Renaissance and the position of Kolkata
The 'great revolution in the realm of our literary expression' as well as in society in the form of reforms has quite often been described as a 'Renaissance' by a large number of intellectuals ranging from liberals to Marxists, who sought to draw a parallel with the socio-cultural transition and cultural efflorescence in sixteenth century Italy. But such a comparison does not stand the test of history. Long before the debates which are taking place now about the appropriateness of such a term, an editorial which appeared in The Times of London in 1873 hit the nail on the head to suggest the falsity of such a comparison:
There is a certain resemblance between the position of Europe about the time of the Renaissance and the position of modern India. Both countries, it is evident, have been subjected to the influence of a culture far superior to their own, and the natural course of their civilization has been largely modified accordingly. But Europe was more advanced than India, and therefore better capable of assimilating the new order.
Marginalization of the indigenous folk culture of Kolkata
Referring to the marginalization of the indigenous folk culture of Kolkata under the impact of a foreign culture, and its replacement by a new elite literature, the editorial then commented:
The love songs and idolatrous legends which we have in great measure displaced are the material out of which a native popular literature might, in due time, have been evolved. If, therefore, the products of Indian literature have an appearance in some degree forced and artificial, we must remember that India has not been suffered to follow her own course, and that the growth of her literature has been set aside as completely as her political development by the overwhelming influence of a new power. We find ample signs of life, of ferment, of activity, but of quite another kind from those which would have followed in the natural order of growth and change.
Spontaneous growth of an indigenous culture in Kolkata
The fact that the spontaneous growth of an indigenous culture was being disrupted by the imposition of ideas and attitudes borrowed by new elite from a foreign power escaped the attention of the proponents of the liberal theoretical approach like Ram Mohan and Tagore. While trying to draw from both the Euro-centric and the Orientalist schools suitable perspectives for the development of an indigenous modern culture, Ram Mohan and Tagore also inherited from the two schools their common socially exclusive attitude of total indifference to certain socio-economic and historical factors the unequal access among the indigenous population to Western education, which was bound to make 'European thoughts and literary forms' a jealously guarded preserve of the privileged few; the hierarchical features of the indigenous traditional culture separating courtly culture from folk culture, the esoteric from the popular in the religious and ideological movements of the past; the occupational division of labor in nineteenth century Kolkata which gave birth to two separate streams of culture.
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