Strangers on a train: modernism, cosmopolitanism and community in 1930s Calcutta

Modernist literary culture was decisively shaped by communities of practitioners sharing a writing or publishing platform – such as a press or a ‘little magazine’ – and linked not only by print networks but by forms of sociability. One social expression typical of Indian modernity was conversation, known in Bengali as adda. In 1930s Calcutta, a modernist community grew up around the literary journal Parichay, meeting regularly at the homes of the journal’s editors for sessions of animated discussion that were recorded in a member’s diary as Parichay-er Adda. The group included not only poets and artists, but also scientists, historians, nationalist politicians, disaffected colonialists, and spies – both for the colonial police and for the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The 1930s was a period of literary radicalism, of shifting party allegiances and political fault-lines, linked to the fortunes of the Comintern, the rise of National Socialism and fascism in Europe, and the last phase of the struggle for modern nationhood in India. The cosmopolitanism of the Parichay circle, and its modernist affiliations, were deeply imbricated in its commitment to its ‘provincial’ literary culture.

The talk will be illustrated with images from the Parichay archives and related documents and correspondence.

Supriya Chaudhuri is Professor (Emerita) in the Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and currently TORCH Mellon Global South Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford. Her most recent publication is the co-edited Commodities and Culture in the Colonial World (London: Routledge, 2018). Her research interests include European Renaissance literature, Indian cultural history, modernism, philosophy, critical theory, fiction, translation, cinema and sport.

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