This essay intends to reflect on the question of mutual entailments of a discourse called history and the modes of subjectivation inscribed therein. But it also seeks to review its articulation in relation to the postcolonial as a category that by its very lexical form calls forth an investigation into the constitution of the colonial. A historical knowledge is required as it informs of the epistemic violence that constituted/effaced a subject that was obliged to cathect (occupy in response to a desire) the space of the Imperialists self consolidating other (Spivak 348). In an act of historiographic re-inscription, it was therefore necessary to undo the feat of colonialism where the colonized was denied recognition as a subject of history in his own right even for a project that was all his own (Guha 3). And yet this recovery of the subject has entailed recovering it once again in a historiographic project, which seems legitimate when put as a certain resort to strategy.
Shastri and his family went through the readjustments necessitated by the alterations in colonial policy that brought the initial attempts to form archives, specifically to aid the colonial legal institutions to a close. A certain policy of Anglicization of education was taken up reducing the importance of the traditional literati. Shastris eldest brother Nandakumar Nyayachunchu was the last one in the long history of the family to have studied in a tol. Shastri enrolled himself at the Calcutta Government Sanskrit College which had a syllabus markedly different from that of a tol. The new education policy of Anglicization had brought about by that time significant changes in the society that was generating a division between the traditional pandits and the English educated emerging intelligentsia. Shastri was brought in as an active member to the Asiatic Society by Rajendralal Mitra and he inherited the post of The Director of Operations in Search of Sanskrit Manuscripts after his mentors death. Later Shastri participated in the activities of Bangiya Sahitya Parishat and held the post of president of the institution for more than a decade. This institution, in spite of its nationalist leanings, still used to regard the Asiatic Society as a model to be emulated. Both of these institutions stand testimony to Shastri`s endeavors in archive formation. On the uses of the archive set up in Sahitya Parishat, Shastri comments, ...[C]ollected and stacked materials shouldnt be left to perish these must be put to good use. Only then would it benefit the country-only then would it lead to the spread of literature, and to the removal of darkness of history (Chowdhury 464 translations mine). However, Shastris excursions in the world of history would not be like that of a historian who is at peace with the a priori rules marking history. On the whole he would have a difficult existence traversing the path towards instituting synchronism between documents and delineation of the events from an archive that, lacking any indication of historical chronology, the colonial historiographic endeavor had marked as unfit as an aid to history writing.
The following paragraphs attempt to mark Shastris troubled existence in history by putting the focus on two of his essays, the one written very early in his literary career in 1877 and the other one written towards its end in 1925. In the 1925 essay titled Aamader Itihas, it is possible to get a fair measure of Shastris concern for salvaging an archive that has been discredited on different occasions in terms of its inability to stand as the sources of Indian History. And this archive houses the possible literary sources whose validity would dwindle when seen in contrast to the epigraphic sources that came to prominence somewhat later, at a time when the literary materials were discredited as possible sources lacking any provision of a certain chronology. Significantly, this apology for the historical validity of Sanskrit literature was also an act of remembering the privileged native informant of the early colonial attempts in retrieval of history. Shastri begins this apology/remembrance by a call to step out of a historiography that is promoted by the Europeans:
We must refurbish the history of our country completely. The way we so far have studied history is no more acceptable. It is undeniable that we had no history until Europeans taught us of its existence. We still follow the path shown by them; but we shall stop doing that. They are not well informed about our country; they dont read all the books nor mingle with all of us; having read a few books they hurriedly draft a history. (Chowdhury 327 My translation)
A whole lot of people think that the Europeans knew the art of deciphering while we were completely ignorant of that art. This is not true. The Europeans used to make the pundits decipher these inscriptions. Their fame was based on the intellectual labour of the Brahmin pundits. (Chowdhury 328-29 translation mine)
Although the discovery of inscriptions salvaged the history of Indian antiquity from a denial of existence, Shastris attempt was to reclaim the Sanskrit texts as valid sources of history. As the inscriptions do not give a continuous account, Sanskrit texts, it is presumed, could help to reinforce a narrative continuity in history. Shastri would therefore attempt in this essay to establish, or rather assume, a synchronism that would exonerate the smriti texts from the blame of not being amenable to history and present a recent archaeological discovery with a narrative within which it could be placed. He comments
Mahabharata informs that the king Dhrtarashtra had only one daughter who was married to Jayadratha; the king of Sindhu-Soubir. The Soubirs were ruling Sind for a long time Recently beneath two dead river beds of Indus a huge city has been found. At the same site a lot of Sumerian items have been retrieved. Earlier to this no Sumerian traces had been found in India. All the evidences of the Sumerians were first found in the Persian Gulf area. Some hold that the Sumerians were of greater antiquity than the Egyptians, but others differ. Since such a big evidence of their presence has been found in the former riverbeds of Indus it would not be implausible to consider seriously two different possible migration patterns of the Sumerian people: the Sumerians might have had migrated from the Persian Gulf area to India, or to the Persian Gulf area from India. We shall, however, assert that this Sumerian race is Indias Soubir. That was a time almost about three/four thousand years before Christ. And now, if that was the time when the war of Kurukshetra took place, hold your breath and imagine how old Indian civilization would then be considered to be. (Chowdhury 333 translation mine).
However, at the time when Haraprasad Shastri was writing this essay, he was already a figure whose authority in the world of historical enquiries had been assailed by a new group of historians who formed a collective named Barendra-Anusandhan-Samiti. This group, which included renowned scholars like Akshaykumar Maitra, Ramaprasad Chanda, and Radhagobinda Basak, attempted to emphasize the importance of inscription in its role as historical sources in contradistinction to the handwritten manuscripts. Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay was an approving supporter of the methods followed by the Samiti in establishing proofs and instituting synchronisms (Gaudarajamala in Prabasi, Chaitra, 158-72). The principle row that pitted these newcomers against their predecessors concerned the acceptability of certain genealogical texts called Kulagrantha as historically valid accounts. Nagendranath Basu was a historian who was interested in accepting these texts as historically valid and Shastri was his close comrade and patron. The Samiti, being vehemently opposed to this decision, annoyed Shastri by their insistence on writing history based on Pathuré Praman or archaeologically grounded evidence. It is said that Shastri left history-writing with the bitter experience of this row and reentered the world of fiction with the publication of his last novel; a historical novel under the title Bener Meye (The account of the debate over historical evidence is charted in details in Rameshchandra Majumdars, Haraprasad Shastri 106-108).
It seems that because of the criticisms directed at Shastri and his subsequent move, there has been an attempt to celebrate his legacy by rendering it in a set of mutually opposed characteristics found integrated in a perfect synthesis in his person. One could offer as an instance the comments of Sunitikumar Chatterjee, the renowned linguist, who called Shastri at once a creative and a critical genius. Shastris creativity hence rests in his literary productions and his critical faculty was more concentrated in his archival and historical work; these two varieties are further elaborated by Chatterjee as to have produced the following two sorts of writings: Literature of Power(with an ability to move or excite people), and Literature of Information(embodying Shastris critical vision) (Chattopadhyay 203-04).
A possibility of the depiction of confrontation with the colonial experience in historiography, which at its moments of inception was engrossed in the attempt to find a historical chronology, also awaits us in one of Shastris early essays referring back in its introductory paragraphs to the early colonial attempts to chart a chronology for history. The essay having the title Aamaader Gauraber Dui Samay came out in 1877 and was one of Shastris first encounters with history. It attempted to mark out the glorious times that the colonized could call their own; but none of the two signifiers, glory or time, bring any promise of transparency regarding their value unless one probes further. In one of his public addresses he contemplates on the possibilities this could indicate
You have nominated me to be the president, and I have spent some time in thinking on the ways of entertaining you. At last I have decided to tell you a few words on the ancient glories of Bengal. The annals of the olden days please us all. And moreover if this is concerned with our own selves, that pleases us further. If today we have nothing glorious around us and earlier we had this in abundance, an account of these could certainly excite all of us. Thus, confident about the effect I would have on my audience; in my address I would discuss our ancient glories. As it is said, happy memories are always nice to revisit. (Chowdhury 152 my translation)
The trajectory that leads the subjects access to these happy memories would nevertheless be fairly complicated and at times torn apart by irresolvable contradictions. The essay, whose discussion follows, stands testimony to an impossible attempt to disavow one of the very basic rules that constitute history. A fixed chronological table aiding synchronism across the heterogeneous documents is being discounted, while simultaneously two specific events backed otherwise by a fixed chronology is being cited as constitutive of the glorious times worth remembering. Shastri denounces the historians project to institute synchronism from the very beginning of this essay and emphasizes the inevitable failure of the three various modes attempted by the Orientalists for the institution of a historical chronology. The most interesting aspect in Shastris comments seems to be his recognition of the conflicting exchange of arguments, either for or against a particular formulation of chronology, as an integrated exercise. As he states
If today one great scholar claims an inevitable logic, a blameless reasoning and an irrefutable proof that takes his suggestions of a chronology unmistakably beyond suspicion; tomorrow someone else would come forcefully claiming the same inevitable logic, blameless reasoning, and irrefutable proof for overturning the earlier claim. But both would have the same kind of reasoning, proof and argument. This trend has been on for around 70/80 years. Countless opinions have been propagated. But that which cannot be done would not be done no matter how much you and I or even the greatest of the scholars try doing it. (Chowdhury 3-4 my translation)
Shastri then would go on to denounce the other attempts which do not strictly begin with finding a chronology directly but institutes synchronism aiding the formation of a chronological chart in the end. Shastri calls the first such attempt pourbaparya nirnoy, or the determination of an order in the appearance of the events. The description of this attempt by Shastri brings forward the ongoing endeavor to fix up the order of appearance of various Sanskrit authors by trying to account for their influence on the posterior authors. This, however, ends up in an utter confusion with the vain attempt to establish an original author from whom the influence would flow down to the other authors. Similarities in aesthetic aspects difficult to fix up in terms of originality and emulation fail to give a temporal order of appearance acceptable to history. Finally the third mode, an attempt to chart the gradual improvement of ideas, is rejected for the cultural specificity of the notion of improvement in history. And in spite of these three disclaimers on all the previous attempts for the institution of synchronism, Shastri would claim to learn of the glorious times from history itself in such a way as to make his entire essay appear to be founded on a serious contradiction. With an aura of a joke that still resonates with contempt for the historians project, Shastri would write the following paragraph entitled: What kind of good have these attempts in enumeration done
Almost for a century now, people all around the world have been kept busy in finding chronologies. These attempts have borne no fruit still it seems, the strange rule of God is such that, there is nothing absolutely worthless or unnecessary in this world. In the attempts to reveal the chronology a lot of news has come out. (Chowdhury 5 my translation)
The elements that were found within an exercise that was expected to be futile nevertheless helped in constituting what Shastri was to call our glorious times. Cited from the texts produced as par the historical discourse, it certainly had a chronological basis that even the citations by Shastri do not efface. Therefore, the sense that Shastri is abandoning the disclaimers that inaugurates the essay is acute. The two of our glorious times that Shastri mentions, the two events of intellectual revolution that reordered the world of Indian knowledges, were still marked in his essay by their time tags. This sense of an emerging contradiction is considerable in his following statements that instantiate this aspect
Probably one of these intellectual revolutions occurred in between 900-400B.C. and the entire stretch was marked by its contributions. The other one began in 600A.D. and for three hundred years reformed India. The first one ended Vedic dominance and the second one ameliorated the Paurànikas. The first one electrified the whole of India; the second one saw the establishment of one caste as dominant, however we are equally proud of both. We are equally honoured. (Chowdhury 6 my translation)
Here Shastri indicates grossly two events of socio-religious nature: The advent of Budhdhism and Jainism and secondly, the resurgence of Brahminism under the leadership of Sankaràcarya and Kumarila Bhatta. In spite of the assumption which the author posits about the futility of the most basic effort that would mark off a historical discourse from something that is not quite historical: an attempt to institute a fixed chronology, it is incredibly difficult to plot these citations of the glorious times in clear and unambiguous terms as something that is posed against history. Because of the peculiarity of its delineation, the glorious times would be left with the clear sign of its origin within the narrative of history that comes with a fixation of chronology, while the historical project itself would be faced with an attempted delegitimization from the author who would claim these times as part of the glory of the community at large without even removing the marks of their being subject to a chronological table.
This constitutive contradiction of the citations of glorious times might tell us something about the subject within the author who speaking for a community at large would claim these times as their own .The subject who attaches himself to a stretch of time, and also makes explicit its location within a possible chronological chart, nevertheless tries to disavow the logic of its appearance within the historical chronology, this remaining to him an impossibility. The time-citations affected by this subject only become possible with an a priori disclaimer of a necessary failure of the attempts to institute a chronology. Historical discourse thus, does not inform this subject as a knowledge that is accepted as undisputed. A certain distrust of the chronology marks the event of curving out the glorious times. Institution of a historical chronology remains devalued and suspended as the subjects own discovery of the glorious times and the act of relating to it gets preference in its place.
It is possible to suggest that this act of dissension was affected by an obligation to respond to the colonial attempts in instituting a historical chronology. The following is a short account that serves as the colonial context from which Shastris essay was dissenting in a responsive way. Kopf explains this colonial endeavor of establishing a chronology
Two crucial events in a possible account of the early colonial attempts to establish a historical chronology are important in this context. Firstly there was the inaugural moment of the Orientalist endeavor to find out and elaborate on what has been called a Hindu chronology and its evaluation as par its correspondence to a possible historical chronology that could be arrived at using this Hindu chronology; next comes the moment that has been called a terminal point of the preceding Orientalist project, where the attempt to institute synchronism initiated by Jones ends with a rebuttal of the endeavor itself in the hands of James Mill who, it is said, dared to deflate the exalted figure of William Jones. (Kopf 237)
In his Tenth Anniversary Discourse (presented on 28th of February, 1793), Jones as the President of the Society, would note the lack of an Indian historical account. That, however, was not to be a cause for lament for the colonizers
[F]rom the Sanskrit literature, which our country has the honour of having unveiled, we may still collect some historical truths, though time, and a series of revolutions, have obscured that light which we might reasonably have expected from so diligent and ingenious a people. The numerous Puranas and Itihasas, or poems mythological and heroick, are completely in our power; and from them we may recover some disfigured but valuable pictures of ancient manners and governments . (Proceedings of the Asiatic Society 206)
For Jones, the inferiority of the Asiatic nations had to be explained by taking recourse to a historical explanation ruled by the economy of historical discourse. The Sanskrit archive is deemed to be valuable for its potential to stand for a classical antiquity from whose point of view the subsequent Indian history would look like a long process of steady decline. But this task of writing history would face insurmountable problems leading at times to the abandonment of the project.
The historical subjectivity, whose lack amongst the rude and credulous people (Mill 22) was being posited in Mills History, was visibly more than something that could be called a consequence of endowing a certain subject with a certain history. Historical subjectivity is something that must always precede the actual act of writing history as the possibility of the historiographical act must already be present in a subjects experience, in the possibility of finding the historical records in the testimony of the said subject. Mills assumption of historical subjectivity is a transcendental principle lacking which a rude people cannot ever transform into a good people; therefore, they cannot make history. This failure in its turn leads to the act of figuring out a subject who could bear the blames for not being historically motivated i.e. for its being ungoverned by the axiomatics of history. The lack of this supposedly crucial aspect being a characteristic of the people of rude nations adds justification to the historians attempted scripting of the prognosis of colonial conquest.
After having delineated this colonial experience , Shastris position in contrast looks like a response to this prior attempt to found the colonial subject premised on its failure to conform to the putative rules of historical subjectivity. If Mills identification of the lack of history writing marked the characteristic of a rude nation and the difficulties of finding the historical records implied a lack of historical subjectivity leading in the long run to the institution of the colonized self, the colonial experience always already foreclosed the colonizeds entry into history as a subject who could relate to its foundations. An attempt to respond to this colonial experience brings forth more than one strategic options of endowing its subjects with a past. To put it in terms of gross approximations, one possibility remains internal to a claim to empower the colonized with an endowment of historical subjectivity while another option rests in rejecting the values that the colonial historiography had embellished the ideal historical subject with. Caught up in this vortex of acceptance/ rejection Shastris attempt here might variously seem to be an irresolvable contradiction that paralyses advancements of historical knowledge or and perhaps, as a consequence, a historical error that must be removed for the sake of a better knowledge.
The curious position of the claimant of glorious times doesnt offer a clear opening into a discourse which would be or could be opposed to history, and yet its necessary disclaimers question and even reject the most basic of the rules inaugurating history. This, it seems, is a strategy of a subject bound to a certain response to the colonial attempt to write the lack of historical subjectivity as a justification for colonization; a strategy, indeed a savoir carved out by the subject distancing itself from the colonial discourse, marking a certain empowerment of the subject, enabling the subject to claim a past located within the historical discourse, to claim it as a marker of glory, as a privileged marker of its identity that is pre-colonial and yet informing the colonized selves. Let this moment- of the subjects pouvoir/savoir- this strategy enabling the identity of the colonized to be more than a colonial subject (using events produced within the historical discourse) while still denying validity to an attempt to establish a historical chronology (which has repeatedly led to a certain statement about a deficiency in the characteristics of the colonized) be called a strategy of citing the glorious times out of history proper Let this moment be called, provided this exercise in neologism is accepted , a moment of the subjects power/time, a strategic moment when the citational order of the subjects identity takes precedence over the discursive order of history , trying to search out the glorious times for claiming it as a part of the subjects self through a possessive adjective, while at once a contradictory move rejects the very foundation of history in chronology, putting it into an eternal suspension. This act of naming a difference, it seems, is the least one could do in remembrance of a moment that embodies a subjects experience of a temporalizing discourse that signifies above all a colonial connaissance from which the subject is obliged to recover its identity, and accordingly the subject prepares, even before it enters the discourse, for its exit, by an act of disavowal that inaugurates this essay.
Induction of the category postcolonial makes an explanative account of the constitution of the colonial obligatory. The colonial experience therefore rests as an irreducible point of departure. As the colonial discourse was bent upon denying historical subjectivity to the colonized, the attempt to recover the subject from its location inside the colonial discourse calls forth a recovery within history imperative as a strategy. This project, whose legitimacy cannot be denied, might still leave unexplored a certain confrontation of the subject with history where the subjects experience of the historical discourse does not inevitably lead to its acceptance beyond doubt.
The subject whose experience of history gets redoubled as an experience of the legitimization of colonial domination might still attempt to dwell with history, but this act of dwelling would be marred by contradictions and crises leading at times to the suspension of the axiomatics of history affected by the subject, who was otherwise privileged enough to get involved in the historical construction. Haraprasad Shastris essays in historiography instantiates such moments of suspension/retention of history that marks a trajectory of the subjects movement within and without history, and can also be understood as another strategy of taking into account the colonial experience. Notwithstanding the legitimacy of a recuperative historiography, an acknowledgement of that other strategy saves us from the violence of its effacement.
Bandyopadhyay, Rakhaldas. Gaudarajamala. Prabasi, Chaitra, 1319. Published later in Chanda & Gupta, Gaudarajamala. Calcutta: Deys Publishing, 2005.
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