Instead of newspapers, books, journals and pamphlets that documented the development of the Swadeshi movement in Bengal during the first decade of the twentieth century, can the idea of nation or nationhood be interpreted through the intricacies of performative mechanisms? This is the major question the book under review poses and attempts to answer in the affirmative. In offering a critical analysis of the process of development of an emotional bond among the people of Bengal during the Swadeshi era, the author pays close attention to the three most popular performative media in Bengal—theatre, jatra, and songs. Limiting herself to a very short time span of seven years, between 1905 to 1912, she tries to map the patterns of modification introduced in the performative techniques by Swadeshi performances.
This has enabled her to unveil the intricacies of the interaction between sentiments, emotions, and ideas and contemporary political discourse, and the eventual development of a Swadeshi nationhood. During this era, popular media was clipped to fit the nationalist frame. The change made an impact on the process of theorization of culture. Even though volumes of documents were ordered by the colonial government on the performances by the natives, they were kept secret and confidential. The English authors writing on this age remained silent on the finer details of its cultural performances. On the contrary, Bengali authors produced voluminous literature on the performative aspects of the Swadeshi age and most of these narratives are first-hand recollections of Swadeshi performances and the emotions they generated. The authors reminisce about the sensations they felt during the performance and how they reacted to it. Emotions generated by sensation, spectacle and music created a bond among the spectators. Basing her study on the theoretical framework for studying the public sphere developed by Jurgen Habermas, the anthropological theorization of the ‘liminoid’ by Victor Turner and the theorization of the role played by emotional reconstruction by Rajat Kanta Roy, Pandit therefore tries to trace the communicative faculties of Swadeshi jatra, theatre and songs that developed a double thrust of communication and persuasion in the public space.