Monthly Archives: February 2014

South Asia Archive and Library Group, 90th Conference: Archives for South Asia

The University of Cambridge Library

On Friday 21st February, The University of Cambridge Library hosted the 90th Conference of the South Asia Archive and Library Group. Helen Porter (SAALG Chair, SOAS) opened the day and introduced the group’s work. Participants included Leena Mitford (Lead Curator South Asian Studies, British Library), Craig Jamieson (Keeper of Manuscripts, University of Cambridge) and Bhavit Mehta (Director, South Asian Literature Festival).

Frederick Tymms (2nd from left), 1934

Rachel Rowe (Librarian South Asian and Commonwealth Studies, University of Cambridge) began the conference speaking on ‘A moving history: home movies from the Royal Commonwealth Society collections’. She presented the archives of Sir Frederick Tymms, a civil engineer based in India from 1930 working as Director of Civil Aviation. Throughout his highly successful career in the country, Tymms built up a collection of cine film and photographs featuring in particular New Dehli and Simla. Rachel played extracts from the collection which is now digitalised and available online.

The archives of The Salvation Army in South Asia were presented by Hari Jonkers (Archives Assistant, Salvation Army Library and Archives). The session introduced the breadth of material held at the organisations headquarters in London. Amassed from the late nineteenth century onwards, the collection includes reports and territorial papers alongside photographs, personality files and publications including ‘Capturing Crims for Christ’ (1940s) and the SA’s periodical, ‘All the World’. Jonkers outlined the importance of the collection in providing valuable insight into the missionary organisation’s presence in South Asia.

Salvation Army recruits in India

The morning concluded with a viewing of cotton Burmese Maps in the Library Map Room followed by news from participant Institutions. The British Library South Asian Studies curators reported on their key collaborations including the two projects with Jadavpur University; ‘Digitalisation of South Asian archival resources’ and ‘Early Bengali Books project’. The Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge, highlighted the recent donation of books and periodicals on religion, art and history of Tibet, India and South-East Asia adding to its Snellgrove collection. The launch of SOAS South Asia Institute in January 2014 marked an important development in the multi-disciplinary study of South Asian studies.

The afternoon commenced with a visit and tour of Cambridge’s new Centre for South Asian Studies. Dr Kevin Greenbank (Archivist, Centre for South Asian Studies) took the group to the basement archives and talked through the extensive photographic and film collections. Cine film footage was shown as were items from the archive including colonial scrapbooks and a rare map of Varanasi. Access to this catalogue is available online.

Rabindranath Tagore (1886)

Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri (Visiting Fellow, University of Oxford and Professor Emeritus Jadavpur University) ended the day presenting, ‘Many Tagores: Travels through a Variorum Website’. His talk introduced, ‘Bichitra’, the online Tagore Variorum, the world’s largest literary website supported by the India’s Ministry of Culture and the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Chaudhuri guided the group through the site comprising nearly 140,000 pages of primary material in manuscript and print. He commented on the challenges of working with Bengali, Hindi and English alphabets and developing specialised software. The three-tier collation programme demonstrated how the site could be used for detailed textual analysis of Tagore’s oeuvre. Helen Porter closed the 90th conference by thanking all those who had contributed and outlining plans for the next conference in July 2014.


“Harjant Gill’s dissertation, a study of young men living in Chandigarh, Punjab, India, focuses on patterns of migration, masculinity, and identity-making. Gill discusses traditional gender norms among Punjabi men, and the notion of ‘successful masculinity’ as resting upon the ability to become transnational citizens by migrating abroad. Gill explains the juxtaposition between urban dwellers of Chandigarh and young men who come from rural areas to the city for vocational and language training to migrate abroad. Gill contends that contemporary notions of Punjabi masculinity are characterized through successful migration and transnational movements.” Kamal Arora

The full review of the work can be read at:

‘Encountering Pondicherry’

School of The Arts Library, 2-4pm 

Dr Tariq Jazeel (Department of Geography, UCL): ‘Architecture, Auroville and the spatial politics of utopian ‘city’ building in Southern India’

Dr Andy Davies (Department of Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool): ‘Exile in the homeland? French India, transnational revolutionaries and the life of Subramania Bharati’

Text: Preeti Chopra, ‘Pondicherry: A French Enclave in India’

The first RGS of the year was introduced by Dr Ian Magedera. After speaking about the recent ETIC workshop at Jadavpur University and the group’s fieldwork in Calcutta, Magedera introduced the speakers and their South Indian research funded by BASAS.

Dr Tariq Jazeel thanked the ETIC group for the opportunity to present his preliminary work on Auroville, a Unesco funded site 12km North of Pondicherry. Reading the site as an exceptional spatiality, he outlined his interest in its claims to city status and the perpetuation of this narrative. Derived from the visions of Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa (The Mother), Jazeel detailed the physical and conceptual construction of the space as a city of human unity inaugurated on 28 February 1968. Photographic documentation of the eclectic architecture of residents’ homes and the Matrimandir depicted the site as an experimental laboratory. Jazeel commented on the surprisingly dispersed population and scattered urban development which lacked an assumed social thickness.

From his one month research trip spent in the archives and interviewing residents, Jazeel introduced four emergent themes;

1. Education and learning

2. Diversity, Agonism, Experimentalism

3. Non-material architecture

4. The ‘City’ under erasure

Education and learning constituted a central tenet. Reports from the Committee d’Administration d’Auroville (1975) demonstrated the modelling of the city as ‘one huge school where learning is a continual process’. Analysis of the Auroville’s current textual field, its website and self-published literature, alluded to the continual civilisation discourse and utopian aspirations.

Following Jazeel’s presentation, discussion centred around the tension of this desire to be a unique city model despite conventional city zoning and large administrative buildings. The ideological portrayal of the city was considered in contrast to Auroville’s location in rural Tamil Nadu. Jazeel quoted material from his interviews which noted the performative articulations of Auroville as a ‘city’ distinct from the ‘villagers’ of Tamil Nadu.


Dr Andrew Davies addressed Pondicherry as a nodal point in transnational politics and revolution. Concurrent with continuing research reading resistance practices as networks, his paper focused on a number of exiled revolutionaries; Subramania Bharati, VVS Aiyar, Srinivascharya and Sri Aurobindo Ghose, residing in Pondicherry between 1908-1918. Working from sources at the National Archives in Delhi, Davies spoke of his interest in the British records of urban life in this port city. Regarded as an ‘anarchist gang’, Davies recounted the complex network of political relations between the exiled, French and British administration. Particular attention was paid to Britain’s anxiety and deployment of 200 policemen to monitor Sri Aurobindo’s movements. The political climate was typified by heightened surveillance and circuits of informers eager to collude. Davies described the negotiations between the French and British stronghold in Madras constructing an impression of a highly efficient surveillance network.

The material ensured lively discussion. Comparisons were made between the two sites as sanctuaries where multiple national identities and affiliations could be negotiated. The group commented on the porous boundaries of the French enclave. This flexibility in contrast with the French city Chandannagar was considered as facilitating Sri Aurobindo’s transition from the political to the spiritual.