Tarangini Sriraman, a petition-like application? Rhetoric and rationing documents in wartime Delhi, 1941–45

This article looks at rhetorical devices employed by certain classes of claimants in applications for rationed commodities in wartime Delhi in the last decade of colonial rule. In the face of a war-driven colonial frenzy to regulate and constrict all essential and non-essential commodities, rhetoric in application-writing flourished. The covering letters accompanying application forms for rations resembled petitions in their appeals to sovereignty, their affinity to rhetorical parlance, the scope they extended to applicants to exploit colonial structures of bureaucratic authority and their role in shaping the formation of cultural subjectivities. This turn to rhetoric was equally implicit in colonial responses to requests for supplementary rations which were phrased in turgid and caustic prose that drew out the various rationalities of the war and colonial rule while taking cognizance of the encumbrances and cultural imperatives of the everyday. Rhetorical thrusts were not confined to the written requests accompanying the application form. The forms for rationed commodities like motor spirit, electricity, tyres and tubes were themselves peppered with persuasive graphic signs and artifacts that enacted certain relationships between the document and the rule, between intermediate and higher authorities, between applicants and rationed commodities.

The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 51, 3 (2014): 353–382

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