C.A. Bayly’s exposition of social organization, ideology, and politics of the ‘middle classes’ in north India remains a significant moment in Indian historiography. This path-breaking work offers a new prospective on eighteenth-century India and traces the evolution of north Indian towns and merchant communities from the decline of Mughal dominion to the consolidation of British empire following the 1857 ‘mutiny’. This edition comes with a new introduction which updates research on the subject and places the volume in contemporary context.
This Oxford India Perennials edition is testimony to the book’s status as a classic in Indian history which has inspired many studies on the period since its first publication in 1983.
C.A. Bayly is Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.
Since the middle ages European travellers have been fascinated by the bustle and colour of the oriental bazaar. Often they contrasted the sophistication of trade and the wealth of cities with what they took to be the barbarism and decadence of the rulers of the east. This .book toe grew out of a fascination with the rich pattern of commercial life still to be found in the tangled lanes of brass-smiths' stalls and ancient merchant houses which lie behind the water-front of the city of Benares. The original purpose was to put side by side the 'inner history' of merchant people which emerged from their own legends, family papers and account books with the impersonal records of the colonial customs houses in order to create the social history of an old-style Indian business community. The notion was typical of the 1960s when small-scale studies of community, village or' caste' seemed to point the way forward, and when the vogue for business history had set the ghost of Max Weber walking again.
Some fragments of that original work have been preserved in this book, especially in chapters 4, 10 and 11. But during the 1970s the scope of the study broadened considerably. By the light of day the treasure of the old account books and family histories dimmed only slightly. But these evocative fragments required a much firmer backing in standard archival and secondary sources if they were to be used to address the major questions of Indian social history. More important, the value of local and community studies for historiography seemed to be diminishing. Often the most important questions seemed to revolve around the relationship between the small community - family, village or 'caste' - and the wider world of government, business and the agrarian economy. Of course, the day when a 'total history' of India in the French style can be attempted remains distant. The basic demographic and price data is only now being assembled for the period between 1750 and 1850, while the study of changing 'popular mentalities' looks dauntingly difficult in the Indian context.
This book, therefore, is a compromise. An attempt has been made to set the detailed studies of towns, bazaars, merchants and service people against the background of crucial developments in the political economy of pre-colonial and early colonial north India. But many important questions have necessarily been neglected or only lightly touched upon. In particular, the book is not intended as economic history. Though there is much discussion here of trade and merchants, the concern is with the patterns of social and political relations which derive from economic activity and not with economic development or with volumes of trade and production as such. Instead, the book is concerned to give depth to studies of the social organisation, ideology and politics of the 'Indian middle classes' of the later nineteenth century by tracing some of their indigenous origins in the society of the eighteenth-century successor states to the Mughal dominion and also in the conflicts and accommodations of early colonial rule. Above all the aim has been to put together types of history and periods of history which have normally been studied in self-contained compartments. Agrarian, commercial, 'colonial', even religious history appears in these pages, and it is hoped that the different levels of argument are mutually enriching.
A full list of acknowledgements would need to refer to a very large number of individual scholars working on South Asian history and most librarians and archivists who hold materials on nineteenth-century north India. But some special debts must be recorded. The United Kingdom Social Science Research Council generously supported an initial period of archival and field work on which the study is based. The Cambridge Centre of South Asian Studies under its Director Mr B. H. Farmer have long provided financial and moral support, as have the Master and Fellows of St Catharine's College, Cambridge. Librarians and archivists at the UP Central Records Office, Allahabad, the National Archives of India, New Delhi, and the India Office Library, London, have efficiently satisfied voracious demands for files and volumes.
In India I could not have achieved anything without the disinterested help of descendants of the members of the nineteenth-century business community. Dr Girish Chandra and the late Sri Kumud Chandra of Benares gave up a great deal of their time without complaint. Sri Ram Krishna, Sri Devi Narayan, Dr Anand Krishna (Benares); Mr G. P. Tandon, Sri Harimohan Das and Sri Beni Prasad Tandon (Allahabad); Professor R. S. Sharma (Agra); and descendants of the family firm Chunna Mal Saligram (Delhi), answered ignorant questions and produced dusty documents from their cupboards with grace. Two particular friends in India were Mrs R. Gandhi who provided sustenance and a convivial home base, and Sri Satyapal who instructed me greatly from his own considerable knowledge of Indian social history.
The academic debts are numerous and would fill many bahi khatas. Among many people who have helped form my ideas in Cambridge or at Cambridge seminars, Christopher Baker, Sugata Bose, Simon Commander, Satish Mishra, Farhan Nizami and David Washbrook have made valuable comments on parts of the text. John Harrison of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, provided moral and material support in Britain and India. I profited from discussions at two seminars in the United States, one held at the University of Pennsylvania under the auspices of the United States SSRC, and the other at the University of California, Santa Cruz under the auspices of its Pacific Affairs Center, where parts of chapters were presented. As will become apparent, I have also relied heavily on the publications of Richard Barnett, Bernard Cohn, Thomas Metcalf and Asiya Siddiqi. Many others have helped create a climate conducive to research, but I must mention particularly my late friends and mentors Jack Gallagher and Eric Stokes; everyone in the field has benefited from the high standards of scholarship and humanity which they set. It is especially sad that Eric Stokes did not live to see this volume completed. He would have recognised many of his own ideas here, albeit mangled and devoid of his literary flair. His critique would have been gentle but penetrating.
Finally, my wife Susan has taken too much time off her own scholarly work in attempts to improve this text and the state of mind of its author. To her the volume is dedicated.
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