Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity, and Class in India

By Raka Ray; Seemin Qayum | Go to book overview
Save to active project

1 Approaching Servitude in Kolkata

Types of work that are consumed as services and not in products separable
from the worker, and not capable of existing as commodities independently
of him…are of microscopic significance when compared with the mass of
capitalist production

They may be entirely neglected, therefore.

Karl Marx, Capital

IN AN ICONIC SCENE in Aparajito, the second film of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, the destitute Brahmin widow Sarbajaya watches her son being led into servitude.1 She has recently obtained work as a cook in the household of a rich Brahmin, where her employers are both considerate and inconsiderate in the manner of feudal lords. In a previous scene, for example, the mistress of the house casually assumes that Sarbajaya should be willing to move to a different town with the household.2 In this scene, Sarbajaya is shown observing from the top of the stairs as the master of the house sends for her son, Apu, to light his pipe and tells Apu to pluck gray hairs from his head, for which Apu receives a tip. The screenplay notes that “[s]he frowns as she slowly comes down the stairs again.”3 In the next scene, we see Sarbajaya and her son on a train, having left the job behind.

Sarbajaya's expression as she observes the master with Apu conveys that nothing could be more heart wrenching and sobering than watching one's son become a servant. We mention “son” here deliberately because it is not clear that Sarbajaya's reaction would have been quite as strong in the case of a daughter. Indeed, in the first film of the trilogy, Pather Panchali, the daughter, Durga (who dies at the end of the film), is shown at the service of her little brother, Apu, looking after him, feeding him, and ultimately being responsible for his well-being. Durga was born to serve in one way or another, unlike Apu, the Brahmin son, whose caste and gender combine to hold the promise of higher things. Notwithstanding the conventional correspondence between servants' work and women's work that Sarbajaya represents, in the eyes of the masters an Apu would be just as suitable as a Durga to become a servant.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity, and Class in India


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 256

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?