Category Archives: talks

From Pathan Menace to Frontier Gandhi: Afghans in Early 20th Century Bombay

Please click here to download the full audio (MP3) and click here to download the presentation (PDF) of my keynote lecture on 20 April 2017 at Mountstuart Elphinstone between Local & Global Forces: Colonial Knowledge, National Histories & Regional Realities, organised by Professors Shah Mahmoud Hanifi from James Madison University and the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) at Jnanapravaha Mumbai from 20-22 April 2017.International Conference - Mounstuart Elphinstone between Local & Global: Colonial Knowledge, National Histories & Regional Realities, 20-21 April 2017

Insurrection 1946: Meanings of Failed Action

From 17-25 March 2017, I worked as curator and archivist in this public exhibition and installation at the Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum of Western India), Mumbai with artist Vivan Sundaram, archivist Dr Valentina Vitali and media artist Dr David Chapman from the University of East London and scholar and lead curator Ashish Rajadhyaksha.

Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 is a collaborative art project that revisits an episode of India’s struggle for self-rule: the 1946 insurrection of Royal Indian Navy (R.I.N.) sailors. On 18 February 1946, a strike was declared on H.M.I.S. Talwar, the signal training establishment of the R.I.N. at Colaba, Bombay. Within a day, a total of 10,000 naval ratings posted across the Indian Ocean took charge of sixty six ships and on-shore naval establishments. On the fourth day of the strike, Bombay’s industrial labour force joined the struggle in a show of solidarity, and the city closed down. Ranged against the strikers was the might of the British armed forces, threatening to destroy the Navy.

The Indian national leadership, then at the threshold of Independence, refused to support the uprising. The curfew that followed ended with over two hundred people killed on the streets and the surrender of the sailors on the dawn of February 23. Widely considered a ‘failure’ in its time and since then conveniently erased from Indian nationalist history, seventy years on the February 1946 uprising refuses to be assimilated into any single narrative. Based on archival material sourced in India and the U.K., Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 revisits these five days as a memory that flashes up at a moment of danger, an episode that challenges India’s present trajectory.

Continue reading Insurrection 1946: Meanings of Failed Action

Plotting & Scheming: Land Acquisition & Market Values in Colonial Bombay, 1898-1926

On 18 January and 3 March 2017, I gave versions of this talk and presentation on my book manuscript to the Cities Cluster of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (FASS) Research Division, National University of Singapore (NUS). the faculty and students of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS) Calcutta/Kolkata. These talks were chaired by Professor Tim Bunnell in Singapore Professor Lakshmi Subramanian and Dr Prachi Deshpande.

In the late 1890s, an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through the ports of the British Empire in Asia, dramatising the vulnerability of imperial power in its urban centres of command and control. Colonial cities like Calcutta and Bombay served as gateways to regional and global flows of people, money and machines, centralised and accelerated by networks of steam, rail and electricity. Freedom to trade and the rule of law underpinned both business and politics. Within these cities, power was shared and contested between colonial rulers, Indian elites and urban populations.

My presentation explores the social and spatial restructuring of early 20th century Bombay in the wake of the plague epidemic, through a study of the construction of Sandhurst Road, an east-west arterial avenue. Since 1955 known as Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (SVP) Marg, Sandhurst Road was named after the British Governor of Bombay Presidency who tackled the outbreak of bubonic plague in western India in 1896 by establishing the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) to “clean up” the city.

Continue reading Plotting & Scheming: Land Acquisition & Market Values in Colonial Bombay, 1898-1926

आलेखन व आखणी : वासाहतिक बॉम्बेमध्ये झालेलं सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याचं बांधकाम, १८९८-१९२५

This is a Marathi translation by Avadhoot of “Plotting & Scheming: Constructing Sandhurst Road in Colonial Bombay, 1898-1925”.

सेंटर फॉर स्टडीज् इन सोशल सायन्सेन (सीएसएसएस), कोलकाता’ इथं ३ मार्च २०१७ रोजी मी दिलेल्या व्याख्यानाचा हा गोषवारा आहे. प्राध्यापक लक्ष्मी सुब्रमण्यमडॉ. प्राची देशपांडे हे इतिहासकार या कार्यक्रमाचे यजमान व अध्यक्ष होते. ‘एम्पायर’स् मेट्रॉपलिस: मनी, टाइम अँड स्पेस इन कलोनिअल बॉम्बे, १८६०१९२०’ या माझ्या आगामी पुस्तकातील दोन प्रकरणांवर हे व्याख्यान आधारलेलं होतं.

आशियातील ब्रिटिश साम्राज्याच्या बंदरांवर १८९०च्या दशकाच्या अखेरीला गाठीच्या प्लेगाची साथ पसरली. यामुळं साम्राज्यवादी सत्तेचं प्रभुत्व व नियंत्रण असलेल्या नागरी केंद्रांमधील असुरक्षिततेला नाट्यमय वळण मिळालं. कलकत्ता व मुंबई यांसारखी वासाहतिक शहरं प्रादेशिक व जागतिक पातळीवर लोक, पैसा व यंत्रं यांच्या दळणवळणाची प्रवेशद्वारं होती. वाफेची इंजिनं, रेल्वे आणि वीज यांच्या जाळ्यातून या शहरांचं केंद्रीकरण झालं होतं व त्यांना चालनाही मिळत होती. व्यवसाय आणि राजकारण या दोन्हींचा अंतःप्रवाह व्यापाराचं स्वातंत्र्य व कायद्याचं राज्य असा होता. या शहरांमध्ये वासाहतिक सत्ताधारी, भारतीय उच्चभ्रू आणि नागरी जनता यांच्यात सत्तेचं वाटप झालेलं होतं आणि सत्तासंघर्षही त्यांच्यातच होत असे.

प्लेगच्या साथीमुळं विसाव्या शतकातील मुंबईमध्ये सामाजिकदृष्ट्या व स्थलावकाशदृष्ट्या कोणते बदल झाले याचा शोध घेण्याचा प्रयत्न माझ्या सादरीकरणात केलेला आहे. पूर्व व पश्चिम भागांना जोडणाऱ्या सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याच्या बांधणीसंदर्भात हा अभ्यास केलेला आहे. १९५५ सालापासून ‘सरदार वल्लभभाई पटेल (एसव्हीपी) मार्ग’ या नावानं ओळखल्या जाणाऱ्या या रस्त्याचं आधीचं नाव मुंबई प्रांताचा ब्रिटिश गव्हर्नर सँडहर्स्ट याच्यावरून ठेवलेलं होतं. १८९६ साली पश्चिम भारतातील गाठीच्या प्लेगची साथ निवारण्यासाठी ‘बॉम्बे इम्प्रूव्हमेन्ट ट्रस्ट’ (बीआयटी) या संस्थेची स्थापना याच सँडहर्स्ट यांनी केली.

Continue reading आलेखन व आखणी : वासाहतिक बॉम्बेमध्ये झालेलं सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याचं बांधकाम, १८९८-१९२५

Bombay Time: Clock Work in the Colonial City, 1870-1955

As a tribute to senior historian Professor Jim Masselos, the Department of History at the University of Mumbai, the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London and the University of Leicester hosted a conference of historians, scholars and researchers of the city at Mumbai University on 6-7 January 2017. Click here to download my presentation (PDF) on “Bombay Time: Turning Back the Clock, 1870-1955”.

Modern clocks and standard world time signify two of the great historical movements in the nineteenth century – globalisation and imperialism – whose connected histories were first articulated in the cities of colonial India and South Asia.

The theory of the “global city” originally described urban centres such as New York, London and Tokyo as key nodes in the flows of global capital, whose management clusters people and technology in urban centres. Much like these contemporary hubs, port cities such as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were nodes in imperial networks of command and control which extended across South Asia during British rule. Early industrialisation in the 1860s and 1870s made urgent the coordination across expanding territorial and maritime frontiers opened up by new railway, telegraph and steamship networks across the Empire.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Bombay City had emerged as a crucial node and commercial gateway of the British Empire in western India and the Indian Ocean. Electrical transmission of precise time signals from observatories in colonial port cities made possible unprecedented, simultaneous communication across the subcontinent.

Continue reading Bombay Time: Clock Work in the Colonial City, 1870-1955

बॉम्बे टाइम: सत्ता, लोकसंस्कृती व अस्मिता, १८७०-१९५५

This is a Marathi translation of my talk and presentation “Bombay Time: Power, Public Culture & Identity, 1870-1955”

बॉम्बे टाइम: टर्निंग बॅक द क्लॉक, १८७०१९५५’ हे माझं सादरीकरण डाउनलोड करण्यासाठी इथं क्लिक करा. आमचे मित्र व मार्गदर्शक प्राध्यापक जिम मॅसेलोस यांच्या सन्मानार्थ मुंबई विद्यापीठाचा इतिहास विभाग, लंडन विद्यापीठातील ‘स्कूल ऑफ ओरिएन्टल अँड आफ्रिकन स्टडीज्’ (एसओएएस) आणि लाइकेस्टर विद्यापीठ यांनी इतिहासकार, अभ्यासक व संशोधकांची एक परिषद शुक्रवार ६ ते शनिवार ७ जानेवारी २०१७ या दिवसांमध्ये मुंबई विद्यापीठाच्या विद्यानगरी आवारामध्ये आयोजित केली होती. प्राध्यापक मंजिरी कामत, प्रशांत किदम्बीरेचल ड्वायर यांनी ही परिषद आयोजित केल्याबद्दल त्यांचे विशेष आभार.

रेल्वे, तारायंत्रं व वाफेवर चालणारी जहाजं यांचं जागतिक जाळं ब्रिटीशशासित भारतात आणि जागतिक पातळीवर १८७०१८८०च्या दशकांमध्ये पूर्ण झालं. या सर्व संदेशन व वाहतूक मार्गांदरम्यानच्या वेळेसंबंधित इशाऱ्यांचं संयोजन करणंही शक्य झालं, कारण अचूक रेखांशीय वेळ मद्रास व मुंबई अशा शहरांमधून एकाच वेळी त्यांच्या विस्तारीत भौगोलिक व समुद्री सीमांपर्यंत विद्युतमार्गे पाठवण्याचं काम निरीक्षणशाळा करत होत्या. पण शहरातील वेळमापन प्रमाणित करण्याच्या प्रयत्नांना नागरी पर्यावरणातील अनेक दृश्य व श्राव्य कालबाधित चिन्हांना सामोरं जावं लागलं: सार्वजनिक घड्याळं, कारखान्यांचे भोंगे, कार्यालयीन पाळ्या, रेल्वेची वेळापत्रकं, सूर्योदय व सूर्यास्त हे घटक होतेच; शिवाय या महाकाय उपखंडात पूर्वेकडे कलकत्त्यापासून ते पश्चिमेतील कराचीपर्यंत स्थानिक सौरवेळा तासाभरापेक्षाही अधिक अंतरानं बदलत्या होत्या.

Continue reading बॉम्बे टाइम: सत्ता, लोकसंस्कृती व अस्मिता, १८७०-१९५५

The Master of the Game: The Woman Who Wouldn’t Let Donald Trump Mumbai

Click here to download this presentation (PDF) which I gave in the South Asian Studies Programme (SASP) seminar series at the National University of Singapore (NUS). You can also download and listen to the podcast (MP3) on the NUS Asia Research Institute (ARI) website.

My seminar talk was held on Wednesday 9 November 2016 in Singapore, just as the final results were announced on U.S. Election Day, and Donald J. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the U.S. Presidential election. This seminar was chaired by Prof Annu Jalais.

This presentation was based on and develops an earlier talk on Donald Trump in Mumbai given at the workshop “Constructing Asia: Materiality, Capital & Labour in the Making of an Urbanising Landscape” organised at ARI on 12–13 May 2016 by Dr Malini Sur and Dr Eli Asher Elinoff, where I presented a talk on “Constructing Trump Tower Mumbai”.

poster

Mumbai’s real estate is amongst the most expensive per square foot anywhere in the world. Property developers and construction magnates dominate the city’s political economy and public culture, and are portrayed as sovereigns of its skyline, an imagined community whom city newspapers commonly refer to as “the builder-politician nexus”.

Builders’ unique appetites for risk make visible and channel the desires of millions for new and better futures (or to make things “great again”). Both real estate and politics are shadowy domains which demonstrate how money, time and space are sources of social power in the contemporary city. The games of language and number played with them favour those who can challenge norms, wait out long battles, and anticipate changes in the rules.

Rather than seeing those who play them as gamblers, populists or moral failures, we need to understand their business strategies as the materialisation of uncertainty. On the occasion of the U.S. Election Day, my talk will focus on the business of building a luxury high-rise Trump Tower in Mumbai and Donald Trump’s Indian apprentices and opponents, first on the disputed site of a charitable hospital and community housing trust, and later in an old textile mill compound.

This presentation is part of an ongoing ethnographic and archival project on the real estate speculation and property redevelopment in post-industrial Mumbai.

Broadcasting Revolution: “Quit India” & Underground Radio in WWII Bombay

This is the abstract for a workshop paper accepted for the international workshop The Indian Predicament: South Asia in World War II held in June 2016 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel organised by Dr Rotem Geva and Prof Dan Diner through their project Judging Histories: Experience, Judgement and Representation of World War II in an Age of Globalization.

 The Indian Predicament: South Asia in WWII

1942 marked a turning point during World War II in India and Asia, as in rapid succession the Japanese occupied and expelled the British from Malaya, Singapore and Burma, and within colonial India widespread rumours and panic ensued of an impending invasion and demise of the British Empire in India. In August 1942, following the failure of the imperial “Cripps Mission” to solicit nationalist support for the war campaign in exchange for post-war home rule, Gandhi and the Congress Party issued their final, militant call for the British to “Quit India” and for Indians to “Do or Die”.

Portrayed in post-war nationalist historiography as a heroic movement to end colonial rule, “Quit India” was in fact quickly and violently suppressed by a paranoid colonial state, at the height of its fear of internal rebellion and external attack. The “9th Augusters” including Gandhi, Nehru and other leaders, as well as thousands of Congress Party activists were jailed for the subsequent years of WWII until 1945, with significant consequences for post-war politics of Independence and Partition, and the history of anti-colonial nationalism.

Non-Congress politicians and parties such as Jinnah’s Muslim League used the subsequent years to offer competing visions of the future nation-state(s). Younger and radical nationalists like Aruna Asaf Ali, Rammanohar Lohia, and Achyut Patwardhan evaded arrest and internment by escaping underground or abroad, to continue their anti-colonial activities through clandestine and virtual means. While its leadership had disappeared soon after the call to “Quit India”, nationalist resistance and sabotage continued, a mass mobilisation conducted through new technologies of communication and the politicisation of everyday life during WWII in South Asia.

Wireless telecommunication and radio broadcasting grew rapidly prior to WWII in India, with the establishment of All-India Radio in 1936, the creation of the Government Department of Information and Broadcasting in 1941, and the proliferation of licensed and illegal radio transmission and listening sets during WWII. The formation and recruitment of Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) and Provisional Government of Free India in Southeast Asia was communicated to the masses in the sub-continent entirely via “enemy” broadcasts from Japan and Germany, and re-transmitted through amateur and illegal radio operators.

My paper will focus on “Congress Radio” illegal broadcasting from late 1942 to early 1945, based on ongoing research in the wartime police and intelligence archives in Bombay/Mumbai. “Congress Radio” regularly transmitted wartime news and rumours, speeches, songs and poetry with a distinctly radical content, while constantly evading detection or interception by police and military wireless censors both within and outside the city. Studying both the radio intercepts in Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati, and police testimonies of radio operators, engineers and their collaborators, my paper will demonstrate how this emerging field of political communication and popular discourse shaped the everyday experience and understanding of WWII in South Asia beyond the nationalist mythology of “Quit India”.

MIT STS PhD Dissertation Defense

Listen below to the audio of my talk and presentation at my dissertation defence in the Doctoral Program in History, Anthropology and STS (Science Technology & Society), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on 29 August 2013. The title of my thesis was Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay, 1870-1920.

My thesis committee was chaired by anthropologist Professor Michael M.J. Fischer and political scientist Professor Sudipta Kaviraj of Columbia University, and historian Professor Merritt Roe-Smith. I was awarded and graduated my doctorate in October 2013.