Nabobs, Coolies and ‘Our Ganga of Calcutta’: Towards a Spatial History of Calcutta’s Waterfront’

The Envisioning the Indian City project presents ‘Nabobs, Coolies and ‘Our Ganga of Calcutta’: Towards a Spatial History of Calcutta’s Waterfront’, a talk by Dr Nilanjana Deb (Assistant Professor, English Department, Jadavpur University) on Tuesday 15th October from 4-5pm at the School of the Arts Library, 19 Abercromby Square, 1st floor.  Refreshments will be provided.

'Hooghly River Calcutta', Francis Frith (mid 19th century)


The history of Calcutta’s waterfront might be visualised in terms of flows – of water, people, commodities, even sewage. Ships spilled goods and crews into the docklands, coolies were held in riverside depots of Garden Reach for the ‘sugar colonies’ of the Empire. The river Hooghly has remained a constant in the unruly growth of the Garden Reach area, present in the quotidian of /mohallas/, in the terror of ‘cholera seasons’, in the fountains of the exiled Nawab’s home, in the waterworks that supply ‘Garden Reach water’ to much of Calcutta. This paper explores the ways in which the spatial historiography of Garden Reach might use the river as vector, reading urban change as ‘sedimentation’ rather than as ‘palimpsest’.


Dr. Nilanjana Deb is Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Jadavpur University. Her research interests include postcolonial, diaspora and subaltern studies, and cultures of protest. Her postdoctoral work examines narratives of the movement of working-class emigrants (‘coolies’) from India’s rural heartland, through colonial Calcutta to sugar plantations of the British and French Empires in the nineteenth century. She received the Shastri Indo-Canadian Fellowship in 2004 and 2009, the Australia-India Council Fellowship in 2004, and the British Academy South Asia Fellowship in 2009. She is currently working on a monograph on Aboriginal interrogations of postcolonial thought, and editing a book on travel literature.


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