Nationalism and Global Consciousness in (Post)colonial Print Culture: Deb Sahitya Kutir and Bengali Children’s Publishing (1940-1964)


Poushali Bhadury

PhD defended at: 

University of Florida, Gainesville, FL


This project charts the ideological imperatives of the commercial children’s literature market during the revolutionary decades leading up to Indian independence in 1947, and subsequently, in postcolonial India. I examine popular genre fiction published by the prominent Bengali children’s publishing house Deb Sahitya Kutir (DSK) in Kolkata. This study is the first to focus on both the pre-Independence and postcolonial publishing output of a major Indian children’s publisher. I focus especially on DSK’s prolific range of genre publications such as mass-market pulp thrillers, translations of world classics, and children’s periodicals.

DSK’s target audience was children from “respectable” middle-class (bhadralok) Bengali households—an upwardly mobile, primarily upper caste community in urban colonial India, particularly Kolkata. My research suggests that DSK invested strongly in an overtly nationalistic project of shaping these child readers into “model citizens” of the new democracy. The creation of vibrant new indigenous literary traditions and genres was the primary focus of such a nationalistic vision. I propose, however, that it also was informed by a need to shape a form of global consciousness in these child readers, in order to develop in them a keen awareness of India’s place in the world arena. This pedagogical imperative to create a double consciousness—of both home and the world, as it were—functioned on two levels: explicitly, by the representation of people, cultures and literatures from across the world, and implicitly, at the level of the appropriation of diverse Western literary models that were then transformed into hybrid, indigenous literary genres.

DSK’s creation of hybridized literary genres thus promotes nationalistic versions of Indian childhood, albeit paradoxically situated within global literary and cultural contexts. As the leading Bengali children’s publishing house of the day, DSK becomes a vital case study for exploring questions of (nation-building) readership, and the publication and circulation of children’s texts in a (post)colonial society grappling with indigenous and Western notions of tradition and modernity. This project, situated at the intersection of postcolonial studies, book/publishing history and children’s literature studies, examines the patriotic, utopian impulses at work in crafting the identity of a newly-free nation-state in a global context, specifically as enacted by commercial institutions.