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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 3 / 11





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More than twenty five years later, when another British official, S. S. Thorburn, wrote his anthropological account Bannu: or Our Afghan Frontier(1876) that includes excerpts from Edwardes’ memoir, the boundaries of Punjab still extended to Bannu.

The Punjab is divided into thirty-two districts, amongst which, with reference to size, Bannu stands tenth on the list. Its superficial area is 3786 square miles, which is greater than that of any English county except Yorkshire, and a little more than half the size of Wales. (Thorburn 1876)

Thorburn’s observation on the overlapping linguistic boundaries of Isakhel with its Pathans speaking ‘the broken Punjabi dialect of the hardy Jat cultivators’ was confirmed by a Punjabi partition scholar recently when Dilip Kumar alias Yusuf Khan, the thespian of Hindi cinema of Pathan origin celebrated for his flawless Urdu diction and delivery, insisted on sharing his memories of his native Peshawar with him in Hindco, the Punjabi dialect that Thorburn mentions:

When entering it from the Marwat side, you feel that you are descending into a new country, for the general level of Isakhel is considerably below that of Marwat. Although, too, the dominant class of its inhabitants are Pathans, and nearly related to the Marwats, they have long since discarded their mother Pashto, which they speak like foreigners, for the broken Punjabi dialect of the hardy Jat cultivators of the soil. An amphitheatre of hills known as the Salt Range to the east, and its Khatak- Niazai branch on the west, of an average elevation of two thousand feet above the plain, in closes this valley on all sides but the south, to which it is open.

Beginning with an account of his duties as the Settlement Officer of Bannu district in 1872, Thorburn’s book provides a rare record of the conscious overwriting of colonized places by the colonial project of mapping and measuring space, which were then used as instruments of colonial control.  Locating Bannu and its boundaries through the “monocular” view of space in the West, Thorburn proceeds to describe the Indus, the river that has witnessed the rise and fall of one of the oldest world civilizations.

The reader can easily conceive what a capricious tyrant this mighty stream is, and how anxiously tens, nay hundreds of thousands, who acknowledge it as the dispenser to them of life and death, watch its annual rise and fall. From the point of its final debouchure from the hills to Karrachi, near which it discharges its waters from many mouths into the Indian Ocean, the Indus travels about six hundred miles, and has an average width during the flood season of from six to twelve miles. The number of villages on its banks, or in its bed, which are subject to its influence, cannot be under two thousand five hundred, and the average population in each is certainly over two hundred. We have thus, at the lowest computation, no fewer than half a million of human beings whose subsistence depends on this river's vagaries. (Thorburn 1876)

The colonial administrator’s meticulous measurement of the area under his control and understanding of its specific features, he maintains, supremely qualifies him for the job assigned to him as compared to his blissfully ignorant countrymen in Britain.  The rationale behind the colonial project – to rescue the two thousand five hundred villages from the “vagaries” of the “capricious tyrant this mighty river” - repositions settlement from a strategy of colonial control to a civilizing burden. (Thorburn  1876)

Historians such as Ian Talbot and others have systematically unpacked the colonial production of Punjab as the agricultural province of India through the establishment of canal colonies by harnessing the waters of the five rivers.(2007)  The justification of British rule in terms of its transformative effects on outmoded social and cultural practices, patterns of landholding and so on examined by Talbot foregrounds the honest intentions of colonial

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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