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Anthem Press
Nationalizing the Body: The Medical Market, Print and Daktari Medicine

Nationalizing the Body: The Medical Market, Print and Daktari Medicine

by Projit Bihari Mukharji
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‘Nationalizing the Body’ examines the different meanings of ‘modern medicine’ that were employed in colonial South Asia, and explores the different discourses that were constructed around ‘modernity’.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843313151
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 02/01/2009
Series: Key Issues in Modern Sociology , #1
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Projit Bihari Mukharji is a Wellcome Fellow at Oxford Brookes University.

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Nationalizing the Body

The Medical Market, Print and Daktari Medicine

By Projit Bihari Mukharji

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2009 Projit Bihari Mukharji
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84331-323-6



Part of the reason that Bengali vernacular forms of 'western' medicine — more appropriately called daktari medicine — have largely remained absent from the historian's account of nineteenth century South Asian medical history is because the daktars for whom it had meaning as a distinct form of medical practice have themselves remained out of sight. Histories mainly reliant upon English language archives — both governmental and nongovernmental — have mostly tended to see this numerous group of physicians as anonymous statistics, sometimes as half-trained quacks exploiting the lacunae of medical legislation and occasionally — it must be admitted — as prominent representatives of 'native' opinion, such as Dr Madhusudhan Gupta, Dr G. C. Roy, Sir Nil Ratan Sircar or even the Congress leader Dr B. C. Roy. Little detailed account, however, has been available of the actual lives and of the numerous and varied Bengalis who came to practice 'western' medicine at various levels of the colonial establishment, ranging from the lowly hospital assistants to the grand Edinburgh- or London-trained MDs. It is through their agency and through contact with their lifeworlds that daktari acquired its unique identity. Any history of daktari medicine will therefore remain incomplete without an account of the histories of these daktars.

The study of individual lifeworlds, i.e., lives in context, has been popularized since the 1970s by the increasing intellectual prominence of microhistory. As one of its pioneers, Carlo Ginzburg, has clarified, for a long time microhistory was only a vague quest for a more intimate view of the past in smaller scale. Its actual ambit had remained vague and it overlapped with other emergent tendencies like local history, historical anthropology, etc. A small-scale view, however, did not necessarily mean looking at individuals. It could, and often did, also mean looking at a small physical space (such as a single house), a single event (such as the 'Great Cat Massacre') or even a very small temporal span (such as a few hours preceding the Battle of Gettysburg). Once the microscopic fragment to study was decided upon, there was no consensus on how to see it. Some suggested that the fragments, by revealing repetitive patterns, could eventually yield macrohistorical narratives, and others doubted the validity of the approach which sought to fit the individuality of the fragment into the repetitive structures or 'serials' demanded by macrohistorical accounts. While those supporting the insertion of 'fragments' into 'serials' leaned towards 'total histories', those who 'defended the fragment' became divided, in time, into two groups. Of these two groups, one asserted the essentially 'relative' nature of the fragment to other fragments while the other propounded a 'law of levels'. According to the 'law of levels', both macro- and microhistorical narratives together constituted historical truth, though the facts of the two levels were not interchangeable. This meant that the fragment, while remaining in dialogue with its context, was never wholly translatable into larger contextually determined themes. This impossibility, to writers such as Ginzburg, was related to the heterogeneity, partiality and incompleteness of the historical archive that determined access to the fragment. Put plainly, since the fragment was always recorded incompletely, from a single or a very limited number of viewpoints, and since the recording process was itself a part of the history of the fragment, it would never be possible to wholly 'contextualize' the fragment, since not all relevant 'facts' will ever be available. The best solution in such a situation was thought to be Marc Bloch's method of constant juxtaposition of macro- and microhistorical perspectives.

Though many historians interested in the fragment have adopted this general approach of combining both macro- and microhistorical perspectives, their methods and approaches have been varied. Nowhere have these questions arisen more forcefully than in the study of microhistorical biographies. In the Subaltern Studies oeuvre, for instance, historians like Gautam Bhadra and Shahid Amin have tried to de-centre the individual. Amongst prosopographists, on the other hand, the tendency has been to constitute 'composite individuals' through multiple fragmentary biographies. Both these tendencies fluctuate between macro and micro levels in very different ways; but both are also committed to slightly different types of projects. The first seeks to discover 'society in man' by deconstructing his identity, while the latter seeks 'man in society' by reconstructing individuals out of scattered elements which make up individual lives. They are therefore implicated in different types of archives and different types of narrative economies. The first approach shows what a particular man's identity — be it Raja Pratapchand of Burdwan or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — meant to others. The second approach shows how faceless individuals experienced their own lives and identities in their given societies. Both are aspects of the historical truth.

In order to reconstruct the world of daktari medicine through the lives of individual daktars, we must juxtapose both these strategies. Partly, this is to allow for comparisons, but partly, it is also determined by the nature of the archives. Since the world of the daktars was itself highly plural, its archives are also varied. The lives of elite college-trained surgeons, for example, are more extensively recorded in service records and memorial texts, but the lives of hospital assistants are only marginally recorded in government files. Yet both were equally crucial to the development of daktari medicine. Moreover, like marginal notes, memorial texts such as obituaries are formulaic narratives and give only a certain order of information while concealing much else. All of this requires a juxtaposition of different archives and different reading strategies in order to reconstitute one daktari life.

Jill Lepore argues that the very nature of biographical projects alongside its dominant narrative forms induces a degree of emotional attachment between the historian and the subject. This, argues Lepore, leads to the presentation of the biography as a rationalized series of facts that hints at a more 'complete' and 'essentialized' sense of the individual's life than is allowed by the inchoate historical record. To guard against such implicit assumptions of wholeness, we will deliberately juxtapose not merely methods and archives, but lives themselves which are comparable. Juxtaposing distinct and comparable lives will compensate against any strong implications of atypicality and rationalization.

Khan Moulvi Tamiz Khan Bahadur (?–1882)

Tamiz Khan was one of the most successful early Bengali doctors and medical teachers, yet his legacy has been almost totally neglected by medical historians. Whereas other early Bengali doctors and teachers of Tamiz Khan's stature, such as Madhusudhan Gupta and Soorjo Coomar Goodeve Chuckerbutty, have received some attention from historians, Khan, despite being one of the most influential and highly respected early doctors, has been almost totally neglected by historians.

The most detailed information on Khan's life comes from a memorial speech made at the Calcutta Medical Society by Khan's closest friend and associate and another influential figure in early Bengali history of science, Rai Kanailal Dey Bahadur. Dey's speech was later reproduced in the Indian Medical Gazette in July 1882 in the form of an obituary. As might be expected from the context of its production, such a memorial text as Dey's speech provides a wealth of professional detail but very little in terms of Khan's private or social life. Dey described his friend and colleague as 'one of the most brilliant' medical minds. He went on to add that though 'a man of vast reading and very valuable professional knowledge, he was simple and unassuming as a child'.

Unfortunately, not much is known of Tamiz Khan's early life. Dey merely mentioned that he was born into a family of humble means before rising to great heights in the local 'Muslim society'. Though no place of birth is mentioned, it is likely that he was born in Calcutta or somewhere nearby, as he attended the Collinga Branch School in Calcutta. He may have been born in a family of munshis, as he is occasionally referred to in later life as 'Munshi Tamiz Khan', and the title of munshi had begun to be used as a hereditary title from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The munshi, under the Mughals, had been a rather numerous Persianate scribal class. It was not restricted to Muslims, and numerous Hindus acted as Mughal munshis with credit since even before the liberalization of Akbar. Their training was largely secular — and specifically secularized through educational reforms under Emperor Akbar. 'An ecumenical learning and religious pluralism' accompanied by a 'self-confident Indian claim to the use of the Persian language' had come to mark their identity. Khan's early education would therefore, in all likelihood, have comprised entirely Persian and Bengali and possibly some Sanskrit, but definitely no English. The celebrated Soorjo Goodeve Chuckerbutty was said not even to have heard English before the age of thirteen.

After finishing school, Khan apprenticed himself at one of the first druggist's shops to open in Calcutta. Having learnt his job at the druggist's store, he managed to then get a job as a Compounder at the Government Medical Stores. The Superintendent of the Medical Stores, Dr Grant noticed the boy's enthusiasm and talent and recommended him to Dr F. J. Mouat. It was on Dr Mouat's recommendation that Khan was admitted into the English class at the Calcutta Medical College. The Englishman of Calcutta mentioned in his obituary that, 'by diligence and perseverance, the young Tamiz mastered the difficult science of medicine and acquired a mastery over the English language'. Sir Henry Hardinge, the improving Governor General, took an immense liking to him, and Khan obtained the Hardinge Prize for having topped his class at the Medical College. He also received the Goodeve Scholarship for midwifery for two consecutive years.

Having graduated, Dr Khan was posted first at Kumaon and then at Lahore. Hardinge had broken the back of the Sikh kingdom in the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845–46 and by the end of the decade the Sikh kingdom had been wholly absorbed into the British Empire, but Lahore — the erstwhile capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh — was still a hostile posting for the young Tamiz. Yet, he was remarkably successful, and The Englishman recounted at his death that he had done much to open a charitable dispensary in Lahore and 'made European medicine highly popular among the Sikhs'.

In 1852 he returned to Calcutta as House Physician to the Medical College Hospital. Following the death of Madhusudhan Gupta, who had taught anatomy to the vernacular classes, Khan was given charge of Gupta's anatomy classes. Soon after, the prolonged illness of Dr Shib Charan Karmakar meant that Khan had to additionally take charge of the materia medica classes as well. On the death of Prosonno Coomar Mitter, Khan was elected to the Chair of Medicine. When the vernacular classes were separated from the medical college and reconstituted as the Campbell Medical School at Sealdah, Khan was appointed First Physician.

Khan, like his friend Kanailal, looked upon himself as a member of an international scientific community and maintained an active scientific life even beyond the confines of his immediate professional life. He became a corresponding member, for instance, of the New Sydenham Society in 1867. He also corresponded with the Epidemiological Society of London and the Australian Medical Journal. At home, in Calcutta, when the Age of Consent Bill dispute arose over the legal age at which girls could be married off, Khan was one of the Indian doctors who gave his opinion in favour of raising the minimum legal age for marriage. He was also an active member of the National Indian Association for Social Progress in India. Moreover, he was a regular contributor on anatomical and pathological matters to the Calcutta Medical Society. Once again, like Kanailal, he was also deeply invested in building visual aids to teaching, and while Kanailal set up a number of herbaria as teaching aids, Khan set up the core collections of the Anatomical and Pathological Museums at the Campbell Medical School.

Khan's greatest legacy, however, was his tremendous influence upon his students. The eminent doctor and medical author, Dr Radhagobinda Kar — son of another famous doctor and teacher, Dr Durgadas Kar — mentioned in the preface to his immensely popular medical textbook that he had been inspired to write the book, not by his prolific father, but by his two teachers Kanailal Dey and Tamiz Khan. Shortly before Khan's death, his students raised a subscription and had a portrait of him made and raised at the assembly hall of the then Campbell Medical School. Khan was also given several state honours, amongst which was the title of Khan Bahadur.

He died in June 1882 after suffering from a 'slow fever' for over two months, during which time he was treated by his student, Dr Soorjo Coomar Sarbadhikary. Khan helped fashion the role of the charismatic medical teacher who inspired generations of future doctors. While doctors of Khan's own generation had found such inspiration in a previous generation of British doctors such as Dr Goodeve — whose inspirational popularity had led one of the first Bengali doctors, Soorjo Coomar Chuckerbutty, to officially adopt his teacher's name as his own — after Khan, Bengali teachers increasingly came to fill this role. One of Khan's successors at Campbell Medical School, Dr Moulvi Zahiruddin Ahmed — professor of surgery from 1879–99 and later Honorary Assistant Surgeon to the Viceroy — went on to use this popularity amongst students to set up one of the most successful medical periodicals in Bengali.18 Teachers like Khan and Ahmed helped to inspire future Bengali doctors and raised 'western' medicine from the level of a professional tool to that of a passion.

It is perhaps a generic constraint of the English obituaries and condolence addresses on which this short sketch of Tamiz Khan's life is based that so little can be said about Khan's nonprofessional life. Whereas Bengali obituaries give a wealth of social and personal information, and in turn are sketchy about exact professional attainments, the English obituaries tend to accent professional achievements and recognition. These generic forms lead to the selection and framing of biographical data that continue to fashion our reconstruction of these early medical lives. While in the absence of further biographic material it is difficult to go beyond such archival limitations, it is useful to be sensitive to such formulaic nature of these generic constraints even if they cannot be transcended at the present stage of research.

Annadacharan Khastagir (1830–90)

Annadacharan was born in 1830 in the village of Patiya in the Suchokrodondi Police Station Area of the district of Chittagong. His family were Bengali Boidyos by caste. Though, traditionally, Boidyos were associated with the practice of ayurvedic medicine, Annadacharan's father was not a physician. Instead, Annadacharan's father, Ramchandra, possibly like Tamiz Khan's forebears had trained as a munshi. The late-seventeenth-century munshi's life and education was an embodiment of 'composite culture' in its most literal sense. By the eighteenth century, the munshis were no longer merely as scribes, but had also become diplomats. Since the early colonial state had persisted in the use of Persian and needed to regularly deploy complex Persianate Mughal political etiquette in their exchanges with neighbouring post-Mughal polities, they became singularly dependent on their munshis. On the other hand, as the Mughal state crumbled, the lesser aristocracy were often forced to take up employment with the East India Company as munshis. Ghulam Hussain Tabtabi, the author of the chronicle Siyyar ul-Mutakhkhirin, thus sarcastically remarked that the British considered no office higher than that of munshi. The effect was that both the importance and the background of the recruits to the post of munshi rose in the eighteenth century. The knowledge of Persian courtly culture, revenue systems and laws — including modes of formal legal writing — made the munshis an indispensable part of the lower courts as well. Munshi Ramchandra therefore started life as an ukil or vakil (pleader) in the Chittagong district court. He went on to become a munseff, or lower court magistrate, though it was said that 'his independent spirit was not conducive to salaried employment and [he] soon quit the munseffship to return to an independent practice'.

Annadacharan therefore had both a slightly distant tradition of medicine in his family and a more immediate tradition of government service. Though the family is said to have some lands in the region, they would more appropriately be described as middle class, service gentry rather than as landlords proper. In fact, Chittagong had been one of the last additions to the Mughal Empire in the east, and many service families had been given small land grants in the region to encourage them to settle there to form a strong loyal presence in an area known for constant attacks from the Arakanese kings.


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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: A Vernacular Modernity; 2. Healers in Context: Forgotten Pioneers; 3. Healing Print: Medicine and the World of Print; 4. Contagious Modernity: Domesticating an Idea; 5. The Plague in the Vernacular: A Hindu Nationalist Diagnosis; 6. Marketing Cholera: The Texts and Contexts of Bengali Responses to Cholera; 7. Dhatu Dourbolyo: Diagnosing the Rhizoid Pathologies of Racial Weakness; 8. Conclusion

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