The Political in Art
Somnath Hore, Tebhaga: An Artist's Diary and Sketchbook, translated from Bengali by Somnath Zutshi, book and cover design by Ashit Paul, introduction by Samik Bandyopadhyay, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 1990, xiii + 61 pp., Rs 70.
Deenabandhu Mitra's (1830-73) play Neeldarpan (1860) was perhaps the earliest work of art created in Bengali in direct response to a contemporary political event, namely, the Indigo Rebellion of 1859-61. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's (1834-94) novel Anandamath, although it had a political content, was not written in response to an experienced political happening. The Sannyasi and Fakir Rebellions of 1770-71, which triggered Anandamath's narration, had become a historical memory by Bankimchan-dra's time. He used the narrated event partly as an allegory to suggest the kind of political action he conceived as desirable in his own times. The spirit of swadeshi, designed to be evoked by the swadeshi melas which began to be held annually from 1967, gathered momentum and coalesced into a mass movement against Lord Curzon's decision to partition Bengal in 1905. The fillip to the swadeshi spirit provided by the wounded sense of pride caused by the partition proposal, opened up floodgates of creative outpouring in Bengal. It was this pre-Gandhian swadeshi movement which initiated, for the arts of Bengal, the tradition of subsumption within themóresponses to experienced political events and situations. The tradition highlighted contradictions, antagonisms and conflicts in events and situations described, narrated, evoked or suggested in the works of art. Further, the concerned works of art never failed to express either an open or a subterranean feeling of injured pride and anguished protest. There was neither a medium nor a genre of art in Bengal which remained untouched by the tendency. Poetry, music and theatre were the earliest and also the most intensely affected by the tendency.
The secret insurrectionist variety of the nationalist movement which followed the anti-partition of Bengal movement and continued till the thirties, conditioned the