Thursday 13 April 2023
14.00 - 16.00
Timely Histories of South Asia
Sagnik Kar :
Time at Home: Understanding Temporality in the Lives of the Bhadramahila in Late 19th-early 20th Century Bengal
Histories of temporality have considered sites in the public domain such as the office and the factory to understand how the arrival of the clock in these spaces led to changes in the approach towards time. In this context, the primary focus has been to demonstrate the role of the ... (Show more)
Histories of temporality have considered sites in the public domain such as the office and the factory to understand how the arrival of the clock in these spaces led to changes in the approach towards time. In this context, the primary focus has been to demonstrate the role of the device in instilling a greater sense of time discipline. What has remained neglected in such works is the reflection on how the home could also become a parallel device-centric space of time reorientation.
Late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengal witnessed an increasing presence of the clock and watches in the lives of the middle-class families. The bhadralok’s (genteel, middle-class intelligentsia as well as lower-income order office clerks) presence in his place of work was regulated by the clock. Also, children from such families increasingly attended schools which were governed by a clock-centric routine. Through the lens of drudgery of clerical work and its socio-cultural implications, the existing literature on the role of clock-time in colonial Bengal has looked at the impact that these temporal shifts had on the lives of men. In contrast to this, the changes that came about in the lives of the bhadramahila (genteel women, housewives) in Bengal during this period as a result of the same interlinked processes of temporal shifts and changes has not been sufficiently investigated. Against this backdrop, the aim of this paper is to understand how the device entered the space of domesticity and influenced the everyday life of the bhadramahila.
Since this development entailed that the bhadramahila now had to manage her domestic chores according to the temporal requirements of her husband and her children, the paper will address how this led to a possible imposition of time discipline at home itself. Certain spaces like the kitchen of the home were subject to this new approach towards time as food had to be prepared keeping the time constraints of the office going and school going members of the family. In this regard, the concentration will be on contemporary women’s journals and advice manuals to examine the manner in which housewives were called on to manage time. Simultaneously, advertisements by watch-making companies, published in such journals as well as religious almanacs, will serve to demonstrate how the woman was visualised as a consumer of products such as clocks and watches. The language of such advertisements often reinforced the image of the bhadramahila as essentially a domestic figure, but one who needed to display an awareness of the new mode of time-reckoning. Apart from this, an alternative notion of time as laid down in religious almanacs was part of the household even before clocks became so integral to family life. Hence, another objective of this paper will be to study, within the context of the growing importance of the clock in the middle-class home, how the device came to interact with more ‘traditional’ forms of time-reckoning such as those of religious almanacs. (Show less)
Ritam Sengupta :
Water and the Temporal Remaking of Peasant Production in Colonial North India, 1850s-1900s
The coming of modern time, or alternatively, modernity as a temporal regime, has often been plotted as a departure from the arguably cyclical temporal orientation of peasant practices crafted out of a natural conditioning of agricultural production (described by E.P. Thompson as a kind of “task orientation”). The few studies ... (Show more)
The coming of modern time, or alternatively, modernity as a temporal regime, has often been plotted as a departure from the arguably cyclical temporal orientation of peasant practices crafted out of a natural conditioning of agricultural production (described by E.P. Thompson as a kind of “task orientation”). The few studies that have focused on the production of modern temporality in colonial India have in a related vein trained their analytical lenses on the interplay of colonial power and the imposition of abstract, linear time augured by a regime of clocks or railways or industrialand urban discipline. Arguably, what has remained rather unclear in terms of these two related ways of doing the (social) history of temporality is an exploration of the interface between agrarian social life and the making of ‘modern’ time.
The proposed paper attempts to offer a corrective to this by analysing how the ‘natural rhythm’ of agrarian production in North India was reconfigured over the second half of the nineteenth century. Through this, the paper situates agrarian production as a complex negotiation of temporal demands made on the social and economic life of the peasant producer. In particular, the paper will study how particular regimes of commercially-oriented cultivation sought to negotiate the availability of water as a key agricultural input by investing in implements and systems of groundwater use. This technological remaking of the hydrological nature of agriculture did not imply a linear escape from the uncertain cycles of rain-fed irrigation to any kind of artificial abundance. Groundwater was actually a natural resource with its own ‘natural rhythm’ learnt through a combination of peasant experience and the novel scientific gaze of colonial surveys. Thus the renewed investment in groundwater in the said period could have in many ways effectuated a kind of temporal reorientation of agricultural production.
The paper will also relate this reorientation to both the exigencies of market-oriented cropping as well to the emergence of newer property regimes. By Act X of 1859 and by the 1880s, various kinds of time-bound occupany rights became available to tenants in northern India. The construction of implements of groundwater abstraction like wells on rented plots of land was one way in which the recognition of tenancy rights could be extended over the same plot. Thus the construction of wells was zealously contested by landlords. The well was also then a medium of negotiating the period of occupancy of a plot of land marking thus an additional temporal condition for the tenant. Finally the market for agrarian produce superimposed its own cyclicality onto the process of agrarian production that characteristically intensified the requirement of water for the thirsty commercial crops like sugarcane and opium. In locating peasant production at the intersection of these variegated temporal conditions, the paper will seek to chart a new understanding of the making of modern time in rural North India beyond the obvious opposition of pre-modern cyclicality and modern linearity. (Show less)
Minerwa Tahir :
Karachi Harbour: Reconfiguration of Spatial Linkages and Temporal Rhythms in the Nineteenth Century
The paper looks at how British occupation of Karachi in 1838 resulted in a reconfiguration of spatial linkages and temporal rhythms in the port town. Through the act of conquest colonial authors presented a picture of British benevolence towards Sindh, weaving a tale of historical course correction. In this narrative ... (Show more)
The paper looks at how British occupation of Karachi in 1838 resulted in a reconfiguration of spatial linkages and temporal rhythms in the port town. Through the act of conquest colonial authors presented a picture of British benevolence towards Sindh, weaving a tale of historical course correction. In this narrative the time of the past encompassed incompetent princes disinterested in developing the seaport and leaving the “country” of Sindh in such a disturbed state that it warranted a modernising takeover. However, this remaking of historical time was only possible with a different kind of synchronisation between the exigencies of political rule and commercial motive.
The Russian Empire’s growing expansion in Central Asia meant that British anxieties, particularly regarding Afghanistan, were becoming sharper. In the Anglo-Afghan war of 1838, the occupation of Karachi allowed the British troops to have a landing entry point. What began (from the English point of view) as a military necessity soon morphed into a desire to expand further into the territories of Sindh to establish a vast economic network of international trade. This was an ambition imbued also with a motive of stricter temporal coordination. While Ottoman, Gujarati, Portuguese, Dutch, and eventually English traders and their companies were involved in trade with Sindh between the 16th and 18th centuries, the annexation of Sindh to the Crown saw the early modern oceanic, river, and land-based pathways and temporal rhythms of exchange subordinated to the modern colonial relation. The dynamism of the region was also compromised and Sindh began to be seen as a singular political unit as we understand it today whose temporal integration became the primary objective of imperial trade interests and processes. The annexation and reorganisation of Sindh had two major implications for the town of Karachi. One, the town was developed with modern infrastructure: roads, railway connections, banks and other institutions were built. Two, Karachi became a newly concentrated point of trade of commodities from both within and outside of India that was closely integrated in the (British) imperial world of trade. Connectivity between the ‘hinterland’ and the seaport was the priority for the colonial administration as opposed to the previous dynamic system of connections mediated by shifting pathways.
The paper will probe how this shift from the multifarious connections of early modern rule and trade to the strict temporal coordination with the linear logic of imperial trade impacted Karachi as it transformed into a veritable dock-city. What were the implications of these infrastructural and political developments on the different rhythms of transport economies coming together? How did the technological development of communications like from sail ships to steamers inflect such rhythms? Further, how did extant pathways, infrastructure and temporal structures of commodities exchange and social relations morph into the new logic of the hinterland-harbour connection and its very specific seasonality? Which colonial subjects kept up with the new pressure to synchronise with imperial trade and its trajectories and who could not? The paper will primarily develop upon these queries. (Show less)
Samuel Wright :
Time and Imagination in Early Modern South Asia
This paper explores the relationship between time and imagination in early modern South Asia. Positing that the moment is the fundamental unit of time in the early modern period, the paper investigates how historical and literary writing use imagination to imbue a specific moment with abstract time thereby making that ... (Show more)
This paper explores the relationship between time and imagination in early modern South Asia. Positing that the moment is the fundamental unit of time in the early modern period, the paper investigates how historical and literary writing use imagination to imbue a specific moment with abstract time thereby making that moment more than is immediately evident. One way this is achieved is by presenting the actions of certain individuals such as kings, sages, and devotees as containing both particular and universal forms of time. With such actions of individuals standing for a temporal complex that simultaneously grounds them in a particular moment and extends them beyond it, time and imagination are collapsed into each other. In the process, these individuals attain an identity that transcends the moment of their historical specificity, casting them across past, present, and future. With such a temporal identity, these individuals come to inhabit both concrete and abstract time such that they appear to have an existence that is both historical and historically transcendent. This paper explores these issues and the linkages between time and imagination in select sources such court histories, poetry, and inscriptional writing. (Show less)