This paper will trace the historical journey of two terms used in building – kaccā (inferior, flimsy, impermanent) and pakkā (superior, solid, durable) – and how they became pivotal words in the construction of the military then civil built environments of colonial India during the period under the governance of the Honourable East India Company (1757-1858). Focus will be given to a truly original urban invention of the eighteenth-century colonial military in the subcontinent – the cantonment (or permanent camp) – demonstrating that a transition occurred from exclusively pakkā work to the acceptance of kaccā work for these stations. The paper will look at how and why his came about.
Through this wider embrace, enabled by a transformation in the spatial organization of the army, kaccā and pakkā work began to be evaluated as gradations, yet often linked somewhat in a dialectical process. Such a practice taught the three presidency armies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay ways to observe, build and shape modern India. It was one short step from determining army-built infrastructure – its buildings, roads, bridges, embankments, canals – as either kaccā or pakkā on military maps, to dividing Indian society along similar lines.