William Pinch, Wesleyan University

The Waterscape of North Bihar:  Notes from the Āina-i Tirhut of Bihārī Lāl “Fitrat”, ca. 1880
This paper will examine the waterscape of north Bihar, particularly as described in the late nineteenth-century account by Bihārī Lāl “Fitrat” (a.k.a. Rāsbihārī Lāl Dās), Āin-i Tirhut (1880).  Pre-modern Tirhut was famed for its thousands of manmade tanks and ponds, as well as raging flood waters from the Himalayas—especially the dreaded Kosi, the “River of Sorrow,” which marked the constantly westward moving eastern boundary of the region.  Legend, poetry, and folklore, and even inscriptional evidence, concerning the waterscape of Tirhut reach back over a millennium.  Today the built waterscape of the region is under threat due to both agrarian neglect and urban encroachment.  Central to the present paper is how the built waterscape of Tirhut has shaped historical identity and collective memory in the region.

Bio: William R. Pinch is Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University.  He is the author ofPeasants and Monks in British India (1996), Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires (2006), and (as editor) Speaking of Peasants:  Essays in Indian History and Politics in Honor of Walter Hauser (2008); and numerous essays, book chapters, and articles.  He is associate editor for the journal History & Theory, and treasurer of the American Institute of Indian Studies.  In 2015-16 he is serving as chair of Wesleyan’s Environmental Studies Program and director of Wesleyan’s South Asian Studies Certificate.