Producing and Re-producing the New Women:
A Note on the Prefix 're'
Out of colonial chaos and order in Bengal came the prefix 're': a peculiar privileging of this marker is one salient feature of the multiple and often contending discourses produced during the last one and a half century. A host of words like, 'reform*, 'restoration1, 'return', 'renew', 'rebirth', 'recover', 'rejuvenation', 'recast', 'rehabilitation', 'reassertion', 'resurgence', 'revival', 'renascent', etc. were not only regularly deployed, they also set the rhythm, tone and tenor of the discourses, in fact, were the constituent elements of a regulative principle. Certainly, it did take time to gather momentum:
over the years these recurrent words were used with an increasing frequency and piquancy as well, but one had to wait for their extreme foregrounding till the high tide of nationalism. Only then did the term 'renaissance'—a term large in amplitude to include all the previous ones—emerge as a full-blown conceptual category; and in the process, it both supplemented and supplanted the earlier usages, sporadic and amorphous as they were.
Bankimchandra closed his essay 'Bengali Literature' (1871), by way of a flourish, with an appreciative question from the Derozian Spectator', 'the Bengalis (are) the Italians of Asia'. He believed that though the Bengalis lacked 'the fibre for doing much in the way of real thought any more than of vigorous action', they, almost in the footsteps of the 'supple and pliant Italians', 'were doing a great work by acclimatising European ideas' for later-reception by the 'hardier and more original races of Northern India'.1 Before long, this piece of cultural comparison, or as a variation on the same theme, the comparison between Athens and Bengal, became a part of our received notions, shared by people belonging to almost the entire range of the political spectrum. Take for example the two following statements:
'The role played by Bengal in the modern awakening of India is comparable to the position occupied by Italy in the story of the European Renaissance'2 and 'If Periclean Athens was the school of
Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Calcutta.
Social Scientist, Vol. 22, Nos. 1-2, January-February 1994