Tropical Topographies: Mapping the Malarial in The Calcutta Chromosome
Keywords:Amitav Gosh, Ronald Ross, Malaria, Diseased Landscapes, Tropical Medicine, mapping, Tropical Landscapes, guerrilla ecologies
This paper reads colonial archives of malaria in conjunction with Amitav Ghosh’s futuristic medical thriller The Calcutta Chromosome (1995) and contends that the novel, loosely based on Sir Roland Ross, ruptures narratives of colonial expertise. The colonial expertise on malaria is embodied by Ross, an officer in the Indian Medical Service; this is in contrast with the model of expertise proposed by the novel. While Ross’s expertise is predicated on the domination of nature and controlling diseased tropical landscapes, the novel resists imperial strategies of mapping and disease control. This paper argues that The Calcutta Chromosome presents an alternative attempt to map the malarial, rewriting history by displacing actors such as Ross and instead placing two colonial subjects, Murugan and Mangala, at the centre of new mapping practices. The novel further questions the notion of ‘colonial improvement’ which malaria facilitated in imperial regimes. Deviating from the colonial history of improving the native body and landscape as a cure for malaria, the novel foregrounds subjugated subjects working at the peripheries of laboratories and scientific practices and thus subverts the notion of the ‘improved subject’ by proposing the idea of the mutational, transformational ‘Calcutta chromosome.’
Arnold, D. (1997). The place of ‘the tropics’ in western medical ideas since 1750. Tropical Medicine and International Health, 2(4), 303-313. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-3156.1997.tb00144.x
Arnold, D. (1998). India’s place in the tropical world, 1770-1930. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 26(1), 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/03086539808583013
Arnold, D. (1999). ‘An ancient race outworn’: Malaria and race in colonial India, 1860-1930. In W. Ernst & B. Harris (Eds.), Race, science and medicine, 1700-1960 (pp. 123-143). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203025420-6
Arnold, D. (2000). “Illusory riches”: Representations of the tropical world, 1840–1950. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 21(1), 6–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9493.00060
Banerjee, S. (2010). Banerjee, Suparno. “The Calcutta Chromosome: A novel of silence, slippage and subversion. In E. Hoagland & R. Sarwal (Eds.), Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film (pp. 50–64). Mcfarland & Company Inc.
Bewell, A. (1999). Romanticism and colonial disease. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Bynum, W. F., & Overy, C. (Eds.). (1998). The beast in the mosquito: The correspondence of Ronald Ross and Patrick Manson. Rodopi. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004333376
Chambers, C. (2003). Postcolonial Science fiction: Amitav Ghosh’s the Calcutta Chromosome. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 38(1), 58–72. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021989404381006
Clayton, D. (2021). Tropicality and the Choc en Retour of Covid-19 and Climate Change. eTropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 20(1), 54–93. https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.20.1.2021.3787
Ghosh, A. (2001). The Calcutta chromosome: A novel of fevers, delirium and discovery. Perennial.
Harrison, M. (1999). Climates and constitutions: Health, race, environment and British imperialism in India 1600-1850. Oxford University Press.
Johnson, J., & Martin, J. R. (1841). The Influence of Tropical Climates on European constitutions. S. Highley.
Livingstone, D. N. (1987). Human acclimatization: Perspectives on a contested field of inquiry in science, medicine and geography. History of Science, 25(4), 359–394. https://doi.org/10.1177/007327538702500402
MacCulloch, J. (1829). Malaria: An essay on the production and propagation of this poison, and on the nature and localities of the places by which it is produced: With an enumeration of the diseases caused by it, and of the means of preventing or diminishing them, both at home and in the naval and military service. Thomas Kite.
Mavhunga, C. C. (2011). Vermin beings: On pestiferous animals and human game. Social Text, 29(1 (106)), 151–176. https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-1210302
McNeill, J. R. (2010). Mosquito empires: Ecology and war in the greater Caribbean, 1620–1914. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511811623
Mitchell, T. (2002). Can the mosquito speak? In Rule of experts: Egypt, techno-politics, modernity (pp. 19–53). University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520928251
Nelson, D. M. (2003). A social science fiction of fevers, delirium and discovery: “The Calcutta Chromosome”, the colonial laboratory, and the postcolonial new human. Science Fiction Studies, 30(2), 246–266.
Packard, R. M. (2007). The making of a tropical disease: A short history of malaria. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Raj, K. (2001). Colonial encounters and the forging of new knowledge and national identities: Great Britain and India, 1760-1850. Osiris, 15 (1), 119-134.
Ross, R. (1902). Mosquito brigades and how to organize them. George Philip & Son. https://doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.22552
Ross, R. (1923). Memoirs: With a full account of the great malaria problem and its solution. John Murray.
Roy, R. D. (2017). Malarial subjects: Empire, medicine and nonhumans in British India, 1820-1909. Cambridge University Press.
Stepan, N. L. (2001). Picturing tropical nature. Reaktion Books.
Worboys, M. (2012). The emergence of tropical medicine: A study in the establishment of a scientific specialty. In G. Lemaine, R. Macleod, M. Mulkay & P. Weingart (Eds.), Perspectives on the emergence of scientific disciplines (pp. 75-98). De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110819038.75
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 CC-BY
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who submit articles to this journal agree to the following terms:
1. Authors are responsible for ensuring that any material that has influenced the research or writing has been properly cited and credited both in the text and in the Reference List (Bibliography). Contributors are responsible for gaining copyright clearance on figures, photographs or lengthy quotes used in their manuscript that have been published elsewhere.
2. Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License that allows others to share and adapt the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
3. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository, or publish it in a book), with proper acknowledgement of the work's initial publication in this journal.
4. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (see The Effect of Open Access or The Open Access Citation Advantage). Where authors include such a work in an institutional repository or on their website (i.e., a copy of a work which has been published in eTropic, or a pre-print or post-print version of that work), we request that they include a statement that acknowledges the eTropic publication including the name of the journal, the volume number and a web-link to the journal item.
5. Authors should be aware that the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License permits readers to share (copy and redistribute the work in any medium or format) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the work) for any purpose, even commercially, provided they also give appropriate credit to the work, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. They may do these things in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests you or your publisher endorses their use.