Research Affiliate: Dr Saptarshi Mallick

Dr Saptarshi Mallick is Assistant Professor at the Department of American Studies (Research Area for American Literary and Cultural History with a Focus on (Trans-) Nationality and Space), University of Graz, Austria. From September 2019 to March 2024, he worked as an Assistant Professor of English at Sukanta Mahavidyalaya, Dhupguri, Jalpaiguri, University of North Bengal.

Saptarshi Mallick
Dr Saptarshi Mallick

He has been a Charles Wallace India Trust (doctoral) Fellow and an UK-IERI Fellow in the UK. He was an Ernst Mach Fellow (postdoctoral) at the Karl – Franzens – Universität Graz, Austria. Here, he has also been a visiting faculty in the Summer Semester of 2020. He has received the Sassoon Visiting Fellowship from the Bodleian, University of Oxford.

He has edited seven anthologies, among them most recently Śūdraka’s Mrcchakatikā: A Reader (Birutjatio, 2022) and Finding Philosophers in Global Fiction: Redefining the Philosopher in Multicultural Contexts (Bloomsbury, 2024). He is an Associate Editor of Gitanjali and Beyond, an international, open access e-journal of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs), Edinburgh.

His monograph Connecting Spaces: The Travelogues and Letters of Lady Abala Bose has been published in June 2024 by Routledge, UK and USA


Project: Smriti Kotha by Meera Devi

Many of us have had the experience of owning a diary or a note-book which has enabled us to pen our thoughts and ideas – a personal space of self-interaction, often unknown to our immediate associates. The majority of such personal expressions are first person narratives where a personal touch enabled writers to write themselves to history. Journaling is perhaps as old as literature; people have written about their lives to express themselves. Even today a large part of any therapy has the act of journaling as one of the major sources for discovering oneself. These texts provide ‘an accurate and dynamic embodiment [to] both life’s possibilities and improbabilities’ (Christian 1993: 197).

In the nineteenth century, the discovery of archival materials such as diaries, journals and autobiographical narratives by women, enables us to think of a rich record of women’s histories. This might owe itself to the fact that given the scarcity of women’s experiences outside the margins of the home, they chose to write whatever they had the most experience of, i.e. their own lives. It also gave them the power of choice – to write about their own lives, often unknown to historians. Several women kept this tradition alive by documenting the entirety of their lived experiences, often stereotyped as marginal. These documents interpreted life in its totality through a process of self-discovery as well as by acknowledging others through the woman’s consciousness. Such an understanding, what according to Henry James was ‘the wonder of consciousness in everything’, is made available to the readers of Smriti Kotha, an autobiographical memoir by Meera Devi, the youngest daughter of Rabindranath Tagore.

Smriti Kotha offers a fresh perspective of life at Jorasankho Thakurbari and at Shantiniketan. Through a self-effacing style and a personal touch, Meera Devi has portrayed Debendranath Tagore and two generations of the Tagore household in Jorasankho and in Shantiniketan. For readers, her memoir is a biopreservation journey down time – from her childhood till the last days of her life which she weaves powerfully into a narrative that is both interesting and engaging.

Biopreservation, in its nature, is intertextual to the development of a genre which fuses biography with fiction; thereby it metafictionally develops and contributes towards the self, the truth and reality. This contributes towards adhering a completeness to the seeming incomplete – facilitating the birth of a text by means of intertextuality which contributes to the whole context. This new way of thinking about historical moments initiated by the biopreservation process enable the authors of such endeavours to represent their subject matter as accurate as possible. It leaves an indelible emotional touch in the mind of the reader. The reader discovers various events, and the life style, habits and behaviour of several people who were associated with their family. Marcel Schwob in the preface of his Imaginary Lives, points the uniqueness of this biopreservation process by stating, ‘the science of history leaves us uncertain as to individual’s revealing only those points by which individuals have been attached to generalities…contrary to history, art describes individuals, desires only the unique. It does not classify, it unclassifies’ (Schwob 1924: 7). Meera Devi not only describes them but also comments on their actions through her personal observations. Readers can feel with the author and connect with her as she cherishes memories while identifying with the agony that set in with every death in the household. The pain due to such losses as depicted by her is compelling.

This process of biopreservation involves the author to be ‘continuously moving between a conception of events that have occurred ‘prior to entextualisation’ and their representation as created by and with the text’ (Benton 2009: 18). Smriti Kotha is a document by a sensitive individual who had an eye for detail and took the utmost care to describe it sincerely in her memoir. From her early travels to her sister’s house to her association with the people in the Tagore household and at the Shantiniketan ashram, she provides strong characterization of individuals with all their strengths, weaknesses. These powerful descriptions ‘crystallized in schemata’ (Nünning 2005: 209) enable a reader to see them in a new light.

Smriti Kotha emphasizes the continuity of life through its record of various cheerful moments in Meera Devi’s life, evoking nostalgia and a sense of longing for a past that is irrertievable. Like a cool breeze on a summer’s day, Smriti Kotha is uplifting and refreshing. It is reflective, informative and personal. Through the narrative, the reader engages with the author through the memoir’s aesthetic appeal and experiences the details necessary for sketching the characteristics of the people associated with her, the places she resided in, the house she built, and the garden she cultivated elevating her memoir to a personal historical record signifying a particular space and time, facilitated by own selective process.

The quest of the self of the author is often shaped by the narrative identity which determines the stability, inevitably touching upon the probability of the autobiographical truth, which is not fixed. It is evolutionary through a process of self-discovery and self-creation (Eakin 1985: 3). Smriti Kotha unveils Meera Devi’s self-discovery as she explores the inner worlds of the characters in her narrative which contributes to the biopreservation process and develops the narrative identity and its response to different actions and dramatic events. As a research associate at the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs), Edinburgh, I intend to explore Smriti Kotha as a biopreservation initiative where life-writing is blended through the structure of the narrative; and in this context, also to explore the difference which characterises ‘the possibility of thinking femininity beyond the certainty and closure demanded by what Woolf herself referred to as ‘the damned egoistical self’ (Woolf 1983: II, 14) i.e. going beyond the dominance of the ‘I’. This project aims to rediscover personalities and certain incidents at Jorasankho and Shantiniketan relegated to the backwaters or shadows of history through a vivid personal touch of Meera Devi. From her statements in the prologue to the memoir it is evident that through her narrative she contributes to the process of self-discovery; it was, however, not intended by her to make an alternative claim of the greatness of individuals through her personal experiences. Rather, in this process the obscurity got erased and unknowingly, Meera Devi interrogated the obscurity which is often associated with biographical subjects, challenging ideas of the ‘exceptional’ as self-evidently associating value and interrogating the ideas of progress and achievement as the only accepted methods of conceiving historical understanding (Anderson 2001: 96). Woolf said, ‘it is one of the attractions of the unknown, their multitude, their vastness; for, instead of keeping their identity separate, as remarkable people do, they seem to merge into one another, their very boards and title-pages and frontispieces dissolving, and their innumerable pages melting into continuous years so that we can lie back and look up into the fine mist-like substance of countless lives, and pass unhindered from century to century, from life to life (Woolf 1967: 122). This research project will aim to study Smriti Kotha as different kind of narrative which could bring together fiction’s awareness to the ‘intangible personality’ and the ‘inner life’ with the accuracy and actuality of true facts, which could contribute towards, as Woolf said, ‘that queer amalgamation of dream and reality, that perpetual marriage of granite and rainbow’ (Woolf 1967: 235).

Smriti Kotha asserts the personal voice speaking beyond itself thereby empowering the subject through their cultural inscription and recognition. In this project I will also translate the text in the English language for a global audience as it deals with certain unexplored aspects of life of the Tagore household – Jorasankho and Shantiniketan, as depicted by the pen of Meera Devi, who lived during Tagorean times and carried forward her father’s philosophy of connecting with the ordinary folk around her.

Besides my project on Smriti Kotha, during my stay as a Research Associate at the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs), I will also undertake my research on William Carey at the National Library of Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.


Works Cited:

Anderson, Linda. 2001. Autobiography. London and New York: Routledge.

Benton, Michael. 2009. Literary Biography, an Introduction. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing.

Christian, Barbara. 1993. ‘Being the Subject and the Object: Reading African-American Women’s Novels’, in Gayle Greene and Coppelia Kahn (eds.), Changing Subjects: The Making of Feminist Literary Criticism, pp. 195 – 200. New York: Routledge.

Eakin, P.J. 1985. Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Krsteva, Marija. 2023. Towards a Theory of Life-Writing. New York and London: Routledge.

Nünning, Ansgar in Huber, Werner, Middeke, Martin and Zapf, Hubert. 2005. Self-Reflexivity in Literature. Wurtzburg: Königshausen and Neumann.

Schwob, Marcel. 1924. Imaginary Lives. Trans. Lorimer Hammond. New York: Boni and Liveright.

Woolf, Virginia. 1967. Collected Essays IV Vols. London: The Hogarth Press.

Woolf, Virginia. 1983. The Diary of Virginia Woolf V Vols., ed. Anne Oliver. Harmondsworth: Penguin.