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Teaching about the Colonial India State and Society with Six Acres and a Third

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Six Acres and a Third

The Classic Nineteenth-Century Novel about Colonial India

By Fakir Mohan Senapati

Trans. Rabi Shankar Mishra, Satya P. Mohanty, Jatindra K. Nayak, and Paul St.-Pierre

Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005

222 Pages, ISBN: 978-0520228832, Paperback

Six Acres and a Third is an English translation of Fakir Mohan Senapati’s 1902 Odia novel Chha Mana Atha Guntha, a humorous satire set in early nineteenth-century British India. It tells the story of an exploitative moneylender called Ramachandra Mangaraj, who uses the colonial legal system to usurp the properties of people in his rural community, before being ruined by it himself.

Senapati (1843–1919) was from Odisha, a region on the east coast of India, which is home to the Odia language and people. Educated and employed in colonial institutions, he was concerned with the damage that British colonialism had done to traditional Odia culture and society. Although better-known anticolonial figures such as Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948)—whose concerns were national, imperial, and global—might be regular fixtures in the history curriculum, students may benefit from Senapati’s deeply local perspective on Indian life under British colonialism. Apart from exploring the relationship between the colonial state and rural society, Six Acres also presents rich portraits of women’s lives and caste relations, important themes in the study of South Asian history. And the novel raises large questions about the nature of truth and evidence that are relevant to the study of history in general. Thanks to the labors of Cornell-based literary scholar Satya P. Mohanty and his colleagues, this English translation is eminently accessible to readers at all levels. Engaging but not intimidating, it spans a very readable 200-odd pages and twenty-eight bite-sized chapters. Mohanty’s scholarly introduction provides literary and historical context, while a useful glossary at the end helps readers decode indigenous terms.