TEA: ITS SOCIOCULTURAL DIMENSIONS IN COLONIAL INDIA

Tea, ‘the second most commonly drunk beverage after water’ Ellis, is now being cultivated in more than 61 countries (2018), and consumed by not less than 54 nations (2016). There have been so many varieties of tea, prepared and consumed in so many different ways, all tuned in their respective ecological as well as sociological settings. Britain had no tea of its own, India had. Yet it was the British who grew a tea culture of its own since the time of King Charles II, more accommodative than the ceremonial tea of the Chinese and Japanese traditions, which later globally accepted as a standard.

TeaTypeTable

Camellia Sinensis Categories Courtesy:@Leaves of Tea Ring

While the tea culture varies, the tea as such is one and the same everywhere – basically a wild shrub called camellia sinensis. The ancient wisdom of tea processing has been modernized in colonial India. The manufacturing process transforms the tea into six types – black, oolong, green, yellow, white, and pu-erh each having distinctive characteristics requiring special ways of preparing, serving and taking for enjoying the drink most satisfyingly. In the beginning tea was prepared with spices and herbs, and consumed as medicine. The remedial value apart, herbal tea is always a popular beverage in countryside because of its strong aroma and heady taste. Nonetheless, herbal tea is a misnomer as it is made of alternative combinations of herbs and spices, milk and butter, sugars and salts and optionally tea leaves. Gandhian ‘Tea Recipe’, for example, lists no tea at all. Sanyal The recent herbal teas sound like new versions of Gandhian tea now being marketed as Tulsi tea, Adrak tea, Malai tea, Rhododendron tea, and the like. The Kahwa tea, is however different being the soul-warming drink of the Kashmiris and a part of their culture. All these refreshment drinks of dissimilar taste and flavour meant for people of different mind-sets than those who enjoyed tea the way Tagore’s Gora did, or a Nazrul did in Favourite Café.

 

 

poeticTea

Poetic Tea. Lu Yu’s book, the Ch’a Ching, tea ceremony

The branded tea of the modern society is rooted in ancient culture. Kakuzō Okakura found a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealization. It has no arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa. Okakura The first book on tea, Ch’a Ching, that the gifted poet and tea-expert, Lu Yü (733-804), penned with precise details on tea’s origins, cultivation, processing, and preparation. A thousand year later the British drew upon the classic when they started producing tea themselves. Koehler  It is important to note that the British accepted the practical and spiritual aspects of tea making believing that the magic of making tea comes, when the leaves begin to develop their unique flavours and aromas, almost mystically transforming into something far richer.

Darjeeling’s Toy Train by Carsten Bockermann

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 1881. Photocredit:Carsten Bockermann

As the process has been simplified from Lu Yu’s instructions formulated thirteen centuries ago, machines instead of hands do the rolling now. Fermented tea is essentially baked rather than pan-cooked—it sticks to ancient principles. In Darjeeling, tea makers remain ‘stridently, adamantly orthodox’ in their processing. Orthodox tea contains just a handful of steps to turn  green leaves into finished Darjeeling black tea before the tea gets sorted, graded, and packed. Koehler From the beginning to end, tea, except low-grade commercial tea/ tea-bags, is dealt with human touch, even when the process is mechanized. Tea is not industrialized, but grabbed the full advantage of industrialization for worldwide distribution and marketing of finished products from the remote gardens whence the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway opened in 1881, cutting travel time and transport costs significantly. Darjeeling tea found its final footing within five years as reflected in 1885 statistics of sales reaching 9 million pounds. Bengal

II

Like most of the colonial things – bungalows, furniture, utensils, dresses or dishes, Indian teas are Indian by origin – pure or crossbred, which the Britishers shaped their way to lead a comfortable and decent life. As we know, Britain never grew tea until 2005, but grew a tea culture over two centuries ago that they enriched a great deal in colonial India, apparently with newly acquired intelligence of Chinese and Japanese tea traditions.
The British tea culture follows the ancient norm that ‘tea drinking should be treated with reverence and be accompanied by beauty but also restraint’, moderation is the very essence of tea. Ukers It demands a tad of sophistication nurtured in modern societies. One needs to acquire a taste for the cup of tea that a British queen and a Chinese sage may savour spiritually rather than palatably. When today’s tea culture is overwhelmingly British in character, it is already popular in most of the tea loving nations, including United States. Sirkin
Tea grew naturally in Indian soil, while tea culture grew in Indian mind through a long process of social interactions under influences of political and economic events. To my perception, the politics and economics had played a significant part in bringing in the ‘tea habit’, contrary to ‘tea culture’. Taking tea is discouraged by Swadeshi followers on the plea that tea is ‘injurious to heath’ and a ‘foreign’ drink. Gandhian political agenda against tea was directed to ‘tea habit’.

Gandhiji and other leaders during the Swadeshi Movement

Gandhi, once himself a tea lover, recommended his atypical ‘Tea Recipe’ for the mass that had no tea leaves in it to risk habit formation. Sanyal  It seems to be his Swadeshi fervor that made a scientist like Acharya P.C. Ray to declare tea a poisonous drink ignoring factual findings. In response, the Tea Board did publish a statement of Dr. Meghnad Saha in favour of tea, to counter Swadeshi deterrent. There had been also a section of Brahmos and their sympathizers who boycotted tea in protest of British planters’ inflicting torture on the coolies found and reported first by Ramkumar Vidyaratna and Dwarkanath Ganguly, two volunteers of Sadharan Brahmosamaj Banerjee. The political aversion to tea was an issue reflected in Naukadubi of Rabindranath, Parinita of Saratchandra, and possibly many more contemporary stories. Interestingly, both the writers and most of their contemporaries and immediate successors happened to be tea devotees. So was Swami Vivekananda.Vivekananda The kind of tea they enjoyed was generally the British black tea, with milk/ sugar, or none just like the one Abdul Rahman served to Syed Mujtaba Ali in 1930’s Kabul (vide Deshe-Bideshe).

When people drink tea, they are expected to acquire certain manners and behave in a particular way, in terms of which a tea culture is defined. Tea etiquette, styles of tea-ware, ambience of tearooms – all contribute to a tea culture distinguished from all others. Close interactions between any two cultures enrich both. We have understood this better in this era of rapid globalization, which is also an era of collaborative entrepreneurship. The manufacturing of Chinese tea-pots in British fashions is a case in hand. The Chinese, so far we know, brewed tea directly in the cup instead of using a teapot, which they never had. The traditional Chinese teacups had a lid but no handles, presumably because they liked to feel the warmth of the tea while holding the cup. If it’s too hot to hold, it’s too hot to drink. Fixing handle, or ear, to a cup is an idea implemented by the British. The design of teapot we use today is basically European. The first teapots created in Europe were of a heavy cast with short, straight, replaceable spouts. “At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the East India Company recognized the growing demand for such items as teapots and began importation in larger numbers. The company commissioned china directly from Chinese artists and craftsmen, using patterns sent from England and geared to European tastes, stereotypes, and market values”. Designs fell into four main areas (1) mock-ups of Oriental designs, (2) designs adapted from European prints, (3) coat of arms for major European families,(4) and the innovative teapots -such as those with the now standard internal spout drain. The Company directors were especially concerned that teapots not drip and so stain the valuable linen that they also marketed. Anonymous]

Not only teapots but the entire range of tea-ware was fashioned by the British, often with Indian motifs and materials, and increasingly by Indian artisans in spite of their being obliged to do work by hand, while the Europeans both accelerated and perfected by means of machinery. Williamson  The tea-set, including cups and saucers, tea-spoons and tea-strainers, milk-jug and sugar-pot, teapot, tea cozies, tea-mats, sets the mood of a tea drinker before s/he takes tea. Tea-drinkers ‘take tea’ in a special way, which, I fear cannot be described aptly by any English verbs that we know. Surely, it is not that we ‘drink’ tea as we do drink milk or water, or even coffee. We do not sip tea like sherbet either, but do it by faint smacking of our lips inaudibly on the brim of the tea cup and relish slowly the enigmatic taste and aroma of the golden liquid afloat inside.Tea retains a strong association with nature. A good tearoom must be having a like ambience with windows to allow natural light, and flowers around.

Tearoom is quite different from a coffee shop, which often tend to be set up more like a bar, offering quick coffee drinks that can be drunk while standing or while seated on a bar stool or similar chair unsuited for long sitting.Goodwin Tearoom needs everything there should be styled to allow sitting for hours long as tea incites endless parleying – being an acknowledged stimulant for adda, or rap sessions without agenda. Tea and adda are inseparable components of tea culture.

TeaTable @Purwaaii. – Friends Caffe. Courtesy: Kolkata on Wheel. – Adda. Courtesy: @Scoopwhoop. – India Coffee House, Albert Hall

The word ‘adda’, found in Sanskrit and Pali literature was used in various senses by ancient writers, like Bharata and Chanyakya. Das As it was broadly indicated, adda once meant a place of assemblage for a purpose, like the ‘Buddhist adda’ once found in old Dhurrumtollah Street. The modern usage of the word broadens its import. As Collins Word online suggests, ‘It is a form of intellectual exchange among members. They talk about almost everything in jovial mood’. In context of tearoom, adda simply means chatting or free discussions with no agenda, participated by regulars and casuals as often as they like. It is a process of exchanging minds on any subjects imaginable. It is a common privilege of the tea-room goers to take part in adda but not without submitting to the unspoken norms of tea-culture prevailing there. While the tea-room-adda is a global trend, its pattern of behavior differs widely depending on the given living standards and traditions.

Japanese takes no sugar in tea, and their teahouse never serves sugar determinedly, but obliges customers cordially if they want it for sweetening an English tea instead. The English, while taking tea, detests letting out audibly a ‘ssss’ sound of breath through the mouth past the tongue. Appreciation of sound depends on one’s culture. It needs a cultured refinement to appreciate a pianissimo in western or Hindustani classical music, when a bursting sound of fireworks needs no cultural refinement at all. Appreciation of a quality black tea can never be expected from uninitiated tea drinkers to whom an herbal tea is the best choice and an orthodox black tea insipid.

We learnt from history that India have had tea before the British smuggled the Chinese tea to India. Along with the tea plants they also brought in India the stolen Chinese know-how of tea gardening, which India never had occasion to know because of not having any tea gardens but forests of tea trees.  The tea habit in India was grown initially by the British through massive propaganda launched by the governmental agencies and industries for economic gain. Their objectives were only to introduce tea to the people and promote sales. One has only to glimpse through the old newspaper ads and publicity posters to realize nothing was there to motivate a tea culture. Neither the study books tell about the tea etiquette, nor any leaders spoke anything contributing to the tea culture, yet the India historically speaking has imbibed a strong cultural affinity toward tea. And that culture, largely in British way, but certainly not exclusively British, as we have already exemplified in my last post ‘Ways of life in colonial Calcutta’. The scenario of Calcutta tea culture found in the hundred year old Favourite Cabin crowded by the firebrand intellectuals had little in common with Flury’s grand ambience except that they both served black tea in ceramic cups. It is unthinkable for the Favourite Cabin to keep Flury’s gentle silence with the presence of a buoyant Nazrul at tea table.

ANYTIME TEA TIME Courtesy: Tea-Pot, Fort Kochi

Their tea-table manners were also more like Indian. As the expert admits that whatever tea seeds you sowed in Darjeeling, it grows to a ‘Darjeeling tea’; similarly, the British tea culture grown in India turns into Indianize British tea culture, more Indian than British. European ladies and gentlemen have always some fixed times for socialization over warm cups of tea, while in Indian culture it is anytime a tea time

Here, in India, it is adda that takes the first position in defining tea culture. The old deshi tea-rooms in Calcutta never cared much for manners and etiquette unlike the British ones. The tea-rooms were being used in Calcutta as meeting spots for lively exchange of minds and hearts, sharing views and news with known, half-known folks or even strangers. The spirit was somewhat akin to the Oxford coffeehouses of 1650s, where ‘the mind-stimulating benefits of the beverage complemented the spirit of sober academic discussion and debate evident at the university there’.White After 1860s, tea took the place of coffee as the major beverage and served in the British coffee houses, including ‘Mr. Lloyd’s Coffee-house’ in London, favoured by ship owners, merchants, and marine insurers – the origin of the celebrated insurance firm, Lloyd’.

These archaic coffeehouses were called ‘penny universities, because for a penny any man could obtain there a pot of tea, a copy of the newspaper, and engage in free conversation with wits. They served as a basic model for the English gentlemen’s private clubs popularized by English upper middle-class men and women in the late 19th century and early 20th century. By the close of the 18th century the popularity of coffeehouses had declined dramatically. Already by the 1750s consumption of tea, which many people found to be a sweeter, more palatable drink of choice, easy to make and cheaper, was beginning to rise. Cowan

The Club. Engraving by James Doyle

Literary and Political Clubs rose in popularity and the frivolities of coffee-drinking were lost in more serious discussion. Tea was also gaining in importance as Society’s beverage of choice. The East India Company at this time had a greater interest in the tea trade than the coffee trade. The Government’s policy was to foster trade with India and China and it offered encouragements to anything that would stimulate the demand for tea. Tea had become fashionable at Court and in the Tea Houses and was growing in popularity with the public. Boswell

India never had a coffee culture parallel to English one, its production and consumption being confined in some South Indian states, yet it seems that the bygone institution of British coffeehouse had surprising similarity with the tearoom culture developed in colonial Calcutta.

III

This century begins with a startling fresh digital memory of billions of terabytes to absorb the swiftly outdating modern-time and an alarmingly fast growing social dementia making the yesterdays already fuzzy in public mind. I fear, we have already forgotten many old acquisitions. The tea culture is one such thing.  The millennium citizens become insentient to identify its fine distinctions. We pain to see tea is now being redefined in terms of the medicinal masala chai that was in vogue before the beginning of the tea cultivation  – a long stride backward.

The real tea has lost its relevance in the 21st century society. A recent opinion survey of NDTV on Tea versus Coffee discloses the increasing popularity of coffee among Indians. It was ‘a moment of triumph for the coffee shops walked into a tea-drinking country’ offering a luxurious and genteel beverage as alternative.Channi-Tiwary Some historians of coffee-house culture, however, were skeptical of the innate politeness of coffee since there were also some coffee-houses like a Molly King’s Coffee-House, notorious haunts of London’s lowlife.White

As indicated before, coffee-culture in India has been geographically restricted and historically insignificant, contrary to the British experience. Coffee had the same place in London and Oxford of 17th and 18th centuries as the tea had in colonial India. Coffeehouses were then club-house like joints somewhat akin to Indian tearooms in spirit. The rejoinders of NDTV survey marked a reverse trend of opening up across the country tearooms like Chaayos, Taj Mahal Tea House, Bubble Tea Café, etc. These offer the comfort of a beverage many of us love, reinvented and served in a relaxed and casual café environment. Channi-Tiwary

April this year, Quora published an interesting response to their question ‘Why do the majority of Indians like tea rather than coffee?’ The responder claims it was not tea but coffee, black or espresso, what the majority of Indians prefer. It was also observed that some senior citizens still stick to tea out of habit, and currently many people take green tea because it is good for health. Quora The tea habit is a concept closely related to tea culture, which is still being maintained by the senior citizens, and most likely it will end with them, leaving an assortment of reinvented herbal chai for the newer generations broken away from nearly two thousand year tradition of Lu Yü to start a new one from zero.

Before Calcutta bids it a farewell, we may recite a requiem to the tea culture, remembering some good things it did to our society:

  1. The early tearoom in Calcutta was a place to take tea, talk, read news, and collect worldly knowledge paying a thin dime just for the cup of tea; everything else were free. We may call those tearooms by the name of Penny University as the Londoners did for their Coffee shops operated in mid-18th Century as cheap learning centres. Among other things tearooms in Calcutta helped bringing about necessary attitudinal change to tolerate differences in socio-cultural values and political idiosyncrasies.
  2. Tea has been popular among rich and poor. It had an egalitarian character that incited rich social mixing. Vernacular tearooms, or deshi tearooms, offered space for meeting with friends and strangers free from the social conventions of class and deference.
  3. Tea has no arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, neither the simpering innocence of cocoa. Okakura The cups that cheer but not inebriate.Cowper The tearoom has a ‘civilizing’ atmosphere, and a role in urbanizing the migrants from less advantaged locations. It was analogous to musafirkhana where travelers get first taste of the city life, or where students get oriented to new campus life.
  4. Tea was instrumental in bringing family together. Even before the introduction of instant tea bag, making a cup of tea has always been a simple and quick process for anyone to perform. Taking tea comfortably at home prepared by the caring hands of fair ladies was a good reason for meeting family members and family friends more frequently.
  5. Tea-making happens to be also a new occupation for a housewife. Women for the first time through tea parties, take leading position in social gatherings, administering tea-shops or running tea-stalls.
  6. Tea in India and many other places, like Ireland, is served as a gracious offering to guests as welcoming gesture. Tea has been a symbol of bonhomie in tribal as well as in civilized society. To the writer of Religion of Man, Rabindranath Tagore, making tea personally for his guests was always a pleasure. Chanda.

    Tagore with Count Okuma, PM Japan at tea in 1916

Every human institution decays, so does the tea culture. History records ups and downs, and often interprets every step in terms of their relationship with immediate past and latest trends. Likewise we may consider the followings as possible reasons why the tea culture goodbying Calcutta, the city that nurtured it.

It is the altering value systems of the city that destabilized the climatic condition necessary for the tea culture to sustain. To the millennium everything advertised in the name of ‘tea’, for example, gulabi tea, mallai tea, etc. are readily acceptable as tea. Except the manufacturing companies, not many are there who can smell the difference between a bagged black tea and orthodox leaf tea..

The litterateur and intelligentsia, like Nazrul Islams and Subhas Boses, ceased to be seen in deshi tearooms. The plebian city sticklers occupied the empty seats there for quick energizing sips.
The newspaper in tearoom has lost importance. Current affairs and general knowledge are now readily and cheaply available in social media. The dwindling leisure time in modern life is almost entirely used up by mobile chatting, which is largely responsible for making the generation lonely and egocentric,  apathetic to tearoom culture.

REFERENCE

  1. Anonymous. (2009). History of Tea, LGOL27 Portal. Last updated : 23-Feb-09. https://www.gol27.com/HistoryTeaChina.html
  2. Banerjee, Dipankar. (2006). Brahmo Samaj and North-East India. Delhi: Anamika. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=GE2o4QQV7UgC&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=Ramkumar+Vidyaratna+and+Dwarkanath+Ganguly&source=bl&ots=6ominLanpJ&sig=ACfU3U2mTX2VU3Z25u5yr1of9Og3mh2bBQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiNgLjk7cbmAhV_zjgGHYewBpQQ6AEwA3oECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Ramkumar%20Vidyaratna%20and%20Dwarkanath%20Ganguly&f=false
  3. Bengal District Gazetteers: Darjeeling ; Ed.by Arthur Jules Dash. (1947). Calcutta: G.P.Press. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.150149
  4. Boswell, James. (1791). The life & times of Doctor Samuel Johnson. Stories of London – portahttp://stories-of-london.org/samuel-johnson-5/
  5. Chakraborty, Sumita. 2016. “শান্তিনিকেতনে চিন ও জাপান.” Parabas, 2016. https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pSumita_china-japan.html
  6. Chanda, Rani (2007). Gurudev. Calcutta: Visvabharati. https://archive.org/details/Gurudeb-Rani-Chanda
  7. Channi-Tiwary, Harnoor. (2018). Tea vs Coffee: Which is India’s Favourite Hot Beverage? In: NDTV Convergence, Updated: March 12, 2018 https://food.ndtv.com/opinions/tea-vs-coffee-which-is-indias-favourite-hot-beverage-1246860
  8. Cowan, Brian. (2005). The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse. Yale UP. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjq4JGVmsfmAhUpzjgGHb0hB-MQFjABegQIAhAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fbhsecglobal.files.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F03%2Fsocial-life-of-coffee.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2ynOBv82H95N20ip5E-Ikg
  9. Das, Jnanendra Mohan. (1917). Bangla Bhasar Abhidhan ( বাঙ্গালা ভাষার অভিধান). Allahabad: Indian Press. https://archive.org/details/Bangla_Bhasar_Abhidhan_1917_by_Jnanendra_Mohan_Das
  10. Ellis, Markman. (2014). Tea, the second most widely consumed drink, after water — a meme. Tea in Eighteenth-Century Britain April 21, 2014. https://qmhistoryoftea.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/tea-the-second-most-widely-consumed-drink-after-water-a-meme/
  11. Goodwin, Lindsey (2017) Coffee Bar Definition. The Pruce Eats Portal. Updated 11/27/17
    https://www.thespruceeats.com/coffee-bar-definition-765033
  12. Koehler, Jeff. (2015). Darjeeling: a history of the world’s greatest tea. London: Bloomsbury. https://www.goodreads.com/user/new?remember=true
  13. Lu Yu. (1974). Cha ching. The classic of tea. Boston; 1st ed. Little, Brown
    https://www.amazon.com/Classic-Tea-Origins-Rituals/dp/0880014164/ref=pd_sbs_14_t_1/147-0179330-7137150?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0880014164&pd_rd_r=dddc49fc-6a1f-4754-b82c-ffc76e13cbcb&pd_rd_w=zAATb&pd_rd_wg=mR0UB&pf_rd_p=5cfcfe89-300f-47d2-b1ad-a4e27203a02a&pf_rd_r=HC08A16M8H6139AZTY99&psc=1&refRID=HC08A16M8H6139AZTY99
  14. Mandelslo, Johann Albrecht von. 1669. Voyages Celebres & Remarquables, Faits de Perse Aux Indes Orientales. London: John Starkey, and Thomas Basset. https://archive.org/details/voyagescelebresr00mand/page/n8.
  15. Okakura, Kakuzō . (1906), The Book of Tea. London: Putman’s
    https://archive.org/details/bookoftea00okakrich/page/n8
  16. Quora, Opinion survey (2015).Why most of the Indians like tea but not coffee? Quora Portal. Ap 14 2015
    https://www.quora.com/Why-do-the-majority-of-Indians-like-tea-rather-than-coffee
  17. Sanyal, Amitava. 2012. “Mahatma Gandhi and His Anti-Tea Campaign.” BBC News Magazine, May 2012. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17905975.
  18. Sirkin, Austin. (2013). Hey, America—You’re Drinking Your Tea Wrong! In: WonderHowTo Portal. 01/10/2013. https://steampunk.wonderhowto.com/how-to/hey-america-youre-drinking-your-tea-wrong-0141235/
  19. White, Matthew. (2018). Newspapers, gossip and coffee-house culture. In: British Library newsletter; 21 June 2018. https://www.bl.uk/restoration-18th-century-literature/articles/newspapers-gossip-and-coffee-house-culture

TEA: A BRITISH GIFT TO INDIA

 

BACKDROP
Tea might have been tasted by an Indian in around 1040 AD while the British did it before 1662 AD, and in no time the British Tea Culture came about some three centuries ahead of India’s courtship with tea. Around 1040 AD when Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna, the great preacher of Buddhism, was in Tibet, the Dharma King made offerings to all lamas and served tea and victuals to monastic congregations. Atiśa being the King’s honoured guest must have enjoyed drinking tea that time. His experience with Tibetan cup of tea died with him in 1054 AD at Lhasa. By that time, according to the oral history of the Singphos, India must have started growing tea forest in the North-East.

AtisaDipakar

Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna Buddhist Preacher in Tibet c.1054 AD

THE WILD TEA OF THE SINGPHO
Singphos are the same people as those called the Kachin in Burma and the Jingpo in China – a colourful tribe of Mongolian origin. Singphos have a very rich heritage of oral folklore, leaving deep traces in history of Assam. They spoke of their ancestors migrated from somewhere in the highland of Mongolia in B.C. 600-300 to their abode in the hills of Singra-Boom in Tibet . From there they formed several groups among themselves. Of these groups one went to China, one to Myanmar and one of them migrated to the Indian hilly region. Around B.C.300– A.D.100 the Singpho entered Brahmaputra valley. They brought with them their linguistic traditions and culture, and their affinity to tea being an integrated part of their mode of living. They speak Jingpo language in Singpho dialect that shares a degree of similarity with Tibetan and serves as lingua franca among Kachins.
Singphos were the most powerful and influential tribes of Lushai mountain range in Mizoram. The John Company remained indebted to them for building its tea empire on the borrowed resources generously provided by the Singpho chief, Beesa Gam in 1883. Singpho people are believed to be among India’s first tea drinkers and traditionally engaged in tea cultivation. To this day, they continue to process tea by first heating the leaves in a metal pan until they brown, and then sun-drying them for a few days. When processed and brewed correctly, a cup of Singpho tea, which is had without milk or sugar, is a lovely golden-orange colour. The leaves can be reused to brew three or four cups, the flavour getting better with each infusion. Singphos also use white tea flowers, pan fried and served with rice. The traditional processing of tea, they believe, retains its medicinal value. [Sarita]
Not only in India, as the history reveals, tea has been introduced everywhere as a health drink. Taking tea as refreshment is a recent phenomenon comes in vogue before tea turns out to be a mode of socialization.

Because the term ‘tea’ often used to mean ‘herbal tea’, other than to a Camellia variety, we are not sure of the significance of some rare references to ‘tea’ (or ‘chay’) in Vedic literature found in Caraka Samhita’s ‘Pancha Karma’ prescribing heating pastes, teas, and keep them in warm chambers.’ [Charaka Samhita] There have been, however, some evidences of tea consumption found amongst the people of Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.

They follow the ancient tradition of preparing beverages Thang by boiling Camellia/Taxus /Acacia in water like decoction, and the Ccha Chah, a salty tea, by adding dry walnut powder, black pepper, milk (optional), butter and salt. [Negi] I-tsing a 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who left behind an account of his ten-year sojourn (676-685) in Nalanda said to have noted semi medicinal use of tea brew in India. [Achaya]
Much later in 1638, in a curious account of Albert de Mandelslo, a young gentleman of Holstein who visited Seurat that time described how they took only thè (tea) “commonly used all over the Indies, not only among those of the country, but also among the Dutch and the English, who take it as a drug that cleanses the stomach, and digests the superfluous humours, by a temperate heat particular thereto.” [Wheeler]
Mandelslo’s tea account incidentally coincides with the initiation of Tea in England of King Charles II, discarding our notion that Britain discovered tea before India did. Moreover, contrary to the popular views, tea no more considered a foreign breed, but a native crop of India. If not in Vedic age, tea must have been here since the beginning of the Christian era when the Singphos crossed Brahmaputra and made India their home amidst the tea forests they grew as a part of their mode of living. The tea trees remain in the Singpho land hidden from modern civilization until the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

The Tea Land of Singphos

TEA EXPLORERS
The modern history of Indian tea begins in 1823 when the tribal chieftain Beesa Gaum graciously handed two tea plants to Captain Robert Bruce in exchange of a musical snuffbox – a gift from Bruce. This exchange of friendly gifts took place because of the initiatives of two protagonists of native tea, Captain Bruce and Dewan Maniram.

Maniram Dewan (1806-1858)
Maniram Dutta Baruah, was a nobleman domiciled Assamese from Kannauj ever remembered for his lifelong commitment to native tea plantation, besides his activism. In the year 1839, Maniram joined Assam Tea Company at Nazira as Dewan but quitted the job next year to try his hand in tea cultivation

independently. Finally in 1845 he developed Chinnamara and Toklai Tea Gardens, the first plantations owned by any native Indian, much to the dislike of his rival European tea planters who, according to some, by instigating the Company administration against Maniram for his alleged anti-British role succeeded in getting Maniram’s tea estates confiscated and illegally auctioned to one Mr. George Williamson at a very nominal price. Maniram was sent to gallows on 26th February, 1858 on the plea of his involvement in Assam uprising, otherwise called India’s First War of Independence. Maniram Dewan became a martyr, the first Tea Martyr of India. There is yet another assumption that Maniram, once a loyal ally of the British East India Company, wanted to take the opportunity in 1857 mutiny to uproot British rule in favour of Ahom rule; and he did that particularly to avenge the interference of the white with his tea business. [Ghosal]

Captain Robert Bruce (1789-1824)
Captain Robert Bruce (1789-1824), born in Edinburgh, joined the army and eventually found himself involved in establishing opium plantations for the East India Company. Sometimes he was described as ‘a soldier of fortune’. [Bruce] It was presumably on the advice of the East India Company he arrived at Rongpur in 1823 to contact Maniram Dutta Baruah who had informed them earlier of the existence of indigenous tea in Assam. Captain Robert Bruce (1789-1824) died in 1824 just a year after he met Maniram, leaving his younger brother Charles to take up his lead.

Charles Alexander Bruce (1793-1871)
Charles Alexander Bruce approached the Singpho chieftain Beesa Gaum once again and obtained a canoe full of wild tea plants and seeds that he dispatched to officials in Assam and Calcutta, particularly to Captain David Scott, first Commissioner of Assam, and the rest he distributed liberally to all whom he thought might take interest. With the exception of one ‘army officer in Lucknow’ [Johnson] none of the recipients had an inkling of wild Assam tea. Captain Scott having realized its huge possibilities himself wrote to Wallich, the Empire’s arbiter on botanical matters, at Calcutta, for their cognizance and actions without any reference to Charles Bruce as his source. Nathaniel Wolff Wallich (1786- 1854), an FRCS surgeon and botanist of Danish origin, was however never serious about indigenous tea as he staunchly believed that true tea grew nowhere but in China. Moreover, as it seems, the samples consisting of mere tea leaves and seeds might not have been sufficient for identifying the species. The lots that Scott sent to Wallich in 1825, 1826 and then again in 1827, all reckoned as Camellia drupifera and not ‘true tea’. The Company authorities remained nonchalant so far Assam tea was concerned. They neither believed nor had any interest in India breed tea. Assam tea had to wait seven years more for getting recognized and finally certified through a zealous effort of an adventurous Lieutenant Andrew Charlton.

Lieutenant Andrew Charlton (≥1800- >1840)
Charlton was appointed in May 1826 to command the military post at Sadiya (Assamese সাদিয়া )in Upper Assam – he was there to serve as the official channel of communication with the Singpho and Khamti Chiefs, as well as exercising criminal jurisdiction over the tribes and promoting commercial relations etc. [Appointment Record. BL] In 1831 while working in the Assam Light Infantry, Charlton found tea growing in eastern Assam in the hill tracts around Sadiya . He had learnt to recognize tea trees during his sojourn in the Dutch East Indies. With the help of his resourceful gardener he acquired some tips about tea growing and some young tea plants that he cultivated in his own garden in Jorhat. Charlton sent four young tea trees to Dr. John Tytler in Calcutta, who planted them in the Botanic Garden, where they withered and died before they could be botanically investigated. [Driem]
When in October 1831 he came to Calcutta, Charlton brought with him a few plants which he presented to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society that was ignored by the Society as the sample size found too small. Next time, in November 1834 he sent tea plants with fruits to Wallich, which was found on examination convincing and finally declared that ‘Assam tea was as real as the tea of China’. Wallich wrote to the just established Tea Committee of Lieut. Charlton’s discovery of Assam tea on 6 December 1834.

Tea Committee
The little attempts earlier made to cultivate tea in India and that too half-hearted. As long as the Company’s monopoly over China tea lasted, Calcutta, including its science establishment, closed their eyes to the possibility of tea in Assam. When the monopoly was broken by the 1833 Charter, the Company had nothing to hold on but to the prospect of new-found Assam tea or to cultivating imported tea plants on Indian soil. A 12-member Committee of Tea Culture was set up by Lord William Bentinck in 1834 to explore the possibility of a tea industry in India, with George James Gordon (Secretary), James Pattle (Chairman), J. W. Grant, R. D. Mangles, J. R. Colvin. Charles E. Trevelyan. C. K. Robison, Robert Wilkinson, R. D. Colquhoun, Dr. N. Wallich, C. Macsween. G. J. Gordon, Radakant Deb, and Ram Comul Sen.

Francis Jenkins (1793-1866)
The Committee sent out a circular asking for reports of areas where tea could be grown. The circular was responded almost immediately by one Captain Francis Jenkins. Jenkins joined the East India Company and sailed from England in 1810. He was deputed by the Company to undertake a survey of Assam, including Cachar and Manipur, during October 1832-April 1833, following its annexation by the British. Early 1833, Bruce told Jenkins privately and wrote him publicly that ‘the tea plants were growing wild all over the country’ [Kochhar]. Jennings must have been convinced also by the findings of Lt. Charlton of Assam Light Brigade under his jurisdiction. Jenkins reported the Committee of Tea Culture recommending strongly for Assam tea. Based on his report an experimental nursery was set up at Sadiya. Excellent tea was soon being produced. With help from Jenkins, commercial production rapidly developed, and by 1859, more than 7,500 acres in the region were devoted to tea cultivation. Jenkins reluctantly retired from service in 1861 but remained in Assam, dying at Guwahati in August 1866. A set of Jenkins’ journals and letters dating from 1810 to 1860s were brought to auction at Sotheby’s in 2009. The genus Jenkinsia Hook. (Lomariopsidaceae) was named for him. [JSTOR]

Gardening Assam Tea replacing Wild Tea Forest
On 11 February 1835, the Committee appointed Charles Bruce as the in-charge of nurseries to be developed in Upper Assam, at Sadiya and other places. Two years after, Bruce was designated Superintendent of Tea Plantations. It was Charles who pioneered the use of the term ’tea garden’, a meaningful linguistic shift from ‘tea forest’ signifying the way tea produced in colonial environment, employing semi-mechanized systems . Charles Bruce, regarded as the Father of Indian Tea. [Sharma]
Upon the whole, there seems little reason to doubt that Assam then was physically capable of producing that important article, on which eight or nine millions of money was annually spent in the United Kingdom. Eight chests of Assam teas were auctioned in London in January 1839. This was the beginning of the end of Chinese domination of the tea market that had lasted a century and a half. [Gazetteer for Scottland]

Assam Tea Companies
The same year Prince Dwarkanath had formed the Bengal Tea Association in Calcutta – the first Indian enterprise to start tea cultivation [ Majumdar],  and a Joint Stock Company was formed in London. These two companies got combined and formed the first Indian Tea Company called the ‘Assam Company’ – the first Joint Stock Company in India. Tea Plantation spreads beyond Assam across Indian landscape.

 

INDIANIZATION OF CAMELLIA CHINOIS
In spite of the incredible agronomical and commercial success of Assam tea, there remained a large section in East India Company unconvinced about its worth in comparison to the Chinese camellia. They were more eager to avail the Chinese saplings for domestication because of their qualitative supremacy over the wild Assam. To report on the earlier amateurish findings, a scientific delegation, headed by Wallich, the celebrated Danish-born botanist geologist, including the surgeon-naturalist John McClelland, and another celebrated botanist William Griffith, was sent to Assam in July 1835. Dr. Wallich maintained that since the native plants were actually tea, there was no need to import seeds from China.
The ‘young Turk’ Griffith, however, had completely a different view and pronounced emphatically that only by importing ‘Chinese seeds of unexceptionable quality’ could the ‘savage’ Assam plant be reclaimed as fine tea. As this wisdom was unquestioningly accepted, a young botanist, Robert Fortune working in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Alongside, G. J. Gordon was instructed by the Calcutta Botanic Gardens to “smuggle tea seeds out of China.” [Ukers]  A deputation, consisting of Messrs. Gordon and Karl Friedrich Gutzlaff, was then sent to the coasts of China to obtain tea seeds. They succeeded in obtaining seeds from southern China that arrived in Calcutta in January 1835, and being sown, vegetated and produced numerous plants. In the beginning of 1836 about 1326 saplings sent to North-East. The tea nurseries were formed at Kumaon and Gurhwal in the Himalayas, and immediately began to grow with all that vigor aided by a small band of Chinese tea-makers whom Dr. Wallich recruited for them in April 1842.
In January 1843, the first sample of Himalayan tea was received at the tea table of the British Chamber of Commerce and reportedly pronounced by the members that the fine kind of tea – Oolong Souchong, “flavored and strong, equal to the superior black tea generally sent as presents, and better for the most part than the China tea imported for mercantile purposes.” [Carey]

Robert Fortune, (1813 -1880)
Fortune was commissioned to undertake a three year plant collection expedition to southern China in 1842, and in 1848. Finally, it was on behalf of the East India Company, he went to remote Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province and in mid-February 1851 Fortune brought tea-filled especially designed ‘Wardian’ cases consisting of no fewer than 12,838 plants, 8 illegally immigrated Chinese tea-workers and tools of trade to Calcutta port via Hong Kong. Dr. Hugh Falconer, who had recently taken over from Wallich as superintendent of the Botanic Garden, received Fortune at Shibpore ferry ghat to take the sprouting tea-plants smuggled from China under his care. The tea plants then dispatched to Saharanpur, formerly a Mughal garden, at the lower foothill, and from there distributed to various Himalayan plantations. Some of that exceptional stock nurtured in Kumaon plantation made its way to Darjeeling, where it would eventually produce the world’s finest and most expensive teas. [Ukers]

DARJEELING TEA
Coming of tea to Darjeeling was something almost accidental. It was never considered as a place good for planting tea. Even Sir Joseph Hooker (1817-1911),

founder of geographical botany and Charles Darwin’s closest friend, thought of Darjeeling as a place too high with too little sun and too much moisture to grow tea. Dr. Archibald Campbell proved it all wrong within two years of his arrival at Darjeeling as the newly appointed Superintendent in 1839. Previously, when he was in Kathmandu working under renowned ethnologist and naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-1894), Campbell was inspired by him to care the native flora and fauna with love. Among other plants in his home garden at the height of 7,000 feet, Campbell in 1841 sowed tea with stock that came from the nurseries in the western Himalayan foothills. The trees came to bear in the second half of that decade, and the Company inspector reported in 1853 that both Chinese and Assam varieties were doing well in Campbell’s garden.
Campbell established government sponsored tea nurseries in Darjeeling and Kurseong. While both types of leaf varieties were planted, Chinese ones were unexpectedly, successful. Plants from stock Fortune had smuggled out of China thrived in Darjeeling’s misty, high-elevation climate. The Company opening up land and clearing plots for tea gardens began to circulate plants for individuals and small companies. [Bengal District Gazetteers]
The commercial cultivation of tea was started in 1852-53 in Darjeeling with the Chinese variety of tea bushes. Today tea is grown in forty-five countries around the world, summer-flush Darjeeling has always been the best choice of the global connoisseurs, and the most expensive as well. [Koehler]

About 10 million kilograms of Darjeeling tea are grown every year spread over 17,500 hectares of land. [Marketing Analysts] India on an average produced 1233.14 million kilograms of tea between 2011 and 2016. North India produces nearly 5 times more than South; and West Bengal produces 329.60 million kg, which is little more than half of Assam. Darjeeling tea seems quantitatively too insignificant but qualitatively the highest among the best teas of the world. [IBEF]

TEA AND ITS SOCIAL DIMENSIONS
In a nutshell this is the story of Indian Tea, which the Britishers discovered, harvested, industrialized and monetized to secure their sovereignty, and left the tea legacy to India when they lost it. This over two hundred year long story tells us how the India’s own wild tea forests turned into tea gardens, and how the smuggled China tea was Indianize imbibing the essence of the mystic Himalayan, Western Ghats, Kanan Devan’s biodiversity.

Tea history, you might have already sensed, is highly illustrative for appreciating the process of cultural shifts leading to acculturation that took place in colonial India, Bengal Presidency in particular being the playground of both the Assam and the Darjeeling teas. Allow me to elaborate in my next post a few elements of the tea history for you to connect the ideas of acculturation I discussed earlier.
Happy New Year

REFERENCE
  1. Achaya, K. T. (1997). Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford: UP. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Indian_Food.html?id=CKIJAAAACAA
  2. Bengal District Gazetteers: Darjeeling ; Ed.by Arthur Jules Dash. (1947). Calcutta: G.P.Press. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.150149
  3. Bruce, Charles. (1840) The First story is an 1838 Account of the Manufacture of Black Tea as practiced at Suddeya in Upper Assam. In: Koi-Hai. December 6, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20061220204732/http://livn-an.com/tearoom/bruce/
  4. Carey, William H. (1964 ). The good old days of Honorable John Company; being curious reminiscences during the rule of the East India Company from 1600-1858, complied from newspapers and other publications. Calcutta: Quins. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=Good+Old+Days+Of+Honorable+John+Company+From+1800+To+1858%3B+W.+Carey
  1. Charaka Samhita; Edited by Gabriel van Loon. (2003). Handbook on Ayurveda; Volume I.  Durham: Center for Ayurveda. https://archive.org/details/GabrielVanLoonCharakaSamhitaVol1Eng/page/n1
  2. Driem, George L. van . (2019).The Tale of Tea: A Comprehensive History of Tea from Prehistoric Times to the present time. Leiden: BRILL. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=Z6WODwAAQBAJ&pg=PA625&lpg=PA625&dq=Lieutenant+andrew+charlton+tea+Assam&source=bl&ots=baf_hPx8hM&sig=ACfU3U0t3UX-zqmLIVkXUuoXF3VXwdFEvQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfpf2KuLTlAhXQbn0KHa9mAHwQ6AEwBHoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Lieutenant%20andrew%20charlton%20tea%20Assam&f=false
  1. Gazetteer for Scottland. (2017). Robert Bruce (1789–1824). In: Gazetteer for Scottland. Edinburgh: University. https://www.scottish-places.info/people/famousfirst3224.html
  2. Ghosal, Ranjan Kumar (2019), Indian history buff. Quora July1, 2019. https://www.quora.com/What-was-the-role-of-Maniram-Dewan-in-the-Revolt-of-1857
  3. Griffith, William. (1847). Journals of travels in Assam, Burma, Bootan, Afghanistan and the
    neighbouring countries. Calcutta: Bishop’s College. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15171/15171-h/15171-h.htm
  4. (2018). Tea Industry and Exports in India. In: India Brnad Equity Foundation – Portal. Last Updated: December, 2018. https://www.ibef.org/
  5. Johnson, George W. (1843). Stranger in India; or, Three years in Calcutta; v.1. London: Golburn. https://ia902702.us.archive.org/22/items/strangerinindia00johngoog/strangerinindia00johngoog.pdf
  6. Global Plant Resource. [Search Engine] https://plants.jstor.org/login?redirectUri=%2Fstable%2F10.5555%2Fal.ap.person.bm000329174%3fsaveItem=true%5D
  7. Kochhar, Rajesh. (2013). Natural history in India during the 18th and 19th centuries. in Journal of Biosciences 38(2) June 2013. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236674827_Natural_history_in_India_during_the_18th_and_19th_centuries
  8. Koehler, Jeff. (2015). Darjeeling: a history of the world’s greatest tea. London: Bloomsbury. https://www.goodreads.com/user/new?remember=true
  9. Majumdar, Sumit K. (2012) India’s Late, Late Industrial Revolution: Democratizing Entrepreneurship. Cambridge: Univ. Pres.
  10. Negi, Vineeta, and ors. (2018). Tea Kinnauri, Thang & Namkeen chai: an Ayurvedic In: World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Volume 7, Issue 18, 638-649. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328802003_Tea_Kinnauri_Thang_and_Namkeen_Chai_an_Ayurvedic_Perspective_A_review
  11. Santoshini, Sarita. (2016). Singpho Tea Party. In: Traveller India, Natgeo, february 22, 2016  http://www.natgeotraveller.in/singpho-tea-party-the-story-behind-the-brew/
  12. Sharma, Jayeeta (2011). Empire’s Garden: Assam and the Making of India. London: Duke University. https://books.google.com/books?id=W2dtxgZba6MC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=a+significant+linguistic+shift,+from+%E2%80%9Ctea+forests%E2%80%9D+to+%E2%80%9Ctea+gardens&source=bl&ots=3_FfCbYj0-&sig=ACfU3U03VGNWmyb4pgp4UskXlr7w-ZBkZQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiI5a62mKvlAhXyxlkKHV9wA3oQ6AEwAHoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=a%20significant%20linguistic%20shift%2C%20from%20%E2%80%9Ctea%20forests%E2%80%9D%20to%20%E2%80%9Ctea%20gardens&f=false
  13. Wheeler, J Talboys (1878). Early Recods of British India: A history of the English settlements in India. Calcutta: Newman. https://ia800208.us.archive.org/17/items/earlyrecordsofbr00wheeuoft/earlyrecordsofbr00wheeuoft.pdf
  14. William Ukers. (1935). All about tea; v.1. New York: Tea & Coffee Association Trade Journal Company. https://archive.org/details/AllAboutTeaV1/page/n9

Rajendra Dutt 1818-1889

Clay models, Peabody Museum, Salem: Seated on (from left) Rajendra Dutt, Doorgaprasad Ghose, and Raj Kissen Mitter

রাজেন্দ্র দত্ত ১৮১৮-১৮৮৯

Banias of the 19th century belonged to the top class urban society of Bengal. Rajendra Dutta, the great grandson of Akrur Dutta was born in a traditional Bania family and brought up in an environment of Cultural Revolution constantly adjusting himself with his changing society. Rajendra dedicated his life for the good of his people. The good he did for them was prodigious, but lasted for only a while, then lost in nothingness. Little we know about Rajendra to understand why he preferred pursuing his mission single-handed rather than to building institutions for quicker attainments of his purpose. He went door to door with his medicine bag to treat patients, but did not build a good hospital of standing. Whatever he did did privately, keeping no records for his future biographers to track down.

Dutta Family of Wellington

Rajender Dutt, c1850. Opaque watercolor on ivory By unknown Indian artist. Courtesy: Peabody Museum, Salem

Akrur Dutta, the illustrious great grandfather of Rajendra, was the founder of one of the most respectable Calcutta families, the family of ‘Dutts’ of Wellington Square. The ‘Dutts’, however, did never mind being called ‘Duttas’ interchangeably. Akrur was born in 1720 in Sonatikri village in Hooghly. At the age of 20 he came to Calcutta, and start a career of ‘dadni’, a contract merchant. Soon he shifted to sloop business with the support of Pritiram Marh, the father-in-law of Rani Rashmoni. Akrur turned out to be the best sloop contractor in Bengal by 1780.

After Akrur, his eldest son, Rammahan took up the rein from 1809 to speed their business competing with the British interests. He ran his sloop business profitably for a decade and then wisely decided to move out to shipping business. Rammahan Dutta became an upright flourishing ship merchant of Calcutta. The Duttas stand apart from most of their contemporaries in that they continued to thrive long after the English Company had stopped to patronize them. Ultimately he also decided to retire from business because of being continuously harassed by the British antagonism.

Rajendra, born in Calcutta in 1818, inherited the business acumen of his great grandfather, the legendary solook merchant Akrur Dutta, and of his ship merchant grandfather, Rammahan. His father Parbaticharan Dutta died prematurely leaving Rajendra to the care of their uncle Durgacharan Dutta, the eldest son of Rammahan. Rajendra and his uncle Kalidas, the two highly resourceful young men, firmly established themselves as outstanding banias of the American ships during 1850s. See Shubra Chakrabarti

The relations amongst the ‘Dutt’ family members can be readily ascertained by glancing through the family-tree headed by Okrur Dutt, (anglicized form of Akrur Dutta’):

familyTree_AkrurDutt

The family has lived together with their property in common and with no division for generations, the eldest member guiding the direction of all affairs. In 1849, there were ‘two hundred of them living together …. Most of them are free from any prejudices of caste, and, scorning the native superstition’. See: Norton’s letter

Upbringing

Parbaticharan Dutta died prematurely when his son Rajendra was a mere child. He grew under the care of Durgacharan, the eldest among his uncles. The first thing Durgacharan did was to get Rajendra admitted to the Dhuramtala Academy of David Drummond, a celebrated teacher of logical mind. Rajendra then joined Hindu College, where Vivian Derozio was one of his teachers. There he grew up among few nonconformist friends, branded ‘Young Bengal’. Completing his studies at Hindu College, Rajendra pursued study of medicine in Calcutta Medical College as an external student.
He studied medicine for equipping himself to provide his people with medical service and support gratis. Even when he was in business, Rajendra zealously maintained the desire for mitigating sufferings of his people irrespective of their class and creed. ‘Rajababu’ or ‘Rajen Dutta’ became a household name synonymous with ‘friend in need’.

Maritime Merchant

Indiaman owned by Dudley Leavitt Pickman and partners_orgnl

Friendship of Salem owned by Dudley Leavitt Pickman and partners

After the collapse of agency houses, the Calcutta banias were in the decline. A few powerful merchants like Dwarkanath Tagore, Motilal Sheal, Rustamji took up partnership business with the British. But when the Union Bank and the Car-Tagore Company collapsed at short intervals in January 1848, the banias thought it unwise for them to stick to trading business any more, and ventured into real estate.

RajenDutt_Partner_Dudley_Leavitt_PickmanRev

Dudley Leavitt Pickman Partner of Rajendra Dutt

Duttas, however, were among the few exceptions who sought commercial prosperity by alternative means. Soon they plunged into trading with American enterprises, and that helped them sustain in business for few more years. It seems likely that young Duttas received inspiration from the great achievement of Radhanath Mullick of Pataldanga, an upright ship merchant who had set up the first Indian dry dock in Calcutta after breaking away from partnership with the English. Moreover, Duttas might be tipped off by Pramathanath, the successor of Ramdulal Day, who happened to be a relative to Rajendra’s wife.
In 1842, William Bullard, came to Calcutta for trading as a partner of Bullard and Lee and continued his business for about ten years. Before Bullard and Lee wound up, Bullard and his agent ‘Rajender’ became personal friends. Rajendra also had occasions to treat Bullard with homeopathy. In 1852, another American firm, Stone, Silsbee and Pickman of Salem entered business with Duttas.  Rajendra and his uncle Kalidas proved to be highly creditable businessmen who in no time “became the banias of a number of American shipping firms such as George Auckland and Co., Atkinson Tilton and Co., Richard Lewis, Norman Brothers and B.R. Wheelnight and Co. At the same time, Duttas themselves founded a shipping company in collaboration with one Linzy (variant ‘Lintzy’), an American entrepreneur, and called it Dutts-Linzy and Company. They also invested in other concerns such as the Ganges Pilot and Co., Hooghly Tug and Co., Serampore Spinning and Weaving Co., and Rishra Yarn Co.” See: MB Rahman

The Duttas, both Kalidas and Rajendra, were entrusted with the responsibility of purchasing goods to be sent to America. Instead of silk and cotton piece goods, indigo, linseed, saltpetre, hide and jute were now in demand in America, the prices of which fluctuated a great deal according to the seasons and the availability of these goods in local markets, allowing high business gain. By August 1857 the joint venture of Kalidas and Rajendra came to an end. There was nothing to suggest a family dispute, or any other possible reasons. Rajendra now entered into business with the American shipper Linzy on a commission basis, which allowed greater profits and greater control on the visiting ships than acting as their bania. See Shubra Chakrabarti

As it appears from available sources, Rajendra carried on his business till early 70s.
The most important factors behind the survival of the Duttas were their ability to diversify and to move into related areas of commerce; and also their aptitude to evolve a sociable personal relationship among business partners that helped mutual success and continuity. Charles Eliot Norton, representative of Boston House, may provide best instances in support of this view.

Living Style & Social Grace
As Reflected in Letters of His Friend Chales Norton

Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse

Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse

Rajendra Dutta, like most of his family members, was of sociable nature. He had many friends. Some of his good friends were picked from his American business partners. Quite a few of them turned later into acclaimed academics. (See Sirajul)  They continued correspondence with Rajendra discussing different matters of their interest beyond business, as they did in Calcutta. ‘Norton a supercargo later turned academician’ wrote several letters to his family members and Boston friends, recounting the warmth of the friendship he enjoyed in company of Rajendra, and reflections on Rajendra’s lifestyle, his environment and obligations. (See Bean)  Norton wrote to his aunt, Miss Anna Ticknor, on October 21, ‘89 that he was invited to a native theatrical entertainment’ at Dutta’s house. The house he found, ‘. . ill-situated, large, and inelegant on the outside. Within, the rooms, which are generally very small, are built around an open square court; about the second story runs a verandah with which the upper chambers communicate. All looks uncared for and often dirty, as if there were an absence, as indeed there is, of refined taste and oversight.’
Norton sat on the verandah watching the episode of Nala and Damyanti being played. He was surprised that ‘the only mark of applause among the audience was the occasional throwing of some rupees tied in the corner of a handkerchief at the feet of the actors, and this was only done by the family or the guests in the verandah. It was only by their stillness and attention that the crowd below showed their approbation’. He thought the Hindu, ‘whose highest idea of happiness is inaction, can hardly understand that state of excitement which finds vent in a Western audience in a whirlwind of applause’. Norton misinterpreted the conduct, not being versant with the etiquette of Hindustani music, which never approves an applaud dispelling its lingering appeal. Hindustani music sounded ‘nasal and unmusical’ to Norton. But soon he gained some respect for the system, and came to know that “to a stranger the music is quite uninteresting, but I have no doubt it would become less so the more you heard, particularly if you knew anything of the science, for it is cultivated as a science, of Hindu music.” This he apparently learnt from his friend Rajendra.
Norton wrote to his sister Louisa on October 22, 1849 that the Dutta family was a very remarkable one; and added, “I treated them as gentlemen and as equals, we are now warm friends”. The Duttas, on the other hand, delightfully found their new friend’s interest ‘in the Hindus’, ‘their characteristic customs and habits’. Rajender had prepared a Hindu dress for Norton to wear on a special occasion, as he thought ‘that the natives would be pleased at the conformity to their customs’. His friend Norton found the dress a picturesque and most comfortable one for the climate.
On October 31, 1849, Charles Norton in a letter to his mother gave his scathing re-view on the Hindu rites of sacrificing that he experienced at Dutta’s house on the occasion of Jagadhatri Puja. He was there invited to see the ritual. The old Durgacharan, the head of the Dutta family, on his knees, bending head to the ground, made some silent prayer. When he rose, “a goat was brought forward, and its head being fastened was struck off at one blow by an attendant. Three or four musicians made a loud din with their tom-toms and cymbals; the blood of the goat was poured over the plates of offerings.” Describing the shocking sight he shared his immediate reactions with his mother. – “It is a fact strikingly characteristic of Hindu nature, of its aversion to change, of its want of spirit to break through the shackles that bind it. Rajender did not even pretend to regard the sacrifice with anything but contempt. . . .” (My emphasis) See: Norton

Philanthropy

In words of Shivnath Shastri, Rajendra had all the advantages that wealth and education could give him. See: Shibnath Rajendra dedicated all resources to help his people to live fit and well, with dignity. He studied medicine with this object, and rendered most extraordinary caring service for well-being of the people, irrespective of their class and faith.

Homeopathy
Finishing academic studies, Rajendra opted for medical science to fulfill his cherished ambition to relieve the sufferings of diseased humanity. Rajendra set up at his residence an allopathic dispensary in collaboration with the eminent physician Dr Durgacharan Banerjee. He earned reputation as a allopathic doctor. But he felt not so happy with the results of his allopathic treatment.Rajendra got involved in exploring alternative methods of treatment, and eventually found his answers in homeopathy. In 1864 he opened a charitable homeopathy dispensary, and earned wide reputation as a homeopathic practitioner in Calcutta society. He cured Pundit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar of his chronic ailment that baffled the leading allopath doctors. He also successfully treated a nasty gangrene developed on a leg of Rajah Radhakanta Deb, and had the rare privilege of attending the God-like personality, Sriramakrishna. The contribution of Rajen Dutta however was not limited to practising homeopathy but mothering the young science in India by promoting its capabilities, and reinforcing the drive for homeopathy by winning over confidence of other practitioners. He pushed up Dr C.F. Tonnere, helped him setting up a Homeopathy Institute. Rajendra also worked with French physician Dr. Thienette de Berigny when he was in Calcutta. It was a memorable day, when at the residence of Pearycharan Sircar, Rajendra had convinced the young Mahendra Lal Sircar, an MD, of the efficacy of Homeopathy by demonstration in presence of Dr Berigny and few students of Calcutta Medical College. See Pearycharan Jibanbritta. Dr Sircar, then a medical star of the Calcutta medical firmament, took to homeopathy under the tutelage of Rajen Dutta. (See: Collection on Carcinosimum/ By Mahender Singh, Jain.2003) During the latter part of his life, taking Dr Berigny with him, Rajendra went round visiting the sick, making no distinction of creed, caste, or rank. Such visits were not just professional, but friendly as well. He would sit by his patients in friendly chat; and arrange for their diet or any other necessities, if needed. As an instance of his caring attention to his patients, we may recall that Rajendra, in one of his visits to ailing Sriramakrishna in April 1886, happened to notice the wretched pair of sandals on his feet and took personal care to get them replaced with a new made-to-order pair. The sandal is now preserved in Belur Math as an object of worship. See Kathamrita
Rajendra Dutta has made a permanent place in history as the father of homeopathy in India. Whatever else he did for the good of his patients remain unexplored.

Hindu Metropolitan College
In 1854, the middle-class sentiment of the Calcutta gentlemen had a shock when Hira Bulbul, a well-known Baiji, wished to get her meritorious son admitted to Hindu College – the elite institution of Western education. Hira Bulbul presumably had some patrons to back her up, and Rajendra, a genuine admirer of her music (See Norton), and a champion of human dignity, could have been the likely sponsor of her move. But, other than his liberal character and his humanitarian principles, which his friend Charles Norton analytically described, nothing whatsoever was found to hold up any possibility of his supporting Hira’s cause. On the contrary, there remains a popular belief that it was Rajendra who really lead the protest movement against Hindu College and broke away with a good number of mainstream Hindu elites to establish the Hindu Metropolitan College. The only reason that might explain his disagreement with Hindu College was perhaps the serious lack of spiritual input for educating their boys.  Today, reviewing the situation with a wider perspective, the episode of Hira Bulbul appeared to be merely an accidental cause for founding the Hindu Metropolitan college in 1853, which was , actually, ‘opened by a knot of orthodox Hindus, as a sort of protest against the laxity displayed in the matter of religious teaching in the older institution.’ (My emphasis) See Life of Indian journalist

The Hindu Metropolitan College, the first national college in Calcutta, opened in the palatial house of Gopal Mullick at Sanduriapatty, with Radhakanta Deb as the President and Debendranath Tagore as the Secretary. Celebrities like Motilal Sheal, Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, and Rajendra Dutta were among its patrons. The college was fortunate to have Captain David Richardson as its Principal. Rajendra had a major role in setting up the College, and managing its affairs. He also had to shoulder its financial burden as well. Soon it earned reputation as an excellent institution of learning. Several men of eminence had their education here. Keshub Chandra Sen, Sambhu Chandra Mookherjee, Kristodas Pal were among the students of upper class. The college ran for a few years only. The reason of its discontinuation was thought by many as a natural outcome of the shift in the Government policy for admission to Hindu College. The new policy permitted no students other than sons of the Hindu community to get admission to the School section of the Hindu College. The policy of admission to College section however remained unchanged, allowing students of all castes and creeds. As we see today, this policy shift did not affect the senior section, where the final products of the College were groomed, and on whom the reputation of the College largely depended. Since there was no change in College level admission policy, we cannot reasonably guess why then the new policy be considered as the reason for declining importance of the Hindu Metropolitan College and its diminishing relevance to contemporary society. It looks like that the restriction imposed for school-level admission was no more than a compromise that suited both the sides at least for the time being.

Savitri Library

Savitri, a free circulating library was founded in 1879 in the Dutta house at Akrur Dutta Lane. It started with the donated books from the private library of Duttas enriched with contributions of scholarly family members, particularly Rajendra, an acknowledged book lover and book collector. He grew a fine collection out of the books gifted to him, ordered by him, and also received on exchange. (See Bean). His interest had no boundary. Harvard University gratefully acknowledged his gift of precious volumes of oriental literature. One may be pleasantly surprised to find him sending for a copy of Mrs Kirkland’s ‘The book of home beauty’ as early as in 1853.

Rajendra was in his fifties when Savitri started. His two cousins, Gobindalal and Kanailal Dutta, were in the forefront of all activities of the library and its literary and the cultural events conducted under the library banner. Illustrious literary personalities, like Bankimchandra, Chandranath Basu, visited Duttas’ courtyard to preside over the Library foundation day celebrations. Here at a public meeting called by the Swa-Dharma Samity, Rabindranath made his historical announcement on September 17, 1905 of the nationwide observation of Rakhibandhan Day in protest of the Government move for Bengal Partition. See:Basantipur Times

Savitri continued for many more years after Rajendra passed away. When the li-brary was finally closed its collections were donated to Sahitya Parishad.

Women Emancipation
Among other issues, women’s emancipation- ‘women’s rights, the plights of Hindu widows, and the need for women’s education’ –  was one of his chief concerns. The introduction of the sewing machine to Calcutta society in 1853 had been a significant news item in context of social change. The machine got imported for the first time from America by Rajendra Dutta (see: Benoy Ghose). The same year he brought Mrs. Kirkland’s ‘The book of home beauty’. His involvement in the move-ment against polygamy might be deeper than just putting signature on the joint petition, বহুবিবাহ প্রথা নিবারণার্থ আবেদনপত্র, signed by over two thousand citizens. He must not have ever forgotten his suffering of being a father to see his only daughter a child widow. It was expected that he had made some organized effort for the cause of women.
Above everything, Rajendra considered the improvement of the basic character of his people by restoring spirit of goodwill, desire for learning, patriotism, which have been eroded partly as a result of the abuse of foreign dominations, especially under the British rules. Some scholars, who intimately studied the Bengali society of the mid-19th century,  ‘distinguished a lower and higher type of Indian’. The demarcation hinged, not on wealth or even on education as such, but on whether privileged Hindus used their education and intelligence to raise the character of their people. ‘Of those who did, like Rajinder Dutt (sic), there seemed hardly a saving remnant’ See: Turner

A Tragic Hero of Bengal Renaissance

rajedraDutta

Rajendra Dutt. Clay model. Courtesy: Peabody Museum, Salem

Rajendra Dutta, an acknowledged protagonist of social upliftment had fought lifelong for the cause of the common people by democratic means. He continued unendingly with his struggle against social evils, like illiteracy, physical and mental sickness, cultural apathy. His Indianness, his unshaken loyalty to cultural tradition made Rajendra different from his Derozian classmates at Hindu School. He took the gradual path of social change as opposed to the revolutionary path of his Young Bengal friends. We may not however forget that Rajendra Dutta was after all a product of David Drummond, the brilliant teacher who fired his pupils’ mind with the culture of independent thinking. Drummond also had produced Henry Derozio, the fiery patriot who instilled the spirit of liberty, equality and freedom in the minds of his students at Hindu College.
Rajendra did never admit the ‘professed’ Derozians’ arrogant disregard for authority and tradition, as to him those were much too deep-rooted social system to throw out overnight without destroying the society itself. This conviction determined his way of negotiation with the realities of social discriminations and abuses and deprivations of their legitimate right of living useful life in good health with dignity.
It was his dogged fidelity to the tradition and authority that costed his mental peace and happiness in personal life, and even forced him to sacrifice his personal preferences of religious affinity. He had been a defenseless spectator of the bloody rite of animal sacrifice performed in his own house; and a condemned father who had to bless his only daughter marrying under-aged only to get back as a cursed widow-child.

Rajendra had also given up his right of embracing a faith of his choice. As it appears in some letters and journals of his contemporaries, Rajendra had every opportunity to come close to espousing progressive Christian or Brahmo ideologies. In 1854 Rajendra met Reverend Charles Brooks, a Unitarian pastor. Brooks was curious to know why Rajendra had not embraced Unitarianism in spite of so much keenness. Rajendra made it clear that it was because his mother would expect her last right be done by him. Next year, Rev. Charles Dall, the American Unitarian missionary stationed in Calcutta, considered Rajendra as one of the two ‘pioneers in the Unitarian cause’, the other one being Rajnarayan Basu. Rajendra was also closely connected with the Brahmo movement. The harsh comments of the veteran Brahmo, Rakhadas Haldar, that the new Brahmos were no better than Hindus, could not dampen his spirit. The promise of Brahmoism encouraged Rajendra to support Debendranath in Tattvabodhini Sabha. See: Lavan  ‘Dutta expressed his views on religion, in which he assails both Hindu and Christian orthodoxy’ (See Bean )  No matter where he belonged, what he believed, Rajendra pursued religiously his humanitarian labour of love through his life. In his prime time, during mid-19th century, the state of public morals was far from heartening. “The idea of truth seems extinct in the nation, and the higher qualities of the character are developed in very rare and uncertain instances.” Charles Norton, who later in life was regarded ‘the most cultivated man in the US’, wrote “I have seen but one native, whether Hindu, Mussulman, Parsee, or professed Christian, that I respect, — that one is my Calcutta friend, Rajender Dutt.” See Norton
To Norton, Rajendra was a tragic hero as he failed to bring about any lasting effect on the mind-set of his people, and his mission for improving the quality of life of his people and of the society remained a short-lived phase in history. His was a tragedy, because he knew experientially of incorrigible elements of national character, nonetheless never stopped midway, like a Sisyphus.

This is an input for inspiring research

Calcutta Armenians, Calcutta, c1660

S.S._Catherine_Apcar_c._1900

কলকাতা আর্মানীসমাজ, কলকাতা, c১৬৬০-

The Armenians had trading relations with India from ancient time, and known as the “Merchant Princes of India”. Initially they settled in Emperor Akbar’s court. Some came to Serampore and Calcutta to settle there, supposedly under the invitation of Job Charnock. The recently deciphered inscription on Rezabeebeh’s tomb in the Church of Nazareth, upsets the accepted chronicle of British settlement in Calcutta. The text reveals that Rezabeebeh, wife of the late ‘Charitable Sookias’ had lived in Calcutta until she died on July 11, 1630 – about 60 years before Charnock settled.

The Armenians were among the first trading communities of Calcutta. The city still bears the footprints of the vibrant community thrived in her soil. There exists a locality in Barabazaar named Armanitola where the Armenians stayed initially, and nearby a street that bears the name Armenian Street. The Armenians had also populated an area close to Free School Street, called Armani-para, or the neighbourhood of Armenians. Armenians concentrated first in North Calcutta areas, and when the area became crowded, they moved to the Central Calcutta and thereafter toward South Calcutta where they owned almost whole of Queen’s Park and Sunny Park.ArmeniansOfCalcutta1909

The Armenian community of Calcutta might be divided into three classes in the chronological order. The Armenians, who were direct descendents of the original settlers, distinguished themselves with their upbringing in a unique socio-cultural environment of the birth place of Bengal Renaissance, backed by English Education. This millue of Armenians differed from their forefathers and from all other contemporary Armenians primarily in respect of their choice of professions. These Armenians were Calcuttans in a sense, and may be categorized as ‘Calcutta Armenians’. Then there was a large group of Armenians came from Julfa to stay in Calcutta during the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. These Julfa Armenians, with a traditional mind-set, engaged themselves in trade and commerce activities. Besides the ‘Calcutta Armenians’, and the Julfa Armenians’, there was ‘Charmahalis’ the third group of Armenians in Calcutta. Charmahalis, a clannish and ambitious lot, emigrated from the Armenian villages of Charmahal during early 20th century. At first the Armenian colonies were not very big. As found in the records of the Colonial Office the number of Armrnians in Calcutta is 464 in 1814, 480 in 1815, 505 in 1836, and 777 in 1901 Census. See Montgomery Martin. Statistics of the Colonies

The Calcutta Armenians were usually bracketed with Anglo-Indians because of their similarity in respect of their fair complexion, spoken English, European lifestyle, and their personal names that sound alike. The Armenian surnames had generally an ending ‘ian’ or ‘yan’. The Calcutta Armenians shortened or modified their names as for example, Khojamalian became Khojamall, Grigoryan became Gregory, Abgaryan became Apcar. As for the first names, men and women liberally used European versions of their names. ‘It is worth mentioning that Indian surnames as Seth, Vardhan, Kochhar, Narayan, Nair, and Gauhar have an Armenian origin…’ See: Armanians in Calcutta/ Susmita Bhattacharya, 2009

With time, the social structure of the Armenian community changed. A purely mercantile community at the beginning, they took opportunities for diversifying their enterprises and became owners of merchant ships, collieries, real estates, racehorses, jewelries, and the kind of business. Their successful ventures in money making and their philanthropic contributions made them important members of the Calcutta society. The lifestyle of the Calcutta Armenians of later generations changed enough to accept new professions to become noted scholars, doctors, lawyers, architects. In their construction business, Armenians set a high standard for private and public buildings. They built hundreds of residential houses, public buildings, mansions and palaces all over Calcutta. It was the Armenian architects who took leading part in converting Calcutta into a ‘city of palaces’, where they built every other landmark buildings, like Park Mansion, Queen’s Mansion, Harrington Mansion, Nizam Palace, Grand Hotel, and many others. Armenians also built unique churches, educational institutions, ferry ghats and bathing ghats and excavated tanks as well.

The Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth, an Armenian Apostolic church is located in the northwest corner of Barabazar, and is called “Mother Church of the Indian Armenians”. It is possibly the oldest church in the Calcutta built in 1724 on the burial ground of the community by Agha Nazar after a fire destroyed the previous Armenian church that had been built on the land in 1688.armenian-nazareth--church The Holy Nazareth structure is one of three Armenian churches in Calcutta; the other two are Saint Mary’s Church and the church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.

The most significant gift of the Armenians to the city was the Armani-ghat, or, Armenian Ghat that stood on the river bank till recently with its beautiful structure, reminding their socio-economic relationship with the city life. The Ghat was constructed in 1734, on river edge adjacent to the old Howrah Bridge, by Manvel Hazarmall, better known locally as Huzoorimal, to facilitate shipment of goods from foreign shores. This was where the Eastern Railways, during 1854 – 1874, had their ‘Calcutta Station and Ticket Reservation Room’ for the passengers to buy train tickets and cross the Ganges on Railway owned steamers/ launches to board their train from platform at Howrah. Manvel Hazarmall also gave away several bighas of land at Kalighat where he constructed a pucka ghat near the temple, and excavated a large tank at Boitakkhana which went by his name till filled up. A street, Huzurimal Lane, named after him still exists in Nebutala area.

Personal details of Manvel Hazarmall are little known, besides that Aga Hazarmall Satoor was his father’s name, and that Manvel was wealthy and influential nobleman friend and subsequently executor of Omichand, the wealthiest native resident of the town in his day. The other fact we came to know was that the beautiful belfry serving as a clock-tower of the Nazareth Church, was built in 1734 by Mavel Hazarmall, following the wish of his father, Aga Hazarmall Satoor died the same year and buried there.

Among those Armenian families settled in Calcutta immediate after Hazarmalls, the most reputable was the Apcars, originally from New Julfa. Aratoon Apcar was the first Apcar settled in India, He landed to Bombay as a boy of sixteen, founded there Apcar & Co. and in1830 moved to Calcutta where he made his fortune. Arratoon’s second son, Seth Apcar was the first Armenian Sheriff of Kolkata. The youngest son, Alexander Apcar was the Consul for Siam. Alexander’s son, Apcar Alexander Apcar, a keen cricketer, was president of the Calcutta Turf Club, and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce. Arratoon Apcar’s younger brother, Gregory Apcar was noted for his charitable work, particularly to the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian College, which was founded by another noble Armenian, Asvatoor Mooradkhan in 1821.

The same year The Armenian Philanthropic Academy was founded seemingly by Arratoon Apcar and others at 358 Old China Bazar Street, with a mission to educate children in the language and faith of their forefathers, without which their ethnicity could not have been so faithfully preserved in the land of their adoption. See: Seth.Armenians in India,1937

The painting featured at the top is a portrait of the ship, ‘S.S. Catherine Apcar’ – an oil on canvas by a late 19th Century School of oil painter, apparently unsigned. c1893. It was a passenger vessel, built in 1892 by D & W Henderson Ltd Glasgow for Apcar Brothers Calcutta, who was the owner until 1912 when BI Company bought it. The vessel was scrapped in 1929.

The Hon’ble Company’s Botanic Garden, Calcutta, 1787

বোটানিকাল গার্ডেনস, শিবপুর, কলকাতা, ১৭৮৭

The idea for a botanical garden was first tabled in the summer of 1786 by Robert Kyd, a Secretary to the Board in the Military Department of Fort William, as a potential safeguard against famine. But it soon became something much bigger and more ambitious.

KydColRobert

Colonel Robert Kyd

Ten years earlier he had visited the western borders of Assam, and from there he had brought young plants of a species of cinnamon growing wild there. Within the next few years other specimens had been obtained from Bhutan, and still other plants of the true cinnamon from Ceylon. All these plants were “deposited in the Governor-General’s garden,” the garden of Warren Hastings’ old house in Alipore. There the plants throve very well to prove their successful transplantation to Bengal. As Ceylon and the profitable cinnamon trade was at that time in the hands of the Dutch, the Board of Directors readily agreed to a proposal which seemed to promise a prospect of successful competition, the proposed garden was sanctioned, and Colonel Kyd was appointed honorary superintendent, a post which he held till his death. See

Botanic Garden House -1775

Shalimar, the house where Col. Kyd lived. A lithograph by Charled D’Oyly

In a letter dated 20 November 1787, Kyd sets out his vision for the garden to be part of the wider pursuit of scientific knowledge. Gradually the East India Company (EIC) did begin to actively support Kyd’s initiatives. The botanical garden in Bengal was one of the first instances of this support and it made the Gulf a part of an expanding European scientific enquiry that Kyd hoped might ‘add to the Fund of General Knowledge’. In response to an official request, the EIC Resident, Edward Galley, received in October 1787 from Persian Gulf a gift of six exotic plants. Besides the ‘Bussora Date Tree’ and the ‘famous Persian Tobacco’, there was also a tree that produces Varnish Gum.

Basra Date Palm, the Botanical Garden in Bengal--photo-430_8_0018_webcrop_2

Persian Flora

BassoraPalmDateForBotanicalGardenCal

Basra Date Palm

The garden was established in 1787 with its official name ‘The Hon’ble Company’s Botanic Garden, Calcutta’. Subsequently, it was renamed ‘The Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta’ in the early 1860s. This amazing garden is laid out on a sprawling 272 acres of lush greenery on the west bank of river Hooghly. Over 12,000 trees and shrubs belonging to 1400 species together with thousands of herbaceous plants are in cultivation in the open in 25 Divisions, Glass houses, Green Houses and conservatories. The best-known landmark of the garden is The Great Banyan, an enormous banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) that is reckoned to be the largest tree in the world, at more than 330 metres in circumference. They are also famous for their enormous collections of orchids, bamboos, palms, and plants of the screw pine genus (Pandanus). See

The featured image above is of the Great Banyan Tree at botanical gardens, Calcutta – a black and white photograph (albumen print) by Bourne & Shepherd. Undated. Source: Smithsonian Institution