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Tracking Modernity

India’s Railway and the Culture of Mobility

Marian Aguiar

Publication Year: 2011

From Mohandas Gandhi’s nineteenth-century tour in a third-class compartment to the recent cinematic shenanigans of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, the railway has been one of India’s most potent emblems of modern life. In the first in-depth analysis of representations of the Indian railway, Marian Aguiar interprets modernity through the legacy of this transformative technology.

Since the colonial period in India, the railway has been idealized as a rational utopia—a moving box in which racial and class differences might be amalgamated under a civic, secular, and public order. Aguiar charts this powerful image into the postcolonial period, showing how the culture of mobility exposes this symbol of reason as surprisingly dynamic and productive. Looking in turn at the partition of India, labor relations, rituals of travel, works of literature and film, visual culture, and the Mumbai train bombings of 2006, Aguiar finds incongruities she terms “counternarratives of modernity” to signify how they work both with and against the dominant rhetoric.  Revealing railways as a microcosm of tensions within Indian culture, Aguiar demonstrates how their representations have challenged prevailing ideas of modernity.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-25

In November 2008, two disparate images of Mumbai’s main railway station appeared on the international cultural scene. A photograph strolling with a machine gun through the lobby of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus between brightly lit advertisements. The pictures that D’Souza took immediately after, as he followed the gunman to the train platforms, documented for the world the immobile bodies and smears of blood ...

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Introduction: Tracking Modernity

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pp. 1-23

The simplest definition of modernity equates it with the new and suggests a determinate rupture with what came before. Although scholars use the notion of modernity to characterize transformations in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and early eighteenth-century Europe as early modern, others have defined the term around post-eighteenth-century European transforma-...

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1. The Permanent Way: Colonial Discourse of the Railway

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pp. 24-47

In 1888, Rudyard Kipling and A. H. Wheeler Co., an Allahabad firm that monopolized the bookstalls of Indian railway stations, created a book series called the “Railway Library.” The goal of the series, authored by Kipling, according to promotional materials, was “to be illustrative of the four main features of Anglo-Indian Life, viz: THE MILITARY, DOMESTIC, ...

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2. The Machine of Empire: Technology and Decolonization

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pp. 48-72

In 1854, an account appearing in the English-language Calcutt a journal Bengal Hurkaru and India Gazette narrated the travels of a scholar who went by train to Hooghly, “but declined to undertake the return journey, because, said he, too much travelling on the car of fire is calculated to shorten life, for seeing that it annihilates time and space and curtails the length of every other journey, shall it not also shorten the journey ...

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3. Partition and the Death Train

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pp. 73-99

Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies. News of this train’s arrival was delayed. That is why we have not been able to entertain you. The 1947 vignette “Hospitality Delayed” ( “Kasri-Nafi si” ), 1 by Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, takes a paradigmatic moment in the railway journey — the official welcome of travelers to a new place — and turns it into a nightmare of civic ceremony. An assassin makes a pleasant ...

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4. New Destinations: The Image of the Postcolonial Railway

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pp. 100-129

The postage stamp, an aspect of visual culture mandated by the state and disseminated in the form of a mobile commodity, reflects simultaneously the rhetoric of the state and the cultural iconography around which the identity of a nation coalesces. In India, as elsewhere, this tiny object has oft en used the train as a symbol of the nation; the railway’s primacy derives from the fact that this particular technology helped con-...

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5. Bollywood on the Train

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pp. 130-148

One of the most pervasive symbols in Indian film is the train. This is true in both so-called art film and in popular cinema. Chapter 4 looked at the way art film director Satyajit Ray uses exterior and interior scenes of the train in the “Apu Trilogy” to explore the relations between the rural and the urban as India entered a period of national development programs. It also considered Ray’s scenes of a traveling train carriage in ...

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Conclusion: Terrorism and the Railway

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pp. 149-182

... The trains are the great social laboratory of [Mumbai]. And today, Tokyo 3/20. Madrid 3/11. London: 7/7. Some of the most significant terrorist incidents in recent years have occurred on a train, including the 1995 Tokyo gas attack, the 2004 Madrid bombings, and the 2005 London Underground explosions. In a country that commonly refers to its railway as its lifeline, 1 the number of railway-related bombing fatalities ...

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pp. 183-184

I am grateful to the many Carnegie Mellon students who have inspired me in our conversations about modernity and postcolonial studies. Some of these students worked directly on this book; my thanks to David Cerniglia, Teresa Pershing, and Lauren Sealy for valuable research assistance. Nate Atkinson provided outstanding editorial help; Ross MacConnell pushed me to clarify my prose and sharpen my thinking ...


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pp. 185-202


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-218


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pp. 219-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676705
E-ISBN-10: 0816676704
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816665617

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011