Debkamal Ganguly: An Imaginative Text Based on Contemporary Travel Through the “Forests” Described in Bibhuthibhushan’s Memoirs: Creative Writing
Sarai generally focusses on urban spaces and the processes of urbanisation. However, a very crucial emerging question in contemporary India is, how are “rural” and forest spaces being transformed in the current context, and what is the relationship of this process to the development of cities? One could look at the question only in terms of contemporary transformations, but another approach would also situate it historically, in relation to accounts of what these non-urban areas used to look like. The project looks precisely at this question, in the context of Eastern India. Debkamal Ganguly is interested in how the idea of “nature” has developed and has been changed by visitors from the city, over several decades, including himself. He seeks to understand "how an otherwise 'underdeveloped' marginalized geographical/cultural space in the immediate west of the Gangetic plains has been entangled in multilayered relationship with the urban consciousness and artistic creativity of Kolkata."
His proposal seeks to do this in three time-frames over the course of which the few rare travellers into the forests morphed into the families of Bengali tourists we know well today. In his analysis, they travel to "sacred-mythological" places but also come to "secularise" those spaces, finding new frames for myth and metaphor in that space. In the first period, from the 19th century to about the 1940s, we see the emergence of an urban middle class and the Bengali novel, which he argues is an intrinsically visual medium. This process finds its apogee in Bibhutibhushan’s popular novels and memoirs of rural life and the “forest”. In the second period, this relationship between urban and non-urban is revisited in the context of the bohemian Calcutta literary avant-garde in the 1950s and 60s. The third period is the applicant’s present, where the perception of these other spaces is created through electronic and digital mediums, shaping phantasmagoric "space hallucinations", playing them off google earth.
In keeping with the concern of with form that is the special focus of these fellowships, this will primarily be a creative writing project, along with some audio and video recording. Ganguly, who has professional experience in all three forms, and also holds an MA in Geology, will physically travel through the various locations mentioned in Bibhutibhushan’s memoirs, reporting what has happened to them, trying to understand the contemporary urban visitor’s relationship to these spaces. In addition to being a project very innovative in terms of both subject and form, Sarai believes that it will be a pioneering work that will challenge artistic practitioners and others to think more carefully (current representations of environmental issues have tended to be more simplistic) about these issues.