Tag Archives: tagore

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

MULLICK GHAT AND THE JAGANNATH STEAMER GHAT

 

 

Bathing ghat immediately downstream from Howrah Bridge, 1944. by Glenn S. Hensley. Courtesy: Lib.U.Penn

 

মল্লিক ঘাট তথা জগন্নাথ স্টিমার ঘাট

The river ghats on Hooghly, being intimately connected with almost all events of their life and death, reflect the ethnicities of the people of Calcutta, comprehensive of socio-economic and cultural dimensions. Most of these ghats were created by zealous men and women, natives and foreigners, out of goodwill. Harisadhan listed names of 39 Ghats that existed between Bagbazar and Chandpal Ghat in 1793 [See: Harisadhan]. Since then many have been destroyed, and many more added. Cones’ Calcutta Directory listed as many as 58 ghats existed in 1874 between Bagbazar and Tolly’s Nullah. [ See: CONES ]

Study of Calcutta ghats proves to be challanging. The different names a ghat often called by require tracking and linking one another to tell its story of  ups and downs meaningfully. Mullick Ghat is one of its kind and of great historical significance.

 

Calcutta. The River Hooghly. Photograph by Johnston & Hoffman. c1885. Courtesy: BL

MULLICK GHAT AND ITS IDENTITY

Down the river, next to the Jagannath Ghat of Sobharam Basak stands Nemai Mullick Ghat. Rammohan Mullick built it in 1855 in memory of his father Late Nimaicharan Mullick on the ground of the old ‘Noyaner Ghat’ that their forefather Noyanchand Mullick made before 1793. The in-between riverside ghats, namely নবাবের ঘাট, বৈষ্ণব দাস শেঠের ঘাট, কাশীনাথ ঘাট, কদমতলা ঘাট, কাশীনাথবাবুর ঘাট, হুজুরীমলের ঘাট ceased to exist long back. Around 1870-74 when the Howrah Pontoon Bridge, the first bridge on Hughly, was in the making, Jadunath Mullick, a great son of the Mullick family, renovated the Mullick Ghat. It needs to be noted that this first bridge on Hooghly, constructed in 1874 to connect the old Howrah Station, was positioned immediate south of Mullick Ghat, about hundred yard away from the existing Cantilever Howrah Bridge, which stands immediate north of Mullick Ghat connecting the New Howrah Station built in 1905. [See: Puronokolkata]

Mullick Ghat took part in the history of making the river water resources useful in public life. The Corporation set up a Pump Station there to distill river water for supplying to the city. A dynamo was installed there on August 19, 1879 to illuminate the Bridge 1,528 ft. long and 62 ft. wide. [ See: Grace’s] The Ghat was also famous for launching passenger and cargo steamer services.  Mullick Ghat still exists, bereaved of its stately look that once prompted Evan Cotton to speak of the ‘handsome masonry structure of Mullick Ghat, which stood ‘immediately to the north of the Howrah Bridge’. We must note that Cotton wrote it before 1907 and the Bridge he referred to was the old Pontoon Bridge. As we have come to know from a recent survey, Mullick Ghat at present has a large and ornate square pavilion while the ghat itself has a more ‘native appearance’ [ See: ETH Studio].

Calcutta. Bathing Ghat. Photograph by Johnston & Hoffman. c1885. Courtesy: BL

 The first photograph of the ghat we find was taken by P.A Johnston & Theodore Hoffman about three years after they established ‘Calcutta Studio’ in 1882. The shot must have been taken before Johnston died in 1891. The British Library (BL) does not specify the Ghat name. They provide instead a generic Title: Calcutta. Bathing Ghat. If I am not wrong, photograph titles are assigned, as convention, adhering to what the photographers or the original collectors stated. BL however takes the liberty to name it Chatulal’s Ghat in their descriptive note and subject tags, presumably on the basis of common belief and order of the day, which are apparently subject to change.

The other photograph, featured at the top, depicts the same bathing ghat, taken by the same photographers and possibly around same time. As Evan Cotton had stated, the bathing ghat, stands on the east bank of the Hooghly River immediately to the north of the bridge. The panoramic view of the Bathing Ghat, shows no bridge in view northward, since the Pontoon Bridge to its south remains downstream and out of frame.

BL provides more details of the pavilion; we are told that the pavilion was ‘crowned by a substantial structure in European classical style, topped by a drum’. As for its date, BL estimates that the ghat ‘was in position by the mid-1870s, and still standing in the mid-1940s, but has since been demolished’.  It was probably the last photograph of the  ghat taken by Glenn S. Hensley in 1944 which incited BL to guesstimate the date of demolition, if demolished at all.

By trailing the cue of the two renderings noted at hundred year interval by Evan Cotton and ETH Studio, we find half a dozen of matching photographs, but astoundingly none citing Mullick Ghat, but two other ghat names, Juggernath Ghat and Chatulal Ki Ghat.

Bathing ghat, Calcutta side of river, downstream from Howrah Bridge, Photographer:Hensley Glenn. 1944. Courtesy: Lib. U.Penn

The common features of these photographs are:

  1. Location: East bank of the Hooghly River immediately to the north of the Old Bridge/ south of the New Bridge
  2. Shape: A large and ornate square pavilion
  3. Features: A substantial structure in European classical style, topped by a drum

The descriptions best fit to the edifice presently stands on the riverbank a little high up with an added floor close by the Howrah Bridge, as shown in the photograph below. We may accept the edifice as the original pavilion of Nemai Mullick Ghat, subject to further verification.

 

Mullick Ghat : a recent photograph. Courtesy: ETH Studio Basel

CHATULAL KI GHAT FOR MULLICK GHAT

Chotelal ki Ghat. Courtesy: TOI

The Mullick Ghat we find today is still a popular site, mostly under the guise of ‘Chatulal Ghat’, hunted by movie-makers and tourists, functions nowadays as dharamsala.  The pavilion has lost its old glory. There is no ornamental dome. An additional floor at the top makes its façade unbecoming. A loud paint colour covering the sandstone wall has lifted its elegance and sobriety. The look is now changed beyond recognition and can give a miss to anyone unguarded. More so, because of its borrowed name, Chatulal Ghat, by which it is known today in lieu of Mullick Ghat.

The anomaly that troubles us in identifying the particular bathing ghat, as represented in all the photographs posted here, has become more upsetting since 2014 when the following glass plate, which looks like another Johnston & Hoffman photograph(c1885), was brought out with supplied caption: The view of Kolkata’s Chotulal Ghat, as seen from Howrah Bridge.

 

Chotelal ki Ghat. Courtesy: RCAHMS

This was found in a collection of 178 photographic glass plates on Indian scenario under the British Raj, including one more photograph of the pavilion of alleged ‘Chatulal Ghat’ held in the archives of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). The negatives, officially estimated to be dating back to 1912, were found in a fragile condition in a shoebox and were wrapped in copies of the Statesman newspaper dating from 1914. The Chotulal’s Ghat photograph was identified most likely based on some descriptive note found on the negative itself, or some other reliable source. [See BBC]

Interestingly, it was just a year before the name Chatulal’s Ghat was inscribed for the first time in a published map:  City of Calcutta Census Map drawn in1913 by Richards [ See: Richards] and goes missing again in the City of Calcutta Map drawn by Wagner & Debes published next year in 1914.

Chotulal_Ghat_In Richards 1913 CalcuttaCensus Map. Courtesy: Harvard Lib.

Chatulal’s Ghat never shows up in any of the earlier maps of Calcutta, so far I could see. The list of 39 bathing ghats existing in 1793 [ See Harisadhan], or the list of 58 bathing ghats existing in 1874 had no place for Chatulal’s Ghat.   [ See: CONES]. In fact, other than some blogs and the 1913 map of Richards, there is hardly any historical and descriptive accounts of Calcutta, including directories and handbooks, that refer to Chatulal’s Ghat.

Whatever little we know of Chotulal of Chotulal’s Ghat from the recent blogs provides hardly any clue to establish that Chatulal was alive in mid 19th Century taking part in some historical events, like launching steamship to chandbali.  [See: Basu] We understand from an article, “Heritage Ghats of Calcutta – Chotulal Ghat” in Noisebreak 29 Oct 2016 [http://noisebreak.com/?s=chotelal] that it stands next to Jagannath Ghat along the Hooghly River. The ghat was named after Chhotelal Durga Prasad, an eminent practicing lawyer at the Calcutta High Court. As we know from another source, some Chotelal Durgaprasad did actually exist who appeared in Allahabad High Court on 23 August 1938. [See Indian Kanoon]. As the Noisebeak story suggests, Chatulal Durgaprasad was seemingly already a middle-aged man before the ghat constructed; and if not quite impossible, it is somewhat difficult to imagine him pleading in 1938. Furthermore, to call Chatulal’s Ghat a heritage ghat, presupposes its having an extraordinary past – a tradition that reminds us of the philanthropic contributions of its founder, like a Sobharam Basak, or a Nemaichand Mullick, for example. This is after all an issue to be considered by the INTACH Kolkata Chapter. For us it is more critical to find the exact location of Chatulal’s Ghat on the eastern bank of Hooghly. We know from the blog stories that Chatulal’s Ghat stands ‘next to Jagannath Ghat along the Hooghly River’.  According to Harisadhan (1915), and the latest river survey (2008) the next ghat to Jagannath Ghat is none but Mullick Ghat. The position of Mullick Ghat cited in historical maps of Calcutta overwhelmingly proves that Chatulal’s Ghat is an out of place notion. Fact remains that we have not yet found evidence, besides the solitary example of the 1913 map of Richards, to establish that a ghat called ‘Chatulal’s Ghat’ does independently exist and actually founded by Chatulal Durgaprasad. There remains, however, a likelihood of restyling Mullick Ghat as Chatulal’s Ghat unceremoniously.

In a recent article on ‘Mullick Ghat’, Rangan Dutta writes that the steamship ‘Sir John Lawrence’ sailed on May 25, 1887, from ‘Kolkata’s Chotulal Ghat (also called Mullick Ghat) for Chandbali.’ [See: Dutta] It is all important for me that he maintains, as I do, the idea of Chatulal Ghat as an alternative name of Mullick Ghat, although the name ‘Chatulal Ghat’ was possibly introduced long after the ominous day of 1887.

 

ARMENIAN GHAT FOR MULLICK GHAT

These two historical bathing ghats, once situated close by, are also renowned for providing regular ferry services. Though there should be no good reason to mixing up their identity, quite often the Armenian Ghat is taken mistakenly for Mullick Ghat. Yet structurally, materially and stylistically the two were entirely different.

Common people apart, there are instances of such failings on the part of celebrated writers, like Montague Massey. Massey illustrated his famous book, Recollections of Calcutta, with beautiful photographs, and one of them happened to be actually a photograph of Armenian Ghat captured by Federico Peliti, that he inadvertently picked for Mullick Ghat. [See: Massey]

A singularly beautiful lacy cast iron canopy with arches and pillars – distinguishes Armenian Ghat from all brick and stone pavilions of those days. In the mid-18th century, the rich Armenian trader Manvel Hazaar Maliyan had shipped in an elaborate cast iron facade for the Armenian Ghat, which now only exists in a photograph by colonial era photographer Chevalier Federico Peliti. [See: Sarkar]

 

JUGGERNATH FERRY SERVICE AT MULLICK GHAT?

It was in early 20th century the English artist cum writer Alfred Hugh Fisher went over to the Howrah Bridge to see the ceremonial bathing on the festive day of Sankranti. On the stone building on his right, he looked over the bridge railing at the top of the great flight of steps; a slab dedicated to the memory of ship wreck victims was let into the wall inscribed in English and Bengali:

‘THIS STONE IS DEDICATED BY A FEW ENGLISHWOMENTO THE MEMORY OF THOSE PILGRIMS, MOSTLY WOMEN, WHO PERISHED WITH SIR JOHN LAWRENCE IN THE CYCLONE OF 25TH MAY 1887’.

২৫এ মে তারিখের ঝটিকাবত্ত স্যার জন লরেন্স বাস্পীয় জাহাজের সহিত যে সকল তীর্থযাত্রী

(অধিকাংশ স্ত্রীলোক) জলমগ্ন হইয়াছেন তাহাদিগের স্মরণার্থে  কয়েকটি ঈংরাজ রমনী কর্ত্তিক এই প্রস্তর ফলক্ষানি উৎসর্গীত হইল

The stone building where Fisher  found the memorial plaque should be in all probability the Mullick Ghat where from steamers took pilgrims to Chandbali on their way to Jagannath Temple. [ See: Fisher] Mullick Ghat bears the sad memory of the wreck of steamship ‘Sir John Lawrence’ with hundreds of women passengers on their way to Chandbali on 25 May 1887. The details of the devastating event were recorded by Buckland as follows:

The centre of a violent cyclone passed to the westward of Saugar early on the 26th; the sea was described as running high beyond all experience. .. For several days no vessels left the river except the ship Godiva, which left on the 25thin tow of the steam tug Retriever, and the steamer, Sir John Lawrence, (the Chandbally boat) with 735 passengers, chiefly pilgrims, which left on the 25th afternoon. The Retriever and the Sir John Lawrence were both lost at see with all hands except one native fireman of the tug [ See: Buckland]

On hearing the fateful news the poet, Rabindranath Tagore, gave immediate expression of his deep anguish in his poem সিন্ধুতরঙ্গ (পুরী তীর্থযাত্রী তরণীর নিমজ্জন) [মানসী] [See: Tagore]

 

Samuel Walters / THE CLIPPER SHIP SIR JOHN LAWRENCE ‘HOVE TO’ FOR TAKING THE PILOT OFF THE GREAT ORME. oil on canvas. Courtesy: mutualart.com

The Report of the Marine Court of Inquiry to the Government of Bengal found that the Sir John Lawrence was carrying more than her proper complement of passengers and that the tragedy occurred due to the shipmaster’s irresponsible navigation. The report led to an uproar and the demand for the railways to Puri became loud and clear, which had been constantly pushed aside by the Bengal Government since 1860s when two British promoters, Marshman and Stephenson, mooted a plan for rail link between Kolkata and Puri to allow pilgrims irrespective of caste and creed. Government also turned down another proposal for a direct Rail link between Calcutta and Madras via Orissa coastal plains that Baikuntha Nath De did submit in 1881 for a direct rail link between Calcutta and Madras through Orissa’s coastal plains with a branch line to Puri, which promised to provide a faster and safer means of transport for the Jagannath pilgrims.

During 1870s, around 6,00,000 pilgrims visit Puri every year, which would guarantee a lot of profit. Taking advantage of the numbers and government ignorance, some foreign companies started steamer services from Kolkata to Chandbali in Orissa, now Odisha. As the fares were high, it was mostly children and women who would take the steamers, while the men take the unpromising journey by Jagannath Sadak. Tarinikanta Lahiri Choudhury penned his own appalling experience of the journey to Puri by Jagannath Sadak.

কলিকাতা হইতে কতকাদূর জাহাজে, কতকাদূর নৌকায় এবং কতকাদূর স্থলপথে যাইতে হইত। সমুদ্র পথে গমন করিতে হইলে কলিকাতা হইতে জাহাজে চাদবালি হইয়া সেখান হইতে খালের মধ্য দিয়া কটক গমন করিতে হইত কিংবা বঙ্গোপসাগরের মধ্য দিয়া জাহাজে একেবারে পুরী যাওয়া য়াইত। যাহারা কটক সহর হইতে পুরী যাইত তাহারা বিখ্যাত “জগন্নাথ সড়ক” দিয়া গরুর গাড়ীতে, পাল্কিতে কিংবা পদব্রজে গমন করিত । [See more ভারত ভ্রমণ – তারিনীকান্ত লাহিড়ী চৌধুরী  {See: Lahiri Choudhury]

To compete with the steamers of the Indian government on the Ganges, the India General Steam Navigation Company was established in India in 1844. From 1870s onwards, the Company faced hard competition from Rivers Steam Navigation Company Limited, and ultimately had agreed to work together as the Joint steamer companies. India General, who had already undertaken construction of an extension of a railway to the banks of the Brahmaputra at Jaganathganj, went to liquidation in 1899. The new company was named India General Navigation and Railway Company Limited. (1885-1904) [See: FIBIS]

There were other smaller steam navigation companies in operation for different destinations, like:

  • Calcutta Steam Navigation Co., Bengal (1882)
  • Calcutta Lading & Shipping Co., Calcutta (1883)
  • Bengal Assam Steamship Co., Calcutta (1895)
  • East Bengal River Steam Service, Bengal (1906)
  • Port Shipping Co., Calcutta (1906)

In the latter half of the 19th century when the railways came into existence, the significance of waterways as inland trade routes declined, as the railways were faster and safer. [See: Goyal] It has been found, however, that the steamer navigation was being continued as an auxiliary service to Rail Companies for transporting passengers and cargoes, and for river excursions as well (vide পথে বিপথে / অবনীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর। বিস্বভারতী and নদীপথে / অতুল গুপ্ত, জিঙ্গাসা ). As shown in the following two documents, (1) Bradshaw’s Condensed Schedule Assam-Sunderbuns Despatch Service, and (2) a Cargo Delivery notice from Rivers Steam Navigation Company Limited & India General Navigation and Railway Company Limited dated 2.10, 1912, steamer services were being provided till 1912 from several ferry ghats on Hooghly, including ‘Juggernath Ghat’.

The steamer ghat, printed on the delivery notice and in Bradshaw as Juggernath Ghat, makes us curious about its possible location, or more precisely, if this is the same historic bathing ghat, the ‘Jaganath Ghat’ of Shobharam Basak, now reduced to a homely embankment with a long shade to the north of the existing Howrah Bridge.

[Steamers of the Assam Sunderbuns Despatch Service leaves Juggernath ghat, which is situated “on the Calcutta side of the River Hooghly above Howrah Bridge” (Pontoon Bridge). Steamer Pleasure Trip from Calcutta; Advertisement 1934 Macneill & Co Advertisement]

The other possibility remains for us to consider if the ghat pavilion, hugely adored and popularized as ‘Jagannath Ghat’, or ‘Juggernath Ghat’ mainly as publicity materials, had functioned as the Juggernath Steamer Ghat as well.

 

Gustav Boehm’s Voyage Around the World advertisement for Toilet Soaps and Perfumeries with photograph of ‘Public Bath’. No Mention of Chatulal Ghat or Jagannath Ghat. Before looking into it, we may need to review the status of the old Sobharam Basak’s ‘Jagannath Ghat’ of Barabazar.

The ghat built by Sobharam Basak, ‘one of the wealthiest native inhabitants of Calcutta in the eighteenth century’ [Cotton], was initially called ‘Sobharam Basak’s Ghat, শোভারাম বসাকের ঘাট, and shortly after changed into Jagannath Ghat as shown in the published maps.

Mark Wood’s Plan of Calcutta 1784-85, 1792

The Ghat has been an important landmark seen from the river and land. A long stretch of Hooghly up to Jagannath Ghat came in view from the faraway rooftops of Shimulia houses in North Calcutta as there were no tall buildings in between. There was neither any large steamship in view, but plenty of wooden sailing vessels whose tall masts looked like a forest of dead woods from distance. [See: Datta]

Sobharam built the Ghat around 1760s by the side of the Jagannath Temple he had erected at 1, Nabab Lane. Sobharam’s Jagannath Ghat was present in all the historical maps of Calcutta since Mark Wood’s Plan. The Ghat originally built by Sobharam, might have been washed away into the river and replaced by a shaded structure with stepped embankment for public bathing of no particular significance from the view of public interest.

Jagannath Ghat, Barabazar

Since the pavilion, represented in all the photographs displayed here, has already been identified beyond doubt as of Mullick Ghat, from where steamboats set off to near and far places to Assam and Orissa with freights and passengers and pilgrimage to Jagannath, it’s not unimaginable to have the ghat/ jetty called a ‘Juggernath Ghat’ too.

I am still not sure what is right, but this last proposition to my perception should be a key solution for clearing up the manifold complications we created through centuries by dubbing the ghats by conflicting names unintelligently, as I did myself earlier [See: Puronokolkata. Jagannath Ghat]

 

REFERENCE

Alfred Hugh Fisher. (1911). Through India and Burmah with pen and brush. London: Laurie. Retrieved from http://seasiavisions.library.cornell.edu/catalog/seapage:299_173

Basu, U. (1980). Etched in stone? TOI 21 July 2018, p. 1961. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/etched-in-stone/articleshow/65076457.cms

BBC. (2012). Raj Pictures. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-17973614#story_continues_2

Buckland, C. E. (1902). Bengal Under the Lieutenant Governors; vo.2. Calcutta: Bose. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.104181/2015.104181.Bengal-Under-The-Lieutenant-governors-Vol2#page/n291/search/john+lawrence

Cones. (1874). Calcutta Directory, 1874. Calcutta: Cones. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.94126

Cotton, E. (1907). Calcutta old and new: a historical and descriptive handbook of the city. Calcutta: Newman. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog

Datta, Mahendranath. (1973). Kalikatar puratan kahini o pratha. Calcutta: Mhendra Pub. Retrieved from https://www.bdeboi.com/2016/02/blog-post_27.html

Datta, Ranjan. (2018). Mallick-Ghat. https://doi.org/10.15713/ins.mmj.3

ETH Studio Basel, C. (2008). River Edges of Kolkata. Retrieved from http://www.studio-basel.com/assets/files/05_River_web.pdf.

FIBIS. (2015). Indian General Navigation Company. Retrieved from https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Indian_General_Navigation_and_Railway_Company

Goyal, P. (2003). Sea and Inland Navigation. History of Indian Science and Technology. Retrieved from http://www.indianscience.org/essays/seaandinlandnavigation-EdtedbyPankaj-edit.shtml

Grace’s Guide. (n.d.). Howrah Potoon Bridge. Retrieved from https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Howrah_Pontoon_Bridge

Indian Kanoon. (1938). JUDGMENTs Bennet, Ag. C.J. Indian Kanoon. Retrieved from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/141456/

Lahiri Choudhury, Tarinikanta. (2015). Bharat-bhraman. Retrieved from https://bn.wikisource.org/wiki/পাতা:ভারতভ্রমণতারিনীকান্তলাহিড়ীচৌধুরী.pdf/৫৫১ %0A

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

Massey, M. (1918). Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12617/12617-h/12617-h.htm

Monovisions. (2015). Photographer Federico Peliti. Monovisions, (March 7). Retrieved from http://monovisions.com/federico-peliti/

Mukhopadhyay, Harisadhan. (1915). Kalikata: Sekaler O Ekaler –. Calcutta: Bagchi. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/Kalikata-Sekaler-O-Ekaler-Harisadhan-Mukhopadhyay/Kalikata Sekaler O Ekaler – Harisadhan Mukhopadhyay#page/n0/mode/2up

Puronokolkata. (2015). Jagannath Ghat. Retrieved from https://puronokolkata.com/2015/06/16/jagannath-ghat-calcutta-c1760s/

Puronokolkata (2). (2015). Howrah Railway Junction Station. Retrieved from https://puronokolkata.com/2015/11/18/howrah-railway-junction-station-howrah-1854/

Richrds. (1913). City of Calcutta Census Map. Retrieved from http://ids.lib.harvard.edu/ids/view/11076152?buttons=y

Sarkar, S. (2017). Tudor roses at the Ghoses. Hindu. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/tudor-roses-at-the-ghoshes/article19819052.ece

Tagore, Rabindranath. (2016). Manasi (Poem: Sindhu-taranga). Calcutta: Bichitra. Retrieved from http://bichitra.jdvu.ac.in/search/bengali_search.php

 

Great Western of Bengal Railway Company, Calcutta, 1845-1847

Railway-BurdwanStn1855
বৃহৎ পশ্চিমাঞ্চলিক বঙ্গ রেল কম্পানি, কলকাতা, ১৮৪৫-৪৭

The story began with Dwarkanath Tagore’s first exposure to railway in Naples on his way to England in January 1842. He wrote home, ‘Think what my sensation when it passed near my carriage’. Soon after he had several occasions to enjoy ‘the greatest wonders of England’ – the train ride. He could well imagine the enormous commercial potential of railway transport in a resource-rich country like Bengal for movement of goods, and passengers as well. Dwarkanath came back loaded with freshly gained experiences and ideas for exploring new industrial ventures. The railway was surely one of those. Dwarkanath landed in December 1842. He had a plan to go back to England next October, but was destined to postpone it until March 1845. See: Partner in Empire

Dwarkanath-Frederick RSay-x
Dwarkanath Tagore by F.R. Say. 1842

Dwarkanath revisited England in March 1845 with intention to secure permission of the Court of Directors of the East India Company to start construction of railroad from Calcutta to the coalfields above Burdwan. On April 14 he arranged to register a company, named ‘Calcutta and Ganges Grand Junction Railway Company’, with the objectives of making and maintaining a line from Calcutta to Rajmahal. Afterwards, on the suggestions of several parties familiar with the location in India, it was considered advisable to extend the line to some point on the Ganges further up towards the north-west, and decided on extending the line to Patna. Incorporating this addition to the former project Dwarkanath registered his company on the 23d of April, 1845 with a new name ‘Great Western of Bengal Railway Company.’ Dwarkanath “consented to act as trustee to the company in India, and his firm,Carr Tagore and Co., created in 1834, was appointed as the agents of the new company in Calcutta.

Dwarkanath tried his best to make a deal with the East India Railway Company, lately incorporated in England under the leadership of Rowland McDonald Stephenson, but never succeeded. Interestingly, ‘Tagore was the man Stephenson came into contact with’ on his arrival in Calcutta in 1843. They had common interests and ‘both dreamed big.’ Stephenson in 1844 wrote a smart persuasive article on the prospect of railways in The Englishman, a paper that Tagore owned that time.

by Camille Silvy, albumen print, 6 March 1861
Rowland Stephenson by Camille Silvy, 1861

“He spoke in terms of trade as well as social uplift, and often quoted views of native merchants such as Tagore, Mutty Lal Seal and others who welcomed railways.” He simultaneously published reports of other railway companies that brought the subject alive and familiarized it to the local and British readers.” See: Two men and a railway line

Dwarkanath’s primary motive was to secure permission to initiate construction of the line by proposing to raise one-third of the capital required for a railway from Calcutta northwest to the coalfields above Burdwan. He faced there greatest opposition from Stephenson, the Chief of the East Indian Railway Company. Stephenson wanted the line to begin from a point 20 miles above Calcutta, where the line would cross the river Hughli. This line would go straight onto Benares, and subsequent later lines would develop towards Delhi and Agra. The Court of Directors of East India Company preferred to guard the interest of the British company, and had reservations ‘to permit a company under native management – to construct such an important railway line’. The Court sanctioned the circuitous route along the Ganga as Stephenson proposed.

Within few months, Dwarkanath Tagore died ‘at the peak of his fortune’ luckless, on the evening of Saturday August 1, 1846. With him died the prospect of his railway enterprise. The Great Western of Bengal Railway Company met for the last time on March 20, 1847 and approved dissolution of the company.

Subsequently on the 15th of April 1847, a proposal was initiated for amalgamation between ‘East Indian Railway Company’ and Dwarkanth’s ‘Great Western of Bengal Railway Company’. Toward the end of that year the two companies merged into a new company under the banner of ‘East Indian Railway’ (EIR) with Rowland Stephenson as its founder MD.

Small locomotive used to draw cane cars 2 ft. gauge, India
Small locomotive 2 ft. gauge

Two years after Dwarkanath died, the Court of Directors of East India Company on recommendation of Lord Dalhousie the then Governor General of India, finally signed an agreement on 17th August,1849 with EIR for construction of a short experimental line from Calcutta to Burdwan. See: History of Indian Railway

This sanction may be reckoned as a belated tribute to the departed soul who breathed his last with dream unfulfilled.