History Department
Manchester University

Office Address:
History Department
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL, UK
Ph: +44 (161) 275 3095
Fax: +44 (161) 275 3098



Research interests

 current work





I work on the social and cultural history of the book, and the making of indigenous identity in colonial Bengal. I am particularly interested in popular print-cultures that survived the onset of standardisation, and the wider impact of the process on Bengali language, society and cultural politics. 

Most historians have seen a modern 'high' Bengali being created and wielded as a tool by the educated middle classes during this period, to establish its power over other social groups. But as I have demonstrated, the process was keenly contested. Commercial 'low-life' print-cultures disseminated literary preferences that ran counter to efforts defining the boundaries of 'polite' and 'vulgar'. Besides, the continuing importance of non-standard linguistic variants, oral cultures and specific reading practices of audiences, created a space within which the impact of standardised print could be remarkably resisted and re-interpreted. 

Illustrations were an integral part of this popular print market.
Coloured woodcut on mythical theme from Battala (n.d.) showing Krishna frolicking with naked milkmaidens (Victoria and Albert Museum).




My present project continues to unearth other non-elite but significant literate groups that participated in nineteenth century Bengali print-cultures. It aims to knit together in a systematic study, three contestary arenas of literary productions that both in terms of content and in a strictly linguistic sense, were the defining 'others' of a standardised modern Bengali language and literature - 'vulgar' colloquial speech of the lower orders (itarjan), 'women's' (meyeli bhasha) and 'Islamic-bengali' (really a syncretistic folk Bengali) language and literature. By highlighting survival, rather than 'silencing', it will throw light in important ways on the complex problems of nationalism, communalism and women's issues in the twentieth century. 

I am currently preparing a manuscript, 'Politics of Language and Culture:  Print, Popular Publishing and Reform in Bengali Society, c. 1800-1920' (provisional title), based on this work. 

Fears of a world turned upside down, with women holding the reins of power, haunted the Battala world.

Right: Woman trampling her lover, water-colour from Kalighat, c. 1900.
Below: Woman leading her sheep-lover, also a water-colour from Kalighat, c. 1865-70 (Victoria and Albert Museum)


Contributions to edited books

·'Between the Text and Readers: The Experience of Christian Missionaries in Bengal (1800-1850)', in James Raven (ed.), Free Print and Non-Commercial Publishing Since 1700, Ashgate Press: Brookfield/Vermont/ Aldershot (2000)
‘Politics of Language: Literary Bengali and its ‘Others’, c.1800-1905’, in Crispin Bates (ed.), Construction of Identity in Colonial India, OUP (forthcoming, 2003)


Contributions to academic journals

·'Cheap books, "bad" books: contesting print-cultures in colonial Bengal', in South Asia Research (vol. 18(2), November, 1998). 


·'Valorising the "vulgar": nationalist appropriations of colloquial Bengali traditions, c.1870-1905' (vol.xxxvii, no.2, April-June, 2000) Indian Economic and Social History Review.

'Revisiting the "Bengal Renaissance": Literary Bengali and Low-Life Print in Colonial Calcutta', Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 37 no. 42, October, 19-25, 2002. 

'An Uncertain "Coming of the Book": Early Print-cultures in Colonial India', Book History, vol. 6 (2003) forthcoming.



  • Co-organised a one-day workshop on PRINT, READERS AND LISTENERS: LITERARY CULTURES IN THE 19TH (AND 20TH) CENTURY, with Dr. Francesca Orsini held at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, on 19th January, 1998. Chaired by Prof. C.A. Bayly, Cambridge University, and Dr. Sudipta Kaviraj, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University.
  • Participated in a three day conference in January, 1999, held at Khajuraho, India, on POPULAR CULTURES AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE organised by the ENRECA foundation and the CSSSC.
  • ‘The old, ‘bad’ and ‘vulgar’: reforming a ‘vulgar’ literature in colonial Bengal, c.1860-1900’. Paper read at the History departmental seminar at Manchester University, February 2000.
  • ‘Politics of Language: Literary Bengali and its ‘Others’, c.1800-1905’, paper read at the 16th European Conference on Modern South Asia at the University of Edinburgh, September, 2000. 
  • Silencing or Survival?: Print, colonial reformation and popular publishing in nineteenth century Bengal’, paper read at the 9th annual SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) conference at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia (USA), July, 2001.
  • Literary Standards, Print and Battala: The Politics of Bengali Culture, 1850-1900’, paper read in March, 2002, at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • ‘Periodicals of fame and periodicals of shame: popular print and reforming tastes in colonial Bengal’, paper read at the 17th European Conference on Modern South Asia at the University of Heidelberg, September, 2002
  • ‘Debates about obscenity in vernacular literature in colonial Bengal’, paper read in September, 2002. Invited by the University of Halle, Germany, to participate in a workshop on ‘Looking at the Coloniser’.
  • Simon Research Fellowship awarded by the University of  Manchester (1999-2002) 
  • Cambridge Nehru Scholarship awarded by the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, Cambridge, in support of doctoral research (1993-96).
  • O.R.S. (Overseas Research Students) Award granted by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, also in support of doctoral research.
  • National Award for outstanding achievement granted by the Ministry for  Human Resources, Government of India (1989). 
  • Fellow of Cambridge Commonwealth Society.


My teaching interests include the social and cultural history of the empire and nationalism in India, print and the public sphere, questions of gender and race and the making of imperial and colonial identities. I am happy to supervise projects and dissertations on any of the above topics. 
Visit the history website for details of courses I teach.

I am currenlty co-supervising two PhD dissertations on
1. The Raj and its intermediaries in wartime (WW2) India
2. Martial-ing the Raj: Colonial governmentality and the Indian army, c. 1857-1914



  • PhD, 1993-97, Cambridge University, UK                                           Thesis: 'Literature, Language and Print in Bengal, c.1780-1905', .
  • MA (Modern History), 1990-92,  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
  • B.A. Honours (History), 1986-89, Presidency College, Calcutta. 




Last updated January, 2003

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