Body measures

9 November 2011

“In the 1860s and 1870s, Thomas Montgomerie, a British surveyor working in India, deployed one of the most extensive and rigorous applications of body measures in mapping Tibet and other areas of central Asia. […] Montgomerie recruited two Himalayan cousins, Nain and Mani Singh, and spent two years teaching them surveying techniques. He trained them to walk with a pace of exactly 33 inches, or about 2,000 paces per mile, regardless of terrain. Disguised as Hindu lamas, or pundits, a Hindu term for “holy men,” the Singhs kept track of distance with counters camouflaged as Buddhist rosary wheels. The wheels were equipped with 100 beads instead of 108, the traditional number on a rosary, and the Singhs dropped one bead every 100 paces. Using such methods, Nain in particular managed to measure large sections of Tibet including Llasa. The resulting information helped Montgomerie compile a map of Tibet and central Asia, which among other purposes assisted the British in their brutal invasion of Tibet four decades later.”

World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement, Robert P. Crease (2011)

This I find interesting — pundits used to be holy men! The ‘pace of exactly 33 inches.’ How on earth do you train for two years to regulate your pace “regardless of terrain”? What’s the curriculum?

But then, that kicker — “. . . four decades later.” Space, once measured & surveyed, can be taken. Anything with a grid reminds me of Haussman’s boulevards: the poor’s Paris barricades impossible; the artillery has a good line-of-sight. Rosaries used to have 108 beads, but it was a useless number, and did not serve. The whole idea of surveying & standardized measurement as prerequisite to conquest seems to me like those old, old tales where to know someone’s name & speak it aloud is the most powerful magic, the one that grants you absolute control.

You and your cousin: you spend two years training your body to mimic the regular precision of a machine, and press yourself up against the country so that it can be measured, and a generation later . . .

One Response to “Body measures”

  1. geunhae Says:

    “spend two years training/ your body to mimic the regular/ precision of a machine, and press/ yourself up against the country so/ that it can be measured”

    i think you should run with that.

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