Extra on Debjani Bhattacharyya: Rohan D’Souza lately reviewed her Empire and Ecology within the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta (Cambridge UP, 2018) for H-Water. D’Souza writes:

Empire and Ecology within the Bengal Delta broadcasts a shift in gears inside the bourgeoning and bustling discipline of the environmental histories of South Asia. As a substitute of taking the acquainted route that revisits themes within the present canon—forests, irrigation, and carnivore management—Debjani Bhattacharyya cuts an altogether recent path by exploring how radical ecological change was important to the making of city colonial Calcutta (right this moment’s Kolkata). The core claims within the e-book pivot on the various arduous British efforts from the late eighteenth century onward to remodel Calcutta’s soggy marshy origins into landed concrete areas—the firmed-up surfaces upon which have been constructed residential, industrial, and industrial infrastructure and the premise for widespread monetary hypothesis in actual property.

Whereas a lot of the element on the drying out of British India’s premier colonial metropolis could be present in a reasonably voluminous documentation on drainage works, reclamation tasks, and hydraulic engineering schemes, these admittedly technical accounts, we’re cautioned, fail to meaningfully grasp the precise “secrets-of-land-making” (p. 1). transformation of “floating watery soils” into agency land, Bhattacharyya argues, was principally an ideological undertaking that was profoundly underwritten by the notion of landed property, which, as a “authorized expertise” to “demarcate land, marsh, accretion and water,” actively triggered the clotting of Calcutta into city soil (p. 23). Colonial landed property, furthermore, by being set on a treadmill of financial valuation inevitably transmuted into the archetypal capitalist commodity: topic to the logics of the market and the relentless pursuit of revenue. Unsurprisingly, subsequently, as Calcutta within the early a long time of the 20th century started to blow up right into a crowded metropolis—quick on house, cramped with individuals, and missing inexpensive housing—a thriving and ferocious city land market burst ahead. Whereas Bhattacharyya does present a riveting account of the aggressive jostling for land amongst an more and more vocal working class, sundry lobbies of builders, extortionate landlords, the oscillating fates of lease speculators, and varied interventions by municipal authorities, the dialogue, nonetheless, is extra pointedly geared toward returning us to the “secret.”

What lastly emerged from the protracted confrontations over land shortage, we’re advised, was a much less marketed, if not totally unspoken, consensus among the many varied contending city pursuits: that the outlying marshes and untidy swamps have been “lands-in-waiting” reasonably than distinct hydrological phenomena (p. 172). This unanimous and decided name for slicing off town from its “watery hinterlands,” in Bhattacharyya’s estimate, truly sought to masks a radical ecological rupture by which land and water have been meant to be break up into distinct and separable entities, as a substitute of being acknowledged as ecologically entwined domains and integral to Bengal’s deltaic environments.

Extra at H-Water.

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