The Fantasist of Calcutta has a plaque

Atrocities and alibi’s for dirty colonial deeds of the ‘robber baron’ Clive and his mates. Here is a plaque for John Zephania Holwell, who wrote his dramatically claustrophobic survivor tale several months afterwards as a kind of post-factum justification for the subsequent slaughter at Palashi. He goes on to be Governor and erects a monument to his own heroism, which survives 40 years and is forgotten until Mark Twain asks about it – thanks Mark. Pah, the monument is rebuilt – and still stands today, though moved to the grounds of the nearby church, partly because Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and crew slapped it with a  slipper, and chisels.

Hollwell plaque

Thanks to Claire who found this at King’s Guy’s Hospital. A plaque to the apologist of Palashi. I suppose it is too minor an atrocity – one among many – for the Rhodes must fall group to be deployed, but some annotation is surely necessary.

This chapter may explain why this is such an outrage. The man built a monument to his lies.



Slum tourism

I am gathering material for a review of this area and found a dissertation that discusses The Rumour of Calcutta:

“Hutnyk (1996: 10) also states that the massive tourism and infrastructure development in India and above all in the major cities might require brutal readjustment and restructuring for adapting to the West. Tourism experience in India is hybrid and mixed-up. He also suggests that without Mother Theresa and the Lonely Planet guidebook, Kolkata would have maybe been portrayed as less impoverished and run-down. Its reputation revolves around the main themes of poverty, urban decay and overcrowding (Hutnyk, 1996: 55) stemming from tourism literature, media and government and other official and institutional reports.

Slum tourism as a rather recent phenomenon in India might portray this day-to-day routine in an urban environment and might help to abolish stereotypes about the working poor, urban decay and extreme poverty. Hannam and Diekmann (2010) argue that slum tourism can nevertheless be potentially damaging for both visitors and residents if they happen on a superficial, commodified and non-mutual basis. Rolfes (2009) claims that there is only one professional and regular slum tourism operator in Mumbai which is Reality Tours. Thus, Rolfes’ (2009) analysis of tour operations in Mumbai is based on one tour operating business and might be too one-sided.

However, Hutnyk (1996) described and analysed his personal experience in Kolkata with backpacker tourists and volunteer tourists coming, watching and leaving the poor people of the city and calling their medical help and volunteering ‘sick tours’. He is one of the first to have mentioned the questionable morality that is involved once tourists come to see poor people in Third World countries already assuming the participative “voyeuristic consumption of poverty” (Hutnyk, 1996: 11) because the poor are always and unavoidably the subject of tours in India, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Almost ironically he mocks these very tourists coming to Kolkata to see ‘the extreme’ which is expected to be unusual and different to what he calls “the rumour of poverty” (Hutnyk, 1996: 20). In line with Hutnyk (1996), Hannam and Diekmann (2010) …

[Dunno if mocking is how I would describe the critique, but…]

Nevertheless, very much enjoying the thesis and hope it was turned into an article: Well done Linda Klepsch, 2010. A critical analysis of slum tours: Comparing the existing offer in South Africa, Brazil, India and Kenya,


Destruction of weavers

Their bones will, Marx says, end up bleached on the plains of Bihar. Here Ranajit Guha in 1956 examines how colonial policy and corporation demands destroy livelihoods and skills fore generations to come. Some of the language may seem dated or unfamiliar I guess… but:

‘The Regulation on weavers,

framed by the Board of Trade in 1786, went further than this. But here also the proposed measure of improvement was administered strictly according to the commercial requirements of the Company. The Regulation provided for a number of legal safeguards favourable to the Companys weavers, but these represented no more than what was barely needed to ensure the regular and timely execution of contracts for investment. While the parochial labour of the textile producers of Bengal, thanks to the Company’s transactions, was being converted into an element of world economy, nothing was done to introduce a corresponding measure of improvement either in the technique or in the relations of production. The demands of a higher economic order were thus superimposed on a backward industrial organization without preparing the latter in any sense for such a function. There was nothing either in the nature of the East India Company or in Bengali society at the time which could satisfy the historical requirements of the situation. The result was that the Company, failing as it did to effect the release of the productive forces of native industry from feudal fetters, adopted the more facile solution of quarantine by isolating a part of the productive system from its original habitat and straitjiacketing it by the artificial organization of the English

factories. Thus, even before the indigenous industry of Bcngal had begun to wilt under the blasts that blew from Manchester in the first half of the nineteenth century, it was undermined at its very base due to the utter incompatibility between its mode of production and the nature of the market it was intended to serve’ (Guha 2009: 81-2).

From: The Small Voice of History: Collected Essays. Ranikhet can’t.: Permanent Black.

Marx on India in 1857

Marx writes to document the outrages committed by the British in retaliation for the uprising in 1857:

“The Punjaub is declared to be quiet, but at the same time we are informed that ‘at Ferozepore, on the 13th of June, military executions had taken place’ while Vaughan’s corps – 5th

Punjaub Infantry – is praised for ‘having behaved admirably in pursuit of the

55th Native Infantry’. This, it must be confessed, is very queer sort of ‘quiet’”

(New York Daily Tribune August 14,1857. Correspondence London, July 31,1857)

Isn’t this sort of reading of British troop action as an archival trace of something more significant that ‘provoked’ the reactions of the British exactly the sort of reading strategy that the founding Subaltern Studies scholars like Ranajit Guha suggested as critical historical method?