At the turn of the twentieth century, the north Indian city of Patna was widely seen as a provincial town in decline. Together with the surrounding region of Bihar, Patna had lost much of its once considerable prominence and prosperity. Nonetheless, it supported a lively and confident literary public, exemplified by Al-Punch, a newspaper born out of a controversy over who had a right to use the Urdu language. Pursuing cosmopolitan impulses while celebrating local culture, the paper invited readers’ collaboration by cultivating a witty and intimate style. While scholarship on South Asian publics has centered on prominent people, places, and publications, this article focuses on unsung intellectuals in an ordinary city. It argues that, by encouraging participation and building on older literary traditions, they were able to construct a distinctive provincial public that affirmed their claim over Urdu and linked them with fellow readers and writers throughout northern India.

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