The North’s historical cities, rooted in an Indo-Persianate culture, began changing more slowly than the Presidency towns founded by the British. In Fiction as History, focusing on six major cities – Agra, Allahabad, Banaras, Delhi, Lahore, and Lucknow – Dalmia takes up eight canonical Hindi novels set in them to trace a literary history of domestic and political cataclysms. Her exploration of emerging Hindu middle classes, changing personal and professional ambitions, and new notions of married life provides a vivid sense of urban modernity.
She looks at the radical social transformations associated with post-1857 urban restructuring, and at the political flux resulting from social reform, Gandhian nationalism, communalism, Partition, and the Cold War. These, she argues, shaped the realm of the intimate as much as the public sphere. Love and friendship, notions of privacy, attitudes to women’s work, and relationships within households are among the book’s major themes.
Vasudha Dalmia is Professor Emerita of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarship includes a work on Bharatendu Harischandra and Banaras – a monumental classic now available as The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions (new edn, Permanent Black paperback, 2010). Her recent works include Hindu Pasts (Permanent Black, 2015), and, as co-editor The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture (2012), and Religious Interactions in Mughal India (2014).