later, Ugra’s stories employ a religiously-inflected idiom to argue for a popular “secular”/humanist mode of coexistence, moving at times beyond “tolerance” to expose the pretexts by which violence is justified, and advocating a brand of religiosity based on commonality if not panentheistic unity, in a bitingly satirical, witty, and entertaining mode. This talk will detail some of Ugra’s plots, and examine his narrative strategies, while tracing the roots and the resources on which he drew to develop his piercing critique of hatred, fear, violence, and vengeance.

David Lunn is the Simon Digby Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS University of London, where he is editing the collected works of the late Simon Digby (forthcoming in 10 volumes from OUP India). He received his MA and PhD from SOAS, after a BA from the University of Cambridge. Prior to his current post, he was a postdoctoral research associate at King’s College London on the ERC-funded “Musical Transitions” research project. Among several current projects, he is preparing a translation of a selection of Ugra’s short stories on intercommunal tensions in the colonial period.

This seminar series is organised with the support of the History Faculty.