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

By Raka Ray; Seemin Qayum | Go to book overview

2 Colonial Legacies
and Spatial Transformations

ALTHOUGH DOMESTIC SERVITUDE has undergone many changes over the past century, the present social form of the institution is based on conceptions of the modern Indian home and life that represent not a break from but rather signify a rearticulation of ideas and practices derived from a feudal and colonial past. We use the term “feudal” because it refers to the cultural and social legacies of the zamindari system that formed the bedrock of agrarian structure and indirect rule in the colonial period and because employers and, in fact, most middle- and upper-class people constantly and consistently use the term to summon up the “structure of feeling” of the past. We see Kolkata's men and women, in the words of Marshall Berman, struggling “to become subjects as well as objects of modernization, to get a grip on the modern world and make themselves at home in it” through particular conceptions and constructions of domestic spatiality and sociality.1

Although Kolkata, one of India's premier cities, shares many characteristics with other metropolises in the South, as an urban formation and place, it has a peculiar colonial and postcolonial history and configuration of domestic servitude. In the first part of this chapter we map the history of Kolkata and in the second part its middle and upper classes, popularly called the bhadralok, who are, unsurprisingly, employers of servants.2 In the third part, we trace the spatial, economic, and social transformations that have shaped the city's culture of servitude and analyze the increasing constraints on the premise of servant indispensability to bhadralok life and status.

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1: Approaching Servitude in Kolkata 1
  • 2: Colonial Legacies and Spatial Transformations 32
  • 3: Between Family Retainer and Freelancer 65
  • 4: Disquieting Transitions 92
  • 5: The Failure of Patriarchy 119
  • 6: The Cultivation and Cleavage of Distinction 145
  • 7: Traveling Cultures of Servitude 167
  • 8: Conclusion 188
  • Notes 201
  • Glossary 229
  • Bibliography 233
  • Index 249
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