We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Research & business

Research lectures, seminars and events

The events listed in this area are research seminars, workshops and lectures hosted by Durham University departments and research institutes. If you are not a member of the University, but  wish to enquire about attending one of the events please contact the organiser or host department.


Dr Sourit Bhattacharya - Literature and Sketches of the 1943 Bengal Famine: On Catastrophic Realism

29th October 2020, 16:00, Zoom, Dr Sourit Bhattacharya (University of Glasgow)

All talks are free and open to the public.

The zoom link will be sent out via the mailing list of the Centre for Culture and Ecology (normally on Tuesdays before the event). You can be added to the list by emailing If you want to join for just this talk, you can email or


As economists, historians, and now scientists at IIT Gandhinagar, India, have variously “proved”, the 1943 Bengal famine was less to do with food shortage and supply than with wartime capitalism, administrative inefficiency, and native mercantile corruption. Much before social scientists, literary writers and artists had pointed to the socio-political “manufacturing” of this famine. Bhabani Bhattacharya in his novel, So Many Hungers (1947) “showed” that the famine had at least three historical factors responsible behind it – the Second World War, the anticolonial Quit India movement, and native traders and hoarders. His writing implemented “uneven” stylistic/structural elements such as the use of analytical argumentation or ethnographic/documentary representations of famine victims. In the poetry of Sukanta Bhattacharya, we see comparable formalistic improvisations: the poems are direct in tone, bare in imagery, deeply emotionally charged, and documentary in style. In the sketches of Chittoprasad or Zainul Abedin, painting receives fresh formal registers. There are fast brushstrokes and sketched outlines of victims with bare minimum in the background rather than the popular portrait or landscape modes. Because the famine had drastically changed the urban ‘landscape’, literary and artistic bodies, mostly inspired by Communist and anti-fascist politics, had to rethink how art could engage with society. This rethinking led to formal and stylistic breakthroughs which were shaped by the catastrophic conjunctures in late-colonial India. Building through these examples and drawing from Rob Nixon’s and Pablo Mukherjee’s work, I argue in the presentation that they be read as examples of postcolonial “catastrophic realism”.

About Dr Sourit Bhattacharya

Sourit Bhattacharya is Lecturer in Postcolonial Studies at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include postcolonial literatures; ecocriticism; translation studies; Marxism and literary form. His works in these areas are either published or forthcoming in such journals and edited collections as Ariel, TextualPractice, IrishUniversity Review, Cambridge Critical Concepts: Magical Realism and Literature, The Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants, Aesthetics and Politics of Global Hunger, and others. His first monograph, titled Postcolonial Modernity and the Indian Novel: On Catastrophic Realismwas published by Palgrave in June 2020. His co-edited volume with Arka Chattopadhyay and Samrat Sengupta on the radical Bengali writer, Nabarun Bhattacharya will be published by Bloomsbury in Sep 2020. Sourit is a founding co-editor of Sanglap: Journal of Literary and Cultural Inquiry.

Contact for more information about this event.

Download this event in iCalendar format