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.
Category Archives: talks
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.
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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
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
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”.
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.
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”.
Money and the Making of Colonial Bombay
This is the audio of my talk Cotton Famine & Share Mania: The Making of Colonial Bombay, 1860-1870’ at the international conference ‘Money in the Making of World Society’, hosted by Keith Hart at the Human Economy Programme (HEP), University of Pretoria, South Africa, August 2014.
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.
Open Data & Free Maps
My keynote address to the first annual Open DataCamp Bangalore in March 2012, organised by DataMeet. Video production courtesy of HasGeek.
Open Historical Maps: Crowdsourcing, Open Source GIS, and the Research Web
Talk and presentation with Schuyler Erle to the ABCD GIS Seminar Series, Harvard University, 15 April 2009.
Our presentation will show how open source GIS and curated “crowdsourcing” can create an infinite archive of places for digital historians and ethnographers. While the importance of space and place to their research has long been acknowledged by social scientists, there remains a wide gap between their theoretical concerns and the data-driven empiricism of GIS. For those without technical or database skills, maps and geodata are mostly commonly to illustrate rather than advance an argument. However the web can render the tacit knowledge of geography implicit in most historical and ethographic narratives available to the scholars in entirely new forms. We will showcase our ongoing work with the Maps Division of the New York Public Library on a web-based Map Rectifier and Digitizer, a platform for scholars and entusiasts to georeference scanned historical maps and digitize historical features of cities and the environment.
SHEKHAR KRISHNAN is a researcher and activist pursuing his doctorate in History and Anthropology of Science Technology & Society (STS) at MIT, where his research on the history of technology and the urban environment in colonial Bombay and western India. He has been a project fellow with Zotero at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. With Schuyler Erle, he manages geo-spatial web projects for the New York Public Library and the Network in Canadian History of the Environment (NiCHE).Â
SCHUYLER ERLE has been a free and open source software developer, project leader, and evangelist for over a decade. He is a co-author of Mapping Hacks and Google Maps Hacks, both published by O’Reilly Media. He currently lives in New York City, where he leads EntropyFree, a technology consultancy focused on geographic information systems (GIS), natural language processing, academic computing and humanitarian aid.