This paper engages with the transition from small-scale to large-scale industries in colonial India. It goes beyond the value-loaded concepts of ‘small’, ‘traditional’, ‘industrial’ and ‘modern’, which still obfuscare a far more dynamic and perhaps more interesting thematic: namely how global connections contribute tot he resilience and innovation of local economies. The authors researched tobacco and sugar cultivation and processing in colonial Bihar and discovered the crucial role local consumer markets played in mediating between global tastes and local producers and markets. They argue that local markets could not have functioned without consumers in the region. The paper provides a description of, and explanation for, the resilience of small-scale production amongst large-scale tobacco and sugar industries, which had a lot to do with local demand and politics.
While the histories of tobacco and sugar are usually described in terms of production in a colonial setting with consumption elsewhere in industrial societies, this paper concentrates on their circulation within domestic markets. In India, cane sugar and tobacco have in common that they have been cultivated and manufactured into different kinds of consumable products for domestic rather than international markets, with the size of their internal consumption always exceeding that of their exports. The paper focuses on gur (a particular kind of unrefined sugar) and bidi (a cigarette alternative in which leaves of primarily the tendu tree are filled with cured tobacco) in colonial Bihar. Having comparatively discussed the economic lives of ‘brownish’ gur and bidi and ‘white’ sugar and cigarettes, the paper goes on to explore the political-cultural lives of sugar and tobacco during Swadeshi times, as India sought to assert its independence.