Social Scientist. v 15, no. 164 (Jan 1987) p. 46.


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MALINI BHATTACHARYA*

The Class Character of Sexuality :

Peasant Women in Manik Bandopadhyay

'TO WRITE stories about peasants and such people for the delectation of the ^abus," who having easier access to means of subsistence for the body, can find leisure for the cultivation of emotions—to provide aesthetic pleasure iherely on the basis of the sexual relationship between two half-starved bodies, while suppressing, out of deference to that leisure-seeking reader, the fact of the unremitted, unspeakably harsh struggle for existence in which the peasant man and the peasant woman are engaged—this form of literary hoax does not hold water any more, although it has not been completely called off yet. To exploit the literary marketability of the sexuality of peasants and workers in this way, is to concede, in the literary sphere, to the same kind of sick voyeurism that derives titillation from the observation of the sexual acts of birds and beasts91.

The above is a quotation from Manik Bandopadhyay's contribution to the debate among Bengali Marxist intellectuals in 1948 constituting the "self-criticism of progressive writers'. Without going into the circumstances and the details of this debate, we may observe a couple of points about this passage. Manik here is talking of the literary conventions operating among a predominantly urban middle class readership of fiction. He also points out how the integrity of these literary conventions is sought to be kept intact, even while introducing a new, potentially disturbing element into this fictional discourse—namely the figure of the peasant man and the peasant woman.

The kind of realism in which Bengali fiction had already achieved a certain mastery, according to Manik, rendered the representation of the peasant possible in fictional discourse. The rough skin of the peasant woman, the smell of coconut oil in her hair, the filth and raggedness of village life integral to economic deprivation, the crude picturesqueness of local dialect—all this may be presented in fiction in minutest detail to provide a novel attraction. A new kind of sexuality, acceptable only because it is supposed to be quite outside the purview of middle class norms,—analogous to the sexuality of 'birds and beasts'—may be imputed to the peasant man and the peasant woman. In this way, the integrity of

*Jadavpur University, Calcutta,



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