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Negotiating the landscape: travel, transaction, and the mapping of colonial India.


This paper examines the journals and records of surveyors who participated in the Great Arc survey of India in the early nineteenth century, reading these texts as a form of specialized, supplementary travelogue. Reviewing postcolonial studies of colonial cartography, it argues that the transacted, interdiscursive quality of the colonial map, whilst invisible in the cartographic text itself, is revealed strikingly in the narrative accounts of the Great Arc Survey. As part of this discussion of the potentially counter-hegemonic negotiation of colonial mapping, this paper draws on more theoretical accounts of indigenous resistance as cultural re-inscription.


In December 1799, a young brigade major named William Lambton, stationed at Fort St George in the South-Indian presidency of Madras, sent a proposal to the colonial governor. Lambton had already spent some of his military career producing maps of colonial territory in Nova Scotia, and his plan, formally described in a later communication, was for a 'Mathematical and Geographical Survey' which would 'extend from the Coromandel to the Malabar Coast, with a view to [...] determining the positions of principal geographical points [...] facilitating a general survey of the Peninsular, and particularly the territories conquered [...] during the late glorious campaign [against Tipu Sultan]'. (1) Lambton was not the first British surveyor to attempt to map colonized areas of South Asia. In the 1780s James Renell, the surveyor-general of Bengal, produced maps using geographical information compiled during military incursions into the region, and he was later instrumental in the cartographic 'framing' of India as a subcontinental territory. More significant, in terms of Lambton's plan, was the fact that local cartographic surveys were already being carried out in the Madras region by Colin Mackenzie, a military contemporary of Lambton. Even so, Lambton's proposal was duly approved by the colonial authorities (he was authorized to work concurrently with Mackenzie), and the cartographic drawings he produced were of such a high standard that, by 1817, responsibility for the funding of his surveys had been transferred to the Calcutta government.

The success of Lambton's survey was due to his use of a new mode of mapping, that of triangulation, or trigonometrical survey. In Lambton's words, this was a system by which 'the great geographical features of the country [could be ascertained] upon correct mathematical principles'. (2) Unlike his predecessors, Lambton constructed his map without using 'corrective' astronomical readings. Instead, he measured a series of triangles across the landscape (taking their angles from elevated positions such as hill-tops) and used the resulting geometry as a precise framework for his cartographic texts. In his comprehensive study of the colonial mapping of India, Mapping an Empire, Matthew Edney indicates that 'Lambton himself initially had no intention of undertaking an India wide triangulation'. (3) However, by the time of his death in 1823 Lambton had already mapped about half of a 'Great [or Grand] Meridional Arc' which would connect the southern tip of the peninsula to the foothills of the Himalayas, and provide the backbone for all subsequent maps of the subcontinent. The monumental work of surveying the Great Arc was completed by Lambton's successor, George Everest, and by the 1840s the 'Great Trigonometrical Survey' had developed into one of the most exhaustive, and most important, discursive projects undertaken by British colonialism in South Asia.

Although the actual mathematical grid-work of the British surveys, available to us now as a set of cartographic texts, cannot be termed 'travel-narratives', their coverage and cross-cultural representation of the Indian landscape reproduces many of the ideological aims of colonial travelogue, and these are echoed again in associated written texts produced as part of the mapping process. My intention in the following pages is, therefore, to look at the mass of secondary material that accompanies the Great Trigonometrical Survey: texts such as field journals, reports, and letters that form a pendant to the cartographic production of the subcontinent. Because of their supplementary status, these writings, collected in R. H. Phillimore's four-volume Historical Records of the Survey of India, form a stock of intriguing but largely overlooked colonial travelogues, a technical sub-genre that conceals itself behind the project of cartographic representation.

Unlike the majority of travel-narratives produced in India in the early nineteenth century, the journal entries and correspondence compiled in Phillimore's records do not encounter the predicament of their own function or utility. Thus, although surveyors such as Lambton and Everest were fully aware of narrative and aesthetic tropes such as the picturesque that 'authorized' colonial travel writing, their descriptions of the landscape were always already legitimized by the technical demands of the mapping process. In addition, the practical difficulties of the survey itself, which involved the moving of heavy, easily damaged instruments such as theodolites, and the management of large teams of survey-workers, mean that these texts can be allied more closely with European expedition and exploration narratives, most of which, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, had a scientific as well as a purely speculative mandate.

Interestingly, because they are, effectively, meta-critical commentaries on another (mapped) text, these written accounts also tend to underplay their own representational status. Like the maps they comment upon, they claim a mimetic ideal, automatically assuming the objectivity of post-Enlightenment positivism as part of the rationalized project of recording the Indian landscape. Moreover, as glosses on the normally wordless process of cartographic inscription, these writings also betray points of contestation and cartographic anxiety as the survey attempts to 'record' the geographical features of the subcontinent. Alongside my analysis of Lambton's and Everest's survey notes, therefore, I will review contemporary post-colonial thinking on cartography, and foreground ways in which the colonial map can be read as the product of cross-cultural negotiation or translation, rather than an unproblematic, descriptive tracing. I want to look, in particular, at the way these texts betray the ideological instability of cartography at the same time as they contribute to what Gayatri Spivak has termed the 'far-flung, and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject as Other'. (4) As part of this investigation, I will also draw on selected colonial travelogues and postcolonial fictions in order to explore the wider production of colonized space as a process of agonistic negotiation between colonizer and colonized.

Negotiating the Landscape

Before proceeding, however, it is important to emphasize the ideological importance of the Great Trigonometrical Survey as a combined body of cartographic and documentary texts. In his initial survey-proposal to the governor at Madras, Lambton hinted that 'the principles of [the] survey involve many more objects than what immediately appertain to Geography' (Phillimore, ii, 234). Not only was the production of an accurate map of India a practical necessity for the military and political domination of the subcontinent, it was, as a number of postcolonial commentators have pointed out, also a way of constructing India as a domain of British cultural and political sovereignty. As in other orientalist projects of this period, the continuous process of gathering and organizing factual information about India (in this case Indian topography), neutralized the threat of its cultural and physical difference and, in turn, presented the authoritative 'position of the [European colonial] subject as fixed and unchangeable'. (5)

As we read George Everest's later, awe-struck description of the wider ambitions of the survey, we find the process of mapping being transformed into a compound cultural symbol: a neoclassical allegory of Victorian masculinity, a triumph of Euclidian reason over the threatening landscape, and a moral vindication of 'natural' national-colonial superiority: A complete topographical survey of India [...] is perhaps of itself the most Herculean undertaking on which any government ever embarked. [... We must be sure that] it is as free from error as instrumental means and human care can make it [...]. All else is patchwork [...] which will never satisfy expectation or promote the national respectability. (6)

Here, colonial geopolitical 'intent' becomes a projection of what Foucault terms 'the process by which knowledge functions as a form of power and disseminates the effects of power'. (7) And at the heart of this discourse lies Everest's continual anxiety over the veracity of the survey, which represents not only cartographic competence but the preservation of an ideal of European moral and rational integrity. Like the colonial administration it underpins, the survey becomes, in Everest's words, a fundamental inscription of British legitimacy. And the force of this legitimacy is prefigured in his use of metaphors that evoke the palimpsestic, structuring nature of cartographic inscription as a totalized 'gridiron', covering and 'binding' the landscape into one uniform map. (8)

In terms of post-colonial theoretical work on cartography, Everest's rhetorical style, and the cultural and political agendas that surround his spatializing narrative are very familiar. Critics such as Jose Rabasa, Paul Carter, Graham Huggan, and Gayatri Spivak have all emphasized the allegorical, 'inscriptive', and palimpsestic aspects of the colonial map as an instrument of control. In Huggan's view, colonial cartography must be read as a (falsely) mimetic narrative which 'institute[s] a systematic forgetfulness of antecedent spatial configurations', (9) and Spivak argues that the map 'generates the force to make the [colonized] native see himself as other'. (10) As such, the critical assessment of colonial cartography in the 'Western' academy has tended towards a concentration on the map as a structuralist system that 'embarrass[es]' its 'own ruling system of logic'; (11) in other words, a descriptive text in which the contradictory formation of the (European) sovereign subject can be deconstructed at the very moment it proclaims itself.

I want to suggest that Lambton's and Everest's survey-journals can be read, in this case, as texts that not only betray the contradictory nature of cartography but also gesture towards forms of indigenous response to the 'worlding' of their environment. Here, the colonial map becomes less a palimpsest than a site of uneasy negotiation, and the 'othering' it engenders, an uneven cross-cultural dialogue that continually renarrates authority over the landscape. Edney articulates this critical position clearly when he states that 'European states and their empires could never be [as] totalising' as cartographers such as Everest supposed. He goes on to emphasize the discursive, flexible quality of the imperial map, and argues that 'like all instruments of state power, the surveys were exercises in negotiation, mediation, and contestation between the surveyors and their native contacts'. For Edney, this means that 'the knowledge [...] generated [by the survey] was a representation more of the power relations between the conquerors and the conquered than of some topographical reality' (p. 25).

In thinking about the 'negotiable' aspect of the production of colonial texts, particularly those that have a cartographic function, it is useful to remind ourselves of Derek Gregory's work, Geographical Imaginations, which emphasizes the relative lack of a 'space for non-European agency' (and non-gendered agency) in colonial discourse analyses such as Paul Carter's The Road to Botany Bay. As Gregory points out:

The [cross-cultural] entanglements [between colonizer and colonized] were by no means equal, but subjugated peoples often possessed a striking capacity for challenging and changing European inscriptions. If this is suppressed, then one conjures the ghostly presence of an 'essential' Other beneath the skein of colonial meanings that supposedly shrouds it. (12)

And in emphasizing the possibility of resistance as an inherent part of the cultural and political inscription of India, I am, of course, working with Homi Bhabha's 'partial' or 'hybrid' strategies of cultural agency. As I will emphasize shortly, if we look closely enough at narratives of colonial encounter, we find these strategic practices both 'challenging and changing' 'European [cartographic] inscription', and also working to unsettle the very terms of an essentialized subject-other configuration upon which colonial authority was founded.

Viewing the Face of the Country: The Great Arc Survey

Returning to Lambton's survey team, as it moves slowly across the waterlogged countryside near Tanjore in southern India in July 1808, we find a covert form of Gregory's inscriptive cultural 'entanglements' occurring almost as soon as the first trigonometrical sightings are carried out. Preexisting religio-cultural inscriptions start enmeshing with, and informing, the colonial cartographic narrative. Interestingly, these initial textual knots come about not through any indigenous cultural challenge to the authority of the colonial text but through Lambton's anxious search for elevated, 'panoptical' sighting points from which to take readings--a desire for a 'commanding' view of the landscape which leads him to appropriate local temples as trig-points:

The network of [cartographic triangulation] is not so entire as I could have wished owing to the difficulty we met from the flatness of the Tanjore and Marwa countries, for the face of these countries being covered with numerous and lofty topes [which obscured the view ...] we were reduced to [...] selecting the highest pagodas for stations [and] hoisting up the heavy [theodolite]. (Phillimore, ii, 244)

Although they are visible only as geometric angles on the survey map, these indigenous, architectural 'sighting points' reveal a correspondence between an older, puranic narrative of landscape (in which the architectural situation of temples designates a network of pilgrimage-routes and spiritual locations) and Lambton's text which, as a consequence, contradicts its own orders as a paradigmatic colonial representation of 'uninscribed' space.

As Lambton explains in his journal, in some parts of the country almost the whole cartographic grid was measured out from local temples: 'There was scarcely a pagoda [...] in the Mysoor country that was not a station' (Phillimore, ii, 372). And in the same entry, he emphasizes the daring success of his own project in the face of what must have been very sensitive religio-political circumstances. 'Even in the bigotted [my italics] country of Tanjore, I ascended twelve Coverams [and at] Ramisseram I was permitted to place the [theodolite] directly over the cell that contained the Sawmy [sic]'. Here we find Lambton's text becoming dependent, through its literal foundations, on the silent compliance of exactly those indigenous figures, the 'Sawmy' and high-ranking temple priests, who have the potential to counteract it with the prohibitive orders of their own sacred geographies.

The periodic, covert intermingling of indigenous and colonial narratives continues under Everest's management of the sub-continental survey. Picking out these intertextual knots, we find Everest, like Lambton, encountering the same problem of a lack of elevated sighting-points as his survey teams move across Bengal and the plains of the Deccan in central India, and solving the problem by the construction of expensive stone observation towers. However, in an ironic reversal of Lambton's appropriation of temple 'pagodas' in southern India, Everest's observation towers, if left for any period of time, were liable to 're-narration' into the mythico-religious landscapes of indigenous rural culture. For Everest, these acts of partisan cultural 'slippage' were the cause of much frustration:

In some parts of the country the most preposterous stories are propagated regarding the incantations and ceremonies gone through in achieving this magic mark [the engraving on the sighting-base]. My harmless [towers] and their central stones are looked on as the cause of every ill which afflicts the country. [... The villagers often] proceed [...] not only to pull the pile to pieces, but in some cases to erase altogether the lower mark stone. (Phillimore, iv, 86)

As the Indian novelist Raja Rao reminds us in the foreword to his classic 1938 novel, Kanthapura, many villages in South India have 'a rich Sthala purana, or legendary history of [their] own where the [spatializing] mythologies of the past mingle with the present, and gods with men to make the repertory of your grandmother always bright'. (13) For Everest, whose project depends on the aggressive assumption of an 'uninscribed' earth, the Kanthapurian reinvention of his 'harmless' towers within the 'preposterous' harikatha narration of the Indian village is seen as a senseless 'return to the nothing that they were' (Phillimore, iv, 86). In this instance, however, it is not the human production of space that is threatened, but the cultural totality of Everest's cartographic overlay, as it is revised and absorbed back into the syncretic geographies of rural South Indian culture.

It would be a mistake to imagine that these were singularly rural, nonliterate instances of re-narrating or translating the colonizer, or that cultural resistance on the ground always occurred as a process of shadowy discursive transaction. As another surveyor, Lancelot Wilkinson lamented, 'The officers employed on the great trigonometrical survey and other surveys have always experienced, in almost every part the greatest obstructions in the discharge of their duties.' (14) Indeed, some of the most active opposition to the survey teams was encountered from the nobles of the nominally 'independent' Princely states, which the British supervised and retained as part of their indirect-rule policy. Thus, Joseph Olliver, one of Everest's assistants, reported that the 'Raja of Ramnagar' had 'caused it to be proclaimed by beat of drum that his people should be cautious of [...] the surveyors lest they should have their children taken to burn in the signal fires' (Phillmore, iii, 145). More prophetically, supernatural omens and rumours of disaster were reported after the survey had passed through Jhansi, a kingdom that was later to prove one of the most militantly anti-colonial states during the 'Mutiny' of 1857.

Significantly, the large team of people employed on the surveying teams meant that, on a more general level, the partial mistranslation of the activities of the Survey was almost assured. Indian route surveyors and flagmen who worked at a distance from the main survey team were often suspected of some other motive, and local resentment at their presence invited a 'negative' interpretation of their activities. Edney reports the statement of one surveyor, John Hodgson, who commented that route surveyors were constantly being bothered by villagers because they were 'assumed to be convicted criminals sentenced to measure roads as punishment' (p. 327).

But more often, as we have seen, these points of encounter and re-narration cannot be theorized as specifically anti-colonial acts of peasant insurgency of the kind addressed by the Indian 'Subaltern Studies' collective. (15) Indeed, the mistranslated and mistranslating stories of the indigenous 'othered-subject' that I have been trying to read through what Jose Rabasa calls the 'imperfect erasures' of the colonial map are difficult to analyse precisely because they 'do not announce themselves' in the colonial text, and fall outside the conceptual range of English terms such as 'resistance' or rebellion. (16) In short, these discourses drift or shift between different levels of indigenous society, amid different realms of presentation, between resistance and complicity. As such, what we are faced with in these disparate reports and anecdotes is the subversive, insurgent potential of certain types of misrepresentation, and the imperceptible loosening of power/authority that accompanies the cultural re-imagining of the signifier at grass-roots level.

The Lie of the Land: Mapping and Mistranslation

This process of mis- or partial translation is a cultural strategy to which Homi Bhabha draws attention in his essay 'Signs Taken for Wonders', when he shows how indigenous South Asians, by making 'intercultural hybrid demands' on the institutional agendas of nineteenth-century missionary Christianity, subtly 'challenge[d] and change[d]' its discursive terms by articulating 'partial knowledges and positionalities'. (17) As Bhabha's essay reveals, the disconcerting effect of this slippage is often most obvious in a divergence between the European text emplaced in its new setting, and the lexical transformations to which it is subjected.

Edney finds a striking example of this slippage between (colonized) world and (colonial cartographic) text in the surveyor Francis Buchanan's comments on the impossibility of a cultural cartographic translation of the geography of rivers in Bengal. As Edney points out, 'the rivers of Bengal constantly change their course, opening new channels [...] the problem [for the colonial surveyor] was that the local inhabitants continued to call the old channels by their original names'. Buchanan described the resulting confusion thus:

The geographers of Europe are apt to be enraged, when in tracing a river they find that an inconsiderable stream falling into their grand channel changes it name, and that the sources of this smaller stream is obstinately considered by the natives as the source of the river, either having been the first to which they had access, or having at one time been the largest. (Edney, p. 331)

The scene is easy to imagine: the inhabitants of rural Bengal, perhaps fisher people, are confronted by a European surveyor and asked to point out and name the major channels of a local river. However, their detailed knowledge of its changeable streams and tributaries stretches back over several generations, and they are unwilling to concede the complex past of the landscape to what Spivak terms the 'alien agent of "true" history' who has appeared amongst them. And because of this cross-cultural impasse, the colonial map--as a mimetic, descriptive text--comes adrift at these points in the landscape, and reflects nothing more than European intent. Thus, the rivers of Bengal may be fixed and named along their courses on the cartographic text, but when this 'faulty' knowledge is reapplied, the mistranslated nature of the text comes back to haunt the European subject at the site of its construction.

In Bhabha's view, these moments of aporia in the colonial cartographic text can be read (paraphrasing Frantz Fanon) as 'culture as a strategy of survival', and therefore a process of 'negotiation which [cannot] be reduced to a polarity between [a] preconstituted Western tradition and an authentic native tradition'. (18) The theoretical caveat we must keep in mind when thinking about these subtle forms of cultural 'survival' is that because they are articulated on a non-elite, quotidian social level, they are never 'grounded in great theories [...] ethical positions or totalized forms of knowledge'; instead they represent the 'struggle to make those meanings' (p. 240). If we look at the work of the celebrated South Indian poet and translator, A. K. Ramanujan, we find a striking example of the ongoing everyday nature of these linguistic negotiations, which 'weave themselves into a strategic, interstitial [...] kind of space' within the terms of 'difference' (p. 241).

For Ramanujan, indigenous strategies of mistranslation operate in the same way as Bhabha's culture of survival, in that they represent 'ways of coping with [...] the bizarre, often terrifying, alien'. (19) Recalling Buchanan's account, these linguistic slippages represent, to varying degrees, a process of 'negotiation' in two sense of the word: both as a cross-cultural compromise or agreement, and as a 'transgression' of the normative construction of bounded colonial space. Indeed, in the following passage Ramanujan describes the parable of a bridge, built (and memorially named) by the British in Madras, which exemplifies a form of 'negotiating' translation: Over the reeking Coom river, the British put up a bridge, and called it Hamilton Bridge, after one of their commissioners. The Tamils have no initial h's in their language, nor consonant clusters like lt in Hamilton. So they pronounced it, probably heard it, as Amittan. [... The] Tamil word Amattan [...] means 'barber'. So the name was translated wholly into Tamil as Amattan Kalavati [bridge], and local barbers, thinking it a congenial invitation, began to hang around there [...] thus the words invited reality in [...]. Now the name has been translated back into English as Barbers' Bridge. (p. 138)

Looking back over Lambton's and Everest's records of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, these more subtle, extended instances of spatial reinscription or negotiation are difficult to locate. However, there are isolated instances in which the colonial narrative reveals and frames traces of indigenous discursive knowledge, which slyly compromise the authority of the colonial presence in a manner similar to Ramanujan's parable of renaming. In order to elaborate on this kind of native re-interpretation of the colonial subject (as the object of what Bhabha calls 'multiple or contradictory belief') (20) we must focus on a passage from Everest's journal that can be seen both as a form of indigenous translation of the colonial, and also as a non-mimicking, transforming acceptance of the authority of an alien presence. In the following account, the 'native' becomes supplicant and Everest's prose repeats one of the oldest literary tropes of the colonial encounter (evoking Prospero, or Conrad's Mr Kurtz) as the European takes on the form of god or high-priest in the eyes of the Other.

The natives of India have the habit of attributing [...] miraculous powers to our instruments and the sites which have been occupied by them. [...] I have had people come many miles to entreat permission to bow down before the lower telescope [of the theodolite], men and women who had been lame and blind for years, and others who had palsy [...] were among my applicants. (Phillimore, iii, 414)

As a narrative aside, a cultural curiosity inserted piecemeal into Everest's record of supplies, climatic conditions, azimuth points, and colonial territorial projections, this story partakes of a particularly bleak form of colonial farce. Nevertheless, perhaps its irony can be neutralized a little if we read it as yet another indication of the resilience of indigenous narrativere-inscription in the form of a vernacular refashioning of the architecture of colonial power. Here, the most disempowered individuals of local rural society, the 'lame and blind', desperately recast the trigonometrical points of Everest's cartographic projection as magical pilgrimage sites: rhizome-like networks of re/de-territorialization, (21) which work their way into the cartographic text. The appearance of pilgrims who effectively mythologize the work of the survey in Everest's account recalls Lambton's use of temple pagodas as sighting points in his trigonometrical projection. Here, again, in Everest's cartographic reports, indigenous ways of conceptualizing and narrating the topography of the country (as a region of more or less sacred spaces) recur 'between the lines' of the colonial text.

Negotiating the Picturesque

The political implications of these acts of mistranslation become most apparent when we remember that similar wide-scale rumours and conspiracy theories concerning the introduction of new rifle cartridges (waxed with beef and pork tallow, and therefore 'polluting' to Hindu and Muslim soldiers) provided the political impetus for the popular anti-colonial rebellion or 'Mutiny' of 1857. The indigenous interpretations of the survey discussed here are, in this sense, not mistranslations as such, but cross-cultural struggles over the power to assert meaning, a process in which European orientalism had been engaged long before the cartographic description of South Asia. The scope of these negotiations is reinforced in the last pieces of survey-journalism I want to examine here, this time in the writings of Honoria Lawrence, who accompanied her husband as he mapped village boundaries in North India.

By the late 1830s the Great Arc, started at Kanya Kumari, on the southernmost tip of India, had reached its end-point at Dehra Dun in the foothills of the Himalayas. The spine of an imperial cartography of India was complete, and now the survey teams started to disperse across the country in order to cover Bengal and Gujerat. In territories under direct British rule such as Bihar, these larger surveys were complemented by detailed khusrau revenue surveys of all cultivated and uncultivated fields held by indigenous landowners. The farmlands and villages around Gorakhpur, west of Oudh, were thus mapped in 1836 by Henry Lawrence, 'one of the most experienced and zealous officers on the survey'. (22) In 1838 he was joined in the field by his wife Honoria, who, like many of her contemporaries, kept a journal of her life in India. (23)

Unlike the secondary texts produced by Lambton, Everest, and other male surveyors, Honoria's journal works at a remove from the more technical business of the cartographic survey, and her narrative often shifts uneasily between amateur ethnography, forms of the picturesque, and the recording of botanical details. Interestingly, the tropes Lawrence feels most able to employ are those concerning the surer ideological grounds of Christian duty and morality--these themes facilitate a smooth transition in her work from forms of the picturesque to the biblical narratives that inform most of her descriptions of indigenous people and cultural practices. Of particular relevance is the way she incorporates her husband's revenue mappings into this Judaeo-Christian framework:

I wish I could vividly bring before you the increased interest with which I have read the Bible since I have been in the East, and seen daily exemplifications of expressions which before conveyed only a vague meaning. [...] The importance of fixing village boundaries is [...] well-known. [...] In Deuteronomy xxvii 17, the offence [of changing them] comes next to murder and manslaughter. (p. 75)

More pressing, in relation to the critical concerns of this paper, are the subtle disjunctions and dislocations that start to appear between Honoria's theological reflections and her abiding awareness that indigenous culture (especially Hindu aspects of it) does not fit easily into her own representational framework. As we have seen before, cultural mistranslation starts to deform the coherence of a colonial subject-other construction, this time in indigenous discourses that momentarily re-figure the colonial subject as 'Other' within her own text.

This imperceptible displacement of colonial descriptive authority occurs in Honoria's account during a meeting with a local Rajput chief, Dokhul Singh, in which the latter, in his anthropomorphized, hybrid notion of the East-India Company, reveals a radically different frame of reference from that of the narrator. Astonished that Britain is governed by an unmarried woman, he suggests that 'her majesty better marry "Companee", a person whom he [perceived ...] as some mighty individual' (p. 35). Similar instances in which the subject-other configuration within the colonial text suddenly becomes blurred occur during literal processes of negotiation. In a passage describing Honoria's experiences of buying English cloth from indigenous traders, the process of cultural mistranslation manifests itself in local English terms for fabric quality:

When we reached Berhampore [...] we were visited by cloth merchants bringing silks for sale. Each opened his bundle praising his own goods and disparaging his neighbours thrusting a piece of silk towards us recommending it as Scatch plat (Scotch Plaid) or Bailatee (English). [...] Mrs Hutchinson took up some stockings, saying, 'These are English?' The man spoke a little of our tongue, and immediately said 'It's, Mem Sahib, not Anglees. Liverpool, Mem Sahib, Liverpool'. I hate buying from the natives. (p. 55)

Read alongside the involved process of transaction and the variations of what Harish Trivedi calls acts of indigenous 'mis-knowledge' which can be traced through the Great Arc surveys, the instability of the colonial narrative in Honoria's text is highly compelling, since it hints at the multitudinous 'translations' and instances of indigenous counter-representation which must have been occurring, on an infinite number of socio-cultural levels, in bazaars, villages, cantonments, and barracks beyond the perspective of the European text. In trying to work out a space in which cultural survival 'under' colonialism becomes a multi-vocal, everyday process of re-narration/re-mapping, we should remember Trinh Minh-ha's words on the post-colonial migrant's struggle as a refusal to 'reduce herself to an Other'. For Minh-ha this must involve the reclamation of identity through 'non-explicative, non-totalising strategies that suspend meaning and resist closure'. (24)

My quotation of Minh-ha's rather rebarbative theoretical formula here is, in no way, a denial of the obvious usefulness of technical instruments such as the map for the administrative and military control of the subcontinent. Indeed, studies such as C. A. Bayly's Empire and Information show us how crucial a working (if imperfect) knowledge of the local cultural and political episteme was for the colonizer. However, the insistent 'mis-knowledges' that attend and feed into descriptive works such as the Great Arc Survey also force us to qualify models of colonial knowledge as a monolithic sealed discourse that effaces all signs of indigenous agency. Whilst they reiterate the impossibility of a coherent critical 'restoration' of 'the lost self of the colonies', (25) the cartographic negotiations plotted out in this paper also challenge the axiomatic intellectual autonomy of the colonial, and remind us that Indian 'meanings' were always, inescapably, part of the Imperial text.

(1) See Historical Records of the Survey of India, ed. by R. H. Phillimore, 4 vols (Dehra Dun: Surveyor General of India, 1946-58), ii, 243.

(2) Asiatic Researches, 7 (1801), 312.

(3) Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India 1765-1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 179.

(4) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 'Can the Subaltern Speak?' in Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, ed. by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), pp. 66-111 (p. 76).

(5) Mary Louise Pratt, 'Scratches on the Face of the Country: or What Mr Barrow Saw in the Land of the Bushmen', in 'Race', Writing and Difference, ed. by Henry Louis Gates Jr (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 138-62 (p. 140).

(6) See Phillimore, iv, 18-19.

(7) Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1979, ed. by Colin Gordon (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1980), p. 69.

(8) George Everest, in Phillimore, iv, 12, 18.

(9) See Graham Huggan, 'Decolonising the Map: Post-Colonialism, Post-Structuralism and the Cartographic Connection', Ariel, 20.4 (1989), 115-31 (p. 127).

(10) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 'The Rani of Sirmur', in Europe and its Others, ed. by Francis Barker and others (Colchester: University of Essex, 1985), pp. 128-51 (p. 133).

(11) Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 133.

(12) Geographical Imaginations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 178.

(13) Raja Rao, foreword to Kanthapura (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. v.

(14) See Edney, p. 326.

(15) See Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Selected Subaltern Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

(16) Jose Rabasa, 'Allegories of Atlas', in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, ed. by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 338-64 (p. 358).

(17) Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 119.

(18) Homi Bhabha, interview with David Bennett and Terry Collits, in Literary India: Comparative Studies in Aesthetics, Colonialism and Culture, ed. by Patrick Colm Hogan and Lalita Pandit (New York: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 237-53 (p. 241).

(19) A. K Ramanujan, 'Parables and Commonplaces', in Writers in East-West Encounter, ed. by Guy Amirthanayagam (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 135-43 (p. 138).

(20) The Location of Culture, p. 123.

(21) I borrow this term from Deleuze and Guattari's description of the rhizome: '[A rhizome involves] a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organisation on one imitates an animal organisation on the other. At the same time something else entirely is going on: not an imitation at all but the capture of a code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming. [...] Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialisation of one term and the reterritorialisation of the other'. (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 514-23 (p. 519).

(22) Board of Surveyors Report, Phillimore, iv, 453.

(23) The Journals of Honoria Lawrence, ed. by John Lawrence and Audrey Woodiwiss (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980).

(24) Trinh T. Minh-ha, 'No Master Territories', in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, pp. 215-18 (p. 218).

(25) Spivak, 'The Rani of Sirmur', p. 128.


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Author:Tickell, Alex
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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