CHANDNEY BAZAAR: A Neglected Element of Change toward Social Awakening of Bengal

Artist: George Francklin Atkinson. c.1850s Source: ‘Curry & Rice’ authored by the Artist.

 

চাঁদনি বাজার

SHOPKEEPER’S CITY, CALCUTTA
Calcutta in the 18st century was a new city with enormous mercantile resources. The respectable of its inhabitants were merchants. Men were getting involved in wealth-getting and wealth-spending activities – an economic life led by the shopkeepers. [Biswas]. Calcutta earned the moniker SHOPKEEPER’S CITY even before modern bazaars came up in 1783.
Half a century later, it was the improved company policies and the growing public interest in bazaar farming, Calcutta was looked upon as a great city for living comfortably with foods and drinks and all that facilitate city life. Emma Roberts wonders in late 1830s that there is “perhaps no place in which everything essential for an establishment can be obtained so easily as at Calcutta, carriages and horses are to be hired at a not unreasonable rate, palanquins by the day or half day, and servants of all descriptions of a very respectable class also by the day, these people are called ticca, and if recommended by individuals of known good character, may be trusted. A whole house may be furnished from the bazaars in the course of a few hours, with articles either of an expensive or an economical description, according to the means of the purchaser, a well filled purse answering all the purposes of Aladdin’s wonderful lamp. Never was there a place in which there are greater bargains, for if sales happen to be frequent, the most costly articles, carriages, horses, &c., are to be had for a mere song.” [Roberts]

Visibly, the life in Calcutta was then being supported by a range of service providers from giant merchant houses to feriwalas on foot. There were big firms who acted as auctioneers or commission agents, like Messrs King, Johnson and Pierce; Mouat and Faria; Stewart and Brown; Tulloh & Co. Most of them were in business for decades selling and commissioning wide range of articles from black bear and rabbit skin tippets to Persian attar or essence of roses to cider and other kinds of intoxicating drinks to guns to soda water to Madeira wine. The Europeans, it seems, also engaged themselves, apart from trading in manufacturing businesses dealing with carpentry, glass work, gun making, washing and mangling, distillery, jewelry, coach-making, etc. and catered essentially to the European population residing in the city. [Basu]

CALCUTTA BAZAARS
In maps, old and modern, the entire city of Calcutta may be seen dotted with bazaars, private and public. These bazaars are permanent markets or street-markets consisting of open shops grew mostly as veritable zamindaries for their owners – mostly Indians and few Europeans. Normally bazaars cater the daily necessities, like fresh vegetables, fishes, meats, groceries and stationary items, and also store ready consumer goods. Besides selling of products, there are other classes of ‘bazaar people’ who sell small services of varied kinds, like money-changers, bookbinders, stationers, cobblers, cabinet-makers, umbrella makers, petty agents, leeches-men, idol-sellers, retailers of saccharine dainties, and general dealers do regular business in these bazaars and thoroughfares.’ These are the folks who frequented these bazaars as traders and artisans to share space with regular product shoppers to sustain their livelihood. [Ghose] To a large extent, these job-vendors and artisans found their place in bazaar settlement in response to the changing pattern of consumer behavior in colonial societies. The character of the bazaar and its sales likewise shift toward new varieties of products. Emma was pleased to discover:
“European vegetables may now be purchased in the native bazaars. Indian gardeners have found their account in cultivating potatoes, peas, cauliflowers, lettuces, &c. ; and in travelling particularly, it is of great importance to be able to procure such useful and agreeable additions to the table.” [Roberts]
As we come to know from James H. Harrington’s Report of 1778 [cited in Basu] ] and Mark Wood’s Plan of Calcutta of 1792, there had been around 20 desi bazaars within Calcutta, namely
Burra Bazaar, Bow Bazaar and Lal Bazaar, Bytakhana Bazaar, Sutanuti Hat and Bazaars, Charles Bazaar or Shyam Bazaar, Ram Bazaar, Sobhaa Bazaar, Dharmatala Bazaar, Arcooly Bazaar, Machua Bazaar, Kasaitala Bazaar, Colootala Bazaar, Jaun Bazaar, Hat Jannagar, Hat Rajernagar, Colimba (Colinga) Bazaar, Simla Bazaar and Simla Road Bazaar— as far as the official public bazaars were concerned. Among the private bazaars Tiretta’s Bazaar, Sherburne’s Bazaar, Kashi Babu’s Bazaar (near Sherburne’s) and Gopee Ghosh’s Bazaar in Entally were included.

This is a part of the original panoramic view of the Dhurrumtollah crossing captured from terrace of a house on Esplanade Row by an unknown photographer supposedly at a very early date of Calcutta photography disclosing some details of immense historical significance. Source: suvrodahal.blogspot.com

The three bazaars – Burra Bazaar, Bow Bazaar, and Bytakhana Bazaar were the biggest and busiest bazaars of Calcutta that generally dealt in daily necessities like vegetables, fruits, and of course fishes, besides some other necessities. Hat Jaunnagar, Hat Rajnagar(?) and Kashi Babu’s Bazaar had become special markets dealing in rice, betel leaf and nuts, spices, and paddy straw. Burra Bazaar , the central whole sale market of Calcutta, consists of huge warehouses and plenty of retail shops offering largest variety including, “sundry materials like cutlery, glass ware, glass, earthen ware, fans, blankets, fine mats (shitalpati), coarse mats (chattai), common mats, board mats, wickerwork, coarse cloths, silk ribbon, cotton thread, rope, cotton, leather shoes and slippers, bracelets of all kinds, necklace of wood or beads, goods tirade of brass, small iron boxes or shinduk, iron works, medicinal tools, coconut hookahs, balls for hookah, straw, paddy straw, bamboo, bird cages, umbrellas, stone cases, deshlais or match sticks, etc. were also up for sale”. [cited in Basu]
The diversity of goods on sale bears witness to the grandness of the select few bazaars, which were designed to meet the changing pattern of demands of ‘cosmopolitan population of the city’ in particular. It appears, only in Bytakhana Bazaar, Burra Bazaar and in Sherburne’s private bazaar animals like fowls, geese, duck, horses, pigeons were sold. These apart, goats were available in Burra Bazaar, and ‘homed’ cattle in Bytakhana Bazaar only. All the bazaars of Calcutta had separate places allotted for the sale of fish. Burra Bazaar, Bytakhana Bazaar, Machua Bazaar and Sherburne’s Bazaar had cowrie exchange facilities against gonads. The private bazaars in general seem to specialize in certain articles some of which catered more to the European demands. For example, in those days fireworks were sold primarily in Tiretta’s Bazaar. Among the private bazaars Sherburne’s Bazaar dealt with the greatest number of articles.

EUROPEAN BAZAARS
The owners of three new European bazaars, Edward Tiretta, Joseph Sherburne, and Charles Short came forward to propose setting of modern bazaars in tune with the changing outlook of the Company administration against the backdrop of a ‘civilizing mission’ for improvement of city life. Their proposals also contained distinctive perceptions about a bazaar and references to ‘improve’ upon the existing ill-organized and unhygienic set-ups. To bring about in Calcutta bazaar relatively modern notions in terms of western sensibilities, Edward Tiretta, Joseph Sherburne and Charles Short petitioned individually in May 1782, October 1782 and July 1783, respectively, to the Governor General and Council for permission to build such market places in accordance with the Bye Law of 1781. They pledged to set up bazaars with pucca buildings, tiled shops and stalls instead of the straw huts of the desi bazaars. Mechua Bazaar, although owned and managed since 1775 by a European marketer, Francis D’Mello, was in no way better than the bazaars run by desi masters. In fact, it was since 1882 the shapes of the Calcutta bazaars get changed outwardly and internally for the first time. The new two bazaars, Tiretta Bazaar, and Sherburne’s Bazaar, were set on larger plots, occupying 8-18-4, and 10-1-4 bighas respectively, than Bazaar Sootaluty (3-17-2), and Dhurrumtollah Bazaar (6-10-0). [ Proceedings of the Board of Revenue, Sayer, November, 1794. Cited in Biswas]

SHERBERN’S BAZAAR
Sherburne’s bazaar, like Tiretta’s and Short’s, followed western model in which hygiene was the primary consideration in its planning to safeguard against deteriorating state of the physical ‘health’ of the city. Huge waste of the native bazaars was regarded largely responsible for infecting the air leading to the degeneration of the atmosphere into poisonous miasmas. These considerations went a long way in the planning of the three newly set bazaars. Sherburne’s bazaar was permitted on a fixed annual rent of Rs.300, revised later to Rs500, and entered the 1785 list of authorized private bazaars of the city. He was given in 1785 an official position of Scavanger [(Hobson-Jobson) ] of the Town of Calcutta, and at rooms, nos. 1 and 3, in his bazaar Sherburne used to discharge his duties of inspection of the goods on sale in Calcutta markets, as well as collection of the taxes. [Calcutta Gazette] The Bazaar was situated in a piece of land, locally known as Ismail Sarang’s Garden, where Chandney Market stands now on the fringe of Dhurrumtollah Street. As we understand, Joseph Sherburne petitioned the Governor General in October 1782, for permission to establish a public bazaar on this very plot he purchased, seemingly from Gokulchandra Mitra. Mitra, who had made a fortune in salt trade and, as it was said, won the Chandney Chawk area in the first Lottery. Behind Sherburne’s Bazaar, Julius Soubise opened his Repository of horses on a large piece of land leading from the Cossitollah down Emambarry Lane. It looks like, the old Chandney Chawk has been more a part of Cossitollah than Dhurrumtollah contrary to popular belief.


After two decades of close association with the Bazaar, Joseph Sherburne passed away at Monghyr on July 18, 1805. His only son, Pultney J. P. Sherburne, died on 28 June 1831. [ Asiatic Journal ] The map of the City and Environment of Calcutta published next year by Jean-Baptiste Tassin, printed the name of Chandney Bazaar for the first time replacing Sherburne’s Bazaar in the site of Chandney Chawk. [Tassin] Although a ‘Chandnee Choke’ and a ‘Chandnee Choke Lane’ found printed in Wood’s map of 1792, there had been no Chandney Market in Calcutta until the Sherburne’s Market wiped out from Calcutta maps. In all probability Sherburne’s Bazaar shuttered down in 1831.

CHANDNEY BAZAAR
When Chandney Bazaar came into existence by 1832, there was no R C Church, no Tipu Mosque, but only the Dhurrumtollah Bazaar opposite Dhurrumtollah Tank stood on roadside since 1796 with Stibbert’s House behind. The oldest institution remained there was the Native Hospital built in 1793 near Chandney. In Talpooker, Pritaram erected his Jaunbazaar House in 1808. “In 1793-94, all over the town there were no fewer than 1114 pucca houses; in 1821 it increased to 14,230” [Biswas] The new suburbs as southern extension of Town Calcutta grew faster with masonry houses built by Europeans and deshi well-to-dos as nucleus of new urban experience of ‘airy habitation’ .

Chandney Market stands on no. 167, Dhurrumtollah Street, at the crossing of Chandney Chawk Street, or Chandney Chawk Bazaar ka Rastah, on the north side of Dhurrumtollah, where Sherburne’s earlier stood. Chandney Bazaar did not replace Sherburne’s Market but came up with a unique identity of its own, completely dissimilar kind of a bazaar, to sell commodities of special kind to altogether different sections of consumers than what Sherburne’s or other bazaars usually target, that is, the common people whose requirements are chiefly food and other daily necessities such as household items, weareables, fashion items – all for ready consumption. In contrast, Chandney Bazaar has never been a place to retail fresh food unlike others. It was not a market for ready-made garments but held shops of cloth lengths and cut-pieces, and tailoring shops for making dresses cheaply and quickly. Chandney was known as a native shopping complex for retailing popular as well newest materials, accessories and tools needed primarily for consumption of journeymen, including artisan, craftsmen, petty tradesmen, mostly pieceworkers like tailors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, smiths and small manufacturers.

Stuart Hogg’s Market. Photographer: Bourne and Stephens. 1860s

Cotton described the Bazaar as ‘a labyrinth of ill-kept passages, lined with shops, in which may be found a wonderful collection of sundries, from a door nail to a silk dress. The list can be lengthening endlessly by adding items like ‘brass and iron hand-ware, clothes, umbrellas; shoes, stationery, and various other articles of domestic use.’ Cotton, however, unwittingly left a piece of empty advice for shopaholics that “very similar shops and stalls may now be found, but under conditions infinitely more advantageous and comfortable, in the Municipal Market in Lindsay Street, off Chowringhee”. [Cotton] In reality, the two markets have been entirely dissimilar. So much so, no comparison can be possible between the two without distorting facts that still alive. Yet his advice as to the ‘getting favourite picks at pocket-friendly price’ at Chandney by ‘bargaining at your heart’s content’, and that ‘one must essentially be guarded with sharp shopping skill’ may prove helpful for a shopaholic even today.

Chandney Bazaar has never been a market for gentlefolk – sahibs or babus; rarely shoppers go there with families. Most shops were kind of mini warehouse, with no display-windows, no fashion shows. On the whole, the market looked drab, shabby, and uninviting – a mockery of the model market of Sherburne. Chandney, however, was not a ‘second-hand’ market, nor a chore bazaar – a ‘receptacle for all stolen goods’ as Cotton perceived. Chandney Bazaar was essentially, and still it is, a hardware market and not a market of second-hand goods, like some other auction houses and antique bazaars of Calcutta where stolen fancy goods of every description were being sold in the open.

CHANDNEY AMBIENCE
The ambience of Chandney Bazaar has always been disgustingly chaotic – a contradiction of the model picture of the bazaars the city administrators drew in 1783 that Tiretta, Shorts, and Sherburne followed. Outside the Bazaar, the doldrums of Chandney crowd and its unruly traffic overflowed into Dhurrumtollah crossing creating a logjam on the highway.

Chandney Bazaar Interior 2017. Photographs by Olympia Banerjee:

“Gharis wait outside shops, the horses hunched up in their shafts and harness, limp-legged, asleep. The drivers are asleep on the box and syces (সহিস) slumber behind. Water and rubbish on the pavements. The air is heavy with a fetid smell of hookah and food; paint, oil and cycles. In the shadow of the gold-tipped minarets women swathed in sheets clatter their slipperiered feet along the road. … The patrons of the ‘Chandni’ bazaar, scowling, busy; bargaining, wrangling; smiling, smirking; cycle shops, camera shops, pigeon stalls for cigarettes and sherbet. Pavement vendors with their wares in their baskets, pavement barbers assisting the needy with their toilet; street hawkers who pause on the roadway at the; hailing of a customer quarrelsome ghari men lashing their whips at one another.” [Minney ]
Yes, this picture penned by R.J. Minney represents a true to life profile of Chandney – a pet object for a satirist it seems. The pathetic scenario of Chandney inspired even Sukumar Ray to chose the spot to make the road accident happen to one of his comic characters, namely, the over-smart uncle of Ramesh, as we may read in his immortal book, আবোলতাবোল (Aboltabol):

রমেশের মেজমামা সেও ছিল সেয়না,
যত বলি ভালো কথা কানে কিছু নেয় না ;
শেষকালে একদিন চান্নির বাজারে
পড়ে গেল গাড়ি চাপা রাস্তার মাঝারে ।
[সুকুমার রায় ।“সাবধান”,আবোলতাবোল । ১৯২৩]

 

CHANDNEY BAZAAR, AN AGENT OF CHANGE
Behind the bland homely face of Chandney Bazaar, we may still discover signs of its lost charms that helped Calcutta society to keep pace with the industrial productivity 1832 onward. During the industrial era, the ‘new products’, that is, the newly designed products manufactured by the industrial giants as well as petty workshops, were being increasingly likened by all. There have been also some ‘new products’ designed and developed by the European settlers to help them living comfortably and in style in oriental environment. Society accepts some and rejects others for more than one reason. Market availability, replacement and maintenance are evidently among the main factors for decision-making. Chandney Bazaar stood by the consumers with steady stocks of current and the latest utility products for them to buy replace or repair. Though there were few relatively decent shops, like Nandy’s that used to sell fancy household items, or Kar & Kar the tailoring and garment seller, Chandney has been largely a receptacle of machine-tools, machine parts, and raw materials for the consumptions of small manufacturers, tradesmen, and mechanics. This group of working hands plausibly provided Chandney Bazaar with a unique opportunity to motivate utilization of new products to homemakers more effectively, and to reach families at their homes who hardly ever visit the stinky marketplace – not meant for gentlefolk. That might have been a good reason to postulate that Rev Evan Cotton never had occasion to step inside Chandney Bazaar in person to verify his ideas before attempting to compare it unfairly with Hogg’s Market.
It is unfortunate; Chandney Bazaar does not have enough archival records available for us to distinguish between gossips and facts, so that the worth of its contributions to Calcutta society, in accommodating new products, ideas, new habits, could have been determined with some degree of certainty. Had Chandney Bazaar existed when Captain Thomas Williamson lived in Calcutta (1778-1798), he would have depicted Chandney analytically and objectively in the manner he elaborated on China Bazaar in his prudent Vade Mecum published in 1810. [Williamson] In absence of dependable sources we are being overwhelmed with skewed information disseminated through prints and e-media. Google may take you at once to a number of blogs publicizing Chandney Bazaar of Calcutta in chorus as an exclusive market of electronic goods; while in reality not a single stall of electronics to be found inside, but outside Chandney Bazaar hundreds wait to greet you on the street. I fear the ever increasing nonsense in today’s manufactured information will pose greater challenge to future researchers to investigate issues with scanty documentary evidence, depending largely on literary references and oral traditions, as is the case of Chandney Bazaar of Calcutta.

 

REFERENCE

Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies. (Jan. 1830-Apr. 1845). London : Printed for Black, Parbury, & Allen. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.095922792&view=1up&seq=4

Basu, Shrimoyee. 2015. “Bazaars In The Changing Urban Space of Early Colonial Calcutta.” University of Calcutta. http://hdl.handle.net/10603/163761.

Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta, Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook to the City. Calcutta: Newman. https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog.

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.

Minney, Rubeigh James. 1922. Round about Calcutta. Calcutta: OUP. https://archive.org/details/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich.

Ray, Sukumar. n.d. “Sukumar Sahitya Somogro; vo.1.” Calcutta: Ananda. https://archive.org/details/SukumarSahityaSomogro3/page/n17.

Roberts, Emma. 1845. East India Voyager, or the Outward Bound. London: J. Madden. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/The_East_India_Voyager.html?id=rOFAAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y.

Setton-Karr, W. S. 1864. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.195937/2015.195937.Selections-From-Calcutta-Gazettes-1864#page/n5/mode/2up.

Tassin, Jean-Baptiste. (1832). Map of the City and Environs of Calcutta;  Constructed chiefly from Major Schalch’s Map and from Captain Prinsep’s Surveys of the Suburbs. Retrieved from https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b530996458

Williamson, Thomas. 1810. East India Vade Mecum; or, Complete Guide to Gentlemen Intended for the Civil, Military,or Naval Service of the Hon. East India Company; Vol. 2 (2). London: Black, Parry. https://www.scribd.com/document/305022589/The-East-India-Vade-Mecum-Volume-2-of-2-by-Thomas-Williamson.

Wood, Mark. (1792). Plan of Calcutta. Calcutta: William Baillie. Retrieved from https://www.bdeboi.com/2016/02/blog-post_27.html

Yule, Henry ; and Coke Burnell. 1886. Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases and f Kindred Terms. London: Murray. https://archive.org/details/hobsonjobsonagl02croogoog/page/n8.

 

 

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Barrackpore : Story of a Little Calcutta

Governor General’s House & Park at Barrackpore. Water colour by Edward Hawk Locker. 1808. Courtesy: British Library

ব্যারাকপুর – কলকাতার অদূরে ‘ছোট কলকাতা’

Barrackpore, some 16 miles away from Calcutta, turned into a little Calcutta or Chhota Calcutta. This happened because of the mastermind of Marquis Wellesley, who moved to Barrackpore in 1801 and occupied the Commander-in-Chief’s residence – one of the two bungalows bought by the Government with 70 acres of land when the cantonment was founded in 1775. This is where Wellesley lived for about 3 years devoting his mind in enlarging and improving the surrounding park area. He landscaped the gardens in the ‘English Style’, added an aviary, a menagerie and a theatre. The rustic hamlet emerged as a fashionable abode of the Britishers for sojourning.

by Ozias Humphry, pencil, chalk and watercolour, 1783

Marquis Wellesley (1760-1842) by Ozias Humphry, 1783

Barrackpore had a long history that began much before the coming of Job Charnock, who had been in Barrackpore for a while, raised a bungalow, and gathered a little bazaar closed by. Here his beloved wife of native origin had died. The area was previously ruled over by a line of Zamindars based in Nona Chandanpukur, Barrackpore. In ‘Ain-e-Akbari’, Abul Fazal (1596–97)  referred to this place as Barbuckpur, and it was Chanak in `Manasa Vijay` written by Bipradas Pipilai (1495). Chanak and the other nearby towns were developed into chief marketing, trading and populous towns along the side of river Hooghly. The local name Achanak seems to be a localized version of Chanak.

Barrackpore, however, went into the British colonial history more significantly because of the two revolts. The first one was the 1824 insurgency led by Sepoy Binda Tiwary, and the second was the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 led by Mangal Pandey. With the exception of these two horrifying experiences of tumult and fury, Barrackpore have always been a calmly country seat for the white’s leisurely pursuits contrary to the demanding living condition of the up-and-coming city of Calcutta.
In pre-Plassey Calcutta, the servants of East India Company used to live in dark and damp lodgings in the Fort, and warehouses where the gates shut upon them at night. After Plassey, the growth of the garrison and the influx of European officers and troops from Madras worsened the lodging condition. New quarters came up along the Avenue, Pilgrim road, and Bow Bazar and, bypassing the native quarters of Dinga,  and Colinga, spread over the open ground of Chowringhee and Dharmatallah. [See The Social Condition of the British Community in Bengal: 1757-1800 By Suresh Chandra Ghosh. 1970] No wonder that the Europeans, gradually migrated from Tank Square – ‘the Belgravia of that day’ — and took up their abodes in Chowringhee ‘out of town’. [See ‘Calcutta in the olden time — its localities In Calcutta review. Sept.1852.]. Earlier James Atkinson in a verse, published in 1824, described the condition of Calcutta more pungently as ‘an anxious, forced existence’.   [ See City of Palaces, a poem by James Atkinson. 1824]

barrackpore-bridge_fiebig1851

Barrackpore Bridge, hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

The road from Calcutta to Barrackpore was opened to the public on the 26th July, 1805, perhaps the best road constructed so far. Miss Emma Robert,the English lady traveller, wrote after two decades, that the ‘drives and rides about the city are not very numerous, nor very extensive, excepting towards Barrackpore.’ [See Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan; with sketches of Anglo-Indian society; v.1 by Emma Roberts. 1835]

 

In 1830 the Barrackpore Bridge, commonly called, ‘Shyambazar Bridge’, was constructed connecting Barrackpore Road to Calcutta at its northern end. The 100 ft long and 30ft wide Bridge was built by the Canal Superintendent, James Prinsep at the cost of Rs 20,529. It was a beautiful bridge, as revealed in the hand-coloured photograph of the bridge and the road with running horses and carriages, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851.
J H Stocqueler while journeying through Brarackpur road looked out from his palanquin [ see Hand-book of India, guide to the stranger and the traveler, ..ed. by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1844], to the pleasing view of an extensive avenue of trees skirted by villages, gardens, and rice-fields. Cox’s Bunglow, the site of a building then used as a stables for relays of horses, was on the right-hand side of the road, and there the first change of relay proceeds onward through Barrackpore Cantonment.

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Entrance to Barrackpore. Lithograph ( coloured ).Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: British Library

Though a large station, Barrackpore presents an air of quiet and retirement like a country village; which joined to its military neatness and propriety, make it one of the sweetest places in India. The bungalows in four lines stand each separated firom the others, every one surrounded by its own corn-ground, flower-garden, and neat trimmed hedge; while the whole cantonment is at right angles intersected by well kept roads, smooth as bowling-greens, and has the river in front and the parade ground in the rear. Government-house, and it’s beautiful grounds, are merely separated from the cantonments by a piece of water from the river, over which there is a bridge; and the park, as a drive, is at all times open to the European inhabitants. [See Life in India: Or, The English at Calcutta; v.2 by Monkland. 1828]

maria_callcott_by_thomaslawrence

Maria Graham (b1785-d1842) (in later life, Maria, Lady Callcott) An Englsh travel writer. Portrait by Thamas Lawrence. 1819

How Barrackpore was in the first half of 19th century can be figured out more from the true-to-life excellent paintings and photographs than the textual documents handed down to us – mostly official transactions and records, and also letters and diaries of the travellers and residents, which provide human-side view, factual information apart. Unfortunately, not many travel-writers visited Barrackpore. The English lady, Maria Graham(later Lady Callcott) was an exception. In her book, Journal of a Residence in India, she left her lively and credible impressions of everything she saw there. Her account of Barrackpore commenced from Nov 20, 1810.

RIVER-SIDE

It was a delightful day she arrived by boat. The weather was so cool that ‘one really enjoys a river view walk’. Close to Calcutta, it is the busiest scene one can imagine; crowded with ships and boats of every form,—here a fine English East lndiaman, there a grab or a dow from Arabia, or a proa from the eastern islands. On one side the picturesque boats of the natives, with their floating huts; on the other the bolios and pleasure boats of the English, with their sides of green and gold, and silken streamers. Up the river, the scene became more quiet, but not less beautiful.

barrackpore-ghaut_fiebig_1851

Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

The trees grow into the water, and half hide the pagodas and villages with which the banks of the river are covered on both sides. It was late when we arrived here, and some of the pagodas were already illuminated for a festival; fireworks, of which the natives are very fond, were playing on the shore, and here and there the red flame of the funeral fires under the dark trees threw a melancholy glare on the water. From the opposite river bank, The missionaries Serampore had enjoyed the same view of Barrackpore riverside. Carey’s biographer, George Smith reproduced William Carey’s memory of ‘The garden slopes down to the noble river, and commands the beautiful country seat of Barrackpore, which Lord Wellesley had just built’. [See Life of William Carey,  by Gerge Smith. 1909]

THE PARK

conservatory-barrackpore-park-_fiebie1851

Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

Many of the Barrackpore goers maintained that it was not the Barrackpore House itself ‘but its accessories were the best features it can boast of’ – an aviary and a menagerie, a garden and a pleasant promenade, where the society of the station assemble, while one of the regimental bands plays upon the green sward, constitute the chief agremens of the place’. [See Hand-book of India, a Guide, ed by Stocqueller. 1844]

When Mrs Graham came to the Park of Barrackpore, the tamarind, acacia, and peepil trees, through whose branches the moon threw her flickering beams on the river, seemed to hang over our heads, and formed a strong contrast to the white buildings of Serampore, which shone on the opposite shore. We landed at the palace begun by the Marquis Wellesley, but discontinued by the frugality of the Indian Company; its unfinished arches shewed by the moon-light like an ancient ruin, and completed the beauty of the scenery. The area of the whole Park is nearly 350 acres and the cost was £9,577. Lord Wellesley started acquiring the land and making the Park.  In the North-East corner he established the menagerie that continued to exist till the Zoological Gardens at Calcutta opened in 1876.

 

MENAGERIE

Menagerie at Barrackpore

Menagerie at Barrackpore, Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: British Library

“A little nulla, or rivulet supplies several fine tanks in the park, which embellish the scenery, and furnish food for a number of curious aquatic birds kept in the menagerie. The pelican, whose large pouch contains such an abundant supply of food, the produce of her fishing, for her young; the syrus, or sarasa, a species
of stork, whose body is of a delicate grey colour, and whose head, which he carries above five feet from the ground, is of a brilliant scarlet, shading off to the pure white of his long taper neck; and the flamingo, whose bill and wings are of the brightest rose-colour, while the rest of his plumage is white as snow,—are the most beautiful of those who seek their food in the water. Among their fellow-prisoners are the ostrich, whose black and white plumes attract the avarice of the hunter; the cassowary, whose stiff hard feathers appear like black hair; and the Java pigeon, of the size of a young turkey, shaped and coloured like a pigeon, with a fan-like crest, which glitters in the sun like the rainbow. [Graham]

the North-East corner of the Park known as Chiriakhana. The Governor General’s elephants used to be kept at Barrackpore. The place across the Grand Trunk Road to the North North-East of the Park was known for a long while as Hatikhana, although the last of the elephants was sold in Lord Elgin’s time. It was here in the Park that the poet-bishop first mounted an elephant — “the motion of which,” he confesses, “I thought far from disagreeable, though very different from that of a horse.” [See Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta ed. by Walter Kelly Firminger. 1906]

On Nov. 25, she wrote ‘The north winds are now so cold, that I find it necessary to wrap up in a shawl and fur tippet when 1 take my morning’s ride upon one of the governor-general’s elephants, from whose back I yesterday saw the Barrackpore hounds throw off in chase of a jackal’. “The quadrupeds in the menagerie are only two royal tigers, and two bears, one a very large animal, precisely like the bears of Europe; the other was brought here from Chittagong, where it is called the wild dog. His head is shaped like that of a dog, but bare and red about the muzzle; his paws are like those of the common bear, but his coat is short and smooth; he refuses to eat any kind of vegetable food, which the large bear prefers to flesh, and is altogether the most ferocious creature I ever saw. ”

GAITIES

On December 5, 1810, Graham was in great expectation of the festivity in Barrackpore. In three weeks, she mused, all the gay world will be asembled at Barrackpore, on account of the races, which are run close to the park-gate. This year there will be little sport, as the horses are indifferent, but I am told the scene will be very gay, “ with store of ladies, whose bright eyes rain influence”. Barrackpore had a tradition of public merriments to celebrate important events. Three years ago. On the 12th September 1807, Barrackpore celebrated  the anniversary of the battle of Delhi. A splendid entertainment was given in ‘the new Theatre at Barrackpore’ at which were present the Right Hon’ble Lord Minto, the Governor General, General St. Leger and Staff, the whole of the officers and ladies at the station, and a numerous party of visitors from Calcutta.  [See Life of William Carey, by Gerge Smith. 1909]

Lord Wellesley was not in favour of horse race. He stopped horse racing and all sorts of gambling as soon he arrived India; yet at the end of November 1809, there were three days’ races at a small distance from Calcutta. After a lull the Calcutta Races again commenced under the patronage of Lord Moira. Stocqueler tells us “there at Barrackpore a race-ground existed, but races have not taken place any more. The sports of the place are confined to an occasional steeple-chase, a run with the Calcutta hounds, and a few balls and public dinners.” [See Hand-book of India, a Guide, by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1844]

cheetah-chasing-a-deer-with-huntsmen_doyly1802

A Cheeta Hun in Wellesley’s Park. Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly.1802. Courtesy: British Library

In the Park there was also an excellent golf links much resorted to by Calcutta folk. Closer to the house there was a vast banyan tree beneath whose shade many a viceregal tiffin-party had assembled.   Mrs Graham had some fascination for Indian custom s and traditions. On the first day she mentioned in her journal whatever she had seen on the river bank – the illuminated Hindu pagoda, festivity, fireworks, and the melancholy glare of the flame of funeral – all important elements of Hindu life in a flash.

The cultural difference between the European and Asiatic societies did not deject her spirit of inquiry and appreciation of the estranged tradition of India. She writes:   “The other day, in going through a small bazar near one of the park gates, 1 saw five ruinous temples to Maha Deo, and one in rather a better state to Kali. As 1 had never been in a pagoda dedicated to her by that name, I procured admittance for a rupee. Her figure is of brass, riding on a strange form that passes here for a lion, with a lotus in the place of a saddle. Her countenance is terrific; her four hands are armed with destructive weapons, and before her is a round stone sprinkled with red dust. The sacrificial utensils are mostly of brass; but I observed a ladle, two lamps, and a bell of silver; the handle of the bell was a figure of the goddess herself. The open temple in the square area of the pagoda has been very pleasant, but is now falling into ruin, as are the priests houses and every thing around.”

hindoo-pagodas-hunt1824

Hindoo Pagodas below Barrackpore on the Ganges. Geoge Hunt. 1824. Courtesy: British Library

As it shows, Graham was not unfamiliar with the Hindu themes of deities, and also her feelings on seeing the ruinous state of the temple. In a later note, however, she showed her deep concern, silently, about the desperate order of the native society, while recounting the horrid scene of dead bodies uncaringly floating in the river, vividly and dispassionately.

Bodies of the Dead

“The other night, in coming up the river, the first object I saw was a dead body, which had lain long enough in the water to be swollen, and to become buoyant. It floated past our boat, almost white, from being so long in the river, and surrounded by fish; and as we got to the landing-place, I saw two wild dogs tearing another body, from which one of them had just succeeded in separating a thigh-bone, with which he ran growling away. Now, though I am not very anxious as to the manner of disposing of my body, and have very little choice as to whether it is to be eaten by worms or by fishes, I cannot see, without disgust and horror, the dead indecently exposed, and torn and dragged about through streets and villages, by dogs and jackals. Yet such are the daily sights on the banks of the Hoogly. I wish I could say they were the worst; but when a man becomes infirm, or has any dangerous illness, if his relations have the slightest interest in his death, they take him to the banks of the river, set his feet in the water, and, stuffing his ears and mouth with mud, leave him to perish, which he seldom does without a hard struggle; and should the strength of his constitution enable him to survive, he becomes a pariah; he is no longer considered as belonging to his family or children, and can have no interest in his own fortune or goods. About thirty miles from Calcutta, there is a village under the protection of government, entirely peopled by these poor outcasts, the numbers of whom is incredible.

Earlier, Graham expressed her mind loudly and clearly– reacting to the unconditional submission of the Hindoos to the evils of caste system. She felt degraded seeing the half-clothed, half-fed people, covered with loathsome disease, without attempting ever to overstep the boundaries which confine them to it indelibly. “Perhaps there is something of pride in the pity”, she says, “I cannot help feeling for the Lower Hindoos, who seem so resigned to all that I call evils in life”. The story of this hapless lot stands in glaring contrast to the vibrant city life of Barrackpore.

The park-city of Barrackpore was designed and developed by the British and for the British. It was an English garden Lord Wellesley planned and laid there. An English theatre, ballroom,  race-ground, golf-link, a Hotel Charnock  came in place for their entertainment. There was something in the scenery of this place that reminds Maria Graham of the beauty of the banks of the Thames; ‘the same verdure, the same rich foliage, the same majestic body of water’.

The local inhabitants were, however, never allowed to enter park-area except for work. Graham met few of them while moving around, and had glimpses of their repulsive way of life. Graham never tried to pass a judgement, nor any advice either. She questioned about the root of their malady – ‘how they came into the state, and what could amend it’. The spontaneous reply she received was: “It is the custom —   it belongs to their caste to bear this”. At the end of the century, Swamy Vivekanada found the key to her final question what unfortunately remains ignored ever since.