Affecting Anger: Ideologies of Community Mobilisation in Early Hindi Novel

in Article
Published on: 19 February 2021

Rohan Chauhan

Rohan Chauhan has been trained in Comparative Literature at the Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies, University of Delhi. He is presently learning about various interfaces between literature and history in the print cultures of colonial North India on a Junior Research Fellowship from UGC. His interests include technologies that support textual studies in the digital age.

History emerged as a contentious issue between the coloniser and the colonised in nineteenth-century colonial India. In a bid to justify their rule over India, the British wrote histories where the Indian past was nullified as static and unchanging, thereby inferior, which required the legislative intervention of the British in order to be altered. The colonised intellectuals of India challenged this by writing histories of their own where they defined and affirmed their identity. During this period, exalted ideals of Hindu conduct were extolled in an idealised space-time,[1] while anything Muslim was marked as ‘foreign contamination’, under whose rule the Hindu jati suffered abuse and underwent degeneration.[2] It was here that des (country) first emerged as a distinct category, whereby, as Partha Chatterjee has pointed out, ‘history of kings’ replaced the ‘history of this country’.[3]

The earliest example of this new type of historical writing in Hindi was historian Raja Shiv Prasad’s Itihas Timir Nashak (History: the Dispeller of Darkness). Authorised by the empirical objectivity of positivism,[4] this work conceived the Indian nation as a spatially bounded and historically determinate national entity’—a conception that went on to inform the basic assumptions of institutional nationalism’ in late colonialism.[5] In this controversial trilingual exercise in history writing, Raja Shiv Prasad[6] posited Arya (Aryan) as the transcendental ground of collective identity’ for Hindus who originally inhabited the absolute space-time of Bharat’.[7] He provided a chronological dynastic history of India and followed it with an interpretative account of the changes in manners and customs from the earliest ages[8] within the tripartite division of Hindu, Muslim and British periods. Herein, the descent of the ancient Hindu civilisation into a debilitated and dissipated state, and, consequently, the problems with contemporary Hindus were explained as an upshot of the cultural decline of Aryans set in by the advent of the Muslim rule in India. Owing primarily to its widespread use in schools of North-Western Provinces and Oudh (NWP&O), Shiv Prasad’s work was pivotal in shaping the historic imaginary of Hindi nationalist writers in later periods. 

Kishorilal Goswami, one of the most prominent early Hindi novelists, was an inheritor of this historical consciousness in the late-nineteenth-century- and early-twentieth-century colonial North India. His ingenuity lies in the fact that he extended the historical accounts in works such as Raja Shiv Prasad’s by pursuing their counterfactuals while investing their sense of the past with a moral dimension. This moral dimension works at two levels. Firstly, it counters the colonial claim of superiority by representing examples of ideal Hindu conduct in the past. Secondly, it prompts the contemporary readers of these novels to emulate and associate with these ideals. Rather than prescribing this moral order as a set of rules to be followed—for instance, in the case of genres such as the etiquette manual or the periodical essay—it is within the constitutive elements of these novels that this moral order surfaces. The narrative employs several tropes to this end, among which juxtaposition is perhaps the most common. The exemplary ethics in various domains, such as male-female sociability, filial relations, female domesticity, leadership and governance, is established by the technique of juxtaposition where the author compares and contrasts the conduct of the protagonist and the antagonist against each another in order to suggest exemplary ethics for the readers. 

At the core of the exemplary ethics in the early historical novel in Hindi lies a discursive project of Hindi literary actors of emotionalising the contemporary readership by hierarchising feeling, which contributed towards the making of what historian Margrit Pernau has identified as feeling communities’.[9] Emotions such as compassion and sympathy are central to the notion of ethicality in these novels since such emotions are crucial for inspiring the protagonist to act benevolently towards others, one of the ways their exemplarity is established. Love is another emotion wherein these novels invest considerably, not just in male-female sociability but also in different interpersonal bonds of filial and homosocial nature. However, it is the negative emotion of anger that essentially distinguishes the hero from the villain. 

While Goswami’s historical novels are primarily love stories, it is anger and not love that ensures the horizontal movement of the narrative since it motivates the protagonist for taking the personal initiative of acting against the antagonist. It is in anger that different social groups with few similarities solidify solidarities and unify behind a common cause. Usually, it takes a heinous sexual aggression[10] on part of the antagonist towards the protagonist or his kin that elicits the protagonist’s indignation. This, in turn, is combined with a threat to the protagonist’s political sovereignty who, in most cases, governs a kingdom peripheral to the antagonist’s kingdom, which links the individual to the community as the protagonist is further obliged to act since his praja (subjects) is under threat from a foreign adversary. These two factors follow one another in a unilinear flow to evoke the protagonist’s ire who is faced with two options: either act boldly or face humiliation meekly. Needless to say, the protagonist chooses the former, since Goswami’s exemplary individual, like Ramchandra Shukla’s recommendation in his essay Krodh’,[11] must channel his anger reasonably and act for the cheer-nirvitti [12] (complete resolution) of his as well as the suffering of others once and for all. 

With reddening of face and convulsions in body, anger engulfs both the protagonist and the antagonist in Goswami’s historical novels, yet it is the difference of their actions arising out of anger that tells them apart. In case of the protagonist, who, by minding the advice of his/her counsels, plans the action prudently, anger becomes a guiding principle to avenge the personal wrongs done to him/her by the antagonist, thereby underlining his/her sherdili or dileri (audacity). The personal wrongs to an individual are further extended on to the community since in offending the protagonist individually, the antagonist also threatens the community to which s/he belongs. This is where private interests assume public significance whereby both the individual and the community are interlinked in a contingent existence.[13] On the other hand, the antagonist, who either reacts hastily or disregards counsels, end up harming himself/herself by losing people on his/her side. While linking irrational haste with self-destruction, therefore unadvisable, Goswami renders restraint and patience in the face of anger as the organising principle of a positive character, whereby he pre-empts Shukla’s advice in Krodh’ by dramatising anger in awashayak matra me aur upyukt stithi me’ (in the right amount and at the opportune moment). [14] The protagonist hardly ever acts irrationally against the antagonist in a fit of rage, and even if s/he does, such as Shivaji in Kanakkusum, s/he suffers gravely. Instead, s/he acts by forging solidarities across the political aisle and finds her/himself as a mobiliser of divergent social groups against a common enemy. In this act of mobilising, the protagonist becomes a key torchbearer on the path towards liberation from the tyranny and misrule of a despotic Muslim figure. 

Reading Mallikadevi: The Private and the Public in Colonial North India
The plot of Mallikadevi (1905) provides one of the most interesting examples of the private and the public conjoining to redirect the protagonist’s anger against the antagonist. Set in the thirteenth century, the protagonist of this novel, Narendra Singh, an imaginary ruler of the Hindu kingdom Bhagalpur, leads a small contingent of soldiers against Tughral Khan, the erstwhile Nawab of Bengal, after the nawab abducts his lover. The nawab has not only abducted the protagonist’s lover but also threatened Narendra’s political sovereignty by demanding him to surrender his kingdom. The erstwhile Sultan of Delhi, Gyasuddin Balwan, we are informed, has also made his move against the nawab, for the Sultan has taken upon himself to bring the nawab to justice since he has made the life of people of Bengal miserable. Our protagonist joins his ranks with the sultan not just because their families had always helped each other in the past or because, unlike the nawab, the sultan has given him due respect as a ruler of an autonomous kingdom instead of unreasonably demanding him to forfeit his political autonomy. Rather, he sees fit to join his forces with the Sultan for he knows that it would not be wise to fight the nawab on his own. Solidarity, here, has a rational basis, dictated primarily by the necessity to subdue a far powerful adversary. 

As if the abduction of the woman by the Muslim was not enough for the protagonist’s ire, Narendra’s anger against the nawab is heightened further halfway through the narrative when he finds out that it was the nawab who imprisoned his parents and their trusted minister when he was a child. In another twist, we also discover that the imprisoned minister’s daughter, Malti has already been working against the nawab all this while after learning that the nawab conspired with her uncle to abduct her father and his king, who is Narendra’s father and the king of Bhagalpur. Out of the all the emotions that Malti lists that motivated her to take it upon herself to act against the nawab and her uncle, anger is the foremost. Here, the political quest of subduing an aggressive ruler is motivated by a private dimension, since the two, the protagonist and the minister’s daughter, act against the antagonist firstly out of personal injury and secondly for safeguarding their political sovereignty. Even after gaining the nawab’s trust in the guise of a man, the minister’s daughter, who has been serving him for years now, does not kill him straight away, even though she is clearly infuriated with him for kidnapping and imprisoning her kin. Instead, she waits patiently for the opportune time and gathers useful information to aid Narendra’s and the Sultan’s combined war efforts against the nawab. She justifies this by stating that had she killed the nawab at the first chance she got, the whereabouts of her and Narendra’s father would not have been known.

Herein, anger becomes an instigator of action, which if plotted prudently, could be channelled to bring change, both private and public. In doing so, Goswami also redeploys the prevailing colonial binary of indigenous in opposition to despotism[15] in order to reconstruct Hindu forms of leadership by conferring the initiative of political change upon the established leaders of Hindu society, such as kings of high birth. This political change is as much enmeshed in questions of power and territorial consolidation as it is linked to the figure of the victimized and abducted Hindu woman[16] that Charu Gupta has identified for the Shuddhi and Sangathan movements of the 1920s.[17] These established leaders, in a move similar to what historian Tanika Sarkar has shown in Bangla writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novels, extend their control by coming closer to ordinary folk[18] and lead them to victory against a common enemy. In revealing the indigenous subject’s capacity for self-government in the past, Goswami’s imaginary histories, repudiate colonial sovereignty in the present and lay claim to a vernacular modernity, the path towards which is paved through willed action and individual improvement. Modernity as a forward movement where previous forms of social existence cease to exist is sought, precisely, by a reversion to the past, a contradiction Goswami resolves by probing the past for exemplifying initiatives in the present. 

Making MemoryAn Agenda for Power
The memory in these novels, primarily of the period marked as Muslim India in Orientalist historiography, serves as scripts of indigenous collaboration against despotism, while historical change is linked to the idea of progress, which in turn becomes contingent upon the actions of exemplary individuals who lead a community from subjugation to sovereignty. The negative emotion of anger plays a pivotal role in this as apparent from the fact that the actions of Goswami’s protagonists, which evinces such a change arises out of anger, evoked both from personal injury and political threat. This memory of heroism, political astuteness, and sexual control renders as much a conception of the ethical Hindu nationalist subject in the colonial present as it erects the other of the nation, who is marked out for both sexual excess and irrationality, thereby displacing the blame of native effeminacy onto the other, which is primarily a despotic Muslim figure, characterised mainly as yavana (Sanskrit: Greek speakers, people of foreign origin) but also mleccha(Sanskrit: foreign, non-Aryan, or barbarous). In producing society’s primitives as Muslims, Goswami’s critique of colonialism fails to transcend the limits of the colonial discourse. In doing so, the memory it makes remain benignant to the rise of communalism in colonial North India as historian Gyanendra Pandey  has outlined.[19] Even in showing solidarities between the Hindu and the good Muslim for supplanting the despotic,[20] the narrative evokes a complexity that needs more probing. 

Although such solidarities arise out of historical necessity, in the sense that they have a concrete economic and social basis in the story, they are not without consequences for the erstwhile identity politics. The anger that motivates the exemplary actions of the atavistic Indian subject in these novels is as much represented to invent a self-respectful relation of the present with the past as to inspire similar initiatives in the present. Here, the good Muslim, with whom the ideal Hindu collaborates, is constructed in the self-image of the ideal Hindu, with an additional condition that the former accepts the latter’s superiority in matters of faith and culture. The question of power-sharing resolves only if the former acknowledges the latter’s sovereignty, however, the latter must always stay vigilant of the former for he is inherently deceitful by nature. Even though the novels are less about such solidarities and more about the ideal Hindu hero’s quest of transforming the existing order, the corollary that such strategic solidarities are necessary for bringing change emerges as one of the major authentic values in Goswami’s historical novels. These novels, thereby, are the foundational fictions of the nation-to-be, which historicise an inherently good hero’s struggles of transforming a degraded world to suggest possibilities for similar initiatives in the colonial present. That it is essentially a Hindu nation envisioned by using history as an ‘an agenda for power’[21]  cannot be overstated.

[1] For Bankim, physical prowess was more important. It meant primarily a demonstration of martial superiority of Hindus to Muslims’ (see Guha, Dominance Without Hegemony, 206), which he exemplified most typically in his historical novels. Bhartendu Harishchandra suggests a similar agenda in his historical sketches where he undertakes a reappraisal of historical Hindu figures in order to justify them as morally, intellectually, and physically indomitable. See Singh, ed. Bhartendu Samagra, 584–803. 

[2] Noted historian Sudhir Chandra accuses several Hindi writers including Bhartendu Harishchandra (18501885), Radhakrishna Das (18651907), Pratap Narayan Mishra (18561894) of constructing the Muslim as the ‘other’. See Chandra, The Oppressive Present, 129161. 

[3] Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments, 95. 

[4] A historian has no choice to please this or that party… he must deal with facts and facts alone.’ Prasad, Preface to Itihas Timirnasak, p. ii.

[5] Goswami, Producing India, 165–167. 

[6] It appeared in Urdu as Aina-e-tarikh numa; in English as History of Hindustan; and in Hindi as Itihas Timirnasak (1864). SeeGupta, ‘Social Agenda of Colonial Education: Textbook Discourse in Mid-Nineteenth Century’, 1112–1123. For Shiv Prasad’s position in colonial Banaras, see Dalmia, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions, 132. For the controversy around Itihas Timirnasaksee Powell, ‘History Textbooks and the Transmission of the Pre-Colonial Past in North Western India in 1860s and 1870s,’ 91–133. 

[7] Goswami, Producing India, 171–188.

[8] Prasad, Preface to Itihas Timirnashak, i. 

[9] Pernau. ‘Feeling Communities,’  1–20     .

[10] Almost all these novels use rape in some form against Hindu women by Muslim aggressors.

[11] First published in the Nagari Prachadrani Patrika in July 1912, this essay is Shukla’s attempt at restructuring the emotion of anger. See Shukla, ‘Krodh,’ 23–30.

[12] Ibid. 24. 

[13] One of the best examples of this is Goswami’s novel Sone ki Rakh wah Padmini. In this novel, the Bheel people who inhabit the forests outside the fort must unite behind the Raja’s war efforts against Allauddin, for if they do not their own autonomy might well be lost once the fort falls.

[14] Shukla, ‘Krodh,’ 25. 

[15] Padamsee, The Return of the Mughal, 11. 

[16] See Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community, 232–267. 

[17] Pioneered by Swami Shraddhanand during the 1920s, at the heart of Shuddhi and Sangathan movements was a reconversion drive to Hinduism and organisation of Hindus. 

[18] Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, 181.

[19] Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, 2006. 

[20] Such as Malti-Narendra-Gayasuddin Balwan versus Nawab of Bengal, Mallikadevi and Narendra-Meer Jafar-Robert Clive versus Siraj ud-dualah in Lavanglata and Hridayiharini among others. 

[21] Ali, Introduction to Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia, 3.      


Ali, Daud. Introduction to Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia. Edited by Dauda AliNew Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.     

Chandra, Sudhir. The Oppressive Present: Literature and Social Consciousness in Colonial India. New Delhi: Routledge, 2014.     

Chatterjee, Partha. ‘The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial History.’ In The Partha Chatterjee Omnibus. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Dalmia, Vasudha. The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions: Bhartendu Harischandra and Nineteenth-Century Banaras. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2010.

Goswami, Kishorilal. Sone ki Rakh wah Padmini. n.p: n.p, n.d. Accessed at Arya Bhasha Pustakalya, Nagari Pracharini Sabha, Varanasi. 

———.  Sona aur Sugandh wah Pannabai.     Vrindavan: Devkinandan Press     , 1909. 

———. Lal Kunwar wah Shahi Rangmahal.           Allahabad: Lala Ramdayal Agarwal, 1913. 

———. Kanak Kusum wah Mastani.     Vrindavan: Sri Sudarshan Press, 1914. 

———. Sulatana Razia Begum.     Vrindavan: Sri Sudarshan Press, 1914. 

———. Mallika Devi wah BangsarojiniNew Delhi: Harsh Publications, 2015. 

———. Hridayharini wah Adarsh RaminiNew Delhi: Isha Gyandeep, 2016. 

———. Lavanglata wah Adarsh BalaNew Delhi: Isha Gyandeep, 2016.

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Gupta, Vikas. ‘Social Agenda of Colonial Education: Textbook Discourse in Mid-Nineteenth Century.’ Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 86, no. 1 (2007): 1112–1123.

Padamsee, Alex. The Return of the Mughal: Historical Fiction and Despotism in Colonial India, 1863 1908. New Delhi: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 

Pandey, Gyanendra. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.     

Prasad, Shiv Prasad. Itihas Timirnasak: Part I. Allahabad: Government Press, 1883.

———.  Itihas Timirnasak: Part III. Allahabad: Government Press, 1877.

Pernau, Margrit. ‘Feeling Communities: Introduction.’ The Indian Economic & Social History Review 54, no. 1 (Jan 2017) 1–20.

Powell, Avril A. ‘History Textbooks and the Transmission of the Pre-Colonial Past in North-Western India in 1860s and 1870s’. In Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia, edited by Daud Ali. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Rai, Gopal. Hindi_Upanyas Kosh – Vol I: 1890–1919. Patna: Granth Niketan, 1968.      

Sarkar, Tanika. Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003. 

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