Kaustubh Mani Sengupta
By the mid-nineteenth century the massive increase of trade in the port of Calcutta demanded more storage space in and around the port complex. Between the 1850s and 1880s the trade in jute, cotton and tea increased significantly. Calcutta was also the main centre for imports of cotton goods. From here they were distributed throughout the hinterland that comprised the provinces of Assam, Bengal, parts of northern India and central India. In the 1870s export trade of tea also increased exponentially. The Calcutta Port Trust was officially established in 1870. It made rapid advances in building additional jetties and in streamlining dock logistics and cargo handling. The Port Commissioners decided to build a tea warehouse on the Strand bank to accommodate this increased volume of trade. However, initially the Bengal Chamber of Commerce criticized this step because it believed that the occupation of land on the Strand would interfere with private enterprises.
Before Calcutta (now Kolkata) became an ‘Imperial city’ it had, according to Captain Alexander Hamilton in 1710, ‘docks for repairing and fitting ships’ bottoms’. Most likely Armenian traders used these docks to trade with ‘China to the East and Persia to the West’ many decades before Job Charnock founded the city, clubbing together the three swampy villages of Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur. It is from Calcutta that the British, according to Geoffrey Moorhouse in 1971, created ‘an empire at which they looked with incredulous elation’. After Calcutta had emerged as the leading port of Britain’s Indian empire and as its capital, its importance grew several fold when the Suez Canal opened in 1869. The river Hooghly made navigation difficult, as it continues to do today, but the huge returns from trade never failed to entice the freebooter and the brave. A Dutch fleet of seven ships even negotiated the channel without pilots (as ships entering Calcutta rarely did) in 1759 – two years after the battle of Plassey – in a futile bid to stop the English from using Calcutta port ‘as an entrepot’ to create the financial sinews of one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.
When describing the word logistics there are few things that at first appear more unintuitive than the term ‘concrete’. Seemingly solid and rock-like, concrete is immobile and heavy. On reconsideration, of course, concrete was and continues to be the very infrastructure for industrialization. Since the 19th century, it has been the material that made possible roads, buildings, factories and many other built environments that are now commonly understood as ‘modern’. In fact, it is the material most often invoked in modernist architectural and design projects. The very auteurs of modernist design and architecture such as Le Corbusier favoured the material. When called upon by Nehru to produce a new capital for the post-colonial Punjab – the city of Chandigarh – Corbusier did not hesitate to build the monumental structures of concrete, even as the material was found to be almost untenable and unmaintainable under the climatic conditions. These now seemingly decaying but still operative monuments continue to serve, however, as both icons and memorials to a previous industrial and national order fantasized in the wake of Independence. It is not only Indians who fell in love with concrete. From the Bauhaus to the Futurists, concrete was the preferred building material that bridged nature with industry to induce new possibilities for ever faster cars, buildings and cities. All these utopias were built on a cement foundation that would creatively destroy the world before it.
Logistics outside logistics
Logistical Worlds: Infrastructure, Software, Labour studies Chinese-led globalization and the role played in it by logistical operations and related infrastructures such as ports, railways, pipelines or IT networks. The project seeks to understand how global logistics is reshaping global governance and the relations between political command, institutions and economic calculation. The research is being developed around three main sites: Piraeus Port in Greece, the port area of Kolkata (Calcutta) in India and the complex of Chilean logistical infrastructures, including the port of Valparaíso.