By Gaiutra Bahadur
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Additional resources for Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture
It had rained that season in the district embracing Faizabad: the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, which sent the greatest number of coolies to the colonies. This was a gift to wheat growers—and to wheat consumers, because it led to a fall in the price of grain. There seemed to be bountiful harvests all across India that year. 8 It was drought and famine that made his depot hum with recruits. Mitchell knew that, and he knew that if men were going to be tough to recruit, women would be even tougher.
The reports they filed and the diaries they kept provide fleeting glimpses of the women targeted as potential emigrants. At times, it almost feels like these elusive figures are peeking through the pages, from behind a curtain separating the women’s quarters from the rest of the house of official history. G. Pitcher encountered a handful of women at a depot for recruits. ” Pitcher, a minor judge in Lucknow, had been assigned to scrutinize recruitment in the northwestern provinces. When he visited the discredited depot, he found several rakish-looking men loafing around but only three recruits—two men and a woman.
He was a schoolteacher and an elder, the kind of man you might expect to be the keeper of local memory. He had, however, no information. My heart sank a little, although I wasn’t expecting anything concrete from this trip. I hadn’t even known whether or not the village would still be standing. I couldn’t really believe I was here. In Bhurahupur. X marks the spot. The precise point where an umbilical cord connected me to India. And here I was, being sized up by a curious crowd of real-life men who called it home.