Race, Encounters and Anti-Colonial Cosmopolitanism
Undivided India contributed to the First World War more than one million men who served in places as diverse as France, Mesopotamia and East Africa and forged a remarkable range of encounters across the lines of race, religion and nationality. This essay investigates the fraught inner histories of these encounters – their affective, experiential and representational structures – through a range of archival, historical and literary material, as produced by Indian combatant and civilian writers, including Mulk Raj Anand and Rabindranath Tagore. Focusing on three kinds of encounters – behind the battlefield of the Western Front, in a hospital in Mesopotamia, and a series of wartime lectures delivered in the United States – it reflects on the role of the ‘literary’ in such cross-cultural encounters and their representations, and how such moments and processes at once expand our understandings of a more ‘global’ war and put pressure on conventional understandings of ideas of ‘modernity’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’.
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