The Idea of a Nation : H.R. Bacchan’s Palimpsestian House of Wine Chapitre d’ouvrage - 2013

Anne Castaing

Anne Castaing, « The Idea of a Nation : H.R. Bacchan’s Palimpsestian House of Wine  », in Diana Dimitrova (ed.), The Other in South Asian Religion, Literature and Film : Perspectives on Othernism and Otherness, 2013, pp. 69-83


In the early 1930’s, when the young poet Harivansh Rai Bacchan (1907-2003) recited for the first time, and before stupefied assemblies, the verses of what will soon be published as the collection Madhushala (« The house of wine », 1935), the thundering repercussion of this amazing text was already obvious. Histories of literature do not fail in relating the collection to this major mass infatuation, promoted by public recitations (kavi sammelan) which the verses’ musicality encouraged. Legends and anecdotes surround this publication, as a real miracle amply commented by the poet himself who told his stupefaction toward the major popular success of the poems that he would hear on everyone’s lips. The collection, which narrates the existential itinerary of man portrayed as a drinker welcomed by a warm house of wine, indeed encourages a hedonist representation of life, glorifying intoxication and enchantment toward beauty, nature, sensuality, art and of course poetry. The romantic aura which surrounds the collection, published in a literary context inherited from both Rabindranath Tagore and John Keats, sets it up as a sanctified idol whose radiance could affect the visibility of the collection’s historical and political discourse. Beyond all romantic interpretation, this paper aims at highlighting the echoes of the peculiar political context in which the collection has been written and then publicized, questioning the massive success of this “strange” object as an idealistic answer to the paradoxes linked to the communal sensitive issue in the 1930’s.

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