Season 1, CHATROOM 4

The Water Carriers of Calcutta,

and other matters

Why do so many colonial cities in the developing world not have piped water? Many parts of old cities in India still employ bhistis, or water carriers, to take water to people who don’t have pipes — though they are a fading breed, and being replaced by water tankers. We speak to historian Pratik Chakrabarti of the University of Manchester

Time Markers (mins: sec)

  • 0:10 Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling
  • 2:32 Episode synopsis
  • 5:23 Infectious disease is linked to poverty
  • 6:30 Quarantine was a major tool to curb disease
  • 7:30 The British install two separate water systems in colonial cities
  • 9:25 The legacy of the dual water system continues
  • 13:12 Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘My Reminiscences’
  • 13:55 The British said they couldn’t afford infrastructure upgrades in India
  • 17:01 The British extracted 15 million pounds from India in 1900
  • 17:59 Race, filth and disease got intermingled
  • 22:58 Is quarantine good or bad?
  • 26:06 Similarities between cholera and Covid19
  • 28:42 Will Covid19 change our societies?

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Reading List

Chakrabarti, P. (2015). Purifying the river: Pollution and purity of water in colonial calcutta. Studies in History, 31(2), 178–205.

Chakrabarti, P. (2010). Curing cholera: Pathogens, places and poverty in south asia. International Journal of South Asian Studies, 3, 153–168.

The project gutenberg ebook of my reminiscences, by sir rabindranath tagore. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2020, from

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