ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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‘A Very Odd and Frightening Pamphlet’

Policing in Humphry House’s Calcutta, 1936–38

During his short stint in Calcutta, Humphry House published a satirical pamphlet titled, I Spy with My Little Eye (1937), which exposed the formal and informal mechanisms through which the colonial government were suppressing freedom of thought and political expression. This paper aims to contextualise I Spy in its historically fraught moment, and to study two of its central concerns: to understand House’s notion of “spyarchy” as a deliberate perversion of civic administration geared towards creating a self-surveilling society; and the legal and quasi-legal methods of censoring the circulation of ideas and literature. In doing so, we hope to historicise and reflect on the phraseology of “terrorism” and “sedition,” and their deployment by the state.


In 1937, the intelligence branch of the police brought out a six-page leaflet titled “List of Publications Brought to the Notice of the Intelligence Branch.” The books and pamphlets were categorised under three heads: “Terrorist” (under which the colonial government listed works endorsing radical nationalism), “Communist,” and “Otherwise Objectionable.” Under the third category, alongside Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Agni Bina (1922), is listed with every detail of its publication, Humphry House’s I Spy with My Little Eye.1 The pamphlet had been brought out by the author in October that year and was published by Bharati Bhawan Press on College Street, not far from Ripon College (now Surendranath), where he taught.

I Spy was House’s satirical take on the state of policing that existed in Bengal in the late 1930s, where, in order to suppress the colonial state’s two main enemies, namely the revolutionary ­nationalists and communists, a host of untidy and unconstitutional strategies had been deployed with the aim of creating a self-surveilling society.2

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Updated On : 23rd May, 2021
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