In Indian public consciousness, Netaji (leader) has been historically identified with the much respected figure of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. In more recent times, the title has been usurped in the Hindi belt by the Samajvadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, also called Netaji. But in Hindi netaji is also a generic title for any aira-ghaira natthu-khaira, would-be or small-time fixer-politician, or even for ‘unemployed youth who idle away their time gossiping and are always ready to offer opinion on any issue’. As such, Manish Thakur notes, the term ‘exhibits a range of connotations from respect to parody’ (2020, 328, 329). Some netas have already access to, and visibly display, the accoutrements of power (lal batti official cars, security, sidekicks/PAs, the phone numbers of VIPs, etc.), while others are still striving and make up this lack with rhetorical skills, mobility, and constant strategizing. ‘Effectively’, Thakur notes, ‘neta means someone who can mobilize others on an issue or a set of issues’, and can get things done—usually indirectly or behind the scenes (in Hindi, using the extended causative form of verbs—karvana, dilvana—or the impersonal form ‘ho jana’). Indeed, netas ‘are an inalienable presence in the Indian landscape, both urban and rural’ (Ibid.). There have been many parodies of netajis in Hindi. Perhaps the most famous is the column written by Manohar Shyam Joshi in the 1980s for Saptahik Hindustan (the Hindi imprint of The Illustrated Weekly of India) about a fixer called Netaji (Kakaji in the TV version for Doordarshan, starring Om Puri). With the help of the narrator acting as a prompter, Netaji explains the neta’s logic and his understanding of politics and of life. In this paper, I focus on the key characteristics of Netaji (and other such figures in Hindi fiction and satire), his logic and his particular use of language. If satire is ‘a literary art of diminishing a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking towards it attitudes of amusement, contempt or scorn’, and it ‘uses laughter as a weapon and against a butt existing outside the work itself. That butt may be individual, or a type of person, a class, a nation or even the whole race of man’ (Abrams 1962, 51, quoted in Sikandar 2021, 40), I follow Maryam Sikandar in conceptualising Netaji Kahin as a parody, a ‘pleasurable, self-critical and tentative literary modality that distinguishes itself from the directed, often unforgiving and unilateral nature of satire’ (Sikandar 2021, 40). This and other parodies of netajis are often affectionate and complicit, ostensibly othering the netaji’s devious and often uncouth ways but recognizing how indispensable they are to ‘getting things done’.
This event is part of King's India Institute's Fugitive Word seminar series.
About the speaker
Professor Francesca Orsini is a literary historian working primarily with Hindi and Urdu materials and interested in exploring how multilingualism worked and continues to work within the literary cultures of South Asia. Currently she is finishing a book on the multilingual literary history of Awadh from the 15c to the early-20c. She is also leading the project “Multilingual locals and significant geographies: for a new approach to world literature” (MULOSIGE, funded by the European Research Council), which seeks to propose an alternative, located and multilingual, approach to world literature, from the perspective of three regional sites – north India, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa – in the colonial and postcolonial periods and the contemporary globalizing moment. She is interested in the worldliness of literature both as it inhabits and intervenes in the world, and also in the imaginative worlds literature creates.