Chief Editor’s Note
The cover image for Issue 54 is a reproduction of an intaglio by the eminent printmaker Ramendranath Chakravorty (1902-1955). It shows a group of women– probably Bengalis– working on a chintz fabric. There are many references to chintz in Regency & Victorian literature. For instance, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in May 1811 asking if she had “remembered to collect pieces for the Patchwork? — we are now at a standstill.” The “Patchwork” at stake was a patchwork quilt that Jane, Cassandra and their mother had worked on. It has hundreds of diamond-shaped chintz fabric patches and over sixty different patterns. Every stitch in that quilt, it should be remembered, had been placed there by a human hand.
This would be a good place for me to segue into the gendered nature of work or how Austen’s attention to detail is reflected in her novels or how ChatGPT may be able to put us in stitches but can’t do stitching to save its non-existent life. But I have a different yarn to peddle. Specifically, chintz.
Chintz, a type of hand-painted cotton textile, came from India, and making it involved an even more time-consuming process than the making of quilts. The process had almost two dozen steps, including the repeated soaking of the material with sheep and buffalo dung and drying it in sunlight. It took weeks, months, and in some cases, years.
Europeans couldn’t get enough of the stuff. They couldn’t get enough of the bright colours, the flowers, the feel and delicacy of the cloth. In the early decades of the 19th century, forty percent of East India Company’s revenues came from the chintz trade. Naturally, a more economical process for making chintz had to be invented. The British innovated in textile machinery, automated the pattern printing process. The cotton plantations and the slave trade in the New World introduced new sources for cotton. Chintz got affordable to the point where the word “chintzy” now means “cheap”, “common”.
Ramendranath Chakravorty’s intaglio highlights the social, human-scale, and domesticated nature of the chintz trade before it got industrialised and colonised. Perhaps one of those pieces would have found their way to Cassandra Austen and then to Jane Austen and thereby a series of stitches authored by those shrewd and ever-precise hands.
When I came across Chakravorty’s painting, it occurred to me that the making of literature isn’t that different from the making of chintz. We dispense with the sheep and buffalo-dung washes, of course, but every sentence in this magazine— this patchwork quilt of stories, poems, essays and visual narratives— is hand-made. Every pattern you sense has originated in lived experience. Every image that flowers in your imagination was sown in another’s mind. And as editors, during the submissions period, we have had the anxious but also pleasurable occasion to wait, like Jane Austen, for the next patch that would come over the invisible wires of our age. The perfect patch to complete the emerging pattern. We cannot pretend that we intended all that you may perceive or even that the patterns are patterns before you perceive them to be so, but what we do know is that we are delighted to bring you this latest incarnation of the quilt we call The Bombay Literary Magazine.
Welcome to Issue 54 of The Bombay Literary Magazine.