Eating the corners of literature : Bombay Archival Research from the PEN All-India Center to Arvind Krishna Mehrotra Archives and the City of Bombay

Intervenant : Laetitia Zecchini

Cornell University, USA

"Eating the corners of literature” : Bombay archival research from the PEN All-India Center to Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

The battle of modern Indian literature has been a battle against termites, the poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra acknowledged. Books, little magazines, journals, letters, drafts and manuscripts run the risk of being literally eaten away and turn into dust. Through this illustrated presentation drawing on some of the PEN All-India Center publications (especially The Indian PEN bulletin published from the 30s onwards and stocked in a room of the Theosophy Hall building in Bombay) as well as on some of Arun Kolatkar’s and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s unpublished papers from the 50s onwards, I would like to expose both the extreme fragility of these archives and their extraordinary potentiality ; their extreme marginality and their worldliness. If these documents have, for long, stayed where they were and have been very difficult to access, many were however destined to travel. And travel they did, literally or imaginatively, sometimes through accidental or underground circuits. “Damn you eating the corners of literature” is a line from the opening statement of one of Mehrotra’s little mags damn you : a magazine of the arts. The implications of archival research for a literary scholar may hold in that line. These documents also eat the corners of the world map and of literature away. They help us to expand and revise our literary cartographies and literary histories ; they expose the bewildering diversity of the cultural and literary field in Bombay, but also a much more complex, transgressive and exciting view of “world literature” before World. Lit - where centers, corners and peripheries are often realigned or eroded, and where the literary battle is also waged against those who view certain spaces and subjects, certain idioms and mediums, certain affiliations and connections as insignificant or irrelevant.