chapter  3
28 Pages

Invasive Prospects

J oseph Conrad, recounting his boyhood fascination with the Age o f Discovery in Europe, described maps o f the still-uncharted Africa and the Orient as “dull imaginary wonders o f the dark ages. . . replaced by exciting spaces o f white paper.”1 This chapter is an exploration of the gradual extinc-

tion of such uninscribed spaces in India. It might seem on the surface that mapping and travel occupied opposite extremes o f visual experience for Britons as they began to spread their interests through the inner reaches of the Indian subcontinent. Maps guided travelers, planners o f battles, and assessors o f revenue and made discernible the strategic value of territory and the economic value o f land and its produce. But the reverse was also true: without some prior knowledge o f the country and access to its interior, maps could not be drawn or filled in. Between these two impulses emerged the cartographic replica of political territory. The mapping of India permitted a certain play o f visual imagination that belied the episodic nature o f the Indian conquest and the indefinite frontiers o f the new state. In this sense it was an indispensable exercise o f authority, re-ordering the country on paper.