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Otium in Contemporary Indian Literature


Subproject G4 of the CRC 1015 "Muße"

A number of Anglophone Indian novels after Independence, and particularly from the 1990s on, treat leisure in a specifically nostalgic and anti-colonial way, contrasting the alleged Western binary of work vs. idleness with supposedly genuinely Indian leisure. Texts like Pankaj Mishra’s The Romantics, Nayantara Sahgal’s A Time to be Happy, Sunetra Gupta’s A Sin of Colour and Anita Desai’s The Artist of Disappearance do this by arguing that this genuinely Indian leisure radically differs from the Western dichotomy and correlates with moments of reflection, the appreciation of landscape and of art.

This project intends to analyze the role of leisure in the contemporary Anglophone Indian novel (1990-2016) and contemporary regional-language South Asian fiction and explore the practices of otium which they depict (often referring back to the Hindoo and Mughal traditions). In a second step, the results will be examined with regard to the potential adoption of colonial stereotypes about Indian religions, philosophy and art in the creation of an autostereotype of indigenous otiose leisure versus the Western (British) work ethic. The project will include two research foci. On the one hand, English-language texts will be analyzed regarding the sites, figures and topoi of otium and their possible indigenous or colonial provenance. On the other hand, novels from a regional North Indian language (Hindi, Bangla, etc.) will be examined tracing typical constellations of otium in these novels. Comparing English-language novels displaying the theme of leisure with representations of otium in novels in one of the regional languages will elucidate whether the motif of idealized leisure is linked to an indigenous Indian tradition or needs to be interpreted as an autostereotypical  reinterpretation of a colonial heterostereotype. To facilitate the analysis of regional Indian-language novels and the subsequent comparison with English-language texts, the project will cooperate with the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg. First results suggest that – under the pressures of globalization – modern India has become a largely Westernized nation, and that this has created the space for an intellectual nostalgia for refined pre-industrial practices of leisure that employ exoticist imagery in a nationalist discourse.

Texts that are currently being analysed as part of our project are:


English Texts

Bengali Texts

Urdu Texts


Peyari Chand Mitra / Tekchand Thakur (pseudonym),  Aalaaler Gharer Dulaal (1857) [English translation by G D Oswell, The Spoilt Child, 1893]



Kaliprasanna Sinha, Hutom Pyanchar Naksha (1862) [English Translation by Swaroop Roy, The Observant Owl: Hootum's Vignettes of Nineteenth-century Calcutta (2008)]



Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Kamalakanta (1885)



Rabindranath Tagore, Ghare Baire (1916) [English translation by Surendranath Tagore, The Home and the World, 1919]



Tagore, Nashtanir (1926) [English translation by Mary M Lago and Supriya Sen, Broken Nest, 2000] 



Tagore, Chhuti ('Leave/Holiday')



Tagore, Shesher Kabita (1928) [English translation by Radha Ckaravarty, Farewell Song, 2005]



Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Pather Panchali (1929) [English translation by T. W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji, Song of the Road, 1968]


Nayantara Sahgal, A Time to Be Happy (1958)



M. Anantanarayanan, The Silver Pilgrimage (1961)




Sankar, Chowringhee (1962) [English translation by Arunava Sinha, Chowringhee, 2007]



Buddhadev Bose, Raat Bhor Brishti (1967) [English translation by Clinton B. Seely, It Rained All Night,1973]



Bandopadhyay, Aranyak (1976) [English translation by Rimli Bhattacharya, Of the Forest, 2002]


Arun Joshi, The Last Labyrinth (1981)




Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shei Samay (1985) [English translation by Aruna Chakabarty, Those Days, 1997]



Sunil Gangopadhyay/ Nil Lohit (pseudonym), Niruddesher Deshe ('In a Lost Land') (1986)


Upamanyu Chatterjee, English, August (1988)




Sunil Gangopadhyay/Nil Lohit, Kaishore (Youth) (1989)


Amit Chaudhuri, A Strange and Sublime Address (1991)



Githa Hariharan, The Thousand Faces of Night (1992)



Amit Chaudhuri, Afternoon Raag (1993)



Sunetra Gupta, The Glassblower’s Breath (1993)



Gita Mehta, A River Sutra (1993)



Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy (1993)




Bani Basu, Gandharbi, (1993) [English translation by Jayati Sengupta, Gandharvi: The Life of a Musician, 2017]


Githa Hariharan, The Ghost of Vasu Master (1994)



Sunetra Gupta, Memories of Rain (1994)



Vikram Chandra, Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995)



Ardashir Vakil, Beach Boy (1997)



Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens (1998)



Kiran Desai, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998) 



Sohaila Abdulali, The Madwoman of Jagore (1998)



Sunetra Gupta, A Sin of Colour (1999)



Raj Kamal Jha, The Blue Bedspread (1999)



Pankaj Mishra, The Romantics (1999)



Manil Suri, The Death of Vishnu (2001)



Anita Nair, Ladies Coupé (2001)



Navtej Sarna, We Weren't Lovers Like That (2003)



Kunal Basu, The Miniaturist (2003)



Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide (2004)



Tabish Khair, The Bus Stopped (2004)



Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (2006)



M. G. Vassanji, The Assassin's Song (2007)



Amit Chaudhuri, The Immortals (2009)



Manjula Padmanabhan, Getting There (2010)



Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance (2011)



[Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (2011)]



Anuradha Roy, The Folded Earth (2011)



Amit Chaudhuri, Odysseus Abroad (2015)



Amit Chaudhuri, Friend of My Youth (2017)






Fludernik, Monika (2020) “Idling in Restoration Drama: The Semantics of Idleness in British Plays from 1660 to 1710". Muße im 18. Jahrhundert. Ed. Kerstin Fest. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

--- (2019) "Nostalgia for Otiose Leisure in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction from South Asia." Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 7.1. [in print]

 --- (2019) "The Simple Life: How Utopian Leisure Depends on Abstinence and Renunciation". Simplify! Simplify! Brevity, Plainness and their Complications in American Literature and Culture. Festschrift for Bernd Engler on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday. Eds. Isabell Klaiber, Oliver Scheiding and Jan Stievermann. Paderborn: Schöningh. 71-81.

--- (2018) "Ideology, Dissidence, Subversion: A Narratological Perspective." Narratology and Ideology. Negotiating Context, Form, and Theory in Postcolonial Narratives. Eds. Divya Dwivedi, Henrik Skov Nielsen and Richard Walsh. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Univ. Press. 193-212.

--- (2017) "Spectators, Ramblers and Idlers: The Conflicted Nature of Indolence and the Eighteenth-Century Tradition of Idling". Anglistik 28.1: 133-54.

--- (2017) "Muße als soziale Distinktion". Muße und Gesellschaft. Eds. Gregor Dobler and Peter Philipp Riedl. Otium, 6. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. 163-77.

In progress:

Fludernik, Monika, and Thomas Jürgasch, eds. Semantiken der Muße aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive [planned as part of the Otium series (Mohr Siebeck, 2020)], includes:

Fludernik, Monika "Muße und assoziierte Begriffe im englischen Drama des 18. Jahrhunderts/18th-Century British Drama and Lexemes of leisure and idleness".

Munz, Melina "Village Idyll? The Blending of Work and Otium in Contemporary Indian Fiction on Rural Life". Muße und Arbeit. Eds. Gregor Dobler, Markus Tauschek, Michael Vollstädt and Inga Wilke. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck [planned as part of the Otium series].

--- "The Semantics of Spiritual Experience - a Case Study of Selected Novels by Amit Chaudhuri, Sunetra Gupta and Pankaj Mishra". Semantiken der Muße aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive. Eds. Monika Fludernik and Thomas Jürgasch. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck [planned as part of the Otium series].

--- "Leisurely Being in the City as a Critique of the Functionalist Modern City Space in Amit Chaudhuri's A Strange and Sublime Address and Navtej Sarna's We Weren't Lovers Like That". Urbane Muße. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck [planned as part of the Otium series].

Noor, Farha "The Sensory Semantics of Otium in South Asia: Asymmetries, Entanglements and the Affective". Semantiken der Muße aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive. Eds. Monika Fludernik and Thomas Jürgasch. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck [planned as part of the Otium series].

--- "Negotiating Nostalgia: Rethinking Reading and Writing in Progressive Women’s Memoirs in Urdu".

--- "Of Other Islands: Dreams, Deviation and Diary writing in Satyajit Ray’s Shonku Series".

Please click here for further information on the CRC Muße and the subproject G4 "Leisure in Contemporary Indian Literature"

A leaflet on the activities of the CRC 1015 is available here.

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