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

By Raka Ray; Seemin Qayum | Go to book overview

3 Between Family Retainer
and Freelancer

IN THE 1970S, a large colonial mansion in South Calcutta was demolished, like so many others, to make way for a multistoried building of individually owned flats. Gitanjali Building is located in an affluent area of the city, and although quite upper middle class in its residential composition, it is by no means the most luxurious building in that area. An L-shaped seven-story structure consisting of two wings with several apartments on a floor, the Gitanjali flats range from twelve hundred to seventeen hundred square feet and most have two or three bedrooms. Gitanjali can be viewed as representative of the first stage of the transition from the big house to the flat since it was designed to accommodate families with live-in servants housed in attached quarters. As discussed in the previous chapter, newer apartment buildings or complexes may have servants' quarters only on the ground floor or none at all, but in the area where Gitanjali is located—one of the city's prime residential areas—live-in servants are still assumed. Gitanjali residents include corporate executives (ranging from young to retired), businesspeople, professionals, and artists, whose family structure varies among nuclear, extended nuclear, and joint families. There is also a sprinkling of single men (bachelors) and women (widows). Gitanjali residents are thus in many ways typical of the servant-employing Kolkata upper-middle class.1

Servants' quarters, located in a clearly demarcated section at the corner of the L where the two wings of the Gitanjali building meet, are occupied by the servants who work on each floor and, frequently, their families. Each wing has its own set of lifts used by apartment dwellers, servants, and visitors; there is no

-65-

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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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