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MAPPING INDIA

  • Timothy L. Carens (a1)

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IN RUDYARD KIPLING'S Kim (1901), the hero's education as colonial spy entails learning how to map the natural and constructed features of the Indian landscape. On one of his first missions, Kim surreptitiously measures the “mysterious city of Bikanir” and, with the “help of his little Survey paint-box,” produces a diagram of the “wild, walled city” (218). Among other duties, he apparently serves as a subaltern agent of the Survey of India, an actual department established in 1878 to coordinate a number of cartographic projects already under way. The British effort to chart the interior of its colony had begun a century before, however. In 1767, the East India Company created the post of Surveyor General of Bengal. The Company continued to map India until ceding power to the crown in 1858, after which the government carried the project forward until independence. The impulse to survey India refused to die along with the political institutions that gave it life. It found a new mode of expression in the Raj revival films of the 1980s. In films such as The Far Pavilions (1984), the camera sweeps panoramically over snow-capped peaks, golden plains, and “wild, walled” cities, nostalgically re-capturing the majestic terrain ceded in 1947.

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MAPPING INDIA

  • Timothy L. Carens (a1)

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