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Merchant Tales and the Emergence of the Novel in Hindi

Did the literary production that was ushered in, by and in opposition to the colonial presence, signify a rupture with past traditions? Must the emergence of the novel be seen as a radical break with the literary modes preceding it? Highlighting notions of both rupture and continuity, this paper attempts to trace the embeddedness of the Hindi novel in the multilingual Indo-Persianate literary culture that characterised north India, particularly the twin cities of Agra and Delhi, as well as the ruptures and radical changes in social and cultural sensibilities that it sought to both explore and anticipate. It focuses on Shrinivasdas' Pariksha Guru (The Tutelage of Trial, 1882), the first novel of note in Hindi, as it emerged from the merchant milieu of Delhi and its vicinity, juxtaposing it with Banarasidas' Ardhakathanak (Half a Tale, 1641), an early modern merchant life-story set in Jaunpur and Agra. This draws attention to the recurring merchant milieu and the vulnerability of this community in particular to the kinds of social changes entering its world.


Merchant Tales and the Emergence of the Novel in Hindi

Vasudha Dalmia

Did the literary production that was ushered in, by and in opposition to the colonial presence, signify a rupture with past traditions? Must the emergence of the novel be seen as a radical break with the literary modes preceding it? Highlighting notions of both rupture and continuity, this paper attempts to trace the embeddedness of the Hindi novel in the multilingual Indo-Persianate literary culture that characterised north India, particularly the twin cities of Agra and Delhi, as well as the ruptures and radical changes in social and cultural sensibilities that it sought to both explore and anticipate. It focuses on Shrinivasdas’ Pariksha Guru (The Tutelage of Trial, 1882), the first novel of note in Hindi, as it emerged from the merchant milieu of Delhi and its vicinity, juxtaposing it with Banarasidas’ Ardhakathanak (Half a Tale, 1641), an early modern merchant life-story set in Jaunpur and Agra. This draws attention to the recurring merchant milieu and the vulnerability of this community in particular to the kinds of social changes entering its world.

This essay has profited immensely from the response received at presentations made at various venues – the Centre for the Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata, Centre of South Asia Studies, UCLA, and Halle University, Germany. I thank all those present for their questions and suggestions, in particular Anjali Arondekar, Gautam Bhadra, Stuart Blackburn, Rosinka Chaudhary, Supriya Chaudhary, Tapati Guha Thakurta, Aamir Mufti and Rajat Kanta Ray. Most of all, I thank Francesca Orsini and Rashmi Sadana for their detailed and careful critique of the essay, and Rashmi Sadana in particular for helping to sharpen the argument, though I alone remain responsible for the rough edges which still remain.

Vasudha Dalmia ( teaches in the Department of South and South-East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

Economic & Political Weekly

august 23, 2008

he emergence of the novel in India has had a symbiotic relationship with its own modernity. Individual novels both anticipated and documented a host of cultural and social changes in Indian society in what can roughly be named a modernising era from at least the 19th century onwards. Yet, there is still some uncertainty about what was entirely “new” about the form itself. Did the literary production that was ushered in, by and in opposition to the colonial presence, signify a rupture with past traditions? Must the emergence of the novel be seen as a radical break with the literary modes preceding it? Past assessments offered us more clear-cut answers. Whether looking at single-language literary histories, or indeed, at pan-Indian histories of the novel, the notion of rupture generally served as the guiding principle. Lately, there has been greater appreciation of the enduring influence of older literary modes and it is the continuities that have been more emphasised.1 The novel did indeed mesh, merge, and emerge from interaction with the narrative modes already current in the literary languages of the region – and here both the plurality of the languages and the regional specificity need to be emphasised – in order to produce various “successful” hybrids peculiar to the given regional context. However, the novel also sought to do something new.

This essay attempts to trace both notions – the continuity, that is, the embeddedness of the Hindi novel in the multilingual Indo-Persianate literary culture that characterised north India, as also the rupture brought about by the radical changes in social and cultural sensibilities that it both explored and anticipated.2

The essay focuses on Shrinivasdas’ Pariksha Guru (The Tutelage of Trial, 1882), the first novel of note in Hindi, which emerged from the merchant milieu of Delhi and its vicinity.3 Merchant tales had their forebears in recent history, though the late 19th century Hindi writers themselves tended to classicise and cite the seventh century Sanskrit prose narrative Kadambari4 as one important model for the novels they attempted to write. In order to trace the links to the eras more immediately preceding the modern and to explore both the continuities and discontinuities in perspective and literary format, I shall juxtapose Pariksha Guru with Banarasidas’ Ardhakathanak (Half a Tale, 1641), an early modern merchant life story set in Jaunpur and Agra. In juxtaposing the two works, I hope to trace and re-establish the links not only between the early modern5 and the modern, but also to show the intimate role of the novel in the unfolding of the modern.

The essay consists of four sections. The opening sections engage the cultural matrix from which the modern novel in Hindi

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    emerged; the first focuses on the language of the Delhi-Agra region and the modern Hindi literary idiom as it sought to crystallise itself from within it, the second on the changes in the social structure of the late 19th century Agra and Delhi and the concurrent shifts in merchant ethos. The last two sections deal with Ardhakathanak and Pariksha Guru, respectively. My concern here is threefold. First, I want to pay particular attention to the genre-designations the works themselves employ and the literary models they invoke, since these models bring with them their own form of experience and elaboration of reality. Second, to ground the notions of self and sociality in the two works, particularly as they relate to merchant ethos, present and past – “taking them either as models or as foils”.6 Finally, as both works make an explicit reference to the political time frame within which the action is set, I shall trace the relationship of particular moments in the given life story to these frames.

    In juxtaposing the 19th century novel with the earlier 17th century work, this essay will draw attention to the vulnerability of the merchant community in particular to social and political change, suggesting that the literary format offered by the novel seemed best suited to register the modernising impulse, most notably, to the fate of the individual as it became tied to larger social and historical issues.

    1 The Speech of Delhi and Agra

    In the past few decades there have been intensive debates about the Hindi-Urdu divide and the matrix from which they have jointly, or indeed separately, as some would have it, emerged. Revisiting this vexed terrain as it pertains to the early prose narratives in Hindi, what most immediately strikes us is the remarkable consistency with which writers specify the Delhi-Agra region as the location from which they are drawing the standard of their speech. Lallujilal (ca 1747-1824) finds himself compelled to say a few words about his use of language in the brief preface to his Premsagar (1810), a retelling of the 10th canto of the Bhagavata Purana, one which would go on to become a perennial favourite. A Gujarati brahman who came originally from Agra, Lallujilal was employed by the Fort William College to produce instructional material for the teaching of Hindavi in the Nagari script. Of Premsagar, one of the first works to be written with this express intent, Lallujilal is at pains to point out that it has been written in the Khari boli or the upright speech of Delhi and Agra, leaving aside the language of the ‘yavanas’ (yamini bhasha chor dilli agare ki khari boli mem), marking thereby the moment in which the deliberate process of extracting a purer Hindi idiom from the speech of Delhi and Agra, cleansed of its Perso-Arabic elements, begins.7

    The speech of the region is invoked again by Pandit Gauridutta (1836-1905) of Meerut in his Devrani Jethani ki Kahani (The Tale of the Elder and the Younger Sister-in-law, 1870), often taken to be the first novel in Hindi. A short work of only 48 pages, it is once again the speech of the merchant milieu of the area around Delhi and Agra that provides the social grid. As Pandit Gauridatta specifies in his preface, the work is written in a new way; it is written in the language of women, as spoken in the families of ‘banias’ or business folk of this region.8 Similarly, in Bhagyavati

    Economic & Political Weekly

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    (1877), the second novelistic work of any note in Hindi, the author Shr haram P ill ri -8 om t e Pa i


    dharam P
    , hims lf

    , hh

    om tom t
    e Pae Pa
    , s, s
    ab, s fies that he has chosen to write his work not in the somewhat rough (‘rukhi-si’) speech actually current in Banares, where the narrative is set, but in that Hindi language which is spoken by the Hindus around Delhi, Agra, Saharanpur and Ambala (extending it westwards), so that it will be widely understood and thus also be within the grasp of the men and women of Panjab (p 6). Once again, it is the extraction of the idiom from this shared social net, reflecting the urban ethos of the twin Mughal capitals, with which the author sees fit to fashion his text. But as he also emphasises, this idiom is now to be restricted to the speech of the Hindus; he is clearly seeking to shape and define it by delineating it thus.

    With that we come to Pariksha Guru (1882) and its author Lala Shrinivasdas of Mathura and Delhi, who has an easier task, for his narrative is set in Delhi. The preface to his Pariksha Guru begins by proclaiming that though by now a great many good books have been written in Nagari (he speaks of the script rather than the language) and Urdu, there has been none of the kind that is now being put before readers. It will be in the everyday speech of the people of Delhi:

    In this book a picture of an imaginary rai’s of Delhi has been drawn and in order to show it as it is (that is, in its actual form) instead of a language made up of difficult Sanskrit or Persian-Arabic words, care has been taken to use the everyday speech of the inhabitants of Delhi. However, it has become necessary to use stray words from Sanskrit, etc, where some branch of knowledge is being addressed. But for the ease of those who could have some difficulty in understanding these matters, such sections have been marked with the sign of a cross, so that they can be omitted and the narrative sequence still remain coherent (p 155).

    Whatever the location of the writer, whether Lallujilal in Calcutta, Pandit Gauridatta in Meerut, Phillauri in Panjab or Shrinivasdas in Delhi, it is the speech of Delhi and Agra and their immediate vicinity that is employed as the grid. This geographical designation is all the more notable, given that modern Hindi literature was to go through its first intense period of creativity not in Delhi and Agra, sites of Persian and Urdu literature in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in Banares and later in Allahabad, in the eastern part of the broad stretch of north India that is today seen as the Hindi belt. Banares and Allahabad writers were to use a more Sanskritic idiom, perhaps influenced by the example of Bengal,9 and facilitated by the fact that they were employing a language that was not spoken locally. We could then well ask, why this emphasis on Delhi and Agra in this early writing? There are surely several reasons: the political and social prestige that had so long been associated with these two cities, the standardisation of language for which they could now provide the measure, and given the dissemination their speech found in the rest of the subcontinent, the wide comprehensibility with which the authors could reckon.

    The intimate link of this Hindi literary idiom to Urdu was a matter of geography and culture. Even as the two deliberately parted ways, each continued to have bearings on the literature of the other, remaining closely entwined till well into the 20th century.10 We need only think of Hindi’s best-known author Premchand (1885-1936), who for the greater part of his life wrote his novels first in Urdu and only then in Hindi.

    2 Agra, Delhi and 19th Century Shifts

    The reputation of Agra has been so reduced to the image of the one monument that its rich political and cultural history has tended to recede in the public imagination. Here I briefly rehearse some well known facts about Agra, recalling the moments of glory rather than intervals of decay, in order to call to mind the prestige it continued to enjoy till well into the 20th century.11 After its foundation in 1506 by Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517), who shifted the capital there from Delhi, Agra, known for its spectacular architecture and layout, was to go on to become the twin or at least default capital of the Mughals. Babar had laid out the first of the great Mughul palace gardens on the left bank of the Yamuna, designed on the fourfold Persian pattern. Akbar built the massive Red Fort which spawned further building activity, a moment Abul Fazl was to mark thus in his Akbarnama:

    The city within a short time became an ornament of the seven climes ... The soil is congenial to the growth of the trees and fruit of Khorasan and Irak ... The river Jun ... flows in the midst of the city. On either side of it nobles and servants of the state have constructed edifices of such beauty and elegance that they surpass description.

    The new impulses generated by the intellectual ferment of the 17th century, the intense cultural activity at Akbar’s court, and the religious debates of the adjacent Braj region with its many devotional communities could only have added to the glitter of the city and the court. With its location at the intersection of the busiest trade routes of the time (between Bengal and Gujarat) and as host to powerful merchant families, bankers and traders with connections to the court, the city profited and grew to possess an array of central markets – cattle, horses, muslin, silks, grain, and spices – and a range of specialised local crafts. Shahjahan moved the capital to Delhi, but Agra remained a powerful cultural and financial base. Ardhakathanak would be unimaginable without this intellectual and mercantile context. Even when the British took over the city from the Marathas in 1803, and the Agra Fort came to be occupied by the military governor, the character and prestige of the city were not entirely lost. The British remodelled and decentred the city by building their Civil Lines west of the old city, several monuments were desecrated, but it became the capital of the North-Western Provinces in 1835, with its own Sadr Board of Revenue, Sadr Court and a government hospital. From the 1830s there was intense missionary activity, led by the American Presbyterian Mission and Church Missionary Society, with a number of local presses, which also served the colonial administration. The Agra School Book Society, founded in 1835, printed a vast number of school textbooks. The many Indian presses which sprang up in response added to the mass of print emerging from the city, making Agra the centre of educational printing, a position it was to hold till well into the 1850s.12

    The events of 1857 did not scar the city to the extent they did in Delhi and Lucknow. The British retained the fort throughout and though the reprisal was brutal, it could be called mild in comparison to what happened in Delhi. For our purposes, it is important

    46 to remember that Agra continued to radiate power and influence through a great part of the 19th century as the British capital of the region. It lost this designation only in 1858 when the regional capital was shifted to Allahabad.

    Delhi, of course, has a much longer history as the seat of political power. It has played a major political role from at least the time of the rajput kingdoms in the 10th and 11th centuries, then as the capital of the Sultanate and later of the Mughals. Even after 1857, when, as retaliatory measure for its central symbolic and strategic role in the uprising it was to be reduced to provinciality by being appended to the newly conquered Panjab, its cultural and historical significance could never be entirely suppressed, as the comments of a none-too-sympathetic observer in the Delhi Gazetteer of 1882-83 noted with some regret:

    The history of the Delhi district, previous to the British rule, is the history of the city of Delhi, which has from the time of its founding been the seat of the ruling dynasty, Rajput, Pathan, Mughal or Mahratta. To write it in full would be to recite the history of northern India... (p 22).

    The core of Delhi in the latter half of the 19th century was still constituted by the Mughal city of Shahjahanabad. Though it seemed poised on the verge of the modern, its social and cultural life continued to draw from the life modes of the late Mughal period, even if the nostalgia that came to be associated with it was itself of late 19th century origin.13 The most important component defining the physical and symbolic structure of the city was the wall that encircled it, defining it as a culturally contained unit. Even after the brutal suppression of the 1857 uprising, and the demolition of a good third of the old city, the wall remained intact all the way up to the formal ending of colonial rule; the only openings in it were made for the railway, when in 1863 the East India Railway was built to pass through Delhi.14

    Chandni Chowk, the main thoroughfare of the city, stretched from the Lahori Gate of the fort to the Fatehpuri mosque; it experienced a revival towards the end of the 19th century with the recovery of trade that set in once Delhi acquired a railway connection. The European “piece goods” for whose production the city was known proved to be great moneymakers. By 1872, Delhi could boast of possessing the largest share in the volume of Indian trade compared to other towns in Panjab.15 Chandni Chowk had begun to see prosperous days once again:

    Ghalib had mourned the “ending” of the life around the canal in the 1860s but, quite soon after, the canal and Chandni Chowk were again throbbing with life. Private trade, public business, public worship and politics were concentrated here. Its narrowing width (120 ft in 1890, 84 ft in 1919) testified to pressure of trade and business…The spacious ‘Company Bagh’ around the Town Hall was another outdoor club where the maulvis, hakims, bankers and teachers met, while the Hall itself was used as the municipal office and, till the end of the century, also housed the public library and the European club. Religious as well as secular activity was concentrated in Chandni Chowk – the massive Jain temple, built in the 1870s, the Sisganj Gurdwara, the Baptist Chapel, St Stephen’s School, the Fatehpuri masjid…Chandni chowk symbolised solid prosperity but also the cosmopolitan spirit. It was much loved by the inhabitants, because it symbolised continuity...16

    If one end of Chandni Chowk was dominated by the massive Red Fort, towards the other end the newly built Victoria Clock

    august 23, 2008

    Tower (1873) became “a symbol of the metropolitan presence, a constant reminder of a new orientation to time”.17 Though there had been major demographical shifts – Hindus outnumbered Muslims in the city after the destruction and decimation which followed 1857 – from all accounts they continued to exist in relative peace with each other, as indeed they had in the reigns of the last Mughal emperors.18 The many khatris and kayasths living in the area continued to live in the Indo-Persian lifestyle as it had evolved in the past centuries, though they were also adapting to the new ones which the British brought with them.

    The one great regret of the elite of the city was the relocation of the Delhi College to Lahore. Founded in the late 17th or early 18th century as the madrasa of Ghaziu’d-Din Khan, the British resurrected it as the Delhi College in 1825. The activities of the college have been seen as ushering in the short-lived but brilliant “Delhi Renaissance”. It was here that the first intense contact of the flourishing Urdu culture of the city with the best in European knowledge took place. English was taught from 1828 on, and, in the brief span of 15 years, as many as 130 works in a range of scholarly fields, including the sciences and mathematics, were translated from English into Urdu. The college had produced a remarkable number of outstanding students, Muslim and Hindu, but the events of 1857 had made for the removal of this intellectually vibrant institution from the city and its eventual merger with the Lahore Government College in 1877.19 Even so, there were some other efforts to enrich the cultural life of the city. In 1865 commissioner Hamilton inaugurated the Delhi Society for “the advancement of knowledge and general welfare”; it had 17 Englishmen and 76 Indians as members. As Gupta has recorded, “Many of the Hindu alumni of Delhi College, who happened to be mostly kayasths, were happy to be members of the Delhi Society, just as in former days, they had integrated into the cross-communal ‘musha’ara’ culture”.20

    Nazir Ahmad’s Mirat ul Urus (The Bride’s Mirror, 1869), the first novel of note in Urdu, emerged from this cultural milieu. An alumnus of Delhi College at the height of its intellectual activity in the 1840s,21 Nazir Ahmad set his award-winning novel about an ideal daughter-in-law who helps her family find its feet in the post-Mughul city in the vicinity of Chandni Chowk. Written in colourful, racy language, it brims with details about social life in the ‘mohallas’ of the city, from Chandni Chowk to Kabuli Gate, with its easy access to Sabzi Mandi, while also noting the poorer sections around Turkoman Gate. Most of all, it documents the transition from the old system of patronage by the Mughal nobility to the new by the British ‘sahibs’, who offered lucrative employment in the municipal offices that now ruled the city and in the ‘kachahari’ or law courts:

    Mukhtars, vakils, and pleaders of “lower” and “upper” grades were admitted to practise before specified jurisdictions, after passing relevant examinations. Often they were former government officials who now saw ways to use their knowledge of kacahri law and procedure to develop some private mine of goodwill and promising circumstance. Some legal practice, especially when it involved protracted litigation over zamindari holdings, could be extremely profitable. As permanent residents, legal practitioners had the benefit of connections and information denied to the frequently transferred government officials [Lelyveld: 62-63].

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    Moral authority rested now with law courts, and social prestige came in the form of honorary membership of municipal boards, the Indian members of which could only be nominated by the British. Nazir Ahmad set his novel in this world of transition, clearly providing the model for later novelistic ventures, more obviously for Gauridutt, but also though less directly, for Lala Shrinivasdas.

    Merchants and merchant credits also came to be increasingly subject to the power exercised by the new legal institutions whose rules required merchants to alter their own modes of operation. Merchants were traditionally secretive about their transactions and extremely reluctant to show their account books in law courts, for this meant the loss not only of their credit in the bazaar but also of family honour. To be asked to produce books in court could only be regarded as a matter of great shame:

    Merchant society worked on secret, inward lines of communication and trust, though government continued to provide employment and even honour. But some changes were perceptible. As in other spheres, the British tended to create a single customary law out of many different local customs. Practices like the ‘plunder’ by his peers of a bankrupt merchant were gradually replaced by recognised forms of arbitration of ‘respectable mahajans’ initiated through the law courts [Bayly: 372].22

    As Bayly notes in his now classic study of north Indian merchants, in the first years of colonial rule “(m)erchant arbitrations and caste councils continued to operate but their judgments were increasingly challenged in civil courts; ‘respectable merchants’ might then be asked to submit written evidence on custom, etc” (1983: 372). These changes did not mean that the twin models of traditional merchanthood, that of the frugal merchant or the great ‘sahu’ (banker), so skilfully delineated by Bayly, ceased to be operative.23 The model frugal merchant led an austere and modest life, avoiding excess show of any kind. He observed the religious festivities of the community to which he belonged and performed acts of charity, in order to spend his wealth in a good cause. Religion and religious acts, however, did not necessarily represent a public face alone. They often reflected an inner piety24 that could become so insistent a personal imperative that it tips the carefully maintained balance between the spiritual and the commercial. For it was this balance that inspired trust in the community and the reputation in the bazaar. This sense of balance clearly also applied to matters relating to women. In an age that did not call upon excessive domesticity or indeed marital fidelity for men, the question seemed to be once more of avoiding excess rather than of having no relationship outside the home. The great sahu thus lived on a precipice if he lavished his wealth on wine, women and song. He could lead a life that rivalled that of kings and the great nobility with whom he could also associate on a more familiar footing than his frugal brother. He could inspire both admiration and envy. However, moral peril and economic unreliability apparently went hand in hand and the balance could easily tip. Excessive and injudicious spending could lead to the destruction of mercantile credit.

    From the perspective of the merchants themselves, the basis of mercantile society was the family ‘firm’, its credit (sakh) and the totality of its relations with gods and men, creditors and debtors ... Without ‘credit’, a family could not trade or call on merchant arbitration at all (1983: 375).


    Subjective notions of respectability thus intruded into ‘hundi’ transactions. If a merchant had social and commercial ‘sakh’, his hundis, or promissory notes, would be honoured without further ado in the bazaar, where word of mouth carried great weight, and reputations could be made or unmade with great speed. News of this kind travelled fast, and modern means of communication such as the telegraph and the railway would only intensify the process. The newspaper would broadcast deeds, making for a public morality that superimposed itself onto that of the bazaar; and the law courts would then be in a position to prise open the closed circuits of the bazaar.

    Such was the life and moral grid of merchants. How would the ways of knowing and judging individuals change from the 17th century to the 19th century?

    3 17th Century Agra: Love, Learning and Upright Merchanthood

    Ardhakathanak (1641) is the story of a merchant based in Agra in the heyday of Mughal glory and power. A poignant and powerful tale, pragmatic and poetic in turns, it has attracted much scholarly attention since its publication in 1943.25 The author, Banarasidas, belonged to the shrimal clan of jewellers and bankers. The clan had flourishing communities in all major towns, supported by a wide kinship network all over north India. Banarasidas was born and brought up in Jaunpur, but was based in Agra for long stretches and settled there towards the end of his life. He was a pleasure-loving youth, much addicted to the pursuit of women, but he was also dedicated to learning and had strong spiritual leanings. In the latter realm, he was gullible and seemed to be especially drawn to holy men of various hues, Shaivas and Vaishnavas alike, irrespective of the credibility of their claims. He would come to abandon these holy men and in his years in Agra become a part of, and later, play a leading role in, a rising protestant movement within Jainism: the Adhyatmi, “contemplative” branch of the Terapanth sect, which comprised both Shvetambars and Digambars at the time.26 Nevertheless, recounting his spiritual growth and the lessons to be drawn from it never seem to become the sole purpose of the narrative, though it does provide one frame. Banarasidas tells the tale because it so pleases him, Man Mem Ai, and he relates it for the benefit of his circle of friends; he exhorts them to ‘Sunahu Kan Dhari Mere Mitra’ (p 7), listen to it attentively my friends. The tale is not only a spiritual biography; it unfolds as a reflection on Banarasi’s own character, on his life experiences, and on the passing of time. Depicting the “ripening of the hero’s subjectivity, released in action”, it marks an early modern sense of biography as entwined with history.27 And it is this self-reflexive mode that makes its juxtaposition with the novel in its early 19th century form of particular interest.

    3.1 Language and Genre

    Banarasi was acutely conscious of the many languages and literary cultures of the time, and his work seems to emerge from an amalgam of these. His grandfather, Muldas, had been in the service of a Mughal official of high rank in Malwa in the capacity of a ‘modi’, or financier, and had studied Hindugi and Farsi. He informs us towards the end of the work that he himself has a

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    knowledge of Sanskrit and Prakrit, and ‘vividh desh bhasha’, diverse regional languages. He has made special study of Sanskrit grammar and of Jain scriptural texts. He does not mention Persian, but given his close contact with the officials of the Mughal empire, it is likely that he had a smattering of it, and like his grandfather before him, he is equally likely to have known Hindugi, predecessor of modern Urdu and Hindi, and presumably the spoken idiom of a certain section of society in and around Agra. He also would have certainly known Avadhi, the language of Sufi poetry emanating from his native Jaunpur. When times were tough, he earned a meagre livelihood in Agra by reciting the Avadhi Sufi ‘masnavis’, extensive didactic-romantic narrative poems popular in Jaunpur at the time. He mentions the Mrigavati (1503) written by Qutuban at the court of Sultan Husain Shah Sharqi of Jaunpur and Madhumalati (1545) also by a Jaunpur poet, Mir Sayyid Manjhan Rajgiri.28 Banarasidas calls the language that he uses ‘madhyadesha ki boli’, or the language of the middle region or country,29 and writes in an idiom that was surely close to that spoken in Agra in his time: Brajbhasha admixed with Khariboli as we know it today. An early instance then, of the very ‘Agre ki bol’, which would later be invoked by modern writers of Hindi prose. It is noteworthy that Banarasi makes no mention of the many Vaishnava communities in the region and the specific literary tropes they engendered. He seems oblivious of the literary idiom as it was evolving in the adjoining Braj region, which would come to be known as Brajbhasha later in the 17th century.

    Banarasidas seems to be following the format of the Sufi masnavis, ‘chaupais’ capped by a ‘doha’, for his own biography. The masnavi is clearly a trans-lingual genre, not confined to a single linguistic tradition. The Jaunpur masnavis are in the language of that region, today known as Avadhi. Yet, Banarasi chooses to write his tale not in Avadhi but in the language current in and around Agra. He writes without poetic flourish and he displays no self-consciousness about his frequent use of Perso-Arabic words. The two genres he explicitly invokes to denote his work are elastic terms, used as self-denotations by a wide range of works.30 He speaks of ‘bat’ (or ‘varta’ in its purer Sanskrit form), used for verse or prose narratives composed for a variety of purposes, as pure entertainment, for chronicling historical events and for hagiography, the most famous example of which are the Vaishnava hagiographies of the Vallabha community stemming from the Braj area. The second expression he uses is ‘charita’ or ‘charitra’. Charitra in Sanskrit is used for character, while charita tells of the deeds and exploits of a figure; it means action or movement in life, which can be either an imagined (Dashakumaracharita) or an actual historical event (Harshacharita). Charita is one mode amongst many of ‘kavya’ (poetry) in the sense of literature, and it can be both in prose or verse. It is then not a genre as such, but a mode that articulates itself in different literary formats, though, in specific historical, cultural contexts it can become generically stable. In Hindi usage charitra and charita have been collapsed to mean the same thing: a life story.31 Tulsidas’ famous Ramcharitmanas32 and Banarasicharita or charitra are then both life stories, albeit of very different casts; the one has a clear theological frame, the other is biographical-spiritual-historical. Banarasidas departs from known models in that he addresses his listeners and readers initially in the first person, to then shift to the third person to refer to himself, making his story an extraordinary blend of intimacy and objectivity.33 Both the language and the literary format of the work are part of a vast canvas, spanning Persian, Avadhi, and the spoken idiom of Agra (vividh desh bhasha), and drawing from the cultural repertoire of Sufis, Shaivas and Jains.

    3.2 Merchant Ethos and Excess

    In considering Ardhakathanak briefly here, I focus on what it conveys of the norms, normative instances and transgressions of merchant life and the resolutions that Banarasidas eventually finds for his own idiosyncratic needs and excesses. Ardhakathanak reflects faithfully the merchant ethos discussed above: valorisation of the frugal and censure for the extravagant. As becomes quickly clear at the beginning of the story, a merchant is both protected and ruled by the elders of the clan and its ‘panchayat’, or council of elders, who keep a close watch on his moral and financial credit and creditability. Kharagsen, Banarasi’s father, had risen from penury to wealth with the help of his kin. He managed the wealth of his former patron and partner when he died, and he saw to the marriage of the patron’s daughter.

    Kharagsen found a suitable groom for her and had her married with great pomp and ceremony. He presented her with a large dowry in gold and precious things and called a council of five elders to decide how much of the joint wealth he had shared with her father rightfully belonged to her. He gave her all that was judged to be her father’s share, keeping nothing that was legitimately hers for himself (pp 10-11).34

    The panchayat of elders is then closely involved in decisions involving wealth, shared property and its distribution.

    Banarasidas’ indulgences manifest themselves early on. He is brought up in comfort and sent at the appropriate age to school to learn reading, writing and accounts. But he becomes unduly absorbed in the pursuit of knowledge (‘vidya mem rame’) and continues to study till well into his 14th year, far beyond the needs of a merchant. He then acquires another absorbing passion that keeps him from any thought of earning money: He falls in love with a courtesan in the wild and ecstatic manner of a dervish (‘asikhbaj’). Forgetting all thought of family propriety and honour (‘taji kul kan lok ki laj’), he devotes himself wholly to the worship of his beloved, even stealing money and jewels from his father in order to buy her choice presents. But a spiritual restlessness also drives him. He seeks out holy men, displaying excessive gullibility and falling time and again into the trap set for him by charlatans and rogues.

    Banarasidas does go to Khairabad to bring his wife home after their marriage, suffering through a severe illness in the process, but he is soon back to his old pursuits (‘pahali chal’). In Jaunpur, the elders (‘gurujan’) of the clan (‘kul kutumb’) accost him gravely:

    Pay attention, son, to what the old and experienced have to say. Give up your ways of love, since love is for the darvesh, not for you. Give up your foolish pursuit of learning, since learning is only for brahmans and bards (bambhan aru bhat). A merchant’s son (banikputra) should tend shop. Do not forget that a man who is too studious has to beg for food (p 33).


    The authority that stems from the elders of the clan is cited and forms a moral backdrop to the story, though it has no immediate impact on Banarasi. It is something that he nonetheless internalises, making both for his own self censure in retrospect, and for reform when a political crisis throws his life into disarray later.

    3.3 The Erotic and the Domestic

    In the meantime, however, Banarasi remains unimpressed by the advice of the elders and continues in his dissolute ways, with gay disregard for the way of frugal and upright merchanthood. Love, learning and spirituality continue to rule his days. Even as he studies Jain works with the newly arrived monks in town to satisfy his spiritual cravings, he writes an erotic verse for his beloved. We get little sense of his love object; not surprisingly, she remains of a type. Later in life, when he begins to settle down, we do, however, get a rare glimpse of domesticity.

    For a variety of reasons, Banarasi’s business ventures have remained unsuccessful. Having exhausted his means in a particular venture, Banarasi chooses not to go back home to his father empty-handed, but go instead to his second wife, the sister of his first wife. It is clear that she sees him rarely. But on this occasion they talk through the night and he tells her of the fate that has befallen him in Agra. She spontaneously offers him the 20 rupees she has saved. “Do not despair, my husband”, she says, “for if a man lives he can yet achieve everything” (p 53). She later corners her mother and tells her that her husband needs help but that his sorry state is to be kept a secret from everyone. She says quite explicitly that she fears to lose him: “O mother”, she beseeched her, “as I am your daughter, help me in my need. My very honour is at stake. If you cannot do something within a few days, my husband is sure to leave us and go away. Though he does not utter a word, he is tormented with shame and humiliation” (p 53).

    In a rush of emotion, Banarasi proposes that they both go to Jaunpur. “But she dissuaded me, Jaunpur is in a state of turmoil, afflicted with a hundred troubles. Why not go to Agra once again? That is the right place for you” (p 54).

    Banarasi’s wives (he has three in succession) share his troubled life in one way or the other, but they never enter the forefront of the story. The wifely type presented in the one domestic scene in the work, mistreated yet faithful, is a kind of constant, the other half, so to speak, of the classic pairing: courtesan as object of love and faithful wife as a resource to be drawn upon in the hour of need. We will meet her again in the 19th century, though tinged with a Victorian hue. There will be a very similar scene in Pariksha Guru when the wife will come to the rescue of her financially strapped husband by offering to clear his debts with her bag of jewels.

    3.4 The Way of the Righteous

    Banarasi is acutely aware of the state of his own mind and the desires and impulses that drive him. He is as conscious of the passing of time as he is of the ups and downs of public life, whether in Jaunpur or in Agra. In fact, the crucial moments in his life are often tied to political events, and he refers explicitly to them, thus marking time not only astronomically, but also by

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    critical junctures in polity. One such event turns out to be a turning point in his own life, setting off a series of chain reactions in him, and finally bringing about the change that his ‘gurujan’ had so long sought. Till now he had spent the greater part of his life careening from one obsession to the next: erotic love, book learning or holy men. In 1605, Akbar dies and people are filled with terror at the thought of the impending chaos that this event will bring:

    I was sitting up a flight of stairs in my house, when I heard the dreadful news, which came as a sudden and sharp blow. It made me shake with violent, uncontrollable agitation. I reeled, and losing my balance, fell down the stairs in a faint (p 38).

    When Shiva does not come to his rescue, he realises that the holy man to whom he had been devoted was as fake as the one before him had been. One day, as he is crossing a bridge over the Gomati with some friends, he flings his erotic poems into the river. He comes to the realisation that he has been leading an untruthful life, and he makes a radical break with his past ways:

    From this day on Banarasi began to truly desire righteousness (karai dharam ki chah), he gave up his licentious ways (taji asikhi phasikhi) and became an upright family man (pakari kul ki rah) (p 41).

    Of note is the coupling of righteousness (‘dharm ki chah’) with repute in the world of merchants (‘ab jas bhayo vikhyat’) and financial trustworthiness. Banarasi is now considered ready to shoulder the burden of supporting the family and become a breadwinner – ‘ab grahbhar kandh tum lehu, ab kutumb kaum roti dehu’ (p 43). His father entrusts him with merchandise and sends him off to trade in Agra.

    Towards the end of the narrative, Banarasi finds a new friend who initiates him into Adhyatma, “a new religious movement devoted to the mystic doctrine of the Spirit” (p 86). Though he is immensely drawn to this movement, Banarasi goes through a period of disorientation. The Adhyatma movement dispenses with all ritual, but Banarasi takes this to mean freedom from all social convention. He is unable to unravel its true nature. This gives him and his companions licence to indulge in behaviour others find outrageous, such as dancing naked and hitting each other on the head with shoes. His reputation in the community once again becomes tarnished.

    Banarasi continues to mark the correspondences between historical, astronomical, and biographical time. Shah Jahan ascends the throne in 1627, and Banarasi’s first son from his third wife dies soon after birth. His own children born thereafter are fated to die in infancy. Domestic unhappiness compounds his alienation from those around him. His release from this condition comes in 1635 when a wise Jain teacher, Rupchand Pande, comes to Agra to stay at the house of Tihuna Sahu (p 90). It is he who finally explains the doctrine that has so long eluded Banarasi. “All my doubts and questionings were put to rest and I became a new man. I had, at last, gained true and profound insight into the Jain doctrine of relativism” (p 91). With the resolution to his longstanding spiritual quest, we are coming to the conclusion of Banarasi’s tale.

    However, it is not to share his newly found wisdom alone that Banarasi seems to have penned his tale. Two years after the death

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    of his third and last son, he tells us that he is still beset with sorrow. He takes melancholy stock of his life:

    A full nine children lived and died:/bereft the parents twain,/as trees

    at leaf fall, stumps remain.35

    It is this melancholy that marks the last sections of the story.

    The concluding verses contain the sum of his observations, of himself and of people at large. He tells us that there are three kinds of people. The best are those who praise others and speak only of their own faults. The worst are those who praise themselves and find fault in others. In the middle are those who do a bit a both, and this is where he belongs. He details his good and bad features in five ‘chaupais’ (quatrains). Never entirely the sober merchant, he describes his own personality as perpetually fun loving, citing his love of dancing and fooling around, even as he proclaims his firm grounding in the Jain faith. Banarasi ends his story then with psychological and moral reflections on his own personality, condensing the kind of philosophical observations that has been scattered throughout the work.

    A man’s life is supposed to reach its full span at a 100 and 10. Having reached the halfway point, with the future being something of which god alone (‘bhagvant’) has knowledge, Banarasi tells us that he can look back at his life in a way from which others can also benefit. The last ‘doha’ (couplet) proclaims:

    The story of the last 55 years of my life covers half of Banarasi’s deeds in life (charit). Wicked men will laugh at this tale, but friends will surely give it glad ear and attentive year and recite it to each other. This work contains 675 dohas and chaupais. All those who hear, recite and read it will benefit from it (pp 96-97).36

    It is this frame, of the knowledge and wisdom derived from a whole life span, which makes his deeds or charita, worth telling. It is a remarkable if not a model life, one that may well claim the designation ‘chartita’ in its title. It contains the spiritual dimensions of the Sufi masnavis, even if the plotting follows its own course. And it can certainly fit into the large body of work that called itself bat or varta, since it is a story well told, though it expands in new directions, becoming the life story of an individual who does not fit into the contours of merchant life. Even as he registers the moral authority emanating from the elders of his clan and community (‘kul kutumb’), and the spiritual guidance provided by the Jain laity as well as by monks,37 Banarasi at no point suggests that his life is anything other than self-propelled.38 His self-reflexivity about having to function within the ethos of the merchant community as well as within a wider political frame, and his sense of historical time make his life story an early modern work of exceptional clarity and insight.

    4 19th Century Delhi: ‘True’ Merchanthood and the Welfare of the Nation

    The traits of the merchant community depicted by Shrinivasdas (1851-1888) in Pariksha Guru39 bore much resemblance to the one depicted by Banarsidas 200 years before. The cohesion and exclusiveness of merchant communities continued to be supported by caste panchayats who took care to resolve disputes. Reputations and credits in the bazaar were still linked to lifestyles deemed frugal or excessive, and the connection to temples and charitable works still determined one’s status and standing in the community. In fact, with modern modes of communication, news of fluctuating reputations travelled faster and further along longdistance networks that were now better maintained than ever.40 Yet, merchant ways were changing as well. The civic life of the city and the new frame provided by the municipality and the law courts, not to mention the lifestyle of the new power-holders, all made for a shifting world. These shifts seem to have inspired the first extensive narrative venture in the Hindi that was emerging from “dilli agare ki boli”. Shrinivasdas wrote about many of the themes in merchant life that had preoccupied Banarasidas: excess and the means for coming to terms with it. But Shrinivasdas also wrote from a noticeably 19th century perspective. He did not try to privilege traditional ways in the face of change. Instead, he anticipated those changes and the new institutions and ways of learning being imported from the west. The “new climate of social and moral experience” asked for a new kind of morality tale for the merchants of the city.41

    Shrinivasdas belonged to an affluent and influential merchant family of Delhi and Mathura.42 Though he himself was linked through his family to an important new temple in nearby Mathura, in his novelistic work there is no mention of any religious or spiritual institution, or indeed, of spirituality as providing any frame of reference for merchant life. Neither does he invest moral authority in caste panchayats, which are conspicuous by their absence in the novel. The sense of community is reduced to bazaar talk, a mode of information-sharing which continues to make or break reputation, sakh (credit) is still relevant. But there are now also new institutions of moral and political authority; newspapers control local reputation, and matters of debt are resolved in law courts presided over by British judges.

    The span of Shrinivasdas’ novel is not a lifetime, as in Banarasidas’ tale, but five event-filled days in the life of the wealthy young merchant, Madanmohan.43 He lives in the extravagant style of the “great sahu” (banker) near Chandni Chowk, the residential and business centre of Shahjahanabad. Madanmohan wavers uncertainly between the ways of the older Mughal ra’is of the city and shallow imitation of fashions from the west.

    Set up as a model against this extravagance are the new middle class values as represented by Brajkishor, the ‘vakil’ (lawyer). He is the new professional man who continues to revere the good in the older lifestyle, but with some modifications. He is critical of western influence even as he allows select aspects of it to permeate his own life. What becomes apparent is that from this point on there are two competing value systems with which the merchant community must come to terms.

    4.1 Language and Genre

    There are also two literary traditions that are major reference points for the new writers that work in this period: the older Indian and the newer western. The need to operate within both is reflected in the very terminology Shrinivasdas uses in presenting the book to his readers. As in Banarasidas’ tale, the work moves between different genres, in its self-description as also in the narrative techniques that it adopts. In the Hindi title, Shrinivasdas denotes the work as a worldly tale; the subtitle of

    52 the work in its first edition is ‘anubhav dvara upadesh milne ki samsari varta’ (the worldly tale of acquiring instruction by means of experience). Setting forth the wide-ranging generic tradition of the bat or varta, it is the worldly-secular vein that is now clearly foregrounded.44 The modern novel is entering secular space, where personal and social issues are to be resolved without reference to religion or spirituality – spheres now seen as inhabiting an altogether separate realm. In the English dedication, it is the novelty of the venture that Shrinivasdas emphasises, describing it as “my humble attempt at novel writing”. This dedication is addressed to Lala Shri Ram, one of the first students from Delhi to have secured an MA and one of the most energetic members of the Delhi municipal council.45 Shrinivasdas eulogises him for his deep interest in “everything connected with the weal of the people of India by showing them by your own example the best means of civilising the country”. He clearly does not see the need to explain the novel as a form to his English readers, but in the longer Hindi dedication he takes upon himself the task of explaining it to his readers. The work is written in an entirely new style. The narrative will no longer be ‘silsilevar’, or sequentially ordered, and there will be no formal introductions of the characters at the start of the text. Instead, it will contain a portrait (chitra)46 of an imaginary gentleman (‘kalpit rais’) of Delhi. In order to make the portrayal more natural (‘svabhavik’), special attention will be paid to everyday speech (‘sadharan bolchal’). The author will not make explicit who is speaking, only when the need arises. With the introduction of paragraphs and syntactical marks (inverted commas, commas, colons, semi-colons, interrogations, exclamation marks, parenthesis and full stops) the reader will learn how to read the work in the new way. The business of novel writing in modern Hindi was framed as a response to the changing perceptions of self and society rather than as a mere imitation of a prestigious literary form from Europe. The new literary form was thus voicing and fulfilling what were perceived to be the new demands of the times.

    Nonetheless, in considering the formal aspirations of Pariksha Guru, we should keep in mind that the new reader was also the old reader. Shrinivasdas drew upon the literary cultures of the Indo-Persianate world familiar to his readers and the newly opened Anglo-European one. He invoked as his model works as various as the Mahabharata, Stribodh (Instruction for Women, one of the many manuals for women in circulation at this time), Gulistan, the works of Oliver Goldsmith, the essays of Lord Bacon, and the Spectator, the moralising 18th century weekly in English. Another important model was Hitopadesha, the collection of ‘nitikatha’ or didactic tales that were not explicitly invoked but frequently cited as moral authority.47 The niti-katha compiled in the Hitopadesha or Panchatantra, with their pragmatic, thisworldly morality, gelled well with the kind of moral observation, social realism and idealised character portrayal – the perfect friend, the ideal wife – presented in the essays of the English moralising weekly and the writings of Goldsmith, particularly his Vicar of Wakefield (1766).

    In spite of the fact that the 41 chapters of Pariksha Guru are offered within a single narrative frame, they read like weekly instalments. The chapters are kept short – an average of seven

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    printed pages – as befits a weekly column. Every once in a while the narrator begs to be excused on account of a certain topic not being set forth for lack of space. They have headings reminiscent of the aphoristic verses of the niti tales, but also of the moral essays, such as ‘Sangati ka Phal’ (the fruits of company), ‘Mitra Milap’ (the meeting of friends), ‘Savadhani’ (caution), ‘Sajjanata’ (goodliness), ‘Mitra Pariksha’ (the trial of friends), ‘Sachchi Priti’ (true affection) and so on.48 Apart from these moral reflections, there are scenes that read more like a drama, a trait inherited from traditional narrative genres meant for oral delivery such as the ‘dastan’ or varta. The language is bright and colloquial. Even when the moralising verges on the excessive, a myriad tales are interspersed to illustrate a point, and profuse citations from motley sources are marshalled to support it. It is here that the chapters tend to assume the character of a moral essay, and when this happens the language becomes more Sanskritised, that is to say, it moves beyond colloquial speech to a more self-consciously elevated language.

    Through the traditions invoked, the idealism of Goldsmith and the moral essay for one, and the stark pragmatism of niti tales for another, the primacy of worldly success and happiness is postulated as paramount. The niti tales took a dark view of human nature and tended to see human action as largely motivated by want, greed, lust and pride. All goals, good or bad, could be reached; success depended on ‘upaya’ (ruse). Whatever the final outcome, the kernel of the tales always concerned itself with relationships, that is, reflections on the reliability and constancy of friends and dependents. Nothing was to be taken at face value, the ‘svabhava’ (nature) of each person was to be tested. One of the key concepts of ‘Hitopadesha Pariksha’, (trial)49 forms not only a part of the title of the novel, it is repeatedly invoked in the work itself. Only ‘pariksha’ can test the true nature of an object, only pariksha can lay bare the true svabhava of a person, and finally, only severe pariksha can teach a much needed lesson and make a person see the error of his ways.

    The primary difference between the novel and the much shorter, episodic niti tales lies however, not only in the idealistic resolutions found at the end of the novel, but also in the sustained narrative that operates within a social world with clear geographical and historical bounds and within a clearly defined socio-political framework. And the protagonists are seen as at least partly created by their education and their environment, as being propelled by inner and outer forces, making them seekers not only of their own destiny but that of the larger collective, the nation. As Brajkishor says, the situations (‘hal’) in which a man lives from birth till the present leave behind an unconscious effect on him (p 272). This corresponds well with the pragmatic call to take note of the mental composition of men and their needs.

    How does one recognise good and evil? There are no hard and fast rules to determine these questions. Described in the chapter aptly entitled ‘bhale bure ki pahchan’ (detection of good and evil), the teaching is put in the authoritative mouth of Brajkishor. The ‘vritti’ (dispositions) teaching that he exposed at some length here, takes both social concerns and the psychology of the individual into consideration. In a given situation, all kinds of

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    factors can be at play, and so the question is really one asking what is allowed to take precedence. Righteous dispositions (‘dharma pravritti’), often have to be weighed against the more lowly materialist inclinations (‘nikrshta pravritti’). Righteous considerations have equally to be tempered with more material ones. Only then can justice be done to god’s creation (‘ishvar ki rachana’), which would otherwise become meaningless (‘nirarthak’), because no work of god, righteous or material, can be without meaning. The dialogue which explicates this begins with Brajkishor’s statement, “Without trial, not one person can be pronounced to be a true friend” (‘pariksha hue bina kisi ko sachcha mitra bhi nahim kah sakta’, p 186). The mental dispositions of men are to be critically assessed. And as almost a corollary to this, there are sporadic glimpses of an interiority that is as self-reflective as it is self-critical.

    4.2 Urban Modernity and New Merchant Ethos

    Banarasidas had been acutely conscious of time and place throughout his work, noting all dates of arrival and departure from towns, of occurrences in the family and their coincidence with the crowning or death of monarchs. But he provided a set description of the city of Jaunpur and gave little sense of the topography of the urban landscapes through which he moved, whether Agra, Delhi, Banares, or indeed, Khairabad. The niti tales were, of course, entirely free-floating as regards time and place. But Shrinivasdas’ narrative occurs in an actual, physical environment.50 And it is with this environment, in its peculiar mixture of old and new, that we are presented as we learn the details of Madanmohan’s lifestyle.

    Madanmohan lived in grand style, with extensive arrangements in place for pleasure and entertainment. He maintained an elaborately laid out garden, Dilpasand Bagh, on the outskirts of the city, and Shrinivasdas lavishes some care in its description:

    This garden was located a little further than Sabzimandi on the banks of the canal. On both sides of the path, there were rows of flowers. There were flowers of all colours in their beds, carpets of green grass at places, the dense shade of trees or artificial waterfalls at yet other places, creepers of all kinds winding around trees or trellises, birds of all varieties calling out from the aviary, and on yet another side, fish and water creatures of all hues in a marble pond, and at the centre of the garden an airy room with a marble verandah around it and around that, water fountains. When these fountains played, peacocks mistook the jaith, vaisakh, the summer months for savanbhadom, the months of monsoon. There was a silk carpet spread in the middle room and a golden couch upholstered in the best satin, chairs placed at convenient spots, and above the side tables, hung eight great mirrors. Chandeliers of great value swung down from the ceilings, bouquets of flowers arranged on round, oval and square tables, and choice toys and objects of ivory, sandal, ebony, porcelain, and mother-of-pearl, and in decorative silver bowls cardamom and betel nut. A clock which told the time, date and month, a harmonium, a billiard table, a photo-album, binoculars, a sitar, a chess board and other things to while away the time were kept at appropriate places, the walls had floral mosaics to which the luster of mica added a silvery glitter. Material worth thousands of rupees was bought each month for this house (pp 177-78).

    The very interior of his establishment reflects the change in lifestyle. Though modelled on the garden houses of the Mughuls,51 Madanmohan has collected a variety of new fangled articles of furniture: chairs and tables, and new “toys” such as clocks, binoculars, and western musical instruments. English furnishings also feature prominently in his house in the city where he keeps a variety of new carriages for his conveyance and a stall full of the highest bred horses.52

    But what has his English learning brought him? False imitation (‘jhuthi naqali’) of the English. He subscribed to a number of journals, but he read them only for the advertisements of new goods from the west. He was a public figure of sorts since he was mentioned in the newspapers; he had some ambition to become an honorary member of the municipal committee, as he made some effort to keep up with the times, and he even indulged in some showy acts of patriotism. Gullible, innocent, constantly swayed to and fro, foolhardy but not evil in intent, he was surrounded by a host of hangers-on and sycophants, all of whom schemed and plotted for his favour in the best style of the niti tales.

    Madanmohan leads a dissolute life, filled with wine, women and song. He moves through the wide avenues of Chandni Chowk in his carriage. He halts at the Company Bagh, where the air is so pleasant, the flowers and the greens so attractive, and the breeze blowing in from the canal so refreshing, that he is tempted by his good friend Brajkishor to stay for a while. But his wily manager, Chunnilal, lures him away from the good company of Brajkishor. Chunnilal wears a watch whose precision, he says, is guaranteed by the cannon shots issuing at regular intervals from the fort.

    This newly mechanised sense of time makes life more amenable to control. Chunnilal can put his watch forward, hurry Madanmohan along and thus allow him no time to engage in conversation with Brajkishor. The new times and sense of time bring with them their own pitfalls and disorientation for the grand sahu of the new age.

    It is noteworthy, however, that the old ways (‘purani chal’), best represented by Madanmohan’s father, are not simply glorified. A merchant of the old school – simple, thrifty, quick on the uptake – he was a self-made man. He lived frugally, without pomp and show; he had only a few retainers, but they were all trustworthy. Most importantly, his credit was as good as gold in the merchant community (‘sahukare mem uski bari sakh thi’). Madanmohan, however, was educated by a father who was alternately indulgent and stern; he grew up to be indolent, and after his father’s death, a law only unto himself. The alternative to ‘purani chal’ (old ways) could then not be the ‘nayi chal’ (new ways), but only in ‘sachchi sahukari’ (true or sound merchanthood). In this new context, the ‘svabhava’ (nature) of men has to be probed, to undergo pariksha (trial). Thus it is not only Madanmohan but whole new ways of life, the old as well as the hastily adopted new, that have to coalesce in the contemporary moment. The conflict can be said to have been between the falsely new and the genuinely new.

    Brajkishor, the young lawyer and one of the frequent visitors to Madanmohan’s house, represents this newness. He is trying to





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    revive the Delhi College with the help of some friends. But most importantly, Brajkishor has access to the new method of dispensing and maintaining moral order: the ‘kachahari’ (law court). And he knows how to make use of the new institutions. As a successful mediator between the old and the new, he represents the new ideal of the professional man who viewed progress not only as a matter of personal, but a national responsibility. As he points out, all the conditions and materials required for the progress of the country were available in Hindustan, but ‘hath hilaye bina apane ap gras mukh mem nahim jata’ (the morsel of food does not reach the mouth unless the hand is made to move) (p 199). That is to say:

    Those who study, do so in order to get (government) service; they abandon the professional occupations of their forefathers. The aims of those who talk about the progress of the country are quite fake; they just make a lot of noise about nothing. They don’t pay the attention they ought to the progress of learning, the propagation of machines, new ways to increase the produce of the land and profit in commerce so that the losses in the country can be made good (p 201).

    In the catastrophic denouement of the novel, when Madanmohan’s sins catch up with him, and he is considered to be insolvent by his many creditors, the question that Brajkishor poses is not a psychological one, but a larger social and political one:

    If Indians today have become addicted to the emulation of the English, instead of indulging in the imitation of meaningless things like eating habits and so on, why don’t they emulate their genuinely good qualities? Why don’t they adopt their views concerning the welfare of the country, craftsmanship and commerce? (p 330).

    The fate of the individual has come to be tied up with larger issues. It is this widened perspective, this awareness of the individual placed in the larger context – social, historical, political

    – and temporally of past, present, and a collective future to be collectively shaped, that makes for the necessity of the single narrative framework provided by the novel and for the new spaces that this new literary form opens up.

    4.3 Instances of Moral Authority: Bazaar, Akhbar and Adalat

    We enter the tale directly, without any preamble. The novel opens at an English merchant’s shop, one that offers fancy fripperies at exorbitant prices. The two English shopkeepers are depicted as self-seeking and exploitative, aware of the advantages they enjoy in the British raj. At first we see the main characters in the novel in dramatic sequences; and only later, in chapters showcasing their arguments and counter-arguments on moral and social issues, do we become privy to their inner thoughts. Brajkishor presents “the enlightened view”; he propagates a cautious modernity, where the new ways are duly modified and practised in moderation. Madanmohan and his friends champion new fashions and crave instant satisfaction. It is their ‘kathametat’ (“how is this”), in the style of the Hitopadhesha, which prompts Brajkishor to go on and on at times. It is only once we have come to know these friends that we are offered lively character sketches which integrate with elegant irony the speech and perspective of the character himself. In chapter nine, ‘Sabhasad’ (courtiers), we

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    are offered a view of this gallery of rogues, colourful and unscrupulous in the best style of the niti tales, though here, in the novel, they are described in more psychological and idiosyncratic detail.53 It is their vivacious commentary and conversation that makes for the vibrant realism of the novel. They are the scum that is formed by mixing the new with the old. They are clerks, middle men, the newly forming lower middle class, half-educated and needy, with a smattering of knowledge about the new ways, and with slim chances of rising in their own profession. An almost inadvertent gaiety characterises their operations and counter-operations, with Madanmohan fluttering between them, torn to and fro between his own caprices and the interests of his courtiers.

    But things can hardly remain suspended in this state of eternal pleasure seeking. Amongst all of these hangers-on, there is also one Harkishor. It is the clash of his character with the rest that brings about the catastrophic denouement. Harkishor’s offer to procure goods is twice rejected by Madanmohan. Deeply offended, Harkishor asks for the money owed to him for past services. The money does not materialise and Madanmohan’s hangers-on manage to throw Harkishor out of the house. Harkishor promptly declares that the penurious state this brings about makes for the loss of his sakh in the bazaar (p 233). He duly sets out to take revenge, spreading a rumour about Madanmohan’s impending insolvency in order to destroy Madanmohan’s sakh. The narrator devotes a lively chapter or two to Harkishor’s rumour mongering. Various friends under various pretexts refuse to give Madanmohan the loan he now needs to satisfy the demands of his now nervous creditors. The narrator dwells on the behaviour of these friends at some length. Some show regard for him initially, others simply avoid him. His sakh in the bazaar is ruined, and with modern modes of communication this news has travelled fast.54

    Meanwhile, Brajkishor devises a plan to send Madanmohan’s faithful wife back to her natal home in Meerut. Left alone, Madanmohan’s fortunes rapidly decline, and his household collapses in disarray and confusion. His servants steal shamelessly. In the face of domestic unrest, Brajkishor threatens that he will charge all the servants under the Indian Criminal Code Article 408: “You are tigers in your own lanes. You can do what you like here, but your roar will impress no one in the court” (p 235). Here we may see how the court is being invoked to deal with domestic crises. The influence of the court will soon permeate other spheres of Madanmohan’s life.

    In the next scene, Madanmohan sits glumly in his reception chamber (‘divankhana’) when he happens to glance at a newspaper. An article catches his eye: ‘The Outcome of a Cultivated Life’:

    Observing the initial ascent of a young, well educated rais in our city, we not only nurtured the hope but even gave it expression, that in some time we would surely see him act in a way that would have immediate effects on the welfare of the country. This hope, we are sorry to say, has now been crushed in its entirety. In fact, all signs to the contrary are manifesting themselves. In a matter of days, three of four lakhs have been cleanly wiped out. There was a young man named Durmody(?) in the west, who had such a sharp mind that at the age of nine that he could be found teaching his fellow pupils Greek and Latin. But his ways thereafter did not bode well and the end result was very different from what the beginning had led one to expect. Indian reformers just appear to be reformers; they make no real effort to improve their nature and their thought. Even if in youth they display such tendencies, no trace of it remains once they leave the madrasa. The poor become anxious about food and clothing and the rich have no leisure from the relentless pursuit of their own pleasure and enjoyment. Who has the time to think about the progress of the country? Who is to foster discussions about Art and Learning? When we see the impoverished state of the country and the affairs of a wealthy man gone awry, we are filled with much regret. But for the sake of the country, we can only wish that those who make a show of working for the welfare of the country, who create darkness under the light of the lamp, be forthwith exposed. So that the eyes of the people are opened and they don’t take the jackal in lion’s clothing for the lion himself (pp 383-84).

    His sakh and his conduct are now being broadcast, and hence judged, in a forum that goes beyond the bazaar. The nationalist press administers this new morality, calling for a new sense of collective responsibility, not only for the community, but for the nation at large.

    In his hour of need, Madanmohan’s only real friend, it turns out, is Brajkishor. Though he had been temporarily alienated by Madanmohan, he has kept watch over the affairs of his friend. Brajkishor has not been not totally idealised, in the manner of Mr. Burchell in Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, nor is he quite so omnipresent. At one stage, he admits ruefully that his legal profession has made him worthy and self-righteous. He knows that he can be unduly verbose, often not knowing when to stop, even though it bores people (p 344).

    We are taken inside the courthouse to witness the finesse with which Brajkishor handles the debtors who are clamouring for quick repayment of the loans they had so freely given Madanmohan. Chapter 32 is simply entitled, ‘Adalat’ (Court of Law):

    The court is in session and the judge is sitting on his chair. The clerks are seated in their places. Nihalchand Modi’s lawsuit is being handled. Latif Hussein is the lawyer on his side. Lala Brajkishor is putting the questions from Madanmohan’s side. Brajkishor had learnt to read Hindi55 at Madanmohan’s place in his childhood. This is why he knew very well how bankers’ records were kept and so he had paid a nominal fee and looked through his accounts thoroughly. No legal arguments were needed in this case, it was purely a question of taking and giving loans (pp 357-78).

    The language of this chapter – as well as other passages connected with the law and lawyers – is full of the Persianate vocabulary that characterised this dimension of public life in this period, and the narrator makes no move to expurgate these expressions as alien. As Brajkishor’s cross-examination quickly reveals, the loans had been agreed upon verbally through Madanmohan’s servants; the details were not to be found in the account books. Why? Apparently Lala Madanmohan ordered that the sums he required be handed over instantly. What proof was there that this was so? There was no proof. Nihalchand, the banker who had advanced the loan, was reluctant to show his account books in their entirety because they would reveal the commissions he had given to Madanmohan’s servants. Since this was illegal, both Nihalchand and the servants could be charged with crimes. The judge, who is shown to be kindly and considerate, says “Look here, if any kind of fraud is proved here, I am going to hand over the matter to the criminal courts (p 360).56 But Brajkishor just wants to scare the debtors into submission, not get them into serious legal trouble. While Brajkishor is thus busy in the court, Harikishor manages to get a warrant for Madanmohan’s arrest issued. Madanmohan suddenly finds himself thrown in a debtor’s prison.

    4.4 The Erotic and the Domestic

    The transformation of Madanmohan’s character begins in earnest as he faces his final pariksha (test). In prison for a night, he experiences extreme distress, causing a change of heart that will link back to the restoration of his domestic situation. We need to recall that Madanmohan leads the life typical of his kind. The many courtesans who come into his life remain faceless, but we are told that they take up much of his time and money. His hangers-on spoke temptingly of Amirjan, a famous courtesan of Lucknow who was visiting Delhi, as well as of a male dancer from there. They fix performances of well known singers from the Gwalior gharana,57 and they plan a trip to the Qutub, accompanied by a troupe of singers and dancers. Madanmohan’s wife remains equally nameless and faceless. However, she is idealised in a way Banarasidas does not even suggest. Without the presence of the new kind of wife, the new way of life would be incomplete; it would only tell half a story. In this respect, Madanmohan’s wife has stepped straight out of ‘Stribodh’, as it were, for she has all the Victorian virtues of a good and thrifty housewife and of a loving and caring mother who carefully supervises the education of her children:

    With very little expense she has seen to such good arrangements in the house that Madanmohan does not have to expend the least labour at home. When she has leisure, she does not sit idly, gossiping about other people and chattering about jewels and jewellery, she practises reading and writing, embroidery and drawing pictures, etc... The children are very small but while playing, she teaches them the basic moral principles and unawares, by increasing their knowledge of things, she slowly stimulates their own natural capacity to increase their knowledge. But she does not burden their minds, there is no hindrance to their freedom to indulge in innocent play and laughter (pp 293-94).

    The new merchant and the professional man both need their other half to manage their domestic sphere with care and efficiency. And it is this preoccupation with the role of the good wife in the domestic economy, the projection of a male nationalist fantasy,58 that will become so vital to the structure of the novel as it will evolve in modern Hindi. We need to note however, that many of the features extolled by the novel, Madanmohan’s spouse sets forth the model of the good wife (‘pativrata’) we know from Ardhakathanak and a myriad other tales:

    With regard to her husband, Madanmohan’s wife was truly affectionate, well-wishing, a companion in pleasure as well as pain and obedient. In the beginning Madanmohan also held her in great affection. But when he began to keep the company of friends such as Chunnilal and Shimbhudayal, he caught the addiction of dance and music, and went into raptures over the false airs and graces of the courtesans... His poor, simple, able wife began to seem rustic to him. For a while things were kept secret, but how can there be pleasure in the flower of love after a worm has entered it? (pp 291-92).

    It will take a while for Madanmohan to revive the flower of love. The prison scene is remarkable for its focus on Madanmohan’s

    august 23, 2008

    interiority and for its new valorisation of family life. Once he is left alone in his narrow, pitch dark dungeon of a cell, and the courthouse has been emptied, with not a single person in sight, we are afforded a glimpse of the new interiority which Madanmohan expresses and to which he becomes subject. There, he thinks of his past life and of his many friends who fail to live up to the expectations one can have of genuine friends, that is to say, who deserted him in his hour of need:

    At this stage, it is extremely difficult to lay bare (prakat karna) the mental reflections of Lala Madanmohan. When he thinks about the luxury from his childhood to this day, darkness wells up before his eyes. The pleasurable chatter of Lala Hardayal and other pleasure loving friends, the false affection of Chunnilal, Shimbhudayal and others, song and dance functions till the early hours of the morning, being surrounded by sycophants at all hours of the day, yes to every wish of his, praise lavished at the slightest occasion, and at all stages the readiness even to sacrifice their lives: when he compares all this to his situation today, and thinks about their ungratefulness, then his heart wallows in sorrow (p 403).

    And he wonders what will become of him at 60 if this is what he already feels at 30. He thinks of death and is immediately filled with the fear of ghosts. His imagination begins to play tricks on him. He sees all kinds of monstrous shapes, hears deafening sounds, and feels physically burdened by the enormous weight of these apparitions. He thinks of his god and pleads for help, and in the end, overcome by fear and emotion, he faints. This could be a moment for spiritual revelation. Instead, when he comes to, he finds his head cradled in a woman’s lap. Could it be his wife? Is she also an apparition? Her hot tears wet his face. He shuts his eyes, refusing to believe it is a real person. Brajkishor has sneaked her into the prison, and shortly after she leaves, he himself will appear. But in the meantime, she offers her love and devotion. At first he keeps quiet, out of fear. But when the woman tries to give him strength and courage, he can no longer hold back his feelings: “Of all the mistakes I have made till now, I have made the most mistakes with regard to you. I mistook a diamond for a mere pebble, and cast you far away for me, mistaking a valuable necklace for a serpent” (p 407). The affections to be reserved for the wife, the domesticity that now includes small children – who make a brief appearance, babbling childish patter – is presented with a sentimentality that we are seeing for the first time in a tale of merchant life. We have only to think of the nine children Banarasidas lost, not one of whom was described to the reader, to see how the idea of the family, emerging as it does in the resolution of this novel, is extremely significant.

    Madanmohan’s crisis in the prison cell does, however, bear some resemblance to Banarasidas’s moment of illumination in Ardhakathanak. In that tale, the plunge into despair at the news of Akbar’s death had set him thinking about his way of life. After his climactic fall from the stairs leading to his house, he gave up his literary and erotic pursuits, abandoning his licentious ways and finally gaining credit as a merchant in the eyes of his father and the community. But he had neither thought to repair his relationship with his wife nor indeed to view it as in any way skewed to begin with. However, in the new climate of social change, for the banker in an environment

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    determined increasingly by Victorian norms, the conjugal family had become...

    ...a metaphor for society and thereby a focal point for refashioning social reality... As father figure, the banker operated on the premise that social stability depended on domestic stability in individual families. In this scenario, bank failure [in our case, sakh] focused attention on the breakdown of the links connecting domestic and social relations.59

    It is these links between the domestic and the social that need to be set right, before the tale can come to a fitting conclusion.

    Brajkishor manages to free Madanmohan from the clutches of his debtors; he clears his name and helps him recover his former position of power, even if as a wiser and sadder man. Though it needs to be noted, that for all the narrator’s love of virtue, it is characteristic of the pleasure that the narrator himself takes in his roguish figures, and perhaps a mark of his particular brand of realism, that they are allowed to slip away unpunished. Characteristic of the social reform agenda of the novel and its documentary tone, once he has seen the error of his ways, Madanmohan himself asks that his tale be written and published so that others can benefit from it.

    The suffering that ought to have fallen upon me on account of my folly has now done falling upon me. I can see no advantage in sparing myself falsely now. For the sake of all these people I would like the whole account to be printed and made public, Lala Madanmohan said.

    Is there need of it? Those who want to learn will find the world full of moral treatises, said Lala Brajkishor, thinking over the matter with regard to his own person.

    There’s no need to ashamed of things which are true. I want with all my heart that once my faults become public, people have their eyes opened by seeing their [ill] consequences. I’ll tell you all about the people I talked to and the things I said to them so that you can put them down in your account, said Lala Madanmohan enthusiastically (p 422).

    Madanmohan will have to yet make his change of heart public. The primacy of social concern and corrections, as Ramvilas Sharma (1975: pp 93-99) has pointed out, directly sired the didactic-realistic tradition that is set forth in the early novels of Premchand.

    5 Conclusion

    Madanmohan’s ‘samsari varta’ or the ‘kalpit chitra’ of a ‘rais’, which was at the same “a humble attempt at novel writing” ends thus on a note very similar to Banarasicharita or Ardhakathanak. But the differences between the two works are also vast. If there are lessons to be drawn from the respective life-stories, in the one case, these will be restricted to a smaller circle of friends and fellows in the community of Adhyatma, in the second a wider, and more anonymous reading public stands to profit from them. If we see “the mediation of literary model as form of experience, model of perception and elaboration of reality itself”, and genre as “a model of reality which mediates the empirical world” [Conte: 112], that which distinguishes the two works is also thrown into stark relief if we juxtapose the temporal frames within which they operate. Banarasidas’ sense of historical time is acute but it consists in registering with some consternation the coming and going of emperors, the corresponding births and

    deaths in the family, and the changing seasonal and ritual calen-influence. It is in this respect, as a modern tale of change, that dar. The narrator in Lala Srinivasdas’ novel operates with a sense Pariksha Guru becomes remarkable, marking the point of of secular time, divided into a past, present and unknown future. emergence of the novel from the vast range of life stories He sets as the goal of his story the remaking of the self, of helping grouped formerly under charita or bat. But it remains a freak others to remake themselves, and of thereby creating a collective experiment in novel writing in Hindi, uneven in language and future, that of the nation itself. The novel is a part of this enter-style, unsettled in its orthography, couched in the as yet prise to create a modern sense of progress, and it is this vista that unstandardised spoken idiom of Delhi and Agra. This speech is Lala Shrinivasdas opens up: most apparent in its lively dialogues but it changes registers frequently, from the essayistic Sanskrit-ridden passages –

    For that project was intertwined with a new experience of historical time, and thus with a new conception of historicity – historical time expounding some homily at length – to the Persianate legal divided into three great periods (Antiquity, the Middle Ages and vocabulary of the court scenes. Nevertheless, it marks an impor-Modernity), accelerating forward into an open future... It was in tant moment, for it is with merchants, given their vulnerability Europe’s 18th century that the older, Christian attitudes towards

    to political change and their need to stay in tune with it, that

    historical time (salvational expectation) were combined with the

    the early ventures in novel writing begin, whether devrani/

    newer, secular practices (rational prediction) to give us our modern sense of progress. A new philosophy of agency was also developed, jethani with its small-time merchant milieu or the more experiallowing individual actions to be related to collective tendencies... one mental Pariksha Guru, registering the impact of new moral assumption has been constant: to make history, the agent must create

    instances and new interiorities. However, with that, the first

    the future, remake herself, and help others to do so, where the criteria

    potential also exhausts itself. It will come up elsewhere. A few

    of successful remaking are seen to be universal [Asad: 18-19].

    decades later Premchand will take up similar themes in and These dimensions are non-existent for Banarasidas, as is around Banaras to explore them further, initially in Urdu, but

    any notion of political change that lies outside his sphere of then also in Hindi.


    1 As for instance in my own first essay on Pariksha Guru, Dalmia (1998).

    2 Literary histories of the novel in Hindi tend to move between two poles: the emergence of the genre in Hindi alone, as in Ray’s comprehensive and erudite Hindi Upanyas ka Itihas (2002) which builds upon his earlier works on the novel, particularly the comprehensive Hindi Upanayas Kosh (1968-69); or as part of a larger, pan-Indian trajectory, such as Mukherjee’s bold and brilliantly synoptic Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India (1985), which, while being aware of regional differences, nonetheless attempts a “holistic view of the novel in India as a genre”.

    For detailed discussions of early novel writing in Hindi see McGregor (1970) and Dalmia (1997: 291-300).

    3 Though after awarding the work this distinction, literary histories tend to dispose of its actual achievements in a few summary remarks. Contemporaries were ready to dismiss the novel. Gopal Ray (2002:53) has cited Balkrishna Bhatt’s scathing critique of the novel in the December 1882 issue of Hindi Pradip, the journal he edited. Bhatt found that the sweetness and elegance of the prose of Bharatendu Harischandra (1850-85), the leading literary figure of the day, was entirely missing in this work. There was not even a glimpse, he complained, of the erotic and the comic ‘rasas’ that provided the primary aesthetic pleasures of the novel, or for that matter, of the heroic and the sorrowful. Instead there was dry, discursive prose, which had no place in the novel, not even if the novelistic genre were seen as mere imitation of the English. More modern literary history has also reacted with some impatience. Shukla (1947:473 ff) devotes all of 10 lines to a description of the work. Of late, however, it has begun to receive the attention it deserves. See Trivedi (1993:211 ff) for some discussion of the work and and Kalsi (1992), who offers an in-depth analysis and evaluation.

    4 Kadambari was translated early on from the Bengali by Gadadhar Singh and serialised in Harishchandra’s Magazine from its very first issue in 1873; it was published in book form in 1879 with the subtitle Prachin Sanskrit Upanyas or Ancient Sanskrit Novel.

    5 Ardhakathanak seems to be an almost picture book illustration of the early modern in south Asia as it has unfolded in the scholarly discussion in the last years, especially in the works of Rao, Shulman and Subrahmanyam on literature and historiography in south India. I find particularly relevant their notion of the early modern as marked most of all by its new sense of time and of self, of events “strongly and necessarily connected to the prior context of intelligible causes”, of the peculiarity of individuals “with complex motivations and an interior depth”, operating in a world which is no longer idealised or predictable (2003: 136-37).

    6 Taylor (1989: 103). 7 The very term Khari boli, as Lallujilal pointed out in his General Principles of Inflection and Conjugation in the Braj Bakha (1811: iii), as cited by Vedalankar (1969:63), was used by the Hindus of the region to distinguish it both from Brajbhasha and the Perso-Arabic inflected ‘Rekhta’ or Urdu. 8 I cite from Gopal Ray’s edition of the work (1966: 1 ff).

    9 Bharatendu repeatedly resorted to literary models in Bengali, particularly in the matter of dramatic composition. In Natak (1884), the lengthy treatise

    on drama written in the last year of his life, he was to refer explicitly to Bengali as the ‘bari bahin’ (elder sister) of Hindi. For more on Bharatendu’s language, see Dalmia (pp 146-221).

    10 As A S Kalsi pointed out in an important essay: “It may be further noted that sister languages like Urdu and Hindi, faced with new identical educational needs, responded by producing similar didactic fictional works aimed at the education of women. That this should have been so is to be expected, that it should have remained unrecognised across the critical boundaries that lie between Hindi and Urdu cannot be described as satisfactory. At a broader level, the Hindi fictional works discussed above probably provide the first instance of Hindi drawing strength from its elder sibling Urdu in the field of fiction, of which the second important example was to be seen in the last decade of the 19th century when Devakinandan Khatri (1861-1936) drew upon the Urdu dastans for his tilismi novels” (1990: 44).

    11 I draw the citations above from Shailaja Kathuria’s introduction to Thomas Smith’s Agra (2007), rather than the more extensive Agra Gazetteers, since it is easy to access and recalls many forgotten details of the 19th and 20th century Agra, unlikely to be found elsewhere.

    12 See Stark (2007: 49-53) for more information on printing and publishing in Agra in the 19th century.

    13 See Naim (2003) for a discussion of the late origin of this nostalgia. I thank Francesca Orsini for drawing my attention to this essay.

    14 King (1976: 212-13).

    15 Cf Gupta (1981: 42-43).

    16 Gupta (1981:50, 51).

    17 King (1976:219). There are huge clock towers also in Lucknow – the tallest in India apparently – as well as in Allahabad in the Chowk. I am grateful to Francesca Orsini for drawing my attention to these parallel structures.

    18 Hasan (2005: 30-32).

    19 See the introduction and the essays by Pernau in her edited volume on the Delhi College (2006) for detailed studies of the architecture and students of the college.

    20 For more information on the activities of the Delhi Society, see Gupta (1981:97ff), in addition to the quotation cited here.

    21 Nazir Ahmad (1831-1912) had learnt Persian and Arabic at the Aurangabadi Mosque in the city but had gone on to study in the Delhi College. He joined the British colonial administration thereafter to become deputy inspector of schools. He acquired sufficient knowledge of English to translate the income tax law in 1859-60, followed by the translation of Indian penal code (1861). His interest in education had led to a close association with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his Aligarh College.

    22 As Bayly notes “Merchant arbitrations and caste councils continued to operate but their judgments were increasingly challenged in civil courts; ‘respectable merchants’ might then be asked to submit written evidence on custom, etc” (1983: 372).

    23 For an extensive discussion of merchant family ethos, see Bayly (1983: 370-93).

    24 Cf Dundas: “One of the main concerns of Indian merchants, Jain and Hindu alike, in the early modern period was the gaining of abru, a Persian word signifying ‘prestige’ or ‘reputation’ (the equivalent Sanskrit term ‘pratishtha’ was also used). It was ‘abru’ which was the test of whether a merchant was creditworthy and competent and such respectability, when confirmed, served to generate further abru and still more credit and concomitant financial success. Reputation was based on publicly observable behaviour, itself regarded as an index of inner piety, which had to take the form of the organisation of one’s life, and those of one’s immediate relatives in accordance with certain essentially conservative principles. These would include lack of ostentation or scandal in the conduct of private and commercial affairs, strict vegetarianism and temperance, avoidance of overt involvement in political matters, carefully regulated marriage alliances and a cautious approach to business enterprises in which financial credit was generally advanced only on the basis of short-term returns, and active support of the religious sect to which one belonged” (p 169).

    25 The discussion was given a further boost with Mukund Lath’s brilliant translation of the work into English, accompanied by an extensive introduction and detailed historical annotations (1981). The citations from the work are in Lath’s translation, which I have occasionally modified to read more literally. Premi (1943) has a detailed discussion of Banarasidas’ language, from which I draw here. Snell (2005) has discussions of the language and metre and analysis of several key passages, including the scene with his wife, to which I will refer later.

    26 See Lath (xxxiv-lxiv) for an extensive discussion of the Adhyatma sect.

    27 As Rao, Shulman and Subrahmanyam have shown for slightly later narratives from the south (2003:166-70).

    28 He makes no mention of Padmavat (1540), today the best-known Sufi masnavi from the region.

    29 On the shifting geographical boundaries of ‘madhyadesh’ or middle country, used for centuries to denote the area covered by the Indo-Gangetic plains, see Lath (1981: 103-04).

    30 Ardhakathanak is its modern name.

    31 I thank professor R K Sharma for clarifying the use of these terms to me.

    32 According to Lath, the work was composed four years after the Ramcharitmanas, which served as a model for it. However, it seems unlikely that Banarasidas knew the work; he shows little awareness of its Sanskritic mould. He nowhere mentions it, nor does the omission seem deliberate, for he is eager to display what he does know, so manifest is his reverence for learning and literature. According to Snell, the Ardhakathanak was actually written a dozen years earlier than Ramcharitmanas.

    33 For reasons he explicates in his long introduction, Mukund Lath chooses to retain the first person in his translation.

    34 Cf Bayly: “Panchayats for the arbitration of separations in joint-families took into account matters such as the imminence of a daughter’s marriage” (376: note 16).

    35 Verse 643 in Snell’s translation (2005:91). See Natalie Zemon Davis for similar strains of melancholy in Jewish merchant biographies of the 17th century: “The autobiographical/biographical texts being used here have certain common sources, even while their authors had divergent learning. Glikl began to write her Yiddish memoirs in 1689 to help her fight the “melancholy thoughts” that followed the sudden loss of her first husband and then added to them during her years of widowhood and remarriage in Metz. Though her experience keeping business accounts may have encouraged her skills of selfobservation, her autobiography was not a spin off from a ledger or a livre de raison, as was often the case in Christian Italy and France. Rather, Jewish life history was fostered by the centuries-old “ethical will”, an exposition of moral lessons and personal wisdom passed on to one’s children along with instructions for one’s burial and the disposition of one’s goods. This connection helps

    Economic & Political Weekly august 23, 2008


    us understand the moral tension in Glikl’s text, a tension heightened by her insertion of folktales at several junctures to illustrate or comment on the story of her life (1997: 65-66).

    36 Lath’s translation of verses 674 and 675, slightly emended.

    37 Cf Dundas: “Banarasidas is the best documented early example of a trend within Jainism, albeit not a dominant one, which authorises lay people to take charge of their own spiritual affairs without reference to ascetic influence. He does not depict himself, even in his pre-Adhyatma period, the bulk of his life, in fact, in which he followed a relatively conventional lay’s path, as having had any serious dealings with ascetics, although admittedly he did study briefly with a Shevatambara monk when young. This should alert us to a basic fact of lay experience in Jainism, namely that, contrary to lay ideology, the lay person does not gain identity solely through interaction with ascetics and that a satisfactory and fully Jain religious life may be constructed around events and practices in which ascetics play a minimal or non-existent path” (1992:167-68).

    38 Cf Rao Shulman and Subrahmanyam (2003: 166).

    39 The section on Pariksha Guru is partly based on my earlier essay, Dalmia (1998).

    40 See Rajat Kanta Ray (1984: 244, 248, 250-52).


    , I
    n W
    d Field-, I n W on on d Fielding, whose work he saw as being affected not only by the changes in the reading public of their time but “surely more profoundly conditioned by the new climate of social and moral experience” ([1957] 1987:7).

    42 His father Shri Mangilal had been manager of the enormously wealthy estate of the Mathura Seths, Radhakrishnadas and Gobinddas, recent converts from Jainism to Vaishnavism under the influence of Swami Rangacharya, whom, as Growse tells us in his Mathura Gazetteer, they placed at the head of the great temple of Shri Rangji in Vrindavan. See Growse ([1882] 1979: 14-16) for information on the family, and for more on the temple (260-62).

    The second of Mangilal’s three sons, Shrinivasdas was educated at home in Hindi and Urdu. He had some Persian and Sanskrit, and was widely read in English. He succeeded his father as the agent of the Mathura Seths in Delhi, while his brother took over the management of the temple in Vrindavan. Shrinivasdas was a public figure of some note, the Panjab government having asked him to occupy the posts of both municipal commissioner and honorary magistrate of Delhi. From all accounts, he was urbane, courteous, and successful, devoting the time he could spare from business to literary pursuits. He wrote articles, four plays of varying quality, the novel that drew from his own professional experience in the city, and edited the journal Sadadarsh from 1875 to 1876 when it was assimilated into the Kavivachansudha, the journal edited by his close friend and literary mentor, Bharatendu Harishchandra.

    43 Gopal Ray cites Jnanchandra Jain as noting that the action plays itself out in five days, possibly replicating the five-act scheme of the well-made play (2002:50).


    The author is well aware of the novelty of his enter-The author is well aware of the novelty of his enter-
    prise in writing this in Hindi. On the back cover of the first edition of the work is the announcement that an Urdu translation will be appearing soon.


    e Ge G
    a (a (
    , 7, 7
    , 9, 9
    , 1, 1
    5) f5) f
    r mr m
    e ie i
    mation on Lala Shri Ram.

    46 Interestingly, he does not invoke charita or charitra.

    47 A wide range of Sanskrit works are cited, including the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, Valmiki’s Ramayana, Manusmriti, Vishnupurana, Kaildasa’s Raghuvamsha and finally, Viduraprajagara; there are also several Persian citations from Saadi; the Quran is cited once. Further there is a profusion of citations and references to English authors: Chesterfield, William Cowper, Alexander Pope, Byron, and two plays of Shakespeare, Othello and The Merchant of Venice and an equally wide selection from the works of Hindi Avadhi and Brajbhasha poets: Kabir, Tulsi (Ramcharitmanas and Vinaypatrika), Gang, Vrnda (who seems to be a favourite), and Girdhardas.

    48 On the significance of the moral essay in this period, see Dalmia (1997:260-267).

    49 On the importance of the niti katha in the early literature of modern Marathi, see Raeside (1970). Blackburn has noted the importance of tales from the Panchatantra in early Tamil literature. The Hitopadesha itself was one of the earliest Sanskrit works to be published in translation by the Fort William College. Translated by Lallujilal into Brajbhasha, it appeared in 1860 under the telling title: Rajniti or Tales exhibiting the Civil and Military Policy of the Hindus. It was to see several reprints. For bibliographical details, see Krishnacharya (1966: 5f).

    50 Ian Watt cites Defoe as “the first of our writers who visualised the whole of his narrative as though it occurred in an actual physical environment” ([1957] 1987: 26).

    51 Cf Blake: “Mughal gardens were rectangular, surrounded by high walls broken by gateways, and topped with towers, The principal design, from which the most intricate and elaborate variations developed, featured a central pool containing a small open structure called a barahdari (summer house). Four wide canals led from the pool to the surrounding walls. Smaller canals branched off from the major waterways and subdivided the large rectangles. Colored flowers, cypress trees (symbols of death and eternity), almond, plum, and mango trees (symbols of life and hope), plumed birds, and fish of different sizes and colours filled the duly appointed garden.

    Members of imperial and noble families built gardens on the banks of the Jamuna and in treeshaded groves near the city gates. While the city was being built, Shahjahan laid out a garden called Khizrabad on the banks of the Jamuna about five miles south of the Akbarabadi gate of the city... Outside the Kabul gate of the city Shahjahan constructed a garden filled with neem trees called Tis Hazari Bagh (Garden of Three Thousand) ... In 1650 Raushan Ara Begum constructed a large garden in Sabzimandi” (p 62).

    52 Uday Kumar notes the fascination that English objects exercised on the novelists of this period: “It is not accidental that many of the early novels in Malayalam display a fascination with collections of objects – these can be seen as located at an intersection of coordinates representing coherence and value. Indulekha presents two kinds of collections. The first is Suri’s collection of valuable objects, all gold and silver, which he prepares to carry with him on his visit to Indulekha’s house... In contrast to this, there is a collection of ‘English sorts of objects beautifully arranged in Indulekha’s rooms.’ This second collection of objects, laid out in a certain style in order to constitute a new domestic space – that of modern cultivation and style – in the early novel. This can be seen especially in the description of the rooms of the nair men in Malabar and Madras. Round tables, reclining chairs, painted mirrors, embroidered covers, glass lamps, carpets and, sometimes in the centre, glass cupboards of books in English and in Sanskrit, beautifully bound and embossed with golden lettering – these objects conjure up a new world of coherence, the universe of a new civility and new values” [in Mukherjee 2002:164].

    53 Bharatendu Harichandra had written a short autobiographical piece that could have grown into a novel, Kuch Apbiti, Kuch Jagbiti (A story part experienced by the self, part by the world) in 1877, which described just this experience, of a young man of 23, wealthy and inexperienced, surrounded by rogues of all kinds: pimps, and moneylenders and well wishers of motley hue -who praise his beauty, learning, talent, dress, taste, his women, horses and his very pigeons. For a detailed discussion of this piece, see Dalmia (1997: 297-99).

    54 One of Madanmohan’s most galling encounters, one which also documents the role that the new modes communication play in accelerating the pace of events, is described thus: “In the meantime, a registered letter from a friend in Meerut arrived. It carried a darshani hundi or bill of exchange guaranteeing instant payment, for ten thousand rupees, with a note, which said, “you can ask for as many more rupees as you need; consider my house your own”. Lala Madanmohan sprang up with happiness and launched into praise of his friends. He sent of the bill of exchange to be cashed immediately but the banker to whom it was addressed refused to cash it, saying that the very friend who had sent it in the first place had sent him a telegram asking him not to honour it. So the matter had come to light. What really took place is as follows. When the friend first received Madanmohan’s letter, he had no doubts at all about matters going awry for his friend, so to demonstrate his true affection for him, he had sent off the bill of exchange. But when he heard about this from other people he panicked and sent off a telegram to block it” (p 364).

    55 Possibly he has been educated in Urdu and Persian alone. By learning to read Hindi, he means accounts kept in Nagari numerals.

    56 This idealised view of the court presided over by an English judge, who duly dispensed justice, was satirised just a little later by Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) in an Oriya novel, Six Acres and a Third, serialised in 1897-99, and published as a book in 1902. Consider for instance, the following scene from the closing pages of the work:

    While heated debate between two sides is going on lasting two and a half hours, “the judge Sahib [H R Jackson, Esq] managed to finish a four foot long newspaper and his mid-day meal. Had he not ordered them to stop, the lawyers would have talked on and on” (p 179).

    And the verdict is predictably shallow, biased and cruel: “The court in its judgment can find no evidence against Ramchandra Mungraj, a landholder who acquires “other people’s property by clever and devious means” (p 181) because they cannot find that Mungraj, whose misdeeds occupy the greater part of the novel, has used unlawful force: “We have reason to believe that because the accused took away Bhagia’s rent-free six and a third acres, and looted all his belongings, Bhagia went mad with grief and Saria died of starvation. But this is not enough to convict the accused of murder” (pp 180-81). Mungraj gets three months rigorous imprisonment for the relatively minor offence of taking away the cow of the couple. The winner of the case is but the lawyer Ramram Lala, who outwits all and acquires all the land that Mungraj held. It needs to be noted, however, as Satya P Mohanty points out in the introduction: “Although it contains a critique of British colonial rule, the novel offers a powerful indictment of many other forms of social and political authority” (p 2).

    57 Thus Lakhnau ki Amirjan (p 175), Lakhnau ka Tayafa (203-4, 291), Veshya (p 251) Qutub Mem Bari Bahar (p 257), Sair ke Liye Qutub, Das Barah Din Vaham Rahemge, etc. The Gwalior gharana (p 183) was considered the oldest and most prestigious gharana in north India: “The City of Gwalior itself remains historically important for all musicians because it is where Tansen is now buried. The Rajas of Gwalior had a long tradition of generously patronising musicians” [Newman 1980: 148]. For further information of the various Gwalior lineages see Newman (pp 152, 183).

    58 The expression stems from Indrani Chatterjee in the very valuable introduction to her edited volume (2003).

    59 Alborn, 1995: pp 203-04. George Rae, author of the popular trade manual The Country Banker, claimed in the pages of the Banker’s Magazine that the model manager should be a married man: “and the reason is this, that a married man has in his own experience a knowledge far beyond that of an individual who remains single all his days...” (p 211).



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