Abstract: Smoke has featured as an integral part of community living since time immemorial. In modern times, traditional sources of smoke such as that from cooking stoves, burning of waste or on account of cremation practices (among some communities) got conjoined with industrial smoke to set up a new environmental concern. In part, smoke was held to be problematic on account of it being a nuisance, in part because it represented waste and in part because it caused pollution and was seen as being harmful to health. This talk is about the history of smoke in colonial India, with specific reference to Calcutta and Bombay. The talks highlight the changing contexts in which smoke was articulated as an issue of concern, different modes of apprehending the extent of it, laws and regulations that were enacted to mitigate it, and the technological interventions that were designed to ‘solve’ the smoke problem, concluding with some reflections on historical and contemporary concerns around air pollution.
Short Bio: Awadhendra Sharan is Professor and Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. Trained as a historian at Delhi University and University of Chicago, Sharan’s research interests are in the fields of urban and environmental studies. His publications include Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India c. 1860-c.1940 (Delhi: Orient BalckSwan, 2020) and In the City, Out of Place: Nuisance, Pollution and Dwelling in Delhi, c. 1850-2000 (Delhi: OUP, 2014). His ongoing research is on the history of domestic environments in colonial India.
Sharan serves on the international advisory board of the journal Urbanization. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Delhi based NGO Ankur: Alternatives in Education.
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