(English captions & Hindi subtitles available)
About the Seminar:
This talk reflects on the mutual formations of two proximate strands that figured the spatial histories of the eastern Indian interiors in the nineteenth century: first, the architectures and spaces of British colonial provincial governance, and second, the wider formations of the mufassal (provincial regions) as physical and cultural sites. Dominant imaginations of architectures associated with colonial rule—including that of India under the British—have tended to form around the material and conceptual tropes of major cities and iconic buildings. This is true both of received histories narrating heroic achievements of the colonists as well as much of postcolonial architectural studies exposing grand architectural and urban schemes as inscriptions and deliverers of colonial power. In reality, the East India Company’s military-fiscal rule in India meant a foundational role of revenue extraction from interior agricultural regions and entrenched dependencies on everyday revenue governance. This was delivered, in the eastern Indian province of Bengal, through revenue collection nodes—what came to be known as zilla sadar (district headquarter) towns—that dotted the Bengal mufassal. Focusing on the colonial revenue cutcherry (office) that formed the pulsating heart of these towns, Dr. Sengupta unpacks a type of "minor architecture": ubiquitous and ordinary spaces and practices of day-to-day colonial governance, looking at European officers, Indian clerks, and other lower order employees. Rather than analyzing formal representation that has often tended to dominate the reading of colonial architectures as architectures of reified power, she explores the granular spatial and material cultures of colonial revenue knowledge and clerical practices of Indian employees. Moving between different scales—the mufassal/zilla sadar and the cutcherry—the lives of provincial offices emerge here through their relationships with the wider everyday provincial life and spaces. She also thinks about the problems of descriptions of these provincial towns, their often banal, ambiguous, indeterminate character; their relationship with the "colonial-metropolitan" and as sites lodged within rural-urban relationships; and how they simultaneously embodied two apparently contradictory spatial ideas: marginality and interiority.
About the Speaker:
Dr. Tania Sengupta is an Associate Professor and Director of Architectural History and Theory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL). Trained and having worked originally as an architect and urban designer in India, her present research focuses on architectural and spatial histories of South Asia through postcolonial and transcultural frames. She explores themes such as architectures of (colonial) governance; provinciality and rural-urban relationships; spaces of domesticity; race and the built environment; gender and feminist readings; questions of field and archive in architectural history; cities and spaces of everyday life; and social relationships of architectural knowledge and expertise. Her recent research on paper-bureaucracy and clerical life-worlds in relation to British colonial office architecture in India received the 2019 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President’s Award as well as the 2019 RIBA President's Medal. Dr. Sengupta is Co-Chief Editor of the journal Architecture Beyond Europe and co-curator of the curriculum "Race" and Space: What is "Race" Doing in a Nice Field Like the Built Environment? (Society of Architectural Historians GB Colvin Prize shortlist 2021). She is an active part of several race-related and decolonial initiatives within and beyond UCL.
Hello, and welcome to this event in CASI’s Spring Seminar Series. My name is Nafis Hasan and I'm a postdoctoral research scholar at CASI and, along with my colleagues, moderate this Series. So before I introduce today's speaker, just to put in a plug for next Thursday, March 31st, we have a book talk by Dr. By Dr. Mukulika Banerjee who's at the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Please register for that event on CASI's website.
I'm delighted to welcome Dr. Tania Sengupta to the Seminar Series today. Dr. Sengupta is an Associate Professor and Director of Architectural History and Theory at Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London. Trained and having worked originally as an architect and urban designer in India, her present research focuses on architectural and spatial histories of South Asia through post-colonial and transcultural frames. She explores themes such as architectures of colonial governance, provinciality and rural urban relationships, spaces of domesticity, race, and the built environment, gender, and feminist readings, questions of field and archive in architectural history, cities and spaces of everyday life and social relationships of architectural knowledge and expertise.
A recent research on paper bureaucracy and clerical life roles in relation to British colonial office architecture in India received the 2019 Royal Institute of British Architects, RIBA President's Award, as well as the 2019 RIBA President's Medal. Dr. Sengupta is also co-chief editor of the journal Architecture Beyond Europe and co-curator of the curriculum, “Race and Space: What is Race Doing in a Nice Field Like a Built Environment?” This was shortlisted for the Society of Architectural Historians, GB Colvin Prize in 2021. She's an active part of several race-related and decolonial initiatives within and beyond UCL. Her talk today is called “Marginal Interiors: Architecture, Space, and Governance in the Colonial Indian Mufassal.”
Before I turn it over to a speaker, just to let you know, if you have any questions at the end, please use the chat box to send them directly to me, Nafis Hasan, and I will call on you to pose your question to our presenter. Please keep your question brief and to the point so that we can get to as many as possible and apologies in advance if I can't get to everyone. Also, please use the chat box only for questions.
Finally, please be mindful about muting your mics throughout the duration of the event. And also please remember that you cannot record this presentation without prior permission from the presenter. So once again, thank you for your interest and for being here today. And with that, I'm going to turn it to Dr. Sengupta to take us away.
Thank you, Nafis, and thank you all of you for inviting me to CASI, and I have to say, I'm partly daunted by the prospect, but I'll try and do my best. Okay. So I'll start off with today's presentation, which is called “Marginal Interiors: Architecture, Space, and Governance in the Colonial Indian Mufassal.” Just to warn you, I have a light lingering cough, and that may bother you a bit along way, but hopefully, we'll work around that. Okay. So describing in 1859, a provincial station, or British colonial administration establishment in the Bengal Province in Eastern India, George Franklin Atkinson, an English officer, presented it as a rather comic site, strung between the extremes of luxury and backwardness. So Atkinson says, "Our station rejoices in the euphonious appellation of Kabob, far from the busy haunts of a civilized world, smiles Kabob, the loveliest village of the plain. Oh, if there be a paradise upon earth, I suspect it must be this." He then went on to note that, "A hotter and duller hole is not to be discovered by the most enterprising and enthusiastic tropical traveler, remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow." Kabob's isolation and ordinariness was clearly manifold.
Atkinson further notes, Kabob is not the capital of the province, the counselors of the kingdom, the great men and the mighty men do not reside here, nor do the high church dignitaries nor any military magnet, not even a general. And of Kabob's buildings, Atkinson states, "Let us tell of all thy architectural splendors by accumulated glories of whitewash and of thatch, thy mud-built edifices and thy mud-built cottages, thy mud built enclosure walls, in all their mud-begotten majesty."
Clearly, Atkinson suggests that like all its other aspects, there was nothing spectacular about Kabob's townscape either. Presented as proof, Atkinson's account revealed the banality and contradictions that characterized colonial settlements in provincial areas of India.
Atkinson Station, the civil station that he's referring to, a charming semi rural paradise, seemingly, represented a welcome departure for colonial officers from the intense urban world of the colonial headquarters at Calcutta. But equally, it also signified a rupture from, quote-unquote, civilization in terms of its isolation, raw exposure to tropical heat and slow pace and uninteresting social life. Atkinson does not name the town. He obscures all real identities, using instead Indian culinary terminologies, the Station of Kabob, located in the plains of Date Tea, which most South Asianists would know, is a cooking utensil, within the Province of [Bawarchi 00:06:36]. It refers to a chef. Cooking up an anonymous, almost fantastic world. The generic names also allude to the seemingly repetitive character of Bengal's Provincial Stations.
By the time Atkinson's account was written in the mid 19th century, British colonial presence was fairly well etched onto much of India's inland areas. Following the Nawab of Bengal, Shuja ud-Daula's defeat at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The English East India Company had in 1765 acquired the Diwani or the rights of agricultural revenue collection and of revenue administration of the Eastern Province of Bengal, which at that time included the [inaudible 00:07:27] of Bengal and Bihar. To which Orissa is added in the early 19th century and Assam also between 1833, and '74.
For the logistics of tax collection and administration of justice, the company divided the territory into revenue districts. The district became the most significant spatial unit of the company's revenue administration and later, after the assumption of Indian rule by the British Crown in 1858, it also served as the basic governing unit for imperial ruling. 24 suburb collectorships or revenue collection units or districts, were established in and around 1786. And by the 1870s, say, about a 100 years later, the number had doubled to 53. The district headquarter town was Zilla Sadar and in local parlance, often referred to simply as [Lasadar 00:08:26]. And in colonial parlance, also referred to as simply district towns represented a space between the company headquarters at Calcutta and Bengal's interiors. Between the urban and the rural, between central government and lower hierarchies of administration.
While our dominant spatial imagination of architectural colonial rule has tended to form around major cities, grand urban schemes, and iconic buildings, I look here instead at these low key provincial towns and an archetype of minor architecture, ubiquitous and ordinary spaces and practices of day-to-day colonial provincial offices. The permanent settlement of Bengal of 1793 introduced by the Governor General of India, Charles Cornwallis, had fixed in perpetuity the agriculture land revenues to be paid by intermediary tax collectors or zamindars, conferring upon them defacto rights of land holdings, which defacto translated into property rights and which engendered profound transformations in the economy and society of Bengali. Ensuring certainty of revenue and propping up zamindars as reliable intermediaries made revenue administration the backbone of the company's enterprise, early 19th century [inaudible 00:09:43]
Sorry. Headed by the European District or revenue collector or district collector, and the district judge, Zilla Sadar was the pivotal administrative location within the provincial landscape where local people reported for paying taxes, where litigations were pursued in district courts, where men moved from villages for employment in administrative offices. In fact, 1840s onwards, women and families also start moving into these towns and where professional and business networks grew, where multifarious institutions developed and where changing patterns of domestic life was forged.
Centered on the co-function of governance and being poised between different hierarchies of administration and scales of urbanity, these towns came to embody newer ways of living and working. Yet, while the towns absorbed substantial rural out-migration in the first half of the 19th century, the overall Mufassal provincial urban population remained actually very low until the early 20th century. Bengal's urban population for instance, increased between 1872 and 1901 by 25%, whereas the urban population as a proportion of the total population was just 5%. If there was some ambiguity of inclusion of villages, and if one thought of the so-called pure, the more urban areas, this percentage would be the smaller.
The company's evolving framework of a military fiscal state meant that Indian agricultural revenues were also used to fund Britain's military context within India and overseas. The early to mid 19th century witnessed the company's aggressive expansion in their role on these dual fronts, especially mobilized through a series of [inaudible 00:11:54] or Military stations on the one hand and revenue collection centers or civil stations on the other. Representing the two arms of the military fiscal state, they found a network that structured the company's territorial and economic grip over the vast Bengal hinterland. A civil station usually to the European civilian settlement within the Zilla Sadar or sub divisional towns, so district or sub divisional towns, while Zilla Sadar referred to the entire town, including its Indian and native areas or so called native areas. Here, two lifeworlds intersected. The bureaucratic orders of the middle law tiers of British colonial governance on the one hand, and provincial urban identity and ways of life on the other.
To seemingly a whole spatial ideas, margin and interior, also converged here at the Zilla Sadar. Instead of margins as frontiers and borderlands, and there's a large field of borderland studies, here in the diminutive seats of Bengal's provincial governance, we encounter interiors as marginal spaces, driven by maritime trade in its early days in South Asia. And in fact, most or many other colonial contexts, European settlements first developed as port cities on coastal rings. Typically, this reversed the precolonial pattern of England centers of power and created a new geography of decreasing significance from the post inwards. So for instance, in Shillong, coastal Colombo, edged out inland candy, the precolonial power center in Burma, [inaudible 00:13:33] in the lower Irrawaddy basin, marginalized the interior highland Amarapura and Mandalay.
Provincial administrative towns of colonial Bengal also largely represented a topographic separation from the coast. And the coast, for instance, housed the defacto House Metropolitan Calcutta, it's 200 miles inlands. Many district towns being located on the inland Gangetic plains. Also, these substantive reforms between late 18th and mid 19th centuries has vital revenue collecting components of colonial fiscal administration, and yet, their particular location at the middle or end of this very governmental hierarchy caused their marginal status to a great extent. The production of [inaudible 00:14:25] marginal sites, thus heralds from a geographical interiority on the one hand and a subordinate status within the colonial governmental hierarchy on the other.
The production of remoteness also resulted from the spatial logic of colonial infrastructure. Ravi Ahuja notes how, despite an agile precolonial circulatory network and infrastructure, which is imperial claim on India's modernity and civilizational improvement, projected a roadless India, to which they ostensibly introduced modern roads, railways and canals. The foundational rule of revenue governance in colonial economy overlaid a new settlement geography onto the existing landscape and warranted new connectivity.
In reality, however, as shown by [inaudible 00:15:14] in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, colonial infrastructure mainly prioritized territorial consolidation through military routes and stations, then dark based communications between metropolitan centers. After the 1840s, the movement of commercial goods, and after 1854 during the railway era, lines of extraction of resources, such as coal, indigo, and cotton through the railways. Post 1840s investment was mainly towards cartable roads for mobility of goods for colonial commerce and not for people's ease of travel to and from or between interior locations.
While many Zilla Sadar towns were located by the colonists strategically on pre-colonial communication lines, they were not the prime targets or beneficiaries of the new colonial infrastructure. Many fell outside the major arteries, or were barely served by rudimentary postal roads. Other than Hooghly and Burdwan, which received railway stations in 1854 and '55, no Sadar town had a railhead until the late century and towns like Barishal never actually received any railway station at all.
In Bengal, colonialism forged radical, contradictory, and sometimes unresolved connections between previously less connected locations. This stemmed largely from revenue and judicial governmental hierarchies, spanning sub divisional Munshi court, Zilla, or district level Diwani and Faujdari courts, Provincial Courts of Appeal at Calcutta, Dhaka and Murshidabad and Sadr Diwani and Sadr Nizamat, that is civil employment court in Calcutta, all of which demanded people's mobility across these sites and rural tax estates. Mobile component of colonial justice itself involved judicial officers movement from the Courts of Circuit at Calcutta Dhaka and Murshidabad to and after 1829, the Divisional Commissioners moving between the Lasadar towns to settle serious offense cases.
So there's this whole range of mobilities being demanded of the new structure. Many sub divisional towns did not have proper treasuries until the mid 19th century and therefore revenue was collected at the Zilla Sadar, leading to additional needs for mobility. Colonial governance therefore also caused lives to be split across and lived in many different sites simultaneously and intermediate locations, such as Zilla Sadar towns to acquire varied characteristics.
So it's fascinating study of court cases and legal discourse around the disappearance and then the apparent reappearance of [Burdwan Zamindar, Maharaja Katakchan 00:18:15] in the late 1830s. [inaudible 00:18:18] for instance has shown how the provincial status of the Mufassal was also marked by the notion of, or affected by the notion of legal, juridical territories. And for instance, Mufassal courts did not have the authority to try Europeans for a long time. So any crime in the Mufassal had to be tried in the headquarters. Also, looking at how the ambiguities and contestations between these played out within the public domains, fanning Calcutta and Mufassal. And Calcutta and Mufassal and their separation was already articulated by the inside-outside notion of the [Marata 00:19:02] ditch Calcutta, Calcuttans being the insiders and everything outside was considered Mufassal. How all the legal and policing discourse in that particular, zamindar disappearance case actually also infused a broader social-cultural imagination of the Mufassal itself.
In order to further glean a sense of what the provincial site meant culturally, within the colonial context, let us now flip our vantage to some of the colonial subjects perception. Take for instance, the account from the 1820s of Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhyay, a Bengali writer, presenting the cultural mores of metropolitan Calcutta to a provincial Bengali visitor in his well-known book, Kalikata Kamalalay, literally meaning Calcutta, the abode of the goddess luxury. Where Bandyopadhyay notes, "Village or other small town dwellers, when we visit Calcutta are unable to get acquainted with its manners, ways and norms of communication, being ignorant and ill equipped to deal with these and the urban gentleman constantly reject their opinions as being provincial. This causes the visitors to feel small and be effectively silenced. I'm undertaking in Kalikata Kamalalay, the task of presenting this grand city's Calcutta's comprehensive account that will equip you perfectly with its behavioral codes, customs and conversational skills."
Bhabanicharan sets out here to demystify to the small town visitor, the seemingly particular and alien ways of modern life of metropolitan Bengalis and the cultural and behavioral negotiations that these demanded. By the first quarter of the 19th century, Calcutta was already perceived as being markedly distinct, whereby its cultural peculiarities needed explanation or translation for non metropolitan Bengalis. Yet clearly, what the city is set into dialogue with in Kalikata Kamalalay, is the colonial provincial hinterland of the Mufassal. As the metropolitan city's dialogical referent, a provincial world is in effect implied here as the unspoken opposite or perhaps complimentary domain of the metropolitan. It was what the big city was not.
[inaudible 00:21:26] reminds us that cosmopolitanism and I'm adding metropolitan is always traversed by provincialism. As [MS Islam 00:21:34] notes in his 1980s piece on Mufassal towns, 70% of the city or city population of Calcutta at most points of time had actually intimate connections with Mufassal areas. Through studying the life of [Kanar Murinat 00:21:55] and his Mufassal press and publications, [inaudible 00:21:58] establishes the Mufassal or the provincial as a site of modernity and critique of colonial rule. [inaudible 00:22:08] affirms how the early 20th century Swadeshi movement drew actively from the Mufassal and district based political mobilization. Yet as in Kalikata Kamalalay, the provincial site had to often be necessarily inferred and became only skeletally legible and only from the active descriptions of the metropolitan and how therefore it otherwise could have an effective invisibility in certain contexts.
Let us now return to the Zilla Sadar and it's [inaudible 00:22:42] center the revenue Cutcherry or the tax collection office. It's [Kachaharee 00:22:47] in Bengali, but because I'm dealing with a larger linguistic region, connecting Bihar and Orissa, I'll be calling it Cutcherry. The term Cutcherry could refer simultaneously to the revenue or judicial offices, as well as to the larger Cutcherry precinct, housing various other buildings, such as the District Judicial Courts, dealing with numerous revenue, civil and criminal cases, jail, treasury, land record rooms, and so on.
So most Zilla Sadar towns were not planned developments, and I'll go very quickly through these slides. This is mainly to communicate the point that very roughly, the towns did have too rough, the apportioned areas of the European settlement and the Indian settlement. These were rough, like [Swathi Satupather 00:23:40] has shown, and even I've shown in my work that actually these were not such autonomous or sovereign domains and the characteristics got into each other and even the white town was not so white town after all. And the Cutcherry complex, as you can see, usually occupied an in between location, and so acted as kind of a hinge between, between the settlements, between these two parts of the settlement. Very typically, next to the Cutcherry, or emanating from the Cutcherry would be a bazaar street that fed the Cutcherry, which had various names like Cutcherry bazaar, [Kirani bazaar 00:24:25] [Chado bazaar [00:24:27], Boro bazaar 00:24:28]. There's a whole range of names which are specific to towns, but actually they're quite generic.
The other thing just to mention, even though I'm actually not going to be discussing this in detail, is that the town itself, especially the Indian areas were apportioned into Paras or neighborhoods, which were based on kinship and occupational and sometimes religious groupings. Many of these were continuities from the rural places in villages. So those spatial configurations get translated into the town to a great extent.
I'll now discuss how the district Cutcherry represented on the one hand, the space of colonial biopolitics and the tyranny of its procedural routines, and on the other housed particular types of material, spatial and experiential environments or lifeworlds. In particular, I explore them as sites where colonial people bureaucracy developed and people worlds grew. And I've been particularly influenced by historians like Bhavani Raman and of course, Christopher Bayly's work on Information and Empire, [Myles Ogborn's 00:25:45] and also anthropologists like Akhil Gupta [Machuhal 00:25:50], and a whole new generation of anthropologists, including yourself, Nafis, are part of this family of work in a way.
Okay. So as Myles Ogborn has shown already in the late 17th and 18th century accounts and correspondences meant for governing committees in London, [inaudible 00:26:14] of offices at the company's commercial factory at Madras and set up procedures for Asian-European global trade. Building on Bruno Latour's analysis of the spatial geographies of production and circulation of inscriptions or paper forms, Ogborn highlights the global geographies and genres of writing produced by European [barkentine 00:26:38] colonialism. And these in fact, in some ways created the blueprints for later colonial office practices in the kind of spaces I'm talking about.
Paper based textual culture grew massively within British administration in India. First as the company's role transformed from commercial trade to agricultural revenue collection and further during imperial rule, which became, increasingly more bureaucratic and centered on systematization of information and governance. The district Cutcherries of the provincial hinterlands were the very heart of the company's revenue economy and knowledge. And it was paper that bound this knowledge into material form and also acted as the Cutcherry administration's procedural instrument.
In the provincial Cutcherry, two distinct paperworks coalesced, the company's inheritance of writing and accounting as technologies of global trade, 17th century onwards that Ogborn refers to and mobile cultures of scribes and penmanship, which the company's land revenue governance had inherited and became very dependent on. And this is slightly asynchronistic. I'm literally just using this image to refer to a deeper genealogy in terms of time, in terms of mobile scribal office oriented practices.
The period between 1830 and the late 1850s defacto provided a nebulous testing ground in India for the adaptation of English utilitarian visions to Indian governance, as well as for the increasingly centralized governments of the later imperial [inaudible 00:28:19].
As Peter Robb points out, up to the early 1830s, revenue collection and dealing with corruption and not issues of justice and welfare were actually the company's main priority. And even after 1830 under [Bentin's 00:28:35] governing ideal of civilizational improvement, it was administrative improvement and the kind of Bentinmite efficiency that still were seen as its central instruments. And also ideology too, had to be tempered by Indian realities and 1830s to late 1840s. So the continuous overhaul and continuous struggle with administration and records and channels, chains of reports and channels of reporting and a kind of struggle to figure out spatial configuration.
Very quickly, the early Cutcherries were what I call the bungalow type, which were essentially residential typologies and often had officers living in the same building as their revenue offices or [inaudible 00:29:34]. And by the 1820s, we see what you see on the right hand side is what I call the barrack type Cutcherry, which is essentially a more generic form of linear rooms, a chain of rooms incremental, flexible. And this shift happens around the 1820s.
So, sorry. Yeah. One of the key drivers of provincial administrative spaces was the information collection and record keeping system of governance, the physical material that it generated and the human networks it involved Christopher Bayly for instance, says that the expansion of knowledge was not so much a byproduct of the empire as a condition for it. While it was initially dependent on revenue and procedural documents within the Bengal Nawab's court, by the early 19th century, Bayly actually describes this beautifully. The company was very actively forming its own information base.
Record rooms and provincial Cutcherries became the central pegs of this new information system. And in the spatial conception of provincial office architecture. Much local evidence was produced for instance, for the British Parliamentary Inquiries of 1813 and in response to the circular orders of 1824. So critical was their rule record rooms were invariably placed at the very center of provincial Cutcherries as you can see here. These were typically flanked by court rooms and offices and the records were the center of the scheme and not the other way around and everything else was arranged with respect to them.
With the possible exception of the treasury, the record area was by far the most guarded entity in the spatial scheme, it was hemmed in between other functions and protected by glass and wooden louvred shutters to allow light, but cut out dust and moisture and grill and wire mesh to guard against human and insect intrusion. Such layers seemed to have been built up as the understanding of threats evolved and in short, the record room was gradually fitted out as a space with a very high degree of control over its environmental and security parameters. This is simply to show that the record rooms initially were more autonomous standalone buildings, and then slowly they get split between the judges and the collectors' Cutcherry, which each develop their own record rooms and they become housed within these buildings as information gets more specialized.
Emerging contours of revenue and judicial information and shifts in the dominant office functions created its own spatial cultures. During the first quarter of the 19th century, with great value placed on accountancy skills, the [amdar 00:32:38] or administrative clerks, writers, accountants translators became a key constituency of district Cutcherries. The chain of interconnected open offices was where the whole panoply of clerical work flourished, but also formed porous social environments far beyond strictly administrative spaces.
Between in the late 18th and mid 19th century under various heads like revenue, judicial, military, public, financial, commercial, and so on the company's court of directors in London increasingly demanded different types of reporting, which district Cutcherries had to furnish. This in terms shaped various procedural aspects like record keeping, accounting, writing, filing, tagging, docketing, file sequencing labeling.
So handbooks for clerical work by both British and Indian writers with 19th century onwards presented the qualities of a good clerk for instance, this is actually from Bombay Presidency, this particular example, but there's a whole range of clerical manuals both by Indians, as well as Europeans. These also present the value of clerical discipline and integrity as a kind of a moral order.
The office [Omlah 00:34:03] had a key constituent, which were the Munshis, a middle class Persianet in the Muslim group, well versed in accounts and politics amenable for a simulation within different administrative setups. The British usually initially used them as private language instructors and especially for new officers arriving in Calcutta and their contact zones were officers hostels and messes. And then in the district, your officers' bungalows would have Munshis visitings and giving private lessons.
[Michael Fisher 00:34:37] and Bayly have also shown how between 1820 and '50, these semi independent Munshis were increasingly inducted into district Cutcherries as a bureaucracy, initially to interpret Persian land records for official letter writing in Persian and later as more general administrative class. Bhavani Raman observes how this new bureaucratic order of British rule involved new practices such as signature discretion, pedagogy for clerical employment and the power of expertise. Central to this was according to her, the government of writing and to modify conduct and regulate behavior and check the abuse of power, but also to facilitate the spread of the market under colonial rule. This, she suggests generated a textual habitus, and I'm also saying it's generated a spatial and material habitus.
The Mushis' increasing critical mass within the office organization saw the emergence and the expansion of the Munshikhana, the Munshis' workspace from European district officer's bungalow, right into the heart of provincial governmental offices. The Munshikhana was usually just a generic office space enjoying high connectivity, to other parts of the Cutcherry, but placed right next to the higher of two courtrooms or higher officials' chambers, like the district collector magistrate or judges' chambers, and signaling the immediacy of contact of the Munshis that they were dependent on. And therefore the Munshikhana was brokering the relationship between these spaces.
The Munshikhana was a writing intensive space. It was also by corollary a paper intensive domain. This is where the embodied knowledge of the Munshis was being translated into material forms. It thus became increasingly reliant substantial spaces needed for paper documents, and increasingly was no longer just a workspace, but more and more a storage space too. The peripheral wall areas of these open office spaces were becoming increasingly led with storage and the personnel in them were being pushed to the center. This is probably one of the reasons why after, especially after the 1850s, we see a number of skylights being punctured in the central section of these rooms, to allow light into the work area.
So what did such paper worlds mean to the people who mobilized them? Historians such as Sumit Sarkar have analyzed how, to Bengalis, colonial clerical employment as pen pushers implied the domain of slavery of foreign rulers. [Chakri 00:37:37] derived from [Chakra 00:37:42], meaning a servant. It also meant submission to alien temporal rhythms of secular modern capitalist time and production. The colonial clerks' lifeworld was conceptually split into the domain of the de-aestheticized office, signifying monotonous, so less paperwork, and it's contemporary domain, de-aestheticized home or Griha nurtured by the Housewives, symbolic of the Grihalakshmi, the goddess of domesticity. What you see on the left hand side and the right hand side is the office.
This also served, in fact, this image of the Grihalakshmi around the house, also served as an early anticolonial nationalist imaginary, as a kind of counterpoint to the site of work, of colonial work. According to the [inaudible 00:38:29] who refers to Kalikata Kamalalay, Bengali clerks negotiated such contradictions through the idea of three sovereign spheres of action, [Pitru Kamar 00:38:42] ancestor rituals, [Divar Kamar 00:38:45] spiritual rituals, being the spheres of purity and [Vishwakarma 00:38:50] or sphere of material pursuits, and a world of colonial work contaminated by foreign language, clothing, and alien eating rhythms.
Cutcherry employees, India Cutcherry employees would typically bathe and pray after returning home to purify themselves from office and before resuming domestic activities. My own studies also revealed that there was also a domestication of the office environments themselves. Most Cutcherry premises had temples or mosques, and employees would often remove their shoes, signifying contamination, before entering Cutcherry buildings, as they would at home, or at sacred a shrine. A Government Circular Order of the 1840s in fact advised employees to not do this, emphasizing the Cutcherry's modern providence of secularized time and space. The very rigors of paper procedures also encourage other channels of subversion and other forms of making home of the Cutcherries, which I'll just come to.
Demands on record rooms and storage areas increased. Okay. Yeah, I think that was the slide for domestication of the... Even in terms of the colonial officers, it was not uncommon to take a nap in the office and there's a kind of home making within the office environment, even for the officers. They often had dining tables and beds, even within offices.
Demands on record rooms and storage areas increased further after 1830 with venting statistical movement involving organized servient census operations in Bengal by people like Robert Montgomery Martin. As principles of this institutionalized knowledge record and office areas had to be modified and expanded in many provincial Cutcherries, between 1830 and late 1850s. In fact, these accounted for the main changes in Cutcherry design for the next 13 years. So in many ways, this is a story also of a lot of ad hoc, additional alterations of Cutcherry buildings.
For example, in 1852, 1853, the judge's Cutcherry in Burdwan added two more record rooms, office areas and had eight more record racks made. And these are massive record racks. In Midnapore the record rooms were rearranged in 1851, '52, and the sheer amount of correspondence that moved between the Board of Revenue in Calcutta, the Commissioner of the Burdwan Division and the collector of the local district on the designs of these record rooms, underscores their centrality to the colonial revenue enterprise.
The Midnapore Collector's account. This is a quote from the collector's account, reveals key aspects of the development of record areas in Cutcherries. As was usual up till the mid 19th century, the spatial design drew heavily on the Indian Record-Keepers' expertise, but perhaps the most striking is the desperate attempt by Provincial Officers to reproduce the revenue geography of entire districts within the rather limited physical parameters of record rooms.
This was carried out by classifying revenue information into parcels, systematizing the spatial organization of the record room and working out a fit of one onto the other. The nomenclature system started with real references to real places, but sequentially disintegrated into totally abstract systems like bundle number one, paper 56, whereas the initial references would be to actual places like post office, Cossijorah.
In a sense, the colonial record room came to represent an abstracted mini map of a huge territorial region. In addition, by the mid 19th century, record areas could not remain as insulated as the earlier were. Ordinary people had to now access revenue information in this form of specialized colonial knowledge. So things like the mouza map, and also to access it at the site. And therefore this demanded public contact zones, for instance, created by repurposing verandas within records areas. Furthermore, the processing of raw revenue information into forms suitable for record rooms and further for office purposes, increasingly demanded assembly line like specialized work zones.
The veranda as a spatial type became the ideal addition to record rooms due to its inherent flexibility, open or enclosed for new functions and upgradeable to a more permanent form. Compared to other earlier more autonomous and more guarded record rooms, after the 1830s, the record rooms gradually became enveloped, and this goes right on into the 1880s and up until the early 20th century, when new record rooms start getting made.
These record rooms became enveloped by subsidiaries spaces like public meeting areas and offices around the more tightly controlled record spaces. The Munshikhana, Bayly actually notes how after 1837, the company instituted the use of English and Hindustani under vernacular in official communication to rest free of their dependence on the Munshis, the Persianet Munshis.
So the English office, the special space to create or process English records, so converting more and more Persian records into English and Hindustani, especially, English. So that they were more usable by European officers. The English office thus largely replaced the Munshikhana in importance. We can see this shift, this slippage in the way the Munshikhana gets moved further from the key areas of this courtroom and the high officials' offices, and the English office now occupies the proximal location to them. How are we placed in terms of time?
Yes. So I think we have about 15 minutes. Would you want to conclude in the next one or two minutes?
Yeah, yeah. I'll try and... Okay. Let me then choose what I want to, okay. So, okay. I'll probably actually skip reading out this section. This is mainly to say that paper used in the Cutcherries was largely imported for the longest period. And especially in the first half of the 19th century and the company didn't really give patronage to Indian handmade paper, which actually lost a market of state patronage, but equally paper supply was extremely uncertain and actually involved very complicated global logistics of moving paper from England and ships not arriving in time and often Calcutta, Madras and Bombay supplied paper to each other through local shipping routes. So the supply to Calcutta, if that had been compromised, then the district Cutcherries often had to actually tap into local paper economies, which India had an extensive paper economy from [Mughal 00:47:13] paper and ink economy.
Hayden Bellenoit has done this really interesting study of the [inaudible 00:47:20] or the paper foundation of Mughal paper economy. So willy-nilly, the Cutcherry was dependent on these local paper economies, which the local Cutcherry Bazaars would connect to the paper market towns such as Arwal, Patna or [Ramechhap 00:47:40].
Okay. And sorry. These are the types of Bazaars. This is the main bazaars in Krishnanagar. This is the Cutcherry and the main bazaars. So the bazaars' proximity and also in playing a role in terms of both paper supply, but also it developed the dominance and the logic of paper forms that seeped out of the formal spaces of the Cutcherry into sites like the bazaar, which provided office stationary [inaudible 00:48:18] for Cutcherry staff. And by the late 19th century, they housed printing space presses for handbooks and penal codes and revenue law manuals, case briefs, and even spoof literature on Cutcherries themselves.
Okay. So, Okay. So despite attempts to consolidate information based into paper forms and these Cutcherry record rooms, however, there were immense gaps between revenue knowledge in the Cutcherry and the world outside. European officers were forced to employ more mobile Indian intermediaries, typically lower level orderlies and [Choprasees 00:49:03] who collected information and apprehended offenders. And they defacto connected the Cutcherry to a wider world of the town bazaars and villages and through circuits in material forms of knowledge and informal transactions.
Lower level employees did not... Okay. Okay, I'm going to skip all this. Lower level employees not only enjoyed a high degree of physical mobility within the Cutcherry, but in effect, connected it to the life of the Sadar town. The account of Paunchkouree Khan, an orderly in the Cutcherry or in Benares in the 1840s is particularly revealing here. Paunchkouree describes, this is in Benares, but Benares was also part of the upper of provinces and similar practices were common within the Bengal province. Paunchkouree describes how native staff would fool senior European officers, take bris in return of favors to external parties and how he himself moved around the town bazaar and nearby villages, to summon people. [inaudible 00:50:16] parties and conduct negotiations.
Paunchkouree's account also seems to suggest that the Cutcherries amorphous spatiality allowed a certain informality whereby the integrity of people processes could be cleverly subverted and where even corruption could thrive. Spaces like the veranda, entrance hall to the officer's chamber, interstitial spaces between buildings and the generally porous architecture also as such fostered anonymity. Part of this anonymity arose from its populous character and the sheer density of people milling around and conducting business. And rather than being shielded from view, this was actually the blatant exposure of thickly populated spaces where individual transactions, including corruption could actually merge into the rest and brought in this kind of anonymity.
Paunchkouree's account also reveals the range and distribution of people and spaces within the Cutcherry. For instance, spaces deeply embedded inside, within the scheme occupied by high level officials, with very circuitous accesses. Often these thresholds being controlled by lower level employees to the interconnected, open clerical offices, allowing fluidity of movement across them, onto the virtual spatial non provision for a whole range of sundry lower level staff who were the most mobile and who [inaudible 00:51:46] extended far beyond the Cutcherry, out into the key sites of the town and the rural areas beyond. The Cutcherry thus operated as much from the edges of formal provision, as it did as a strictly governmental space and provided the vital locus for a complex administrative geography spread over the town and the region. I think I'll finish here.
Thank you so much. This is just so fascinating and given the work that I'm doing and interested and the transitions from this architecture of space, as well as the way in which the density of paper has been imagined here to the digital forms that are appearing, it's just very fascinating for me to see this layered history that you relate to us. And also the rich references that your entire talk was signaling towards, which becomes, again, a good source for us to look back at this. So we have a question from Swagato Ganguly and I want to invite him to ask his question. So Swagato, would you like to ask your question?
Yes. Thank you, Tania, for your very interesting talk. My question was, how do you see the status of the Mufassal today? In other words, has the geography of provincial towns in Bengal and the relationship to the metropolis and to state bureaucracies changed significantly today from the 19th century landscape that you describe? In other words, how would you trace continuities and or changes today, relative to what you described?
So in all, frankly, I've actually not studied them in great depth today. Basically, I have not done an academic study on them. I have a kind of a common sense of conceptual view. My working method was very much ground upwards because I just went and stayed in these towns for months on end. And so, in a way I have a of feel from that. My father was actually civil servant, and that's how, as a child, I kind of... He was posted in a couple of districts and district office, and it's part of my childhood memories as well. He was posted in Calcutta and then in district. So we were moving between these locations. So some of these experiences [crosstalk 00:54:24]
As a fellow Bengali myself, the landscape you describe sounds very familiar, which is why I was... [crosstalk 00:54:30] your common sense, lived experience, if you have any observations, that would be interesting.
Yeah. So I think I would like to believe that I could see a lot of residues of practices still remaining and I had to navigate, and I kind of partly worked backwards in a common sense manner from that as well. And a lot of the things I was reading about in the 19th century, I could actually see it still being present, including things like, a lot of Cutcherry employees still get hereditary jobs. They don't get them, but basically it's a tradition in the family for generations to work in the Cutcherry. Some of them told me that their great-grandfather's great-grandfather, through that lineage, they know that this building used to be a court, because not everything is documented. I had gone and surveyed and measured and drawn a lot of buildings.
So some of the actual continuities helped me trace backwards in a way. I do think the provincial status that this whole thing of the metropolitan and the provincial, to a great extent remains. For instance, we hear the great stories of the Indian small towns in terms of the cricket resurgence, in terms of other kinds of IT centers and educational institutions. So one does see that, but I do somehow think that I haven't seen enough to think that there's a real provincial resurgence enough to counter the metropolitan domination, but equally, the type of place the Mufassal actually occupied, even as spaces of critique or spaces from where critical publications like [Kangal Harinath Press 00:56:38] was operating or its role Swadeshi movement, all that is still very present.
One of the things I found is that maybe because of the scale of spaces, I found a fairly intimate connection between the Cutcherry world and the world of the town existing till today. I found a recording pattern in many towns that many Cutcherry clerks, I don't know, maybe because colonial work and the kind of postcolonial bureaucracy as a legacy of it, there's a kind of boredom among them. Many of them actually told me, it's boring work. And therefore they, many of them do urban history, local history, they're writing histories of street names. So there's a kind of fairly intimate connection, which the province allowed. And even at the time, I did find this pattern of the Cutcherry employees writing about the town, Cutcherry employees writing about the Cutcherry, so there's a whole genre of literature that was produced. And those patterns seem to definitely continue or be continuing to a great extent. There's a whole Mufassal local history, kind of a genre and a lot of it is actually connected to Cutcherry employees and work.
So it's not just boredom, it's engagement as well, it seems from what you're describing, it's...
Yeah, it is. So it's very active. They seem to have been highly... And people would sit and write during work hours. And I, myself tapped a lot into the nebulousness of the systems to be able to do my work. So after five o'clock, they're not that bothered if I go and actually measure and draw buildings, small groups of people stay around and the Cutcherries are social spaces, very much in the evenings, even during the day. So those sorts of social worlds, the kind that Paunchkouree describes, I can see residues of, I think, but of course I'm sure a lot has changed as well.
Yes. Yeah. Thank you for that response. Through your talk, I was thinking about how the kind of descriptions that Bhavani Raman makes in her book around a perfection recordation and the textual habitus, which you pointed as well. And I think what you're showing us is how much space is such an important aspect of that and the kind of spatial dynamics that constitute the expectations or desires of recording the world, which is not just in the text. So I was thinking about the relationship between the text and the spaces themselves. So it seemed like one was formed by the other and it wasn't only the fact that text was the most critical element in constitution of the modern bureaucracy then.
Yeah, I think to a great extent, record rooms and the structures of its layout and the limitations of its layout would also dictate the way records had to be created. There's I think in 18, was it '24 or '29 or '32, there's a circular that comes about how to exactly roll and pack the records, so that it can be accommodated in the best possible way within the record drafts. So there's a huge amount of... And equally the space was also continuously struggling to keep up with text and material and text. And the struggle is very evident, especially when it comes to additional alterations. One can see the real... So in a way, to me, I think additional alterations told me almost more.
There are the big moments when some typology gets created, say around 1820s, this barrack form starts emerging. These buildings look identical, but they're actually not. They are similar, there are certain patterns which say around the 1820s, it's the barrack, but the barrack, however extendable, incremental, which is the reason why this linear form is adopted, but everything seems to not be adequate for the purpose of governance as well. So it's a continuous struggle between text records, material and space, and it is trying to catch up with the other one.
Absolutely. That's a really fascinating relationship, which one doesn't always see, if one comes in looking only at the text, which is the most obvious thing inside the offices. So it's great to pay attention to the constitution and the construction of the space as well. And what you're saying about the paper world is what I'm also trying to understand about the digital world, because there itself, there's a question of infrastructure and the database space and how those constrained what kind of information can be digitized. So it's definitely, there are lots of parallels and I hope to continue having this chat with you in other forums. For now, I think I'll have to let you go and thank you very once again for this wonderful talk.
Thank you so much.
And thanks to our audience for listening in so patiently. So we'll see everyone else next week at that talk again. Thank you very much for attending.
Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me and giving me the chance to speak to all of you.