ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hygiene and Hindu Nationalism in Late Colonial Calcutta

Unravelling the ‘Black Town’

A Hygienic City-Nation: Space, Community, and Everyday Life in Colonial Calcutta by Nabaparna Ghosh, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2020; pp xvi + 224, `795.

It is a book on colonial Calcutta. And “colonial Calcutta” is a subject on which scholarship is unending. One lands at the thickly stuffed shelves of the National Library or the hordes of annals preserved at the Town Hall of Calcutta. The history of colonial Calcutta has been researched and written by many authors from different perspectives, both in Bengali and English, and also in other languages. The stories of old Calcutta circulate as urban folklore among the residents of the city.1 Memories, histories, chronicles, legends, myths mingle together and crowd the pages of the numerous accounts produced on the eastern Indian city that grew and developed parallelly with the progress of the British empire. It takes stamina to rummage through this vast plethora of documents, narrow down to a specific research subject, and reach a precise conclusion. The author of this book has shown that resilience.

The book looks back into the politics of localities (paras) in the city of Calcutta. In four neatly arranged chapters, the author has unfolded the history of the Hindu Bengali middle-class bhadralok population of the city who intervened into the urban construction projects by interjecting values of Hindu faith and linking it to a regional Bengali nationalism. The central focus of the book is the urban sanitary structure. The Hindu bhadralok influenced the city administration and manipulated the sanitary projects on the line of Hindu practices. Since the middle of the 19th century, the paras of Calcutta thus got sharply divided on communal and caste lines. Hindus and Muslims, people belonging to different castes, were ghettoed within specific localities. Everyday life, religious festivals, cultural activities, even secular events revolved around caste or religious identities within the paras. The para was not an administrative category.

A cluster of houses along a street where neighbours lived like an extended family, a club, a sports field, a temple, and a water-reservoir comprised the space of a para. (p 2)

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Updated On : 11th Apr, 2022
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