Country Spirit in the Postcolonial City: Khalasitola and the Spatial Production of Counterculture

Authors: Soumya Dasgupta*, University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign, Debayudh Chatterjee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: counterculture, postcolonial geographies, narcotics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 26
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper brings together urban studies and literature to understand the phenomenon of Khalasitola, a country liquor joint at Kolkata. While its history has not been formally recorded, the legacy of its being is scattered across obscure little magazines, under-circulated blogs, intimate memoirs, and everyday urban myths. It is said to have been founded sometime during the second world war to sell inexpensive country liquor (as opposed to imported, foreign brands) and cannabis to a predominantly proletariat population, especially daily laborers, migrant workers, and petty criminals. It was precisely this seediness and squalor that appealed to the avant-garde artists of the 1950s and ‘60s to choose Khalasitola as a site of their operations against the elitist, mainstream cultural establishments. Members of the two crucial literary movements, Krittibas and Hungry Generation, frequented this joint to carry out their intellectual pursuits that would often shock the Brahminical moral order. Firstly, in this paper, we argue that the subterranean nature of Khalasitola’s spatial politics significantly contributed towards the generation of countercultural geographies and their tactical subversions. In this regard, we analyze Khalasitola’s architectural particularities and unique spatial practices within the broader context of Kolkata’s drinking cultures. The paper's second part considers the vast plethora of literatures that celebrate the non-conformity of Khalasitola vis-à-vis caste, class, and bourgeoise hegemony in a postcolonial urban context. We conclude by remarking on how, with the advent of a neoliberal pub-culture in the ’90s, the aura of Khalasitola withered away alongside the sublimation of avant-garde literary movement.

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