I want to help the Black man to
free himself of the arsenal of
complexes that has been developed
by the colonial environment.
[Colonialism] creates a culture in
which the ruled are constantly
tempted to fight their rulers within
the psychological limits set by the
Sexuality must not be thought of as
a kind of natural given which power
tries to hold in check...It is the
name given to a historical
construct...a great surface network
in which the stimulation of bodies,
the intensification of pleasures,
the incitement of discourse, the
formation of special knowledges, the
strengthening of controls and
resistances are linked to one
another, in accordance with a few
major strategies of knowledge and
The physical organization of the Bengalee [sic] is feeble even to effeminacy. He lives in a constant vapour bath. His pursuits are sedentary, his limbs delicate, his movements languid. During many ages he has been trampled upon by men of bolder and more hardy breeds (quoted in Strachey, 449-50).These "men of bolder and more hardy breeds" of India were the Manichean opposite of the Bengali babu . Kundan Lal Saigal, the actor-singer, who was chosen by Barua to play the part of Devdas in the Hindi remake, was just such a figure. On the one hand, his regional identity as a Punjabi (a people known for their peasant hardiness), his caste affiliation as a Kshatriya (warrior/kingly caste), his strong physique, and his "fair" complexion (believed to be closer to the Aryan race as opposed to the "dark" complexion of the aboriginal, Dravidian race) countered the charge of feebleness, effeminacy and ineffectuality typically levied against the Bengali babu . On the other hand, Saigal's understated and eventually trendsetting acting style, the sonorous voice in which he delivered the film's rather sparse and deliberate dialogue, and the low crooning voice in which he sang the songs, all contributed to the hero's quiet dignity and strength, without compromising the pathos and romantic nihilism of the role. It is this tenuous balance of dignity and pathos that made Devdas so appealing to the women in his life and to Indian audiences at large.
Devdas was in me even before I was born, I created it every moment of my life much before I put it on the screen and yet, once it was on the screen, it was more than a mirage, a play of light and shade and sadder still, it ceased to exist after two hours (quoted in Ramachandran, 50).When in 1946, K. L. Saigal, not unlike the fictional Devdas, serendipitously died of alcoholism at the young age of forty-two, his fans throughout the subcontinent regarded the actor and the persona as merging together perfectly. Upon his death, radio stations throughout India obsessively played the tragic and soulful songs that Saigal had sung in Devdas and many other comparable melodramatic films, for many days on end, in what came to be recognized as an unofficial mourning for a "national" hero. For two decades Saigal's interpretation of Devdas reigned supreme--setting the standard both for an understated acting style and a particular tonal quality of playback singing that was emulated by many other singers of the Indian film industry.
The Consent Act humiliated the Bengali husband without being of much use to the Bengali child bride. . . . [D]espite its liberal and humanitarian rhetoric, it became the focus of the colonial disdain of Bengali masculinity and of the Bengali male's attempt to reclaim his masculinity (1987, 223).While maintaining the facade of "non-interference," this legislation permitted the British to champion the cause of Indian women's welfare while at the same time insulting Indian men by insinuating that the latter were promiscuous, dishonorable, and most damaging of all, unmanly. Even though the Consent Bill controversy had far-reaching and complex ramifications for the British, Indian nationalists, Victorian feminists and the orthodox Hindu and Muslim leadership in India, my concern with the controversy in this essay is limited to its impact on the bhadralok (feudal and urban upper classes) of Bengal. The babu , though not held strictly culpable for his sexuality, nevertheless felt himself to be under the intense scrutiny of the bhadramahila (upper-class Bengali women) who had supported the Bill and the colonialists who had challenged the babu 's masculinity one more time. It is this anxiety that is at the core of the melodrama of Devdas ; and the narrative's ability to relieve this anxiety, I believe, explains its persistent appeal for Indian audiences.
[T]he contours of colonial masculinity were shaped in the context of an imperial social formation that included both Britain and India. The figures of the 'manly Englishman' and the 'effeminate Bengali' were thus constituted in relation to colonial Indian society as well as to . . . the emergence of the 'New Woman'; the 'remaking of the working class'; the legacy of 'internal colonialism' and the antifeminist backlash of the 1880s and 1890s (2).These complex social forces, however, could not be accommodated onto the canvas of Indian literary and filmic melodrama which was painted in rather broad brush-strokes. Despite the fact that the Bengali press and social reformers had challenged the dominant discourse of colonial masculinity, there is considerable evidence to prove that by the first quarter of the twentieth century, the Bengali educated middle class had not only internalized the stereotype of unmanliness but was engaged in consciously overcoming it through training in elaborate regimens of physical exercise, reforming the traditional Bengali diet, and emulating British social etiquette. All these efforts were directed at rehabilitating the image of the Bengali as manly, but even more urgently as civilized.
The fantasy of submission and rational control is perpetuated by the splitting of the two basic postures, male and female, in differentiation. One posture, traditionally male, overemphasizes self boundaries, and the other posture, traditionally female, the relinquishing of self. The splitting of these postures is the most important boundary of all (1985, 45).Returning to the tenets of Freudian psychology, Benjamin argues that a child discovers his/her own identity by gradually differentiating from the not-self: the (m)other. The process of establishing one's autonomy, however, is reliant on the Other affirming and validating this autonomy. The transition from dependence to independence entails a "tension of simultaneous sameness and difference." The masculine posture is stabilized through an over-emphasis on boundaries and the feminine through the relinquishing of boundaries and extending of the other to the self.
What embarrassment? If I have not felt embarrassed telling you--my best friend--about it, why would I feel any differently with Devdas. After all, he and I are not separate (my translation).
I am borrowing this term from Kaja Silverman's study, Male Subjectivity at the Margins .Back
A state of retirement from active social and familial life spent in religious service and meditation by devout Hindus.Back
Barua fell in love with and married the actress Januma, who played the part of Parvati in Devdas . Despite the fact that he was married to two women who, as rumor has it, lived in adjacent households in Calcutta, "happiness eluded Barua." Back
It is interesting that Barnouw and Krishnaswamy, even half a century later, are not exempt from the discourse of effeminacy that informed the Bengali babu . For instance, in describing the lifestyle of Barua they write: "In his native Assam he (Barua) had already bagged several dozen tigers, a rhinoceros and innumerable boars--although it is said he blanched at the sight of a cockroach" (77). Back
D. Raheja and J. Kothari describe Sahir Ludhianvi's legendary status as a love poet whom women were crazy about, the fact that he was a life-long bachelor and one who eventually became "immensely dissatisfied with [post-Independence] Nehruvian politics."Back
According to the Hindu world-view a person is composed of seven bodily fluids or vital essences, the balance of which is essential to his/her physical and spiritual well-being. The essences are arranged in a hierarchical order, with semen being the most refined and concentrated form of blood. Thus, for Hindus blood and semen are integrally related. For more on the subject, see Joel Paris, "Dhat: The Semen Loss Anxiety Syndrome".Back