French Culture in India
The history of French culture in India tends to show that if for long conflicts in the colonial context have been studied in a dual perspective, they can be better understood in a polyphonic one. From the 19th century onwards, along with the opposition between the British tending to increasingly impose their dominance, and the Indian elite trying to assimilate and manufacture a modern identity of its own, France and French culture provided an alternate space for cultural negotiation. Perceived in Europe and beyond as the modern culture par excellence, the most anglicized of the Indian elite engaged themselves in a process of appropriation of French as an alternate path for cultural discourse. The direct consequence of this was the rapid progress of French language in Indian universities by the end of the 19th century.
The British authorities were prompt to react and tried to contain the development of French culture within the educative institutions. The new space for culture making created by the Indo-French dialogue is now open to political interpretations, at times conflicting. The relations between Rabindranath Tagore and Sylvain Lévi is one instance of the difficulties for a colonizing power to acknowledge the modern ferment within the colonized regions of the world in the 20th century. Nevertheless, as this volume so eloquently portrays, the dynamics of cultural and scientific exchanges were in motion between France and India, through the Indian diaspora and French intellectuals associating themselves with India and Indian reformist movements.
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Attreyee Roy Chowdhury
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