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The Machine and Its Limits

Technology and Rural Change in Eastern India 1830-1980 by Smritikumar Sarkar; New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014; pp 355, Rs 895.

In this thematically refreshing monograph, Smritikumar Sarkar sets out to deal with an issue that has twoaspects: technology-driven changes in rural Eastern India and factors that “neutralised the regenerative force of technology” (p xiii). Ambitious as it may sound, the issues raised in this book pertain to one of the least studied fields of South Asian history and the book, with its meticulously gathered empiricaldetails, is a fitting contribution.

Chapter 1 sketches the evolution of transport technology in rural EasternIndia and Bengal in particular: it deals with modes of transport asdiverse as boats, steamboats, bullock carts and railways. In the process, it tells the story of challenges that rural society in Eastern India faced from these changes, including the one relating to theimpact of railways on the ecology of the region. It also deals with challenges pertaining to acquisition and pricing of land and also tries to understand peoples’ grievances over land acquisition.

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