Past event

English Research Seminar -- Dr Swati Moitra

Toru Dutt and the Poetry of ‘Improvement': English-Language Poetry and the Shaping of Calcutta in the 19th Century

English-language poetry emerging out of India in the 19th century often uses tropes drawn from contemporary history-writing to describe Calcutta, the capital of British India at the time–tropes that imagine the city's journey from swamps and marshland to the so-called ‘City of Palaces' as a heroic feat on the part of ‘Britain's sons'. Even as legal and technological intervention, as Debjani Bhattacharya has pointed out, transforms marshland into ‘land', draining and reclaiming, English-language writing learns the lay of the land, shapes and moulds it into something akin to the ‘City of Places'. Elsewhere, the terrain of deltaic Bengal imposes itself, in poems that speak in the voices of Calcutta's infamous mosquitos; poems that marvel at Calcutta's storms and cyclones; poems that lament the sultry summer afternoons; and so on. This paper focuses on the original lyric poetry and letters of the poet Toru Dutt to engage with this push-and-pull between the desire for ‘improvement' and the terrain itself, where the landscape asserts itself at the slightest notice. It centres around the construction of the Dutt family-owned ‘garden house' at Baugmaree in Toru Dutt's poetry and letters, keeping in mind the poet's preoccupation with ‘unhealthiness' and ‘dirt' in the native quarters of Calcutta.

Bio: Swati Moitra (M.Phil, Ph.D) is a Visiting Fellow at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, as a part of the Visiting Fellowships for Scholars from the Global South programme. She is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, at Gurudas College, University of Calcutta. She has also taught undergraduate and postgraduate programs in New Delhi and Mumbai. Her areas of interest include book history and histories of readership, nineteenth century studies and environmental history. She is a recipient of the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship 2013 and the SHARP Research Development Grant for BIPOC Scholars 2022.