By Chetan

knowledgeJames Tod, the British army official and administrator, came to Bengal in 1799. Within the span of twenty years, the East India Company entrusted Tod with the responsibilities of Political Agent in the states of Western Rajputana. During his residency, he surveyed the regions of Bundi, Mewar, Kota, Marwar and Sirohi to collect material on Rajput rulers. In 1829, Tod published his research on Rajputs in Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan or the Central and Western Rajput States of India.

Florence D’Souza re-analyzes the literary production of Tod in her book titled Knowledge, Mediation and Empire: James Tod’s Journeys Among the Rajputs to set the parallel and contrast between Rajasthan and Europe. D’Souza embarks on this project to uncover the multifaceted talent of Tod.

Chapter 1, “Tod as an Observer of Landscape in Rajasthan and Gujarat” captures the aesthetics of landscape for which Tod seems to have abandoned the primitive frameworks, including “Sublime” and “Beauty” and rather expresses his confidence in the novelistic “Picturesque” technique to draw an analogy between India and Scotland. D’Souza explains that Tod invariably uses the Scottish terms to describe the Bondi Mountain Range in Rajasthan but he engages in collecting and sampling of data for creating an accurate topography of the region.

In the second chapter – “Tod as an Anthropologist: Trying to Understand,” D’Souza sheds light on Tod’s endeavor to carry out surveys and gather information of historical artifacts and bards. Tod creates records of Rajput manners and customs with the aid of his Indian assistants and Indian gurus. He observes and records the history of nearly all the Rajput communities for the purpose of setting a parallel and contrast with the cultures of Europe. The author establishes that Tod, though a colonel and administrator later, tries to bridge the ambiguous gap between myth or legend on the one hand and factual history with genealogies of flesh and blood on the other.

Although Tod is untrained in cataloguing, enlisting, segregation and other scientific processes common to the classification of wildlife, yet his succinct description proves him a person of valuable knowledge. With a brief sketch of scientific trends in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth century, the author ventures into the territories relating to the institutionalization of Botany and Geology in British universities. This is also the time when many geologists, botanists, anthropologists, surveyors and cartographers of Scottish origin came to India. In chapter 3, the author gives details of how Tod is helped by his subordinate Patrick Waugh (1799-1821), his Indian guru – Yati Gyanchandra, Brahmin assistant – Balgovind, and some Indian artists in cataloguing and classification of data collected from different princely states. While Tod prefers to use the western scientific instrument for land surveys in India, he willingly acknowledges certain scientific acumen of Indians.

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