Tropical Topographies: Mapping the Malarial in The Calcutta Chromosome




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.’

Author Biography

Priscilla Jolly, Concordia University, Canada

Priscilla Jolly is a doctoral student at Concordia University. Her research interests include places and subject formation practices enabled by places. Her doctoral project focuses on an intersection between postcolonial studies and environmental humanities. It investigates questions of place formation in nineteenth century colonial accounts of expeditions. Her work has appeared in The Conversation and Postcolonial Text.


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How to Cite

Jolly, P. (2022). Tropical Topographies: Mapping the Malarial in The Calcutta Chromosome . ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 21(1), 285–305.