Spaces Of Encounter Workshop: Day 3

Day 3: Saturday 11th January

Professor Swati Chattopadhyay (University of California, Santa Barbara) opened the final day of the workshop. ‘Of Small Spaces’ drew attention to the reading of ordinary spaces in the city. Several case studies demonstrated the thresholds of the city: the bottlekhannah, the house of the Tagore family in Jorasanko and vehicular art. The bottlekhannah, a peripheral space in the colonial kitchen for food storage was read as the nexus of power in the home. The inventories found in George Atkinson (1859), ‘Curry and Rice on Forty Plates’, provided records of material culture and insight into colonial encounter. The cultivating of ephemeral spaces was further evidenced by the visual culture of Calcutta’s buses and the small sidewalk spaces of the city. Giving visibility to these spaces extended the investigation into the city providing new analytic zones.

‘A City Rent Free: Calcutta Evictions’ presented by Professor Swapan Chakravorty (Jadavpur University) considered the history of the city as a history of evictions. The paper spoke of the strategic relocation of minorities throughout the city’s trajectory. The zones of the city constituted by small scale migrations and evictions by the Calcutta Improvement Trust were given prominence depicting the city as an urban puzzle. The floor opened for discussion. Participants were interested in the cultivation of a spatial logic for the found spaces of the city. Particular attention was draw to the reading of the shelves of the bottlekhannan. Professor Chakravorty commented on the structuralist desire to look for patterns with her interest lying in the flow of goods in these stores.  Concerns with privileging the ordinary and formerly invisible were considered in the context of archives.

The River Ganges was the focal point of the papers given by Dr Nilanjana Deb (Jadavpur University) and Cleo Roberts (PhD Researcher, University of Liverpool). Dr Deb provided an account of the mortality in the city: ‘Death and the City: Cremation Grounds and the Kolkata Waterfront’. Reading the site as a ‘curious heterotopia’, the paper detailed the waterfront neighbourhoods, described by Alan Ginsberg in the 1960s, as a site of colonial encounter. Changes in social rituals and the practice of cremation of corpses along the Ganges exacerbated colonial concerns with the containment of death, and led to stringent regulations such as the policing of burning ghats. ’Imagined Geographies: exporting the Ganges’ presented representations of the River Ganges from a European perspective. Roberts introduced depictions of the river from Roman sources such as the Tabula Peutingeriana and Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain, to demonstrate the envisioning of the site as a paradise. Through her continued PhD project, ‘Waterscapes and Urbanism’ she intended to use the River to unravel facets of European encounter in the city.

Tabula Peutingeriana

Tabula Peutingeriana

The closing sessions of ETIC workshop provided further insight into Kolkata. Dr Abhijit Gupta (Director, Jadavpur University Press) presented ‘Under the Banyan Tree: Print and Place in Colonial Calcutta’. The paper explored the dynamics of print production and distribution during colonial administration. Anurag Mazumdar (Assistant Editor, Economic and Political Weekly) spoke on ‘Mapping spaces in transition: From Boipara to Barnaparichay in College Street, Kolkata’. The paper examined the politics of the changing spatial order in post-liberalisation Kolkata. Analysing the logic of culture, Mazumdar looked at the new spatial order of the city through the role of the pedestrian/‘flaneur’. Somak Mukherjee (NAAC Fellow, Jadavpur University) ended the session with his paper, ‘Riding on the Edge: Discipline, Order and Popular Imagination of Space in the Calcutta Metro’. The Metro, executed between 1969-1984, was presented as a complex, discursive and hybridized space of encounter. Commenting on public engagement in the space and representations in mass media and popular culture, Mukerjee discussed the space as ‘indefinitely other’.

A panel discussion between Professor Tapati Guha-Thakurta (Director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta), Shri Partha Ranjan Das and Shri Manish Chakraborty (Architects) concluded the day. The session ‘Heritage, Conservation and the Living City’ discussed the legalities and practicalities of conserving heritage. The participants drew attentions to the need for effective heritage legislation that could be successfully applied to the city. The three day workshop was closed by Professor Supriya Chaudhuri who thanked all those involved for creating an informative and important programme. Participants were invited to Jadavpur University Press for the  ‘Photographing Kolkata’ exhibition.

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