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Alkazi Theatre Archives

A Bibliographic Listing From The Archive

The Parlour and The Streets- Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta

Book: The Parlour and The Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta
Written by: Sumanta Banerjee (English)
Published by: Seagull Books, 1989

Using printed literature, oral records, folk idioms, street culture and popular performing arts as primary sources and evidence, author Sumanta Banerjee attempts to draw a comparative study between two socio-economic groups of the nineteenth century in the emerging heterogenous metropolitan city of Calcutta. This book reflects on socio-economic tensions between two classes at the cusp of evolving urbanization under British colonial administration — the Bengali elite of English-educated, middle-class professionals, who are culturally colonized and the other comprised the economically marginalized section of Bengal, the ‘urban-poor’; mostly, traditional craftsmen and artisans, migrating from the rural regions and the outskirts. The author analyzes the performative acts of a ‘new urban folk culture’, which is emerging from the lower-orders of the urban Bengali society with intention of subverting the high-culture that was modelled on the British.

“The various groups of Auls and Bauls (wandering minstrels), who used to roam around the streets of nineteenth century Calcutta, decked in their flowing saffron robes and strumming at the single-stringed ‘ektārā’ and a small kettle drum (dungi) tied to their waists, were some of the earliest followers of lower class religious radicalism. While Calcutta’s sambhrānta people were belching an orgy of printed exhibitionism in newspaper columns and verbal histrionics in the Town Hall, debating over the subtle points of the caste system and how to protect their religion from contamination, these Bauls made fun of such pedantry in songs.” (Page 68)

The Parlour and The Streets- Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta