You are here:

History, agency and representation in the Perveen Mistry series
Sujata Massey (b. 1964) has recently started to write a new series of historical crime fiction set in early 1920s colonial Bombay (India). The three texts: A Murder on Malabar Hill (2018), The Satapur Moonstone (2019) and The Bombay Prince (2021) feature her female sleuth, Perveen Mistry, who is modelled after India’s first female lawyer. In each novel Massey journeys backwards into a colonial setting which allows her to trace various reactions across the social hierarchy about colonial rule, its grim reality, and feature a desire to bring justice into an uneven and unequal world. This paper is part of a larger project which examines postcolonial feminist historical crime fiction. I will interrogate Massey’s use of history and its implications for the crime novel by focusing on her use of the colonial archive, whether it be the question of the zenana in her first Mistry novel, or the use of historical material for her most recent novel. These novels articulate and reconfigure epistemological anxieties about the nature of the colonial experience for the British and the colonized Indians. The representation of these anxieties – in a popular genre – in the twenty-first century forces us to ask: Can genre fiction interrogate the excesses of a colonial past? Is this a revisionist history or does this fiction merely become a tool to propagate a conservative status quo? Does the retrospective insertion of a female detective – in a colonial setting – become a bearer of agency for a colonial elite?

Vaibhav Iype Parel
is an early career researcher based in New Delhi, India. He teaches English at Hansraj College, University of Delhi, Delhi. He is interested Anglophone South Asian writing and crime fiction.

On and Off the Loop: Horizons of post-colonial Nationhood of India as unsnarled and relocated through Historical-Literary Frameworks 

The concept of ‘nationhood’ itself is a heterogeneous category beyond the geo-political exigencies. Envisioning India in this non-linear discursive atlas is extremely problematic since the concept of sovereignty comes with European baggage due to colonial enterprises. The socio-lingual and political heterogeneity that India harbors within, also shapes the thrusts of literary-circumferences working centripetally to exude the feeling of togetherness(with all the bias and diversities included) which as well gives way to a literary feeling or sāhitya-bodh (‘sāhitya’; a Sanskrit word, which can be transcreated nearly but not literally to ‘literature’).Foregrounding these aspects this particular study proceeds with conjectures on pluralistic socio-historical framework of various Indian cults and myths rotating around stock characters (emanated from culture-specific repositories) at different point of time and spatial arrangements. With the spiral ebb and flow of time how these mythical discourses (within diverse historical paradigms) being coalesced with religious advances grew up to be a dynamic factor behind nation building process, is one of the areas, the paper focuses on. Another concern of this paper remains loyal to the study of colonizers' interest behind the creation of a religious category. Also the fact that this category has been deployed in due course to control the modern day status quo of India; prompting in defining the post-colonial status of nationhood, remains pertinent throughout the discussion. Followed by that, how the popularity of a religious construct( i.e Hindutva) gets strengthened with interpolated contents from antiquity, shapes another concern of this research. Lastly, the rationales behind the gradual cultural-historical dominance regarding the ‘popular’, the psychological experiences magnified in cultural imageries, the formation of this ‘popular’ revolving around myths as a serving example of the post-colonial developments in national interdisciplinary discourses, constitutes some of the sources analyzed in this article.

Dhritii Dutta is a Postgraduate student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi, India.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but advance booking is required.