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.


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.




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


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.


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.


  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
  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
  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
  16. Quora, Opinion survey (2015).Why most of the Indians like tea but not coffee? Quora Portal. Ap 14 2015
  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


A triple portrait of the East India Company ship Royal Charlotte – Indiaman (1758-1770. Oil on canvas by Robert Dodd. Couresy: National Maritime Museum,



নবজাগরণের যাত্রাপথে ঐতিহাসিক ধর্মতলা স্ট্রিট

As early as in May 1772 when Dean Mohamet (1784–1851) arrived, Calcutta was already a major center of commerce for the English East India Company, prosperous and entrepreneurial. [Dean Mahomet] Calcutta was then just a township desperately in need to grow into a city to fulfill the common ambition of the Company Bahadur and the British colonialism under the administration of Lord Clive and his immediate followers. It is interesting to note that the Industrial Revolution, the critical turning point in modern history, had its origin in village Sutanuti cotton market that allured the British traders to settle and exploit. The wave of Industrial Revolution, which had started a decade ago in Britain with manufacturing of textiles, reached the shore of river Hughly by then, and let its impact felt in the planning for Town Calcutta expansion beyond the up-coming Fort William at Govindpore. Its chronicle gradually discloses a co-relation between industrialization and urbanization.

It all started with the initiation of the new Fort that set off huge mobilization of the Europeans southward and of the natives of Govindpore to Kumartooly, Sobhabazar, and Burrabazar at north and to Taltola at east. Both the parties had to spend lengthy time experimenting with new realities before they settled themselves in changed environment. That was the time since when new occupations being introduced as the unheard-of opportunities coming up as a result of scientific inventions and industrial diversification. Calcutta in the process of urbanization started experiencing effect of industrialization. The external economic orientation of Calcutta to England emerged in18th and 19th centuries, provided the young city with an industrial prospect. It took however pretty long time to develop some minimum indigenous technological systems of production, transportation, construction, and the logistics required for large concentrations of people in urban areas. [Ghose] The progress slowed down because of the typical political apathy and cultural lethargy of colonial Calcutta.


Until 1813 the commercial relations between India and England was free from industrial capitalist exploitation. Trade with India had been relatively small. Its huge potential, however, was foreseen by the industrial capitalist who wasted no time to frame policies for maximizing capital gain to feed British machine industry. They defined their policy with the objective, set out by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, to make India an agricultural colony of British capitalism, supplying raw materials and buying manufactured goods. British rule brought the destruction of traditional handicrafts as well as their technical proficiency, carried off plunder, and revenue extraction. [Sarkar] By 1814 the Company servants themselves had begun to invest their capital in Agency Houses born out of an alliance between the private trading interests of the Company’s servants and the Free Merchants. This unseemly alliance had been continuing since early days of East India Company. We understand from a scholarly note on the Company’s ship Royal Charlotte – Indiaman (1758-1770) featured at the top, that the Company placed bulk orders for official goods with the ships’ captains and supercargoes encouraging the flourishing network of private trade that supported the regular inflow of luxury commodities into Europe. This form of ‘regulated corruption’ was sanctioned through indulgences in Company policy. [Davies]

Despite all the mighty negative forces driven by the political machinery, industrialization happened in Bengal as well as other provinces in India at uneven pace mostly on European initiatives, excepting few instances of Indian entrepreneurship. Calcutta and its neighborhood were on the threshold of a small scale industrial revolution. The local business community embarked upon a broad range of steam-powered industries. Calcutta became ‘a seat of numerous extensive manufactories, vying with many British cities.’ [Stocqueler] The scenario changed in the second half of the 19th century. Faster transportation, and a uniform legal framework, in particular, expanded possibilities of capital and labour movements. ‘The Empire encouraged factor-market integration, increased the scope of public-private partnership and the separation of banking from trading and of trading from manufacturing. This diversification of risk was a key impetus to the industrialization drive.’ [Ray] It was the English who exploited the opportunities most. The natives of Calcutta missed it almost because of their so called entrepreneurial backwardness – a deeply-seated socio-cultural attitude. ‘Power over land, not mercantile or industrial enterprise, was the economic hallmark of social statuses.’ Trade was associated with low ranking castes, Brahmins and Kayasthas considered only the intellectual and administrative professions as proper occupations. Thus the indigenous Bengali elite turned its back on business and left modern industry and international commerce in Calcutta to Europeans. [Sarkar] Neither the shrewdness of colonial policy nor the apathy of general Bengalese toward business could stop Industrialization Revolution that brought forth radical and innovative changes in manufacturing and transportation from manual to mechanical mode. We may note in this context that it all had started with the bonanza of British textile industry at the cost the death of Indian cotton hand mill tradition. The first textile industry in India, Bowreah Cotton Mills, was established in 1818 by British at Fort Gloster near Calcutta; the first jute mill at Rishra started spinning in 1855 when they brought its machinery from Dundee. Industrialization produced a new market economy, and most importantly, a new society desirous of using innovative products and transports to set the revolution go.


Dhurrumtollah Bazar – a section of the coloured lithograph depicting Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart created before 1838 (pub. 1848) by Sir Charles D’Oyly. Courtesy Heidelberg U Univ.


Walking around the Dhurrumtollah Street we may still find few footprints of Industrial Revolution that modernized the ‘process of manufacturing consumer goods and capital goods and of building infrastructure in order to provide goods and services to both individuals and businesses.’ The industrial orientation was discernable more markedly in the new township around the Fort covering the entire southern expansion up to Surman’s Park including villages of Govindpore, Birji, Chowringhee and sections of Colinga – the area commonly understood today in terms of east and west Dhurrumtollah. That time Taltola, or Talpooker, with its segment Jaunbazar was an undeveloped swampy land of Colinga mouza nearest to ‘Bazar of Govindpore on the site of Fort’ (also referred to as ‘Dhurrumtollah Bazar). The only landmark it had was a shrine of Dharmathakur, or the Dharmatala. A road to Dharamtala that known to exist in 1762 as a causeway immediate north of Dingabhanga or Jala Colinga was reinforced with Birbhum gravel in 1796 just after the new Dhurrumtollah Bazar established. [Setton-Kerr]


As we have already noticed, during the time of expansion of the Town Calcutta and construction of the new Fort, there had been massive mobilization from all directions. The Europeans moved toward south, the Govindpore villagers toward north and east where the later had to take up new occupation for living. In addition, there had been a steady inflow of people from outside India of varied cultural background and expertise for doing business or working as professionals or employees in government and private institutions. The uprooted Govindpore folks gained prospect of living in civil areas and availing new job opportunities in exchange of homes they lost. The opportunities were not limited to serving the European and the Native aristocracy as domestics, but also in public places and at the Fort site as coolies, road-labourers, or palanquin-bearers who in those early days were customarily natives of Bengal. So far we understand, the Hindu settlers from Govindpore had no serious involvement in the process of developing Dhurrumtollah into a neighborhood of historical importance. In our collective mind, the area of ‘Dhurrumtollah’ today no more includes the eastern part of Jaunbazar, which found its own identity after Pritaram Das had built his palatial house in 1810s – the hallowed site where Rani Rashmoni, his daughter-in-law, lived her distinguished life of spiritual, social and political significance. As we conceive, Dhurrumtollah of recent time comprises the entire area between the Lindsay Street and the Dhurrumtollah Street. The road was widened up in 1836 allowing the adjacent land to develop fast into a modern colony next to Chowringhee, but unlike Chowringhee, it was for people of all shades, not white alone. So to speak, such liberal inclusion was a striking exception to the administrative directions pronounced for removing ‘native inhabitants from the black town and to build houses for themselves on another spot, at a greater distance from the fort’. We gather from the English traveler, Edward Ives that this was ‘owing to the governor and council’s resolution in consequence of Colonel Clive’s advice, to enlarge and well secure Fort William, which could not be done, whilst the Indian town was standing. [Ives]

The White Town concentrated around the Tank Square. The region centering on the Govindpore Fort, including Chowringhee, Park Street, Dharmatala, Esplanade, formed the European part of the town. [Wallace] Dharmatala, though commonly designated as a European district, can hardly justify so by its mixed populace and liberal lifestyle, which has been encouraged to diversify further culturally and economically, keeping pace with the changes taken place in global societies through ever increasing Calcutta connections.


Of the Nations Most Known in Hindoostan. Solvyns, Les Hindous, Vol. III. 1811

The crowd of Dhurrumtollah Street is always different from anywhere else in Calcutta – “full of the People of India, walking in family parties and groups and confidential couples. And the people of India are neither Hindu nor Mussulman — Jew, Ethiop, Gueber, or expatriated British” (like James Augustus Hickey, Justice Le Maitre, or a David Drummond). “They are the Eurasians, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them in Dhurrumtollah now.” [Kipling] Because of the presence of British insiders, Dhurrumtollah milieu is essentially more inclusive than the grey town Murgihatta, and may be justly called a global town. On this road, Rev. C Cesry found in 1881 many faiths, many occupations, and many institutions existing next to each other. [Cesry] The road becomes congested with swelling population and their multifarious activities – commercial, professional, humanitarian, devotional, and recreational.

Calcutta may aptly be called ‘a city of shop-keepers’ if ‘getting and spending’ proves to be the essence of its economic life. This was what Sambhoo Churn wrote in Mookherji’s Magazine in 1861. The most respectable of its inhabitants were merchants, and the next might be the judiciary and law practitioners in Calcutta. Those days their profession found highly profitable. So were the medical practitioners. Englishmen in those days carried on other professionals as well. They were jurymen. Besides, they were engaged in different trades as coach-making, watch-making, tavern-keeping, tailoring, wine-dealing, shoe-making, hair-dressing, tanning and the like. [Biswas]

A glance through the street directories of late 18th century or early 19th century Calcutta should show the changing pattern of occupations in Dhurrumtollah Street with “addresses of Engineers, Under¬takers, Chemists, Doctors, Midwifes, Photographers, Professors of Music, Horse Doctors, Auctioneers, Jewelers, Book-sellers, Publicans, Barbarians, Scythians, Bond and Free. [Cesry] There were more, most importantly the teachers who contributed singularly to awakening of a new Bengal. The role of Dhurrumtollah Academy of David Drummond and certain other extraordinary institutions carried out gently their grand missions on this rowdy street of ‘shops and bazars’. To Rudyard Kipling the street was like Hammersmith High¬way – the main shopping street in Hammersmith, London.

As we have elsewhere discussed at length about the old bazars of Dhurrumtollah, including the Chandney Market that still exists. [puronokolkata] The old Chandney was altogether a different class of market. It was set to cater raw materials like cloth lengths, threads and needles, or tools like scissors, knives, hammers or a fishing rod, but barely any ready-made consumer goods like garment to wear or fishes to eat. It was also a good shopping centre for household wares. I believe it still continues with the tradition to a large extent.  This apart, I like to draw your attention to the variety of specialty shops in Dhurrumtollah locality that sale, repair and offering services and products of modern technology.

Madan Theatre by Night” by Gaganendranath Tagore. Held at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Image Courtesy: NGMA

There was no dearth of photographic studios, camera shops, professional cameramen, gramophone players, and music records, projectors and films, and above all there was the pioneering Indian cinema production company, the Madan Theatres to show how very receptive the ambience of Dhurrumtollah has been to innovative merchandise. Even today one goes there for a treasure hunt for rare music records, and some finds the master mechanic for gramophones and cameras in its lanes and bi-lanes. Such experience veritably takes us back to the old days of Dhurrumtollah.


Camel Carriage. Coloured lithograph by F. Jones after Captain G.F. Atkinson. 1860

The scenario Kipling described did not grow overnight but an outcome of a slowly built tradition since 1762 – the time when Dhurrumtollah Street was a muddy road frequented now and then by animal-drawn carts pulled by bullocks, horses, and possibly elephants and camels.
The road became wider in 1867; building plots were numbered in 1843 and revised in 1869. Along with the continuous improvement of the Street and its surroundings, changes take place not only in mode of transportation, or form of vehicle, but in people’s lifestyle and the design of the institutions within the orbit of Dhurrumtollah Street.

Dhurrumtollah Street is, as we see, one of the few roads of the 18th century Calcutta that may claim to be a distinctive reserve for augmenting the history of making Calcutta a modern City out of the colonial ‘Town Calcutta’. The Street carries the traces of the socio-cultural progress on the route to urbanization basking in the glow of Industrial Revolution. It turned up in Dhurrumtollah rather than in any other part, because of two reasons, I believe. First, it was a free society and a learning society, continuously adjusting itself with new ideas and technological inventions. Second, the resolute role of institutions and few little-known, liberal forward-looking people that made it all happened.

CHAPIN PUMPING ENGINE.Dwarkanath imported this technology from England for his business ventures

Contrary to this view, there is a general notion that ‘the early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in the expansion of Western education, culminating in development of science, institutional education, and social reforms in the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance.’ [Bengal Chamber] When there is no denying that India owes to the British for the revival of its heritage, the British had little to contribute to the formation of the liberal spirit of Bengal Renaissance simply because they never had such values in their national character founded on the rock of convention.

Neither the contemporary business world had much to effect a change in Bengali mind-set. We know many illustrious names of the 19th century business and industrial leaders, British and Indian, from Andrew Yule to Octavius, from Dwarkanath to P C Ray. Among the Indian entrepreneurs there were many great public figures but hardly any persuasive leader capable of being an agent of social change. When Dwarkanath launched his firm, Young Bengal found a hero, and expected the Bengalis to ‘compete with the nations of Europe and America, not only in English literature, but in fine arts, sciences and commerce’. [Sarkar]

There had been however many renowned adorable renaissance men, including foreigners like a David Hare, and many more unacknowledged people who readied the Calcutta society at large with their open and inquisitive mind imbibed with liberal values. The society was shaped by those extraordinary minds behind the scene that produced leaders to instill new values in public mind, and influence politics of the land. While the industry, the political power, the social elites all had their respective roles to back the new society to flourish, essentially it was the work of the unaccounted activists – the mind-makers.

To illustrate my views I shall present few cases, starting with Chandney Bazar, an obscured offshoot of the industrial age. It will be followed by profiles of some magnificent men who left their invisible signatures on some very important chapters of Calcutta history leading to Bengal Renaissance. They came from dissimilar walks of life at different points of time – two horsemen, one Caribbean the the other French by birth, a atheist teacher of Scottish birth, and one Brahmoite  American Unitarian activist. Hopefully, you would enjoy their stories so far unheeded, when come out on puronokolkata pages before long.

[Anonymous]. 1816. Sketches of India; or, Observations Descriptive of the Scenary, Etc in Bengal. London: Black, Purbury and Allen. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=tEcVAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Bengal Chamber of Commerce. 2016. Discover Bengal: A Guidebook Of Business Prospects In West Bengal. Calcutta: Bengal Chamber. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwi77uKz1PnhAhUk63MBHQ8vDkYQFjAAegQIAxAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bengalchamber.com%2Feconomics%2Fdiscover-bengal.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1V8wDJ0_pSUMaxTwj7VrZ9.
Bengal Hurkaru. 1838. Bengal Directory and Annual Register 1838. Calcutta: Samuel Smith. https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.14012/page/n5.
Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calcutta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376.
Cesry, Rev. C. 1881. Indian Gods Sages And Cities. Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.128152.
Chunder, Bholanauth. 1869. Travels of a Hindoo; to Various Parts of Bengal and Upper India; Vol.1. London: Trubner. https://archive.org/stream/travelsahindoot00chungoog#page/n9/mode/2up.
Davies, Pauline. 2013. East India Company and the Indian Ocean Material World at Osterley, 1700-800, East India Company at Home (May 2013). https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/osterley-park-middlesex/osterley-case-study-winds-of-trade/
Dean Mahomet. 1997 The Travels of Dean Mahomet: an eighteenth-century journey through India; ed. By Michael Fischer. California: UCPress,1997 https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520207172/the-travels-of-dean-mahomet
Forbes, James. 1834. Oriental Memoirs: A Narrative of Seventeen Years Residence in India; Vol.2. 2nd ed. London: Bentley, Richard. https://archive.org/details/orientalmemoirs00montgoog/page/n10.
Ghose, Benoy. 1960. “The Colonial Beginnings of Calcutta Urbanisation without Industrialisation.” The Economic Weekly, no. August 13: 1255–60. http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/1960_12/33/the_colonial_beginnings_of_calcuttaurbanisation_without_industrialisation.pdf?0=ip_login_no_cache%3Dfc8386086015fc6e2268f71b76bece16.
Kipling, Rudyard. 1899. City of Dreadful Night. New York: Alex. https://archive.org/details/citydreadfulnig02kiplgoog/page/n7
Puronokolkata. (2018). Durrumtollah And Its Old Bazars. Retrieved from https://puronokolkata.com/2018/05/08/dhurrumtollaha-bazars/
Roy, Tirthankar. 2014. “Trading Firms in Colonial India.” Business History Review 88 (1): 9–42. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007680513001402.
Sarkar, Suvobrata. 2013. “Bengali Entrepreneurs and Western Technology in the Nineteenth Century: A Social Perspective.” Indian Journal of History of Science 48 (3): 447–75. http://www.insa.nic.in/writereaddata/UpLoadedFiles/IJHS/Vol48_3_4_SSarkar.pdf.
Sen, Amit pseud. [i.e. Susobhan Sarkar] ]. 1947. Notes on Bengal Renaissance. Bombay: People’s pub. https://archive.org/details/notesonthebengal035527mbp/page/n6.
Setton-Karr, W. S. 1865. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes; Vol.2. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.44506/2015.44506.Selections-From-Calcutta-Gazettes–Vol-2#page/n3/mode/2up/search/beerbhoom.
Stocqueler, J.H. 1845. Handbook of India: A Guide to the Stranger and the Traveller, and a Companion to the Resident. 2nd ed. London: Allen. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=SelHAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA348&lpg=PA348&dq=a+seat+of+numerous+extensive+manufactories,+vying+with+many+British+cities.&source=bl&ots=O-V1sg-gc6&sig=ACfU3U1bRKpuM94feKVkwAc3A7wwaWsOPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi8hbmhlO3hAhWKP48KHYEm.
Wallace, Robert Grenville. 1822. Fifteen Years in India; or, Sketches of a Soldier’s Life Being an Attempt to Describe Persons and Things … U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. London: Longman. https://doi.org/10.1016/0003-6870(73)90259-7.

Hanging Punkaha, Calcutta, c1786-90


টানা পাখা, কলকাতা, c১৭৮৬-৯০
The heat of the Indian summers scared the English. Before the advent of punkhas and American ice in early the 19th century, the English dreaded the oppressive heat and miseries of the hot season. As the description continues in the Putnams monthly of 1857* – In every room of every house in Calcutta a punka swings from the ceiling. Hanging Punkah (or Punka, or Punkha ) is a long, light frame of wood, covered with long-cloth or fancy paper, having a flounce of muslin along its lower edge. It is suspended from hooks by three or four ornamental cords. Then another cord passes from the body of the punka over a brass wheel on the wall, and so through the wall, and over another such wheel on the opposite side, to the hand of a punka-wallah, who squatting on the floor, pendulates his charge continually, or so long as the apartment is occupied. * The World of New York [pp. 220-224] In: Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art Volume 0008 Issue 44 (August 1856),
The side where the man pulls is the one that gets the air most vigorously circulated, for the reason that it is brought forward with a certain force, and goes back by its own weight. The people here call the one where the man pulls the Bombay side of the punka, and the other the Bengal side. We asked why it was, and they told us that when the south-west monsoon blows it comes with its full force from the sea upon the shores of the Bombay presidency; crossing the country and going over the mountains to Bengal, it expends its strength and becomes very weak. Therefore you see how the Bombay and Bengal sides of the punka get their names.Punkah-Colonel'schamber
Here is a comical description of the effects of Bombay-side pulls that GF Atkinson narrated in 1895 –If you go inside the room, you will practically experience the effects by finding your hat blown off into an adjacent corner, and your hair blown indiscriminately and unpleasantly about your eyes and face! And as there is a corresponding thermantidote hurling its Boreas blasts from the opposite verandah, and a superpending punkah, which waves recklessly and defiantly above your head, you only need a current from the ground to be involved in a general hurricane—a perfect cyclone. So what with the tatties—those moistened furze screens that close up every other aperture—” Our Colonel ” has unquestionably the coolest house at Kabob. And we have opportunities, many and oft, for appreciating it, as ” Our Colonel ” gives no end of dinner-parties; and the claret and beer submitted to the refrigerating influences of his ingenious devices are soothing and appeasable to the desiccated throats on a summer’s eve.Curry & Rice by GF Atkinson. See6.punkhawallah
The punkah-wallah, the man who pulls the huge fans with which every office, dining-room, parlor, and church is provided, is a well-known character not in Calcutta but also in Madras, as in all Southern India. This occupation often descends from father to son, for many generations, and the true punkahwallah by instinct and training develops expertise. Usually they charged three annas per day and three annas per night per man.
It is learnt from Echoes from Old Calcutta , that the hanging punkah came in between 1784 and 1790, and it was originally introduced into this country by the Portuguese. By 1900 the punkah was becoming a big white elephant for the shrinking salaries of the white man. Ashcroft writing for the electrical world magazine explains – The electric desk fan and the electric ceiling fan have sealed the fate of the punkah; its oscillations are becoming feebler and feebler, and will soon entirely cease.
The oil on canvas,’Tom Raw Between Smoke and Fire’, featured at the top was painted by Charles D’Oyly in c1820