The Itineraries of a Medium
Bengali Comics, and New Ways of Reading
When the nineteenth-century social reformers with their prescribed prac-tices and trenchant pulpiteering failed to revive the virility of bootlick and sycophant Bengali bābus (the genteel class), political cartoonists pompously rose to intercede in the dispute. Political cartoonists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth cen-tury, like Prannath Datta (1840-1886), Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938), and Binoy Basu (1895-1959) realized that ākhꞋṛās or gymnasiums, wrestling, body-build-ing, and martial arts were inadequate to trigger a seismic rearrangement in the dis-position of the English-educated debauched and profligate bābus because the prev-alent decadence, corruption, and colonial complicity had already hindered the out-come of such social reforms in the first place. Political cartoonists in late colonial Bengal, therefore, assumed the public role of stripping the bābus of their accoutre-ments of Western modernity with the artistic deployment of satire and caricature. This lecherous, imitative, pretentious, anglophile bābu became a cultural stereotype in late colonial Bengal that allowed it to metastasize into a fecund trope of carica-ture, parody, and literary imagination.
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