Introduction
Passages along the Brahmaputra
In 1841 a young man from assam embarked on a lengthy
journey along the Brahmaputra river. Voyaging in solitary splendour
with an entourage of servants, Anandaram Dhekial Phukan had as
his destination the city of Calcutta, where he aimed to join the pres-
tigious Hindu School. Through the nineteenth century many young
men across the Indian subcontinent undertook urban educational
passages to cities such as Delhi, Lahore, Allahabad, Madras, Bom-
bay, and Calcutta. Anandaram was the first inhabitant of Assam to
venture upon such a novel journey. In Benedict Anderson’s classic
phrase, he was a pioneer of the new secular pilgrimage.∞ The new
pilgrimages and urban encounters formed an essential component
within a larger set of historical changes: they involved making an
imperial ‘‘garden’’ and accompanying it, creating momentous en-
counters with modernity for Assam and India through British colo-
nial rule.
For those o≈cials, clerks, and migrants from British India who
followed East India Company gunboats and explorers into Assam
from the 1820s onward, the landscape of Anandaram’s homeland
lacked a su≈ciency of urban concentrations and transport infrastruc-
ture. Nineteenth-century Assam’s countryside was dotted with im-
mense forested tracts and a large number of water bodies, inter-
spersed with hamlets and small urban clusters. In place of nucleated
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