The cultural memory of Awadh is almost exclusively identified with Urdu poetry and courtesan culture, and already in the colonial period it came to stand as the epitome of the “last phase of Oriental culture” (‘Abdul Halim Sharar). But if instead of taking a retrospective, nostalgic view we approach literary culture in Awadh prospectively and multilingually and broaden our lens to consider not just the capitals, Faizabad and Lucknow, but also the qasbas (small towns), the small rural courts, the nearby growing city of Banaras, and the colonial capital of Calcutta, a different set of literary dynamics and shifts comes into view. The prevalent image of Awadh as identified with Urdu and Lucknow is not wrong, of course, but it does obscure the other stories, trajectories, and languages. This essay considers some of them. A multilingual and prospective approach helps us consider the circulation of literary tastes across the colonial divide and recognize the production of forgetfulness and ignorance that accompanied modern narratives of languages and literary histories, both colonial and Indian, and that made a host of texts “homeless” (Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi).

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