Category Archives: About Kolkata / West Bengal

Suriname envoy at Kolkata ghat from where ancestors set sail

Kolkata :

On February 26, 1873, sailship Lalla Rookh set off from what is now known as Suriname Ghat with 410 passengers on board. Nearly all of them were from places that are now in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The men and women had been recruited as ‘coolies’ or indentured labourers by the Dutch who owned sugarcane plantations in Suriname. The ship docked at Paramaribo on June 5 with 279 men, 70 women and 50 children. Eleven did not survive the voyage. In the years that followed, 63 more ships left Kolkata port for Suriname.

Nearly 145 years later, a descendant of one of the 34,304 Indian labourers who were transported to a distant land in the northern tip of South America returned to the very ghat from where her ancestor had set sail and survived the arduous journey. It was a poignant moment for Aashna Kanhai, the Surinamese ambassador to India, as she stood at ‘Mai Baap’ Memorial on Suriname Ghat and looked at the shimmering waters of the Hooghly.

“Today, there are 170,000 people of Indian origin in Suriname (the total population is 558,368). There are also 200,000 of them in Holland who decided to leave Suriname when the country became independent 42 years ago,” said Kanhai as she folded her palms in a namaskaar in front of the Mai Baap Memorial.

Surinam ambassador in India Aashna Kanhai, Union minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar, Netherlands ambassador in India Alphonsus Stoelinga and Kolkata Port Trust chairman Vinit Kumar at the unveiling of the plaque at Mai Baap Memorial in Surinam Ghat, Garden Reach on Saturday. photo by – Avik Purkait

The occasion that had brought Kanhai to Kolkata was Suriname Day. “My ancestors must have stood here for the last time before leaving India forever. The men carried two dhotis and two kurtas each. The women carried two saris each. Apart from this, some carried religious books like the Ramayana, Mahabharata or Quran,” Kanhai said, her voice choked with emotion.

Aashna Kanhai, the Surinamese ambassador to India, celebrated Suriname Day on the banks of Hooghly on Saturday, accompanied by minister of state for external affairs MJ Akbar, who unveiled a plaque at the Mai Baap Memorial on Suriname Ghat.

The memorial comprises a sculpture of a man and a woman, each carrying a potli, to commemorate the landing of Indian labourers at Paramaribo. The original sculpture is in Paramaribo and its replica was inaugurated in Kolkata in 2015.

Her great grandmother’s father was among the indentured labourers who landed in Suriname. During an earlier visit to Kolkata, she had heard the name Bhawanipore and it rang a bell. “I recalled that my ancestors were kept at the Bhawanipore Depot before they boarded the ship,” Kanhai added.

Initially, the transport and living conditions of Indian labourers in Suriname was worse than it had been prior to the abolition of the Dutch slave trade. Many died during the journey.

But why did the Dutch planters require Indian labourers? “In 1863, slavery was abolished by the Dutch and they entered into an agreement with the East India Company to recruit labourers from India to work in the sugarcane plantations in Suriname. Men, known as Arkatias were sent out to recruit people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They entered into a five-year contract and came to be known as the Contrakees or Agreemanees. They were to receive 25-pence a week for their labour but payment was often delayed. Of the 34,000-odd Indians who reached Suriname, 65% stayed back. Indentured labour was finally abolished 100 years ago in 1917,” the Surinamese ambassador said.

During the event, videos of renditions by Surinamese singer Raj Mohan were screened. In a Bhojpuri song, the singer brought out the feelings of a ‘coolie’ after he realized that he had been cheated. The second song by Mohan was Tagore’s Ami Chini Go Chini Tomarey, Ogo Bideshini. Kanhai, who speaks fluent Bhojpuri, said that the only Bengali she knows is the Rabindrasangeet which is extremely popular in Suriname.”That one stanza of the Bhojpuri song says it all. It reveals how the labourers from India had gone to Suriname with plans to return after five years with small fortunes. Once there, they realized that they were cheated. They were taken there as replacement slaves. Such was colonialism. They just played with words to make things sound better. The Hooghly wasn’t a river of hope. It was a river of no return. The peasants left their lands in the first place because of the huge taxation imposed by the colonial government in India. They had no surplus during lean seasons. Through such programmes, we celebrate the resilience of human spirit,” Akbar said.

While Dutch ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga recounted how his country shared a piece of history with India and Suriname, Kolkata Port Trust chairman Vinit Kumar said there are plans to improve the surroundings of the memorial. “The first labour ship to leave Kolkata for the Mauritius was in 1834. Later, ships left for several countries. We have plans to organize heritage tours to the Suriname Ghat and create a larger indenture memorial. We shall also upgrade the surroundings,” Kumar said.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Jayanta Gupta / TNN / November 26th, 2017

The Calcutta Chromosome

An empathetic look at a heartbreaking city

The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta Kushanava Choudhury (Bloomsbury Circus 241 pages; Rs 499)

Calcutta is personal. And the front flap blurb contains all the trigger words: immigrant, Princeton, British Raj, mosquitoes, hawkers, fish-sellers. Would this be another book balancing nostalgia with wide-eyed wonder? Or would it hit the road running in one more case of parachute authoring? Or, worse, would it be a supercilious outsider’s take on a city that is easy to love, easy to hate, but hard to know?

Calcutta, that most storied of cities, has been subjected to all kinds, right from Geoffrey Moorhouse’s 1971 work to Amit Chaudhuri’s Two Years in the City (2013). In recent years, it has been best served by Strangely Beloved: Writings on Calcutta (2014), a compilation of essays and excerpts that, by virtue of its format, held up special-interest mirrors to facets of the city, from the Eastern Calcutta wetlands to the soundscape that birthed India’s first rock band. The flipside is the academic undertone that robs the city of some of its joy, and the nostalgia shoehorn that depletes some immediacy.

Superficially, The Epic City has none of those problems: Kushanava Choudhury spent some of his childhood years in Calcutta and then comes back to work in the city as a reporter at The Statesman (peeve: the article is part of the masthead, so why lose it?) at the turn of the millennium as a fresh Ivy League graduate. “Like the revolutionaries of my parents’ generation, I wanted to change things…My best hope for making a difference was to work at a newspaper.” To translate those efforts to “make a difference” into a book would be a straight card into disaster zone. Where Choudhury scores emphatically is in twinning his heart, mind and soul — his own story — with the city’s to forge a work that is as gritty as the Beleghata canals, as wondrous as Kumortuli, as determinative as the Partition.

Groomed in the shoe-leather reporting The Statesman was once renowned for (the newspaper’s decline is an obvious parallel for the city), Choudhury lends depth to his observations with lightly worn erudition to produce one of the most readable accounts of a world city. Casual chats with relations, friends, colleagues merge seamlessly with purposeful conversations with trade unionists, little magazine archivists, impoverished scions of Calcutta’s oldest families, descendents of refugees, small publishers, idol sculptors. Underlying it all is an understanding of cultural crosscurrents — Satyajit Ray, of course, but more (and more powerfully) Ritwik Ghatak, Michael Madhusudan Dutt but also Mujtaba Ali — and an instinctive sense of history that burrows into unarticulated spaces, uncomfortable silences.

Cleverly constructed and utterly relevant as each of the 14 chapters of the book is in conveying Choudhury’s clear-eyed vision of the city, two, in my mind stand out. In ‘College Street’, the essay that opens the core section, the author uses a favourite trope for all city chroniclers to eviscerate one of its most fondly held myths: Of Calcutta as a centre of learning. Traipsing through the portals of little magazines and past “rainwater and dog shit” of university avenue, Choudhury trains his guns on the “notes business”, which finesses the education system to ensure intellectual stagnation more effectively than the much-reviled brain drain ever could.

The mood of The Epic City grows darker as it investigates the methodical de-industrialisation of Calcutta — the old factories in the southern reaches memorialised only as bus-stops such as Bengal Lamp and Usha — the rarely acknowledged Hindu-Muslim divide (including at The Statesman, as cosmopolitan as the city likes to think itself to be) and, in ‘Russian Dolls’, it culminates in a familial account of the run-up to Partition and its aftermath.

Weaving together the devastating sequence of the World War II in Europe, the Churchill-directed Bengal famine, the consequences of Direct Action Day with his own grandparents’ displacement from East Pakistan and pitching forward to the rise of the Communists and the Naxal rebellion to his father’s decision to migrate, Choudhury creates a stunning, tight fabric of continuum. Always empathetic, mostly sharp and frequently insightful, this is a heart-full work on a heartbreaking city, notwithstanding the gaping hole of the post-2011 Mamata Banerjee years. While it might even impress the resident Calcuttan, it is definitely recommended for anyone else ever touched by the city.

Sumana Mukherjee is a writer in Bengaluru

source: / The Indian Express / Home> Lifestyle> Books / by Sumana Mukherjee / October 07th, 2017

This video by a Cuban filmmaker turns Kolkata into a dizzying roller coaster ride

‘During my trip to Kolkata, I could only think of one word.’

Ever since City of Joy, Kolkata has been a foreign filmmaker’s joy, its dizzying roll of sights, faces, sounds, and activities offering exciting possibilities to documentary-makers in particular.

Cuban-born, Netherlands-based filmmaker Yuribert Capetillo Hardy aptly summed up the feel of Kolkata in the title of his short film – Roller Coaster. “During my trip to Kolkata, India, I could only think of one word: rollercoaster,” he wrote in the film description. “This film rollercoaster is the visualisation of my feelings, fears and emotions.”

Hardy’s film moves just like a rollercoaster, swooping low and soaring high to create an exhilarating collage of scenes from the city. He shot his film in just one week, while on assignment for a Dutch non-profit organisation, 1000Children. “The one thing that stays on my mind was a little baby sleeping alone in the streets, which made me think of my own daughter who grows up protected and loved,” Hardy noted.

We welcome your comments at

source: / / Home> Around The Web / by Scroll Staff / October 14th, 2017

Newly-discovered maps from 1887 tell Kolkata’s municipal story

Painstaking effort: In this British-era map of Kolkata, water bodies are shown in blue and concrete structures are marked in pink.

The newly-discovered Kolkata maps, created over a seven-year period, plot buildings, trees, lakes and even dustbins

Almost a hundred years before satellite-based mapping made information available to people at their fingertips, a municipal survey done in Kolkata by British surveyors documented not only streets, houses, landmarks and water bodies but also trees, telegraph and telephone posts, urinals, wells, hackney carriage stands, and dustbins, among others.

The maps of the first major municipal survey of the city carried out over a span of seven years from 1887 are so precise that they follow a scale of 50 feet to an inch. The survey was conducted by Lt. Colonel W.H. Wilkins, who had surveyed Bassein in British Burma. The exercise involved ₹2.38 lakh.

The West Bengal State Archives is now ready with a publication comprising 38 such maps detailing the city’s north division, from Mahratta Ditch in the north, the Hooghly river in the west, the Circular Road, Panchanna Gram in the east and Jorasanko and Kasaripara area in the South.

Titled ‘Calcutta Municipal Maps 1887-1893,’ the publication provides a rare glimpse into the urban history and landscape of Kolkata with the minutest details.

Simonti Sen, the director of State Archives said the painstaking detail in the maps was impressive.

“These maps will not only serve as a milestone to those interested in urban history of the city but can be of immense use to environmentalists who can look up information on water bodies and clusters of trees that existed between 1887 and 1893,” Ms. Sen told The Hindu.

The maps were discovered rolled up in a corner of the State Archives when the renovation of its premises was taken up in 2015. Archivists came across 20 inch x 18 inch sheets with alphanumeric markings that did not make much sense in the beginning.

After a thorough search, scores of such maps were found and it was ascertained that the alphanumeric markings were the order of the maps. The maps were marked on the basis of street names and names of landmarks. Consultations with experts showed that they were part of the survey done by W.H. Wilkins. Each map sheet bears the names of nine or ten surveyors, mostly British, including that of Col. Wilkins.

First effort

“The Calcutta Municipal Corporation was set up in 1876, and this may be the first major survey after that. We believe that the aim of the survey was to increase the tax base of the corporation. One can see the pucca houses and katcha houses being marked differently. Moreover they take into account all municipal infrastructure from sewage lines and drains to telegraph and telephone posts,” Sarmistha De, archivist who has worked extensively on the publication said.

Both Ms. Sen and Ms. De are convinced that the maps, which are being brought to the public domain for the first time, served as the basis of the survey conducted by Major R.B. Smart between 1903 and 1914, which historians call the most “noteworthy of all surveys made on the city till date”.

A changed city

One important thing that the maps point to is the significant change in Kolkata’s green cover and water bodies. They have distinct symbols for different kind of trees, while water bodies are shown as blue spaces, concrete structures are marked pink, and katcha houses, grey.

Almost all 38 maps indicate large open spaces and green. These areas have turned into the most congested parts now.

The maps highlight important educational and cultural institutions of 19th century Kolkata. For instance Bethun College and School, one of the first educational institutions exclusively for girls has been marked as Bethune Female School.

The historic Scottish Church College set up by Alexander Duff in the beginning of 19th century is described as The General Assembly’s Institution in map sheet no. S9. More landmarks such as Duff’s Hindu Girl’s School (sheet no. Q7) and Free Church Institution (sheet no. O3, O4) are also mentioned.

The Star Theatre which conducted its first show on 21 July, 1883 can also be seen at the crossing of Cornwallis Street and Grey Street. (map sheet no S7).

Historians can also find details about the Bengal Music School founded by Rabindranath Tagore, in 1881, referred to in map sheet numbers P4 and P5.

These map sheets also provide a glimpse of the transformation of urban geography.

The name change of some old city streets becomes immediately evident: European names have yielded to Indian ones.

For instance Cornwallis Street changed to Bidhan Sarani, Schalch’s Street to Durgacharan Banerjee Street and Grey Street is now Shree Aurobindo Sarani.

After the current publication, the State Archives plans to reveal 68 other maps.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Kolkata / by Shiv Sahay Singh / Kolkata – September 30th, 2017

Singur movement ‘historic win’, to be part of school syllabus: West Bengal minister

The minister also said that by March 15 the government would complete the entire process of employing 72,000 teachers in primary, upper-primary, Madhyamik and Higher Secondary schools.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee addressing a rally at Singur in 2011. (Express archive)

The iconic Singur movement would be introduced in the history syllabus of schools run by the West Bengal government from this year, West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee today said.

The minister, who described the Singur movement as a “historic win” for the farmers, told a question-answer session in the Assembly that a chapter detailing the agitation would be included in the history syllabus of class eight.
Later, speaking to reporters, Chatterjee said, “It’s a historic win for the farmers. Along with the Singur movement, the Tebhaga movement and Krishak Andolan will also feature in the syllabus and students must know that this movement is one of the milestones in the country’s history.”

Chatterjee said that distribution of the books had already been started. After the Supreme Court verdict allowing redistribution of Singur land among farmers, the state education department had sent the proposal to the syllabus committee for approval of the inclusion of Singur movement in the Madhyamik school syllabus.

The minister also said that by March 15 the government would complete the entire process of employing 72,000 teachers in primary, upper-primary, Madhyamik and Higher Secondary schools.

He requested ‘opponents’ not to move court creating hurdles in the process of employment of teachers and said that his department was going through a verification process at present.

source: / The Indian Express / Home> Education / by PTI / Kolkata – February 13th, 2017

CM dials Delhi after House nod to ‘Bengal’

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Kolkata :

After pushing through the name-change resolution in the assembly by a brute 189-31 majority, the Mamata Banerjee government on Monday lobbed the ball in the Centre’s court, asking it to fast-track the proposal to rechristen the state as Bengal (in English) and Bangla (in Bengali and Hindi).

Minutes after the passage of the government-sponsored resolution, the chief minister spoke to Union home minister Rajnath Singh and urged him to introduce a constitutional amendment at the earliest.

The road ahead could be treacherous as BJP and Left voted against the resolution on Monday and Congress remained ambivalent -it staged a walkout. I will request the Centre to pursue the matter so that it can be placed in Parliament.We want it to be done as early as possible,” Mamata said. She also criticised state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh for saying he would not allow the bill to be passed. “I will see how he (Ghosh) can stop it. I will speak to the Union home minister. Who is he to stop it?” Mamata thundered.

“Those who are opposing the name change just for the sake of politics should be ashamed. It is a historic blunder and history will not forgive them. It doesn’t matter who opposed it.The West Bengal assembly passed it,” the CM said.

While the debate in the assembly on Monday started on predictable lines, Trinamool Congress almost outwitted the opposition by keeping only `Bangla’ in the resolution. This was the name that had been adopted by the Left Front government and supported by the Congress in 1999. The split in the Opposition was immediate, with Congress harping on a referendum on the issue and staging a walkout.

“I have no problem with the name. It can be `Banga’, `Bangla’, `Paschim Banga’, anything.But how can a state have two names, one in Bengali and another in English. I am Sujan Chakraborty . So will I be called `Goodman Chakraborty’ or Sovondeb Chatterjee be called `Goodlooking God Chatterjee’.This is ridiculous. There should be only one name. Bengal or Bangla – whatever it might be,” said CPM’s Sujan Chakraborty .

Mamata replied, “We are in favour of Bangla as it goes with the culture, language and tradition of the state, but there is only one problem. ‘Bangla’ resonates with ‘Bangladesh’ and it will create a problem in the international arena and so we have decided to write ‘Bangla’ putting ‘Bengal’ in bracket. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said `Bangla’ is better than ‘Banga’, we endorsed your proposal.What is the problem then? Outside India, we are known as people from Bengal.”

source: / The Times of India / News Home> City> Kolkata / TNN / August 30th, 2016

A window on history – Remains of Portuguese days


Memory can be extraordinarily flexible. As the Portuguese coast recedes and our ship edges into Spanish waters, Évora’s reticence about the communist upsurge in the surrounding region called Alentejo reminds me of the stonewall I encountered in Hyderabad trying to talk of the Telangana revolt. Most people assumed I meant the agitation for a separate state. Few even remembered the earlier armed rising linked to the 1948 Calcutta Conference which also resulted in Malaya’s prolonged and bloody Emergency.

“In the Alentejo, you travel naturally with and to History,” writes a local chronicler. It didn’t know a revolution that never was like West Bengal where revolution means speeches, and revolutionaries fatten in office for decade after decade. Alentejo’s was a revolution that failed like Telangana’s. But without the violence. It also suffered from a confusion of aims. Both mixed the local with the global. The immediate impetus in Telangana was opposition to the Nizam of Hyderabad’s regime. However, the Calcutta Conference spoke of a wider ideological purpose. In fact, many believe the insurrection petered out because Moscow’s rapprochement with New Delhi prompted the Comintern to abandon the conference’s ostensible hosts, the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students.

The peasantry around Évora where we spent several delightful days also felt betrayed. Évora is a charming medieval walled town whose university students in black medallion-studded cloaks over their frock coats sing and dance in the cobbled central square, the Praça do Giraldo, chasing away horrible memories of the burnings that took place there during the Inquisition. Founded in 1559, the university closed down in 1759, when the authoritarian prime minister of the day turned out the Jesuits. It didn’t reopen until 1973. Évora was under Muslim rule for 400 years. They came to help a local contender for power and stayed to consolidate their own rule.

The real contradiction was between radical young officers of the Movimento das Forças Armadas and peasant and student protesters clamouring for reform in 1974. The officers overthrew Portugal’s long dictatorship in a last-ditch attempt to pre-empt more drastic change. The protesters in the streets who gave them carnations which they put into the barrels of their guns – hence the name Carnation Revolution – hoped for a drastic social and political transformation. The organizations of workers and young people that sprouted all over the Alentejo resembled the proletarian councils (soviets) associated with Russia’s October Revolution.

Ordinary soldiers weary of war also set up their own committees to demand democratic rights and an end to Lisbon’s imperialist wars. If national liberation movements could rock the foundations of colonial rule in the so-called “overseas provinces” of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé, they asked, why should the metropole remain under the corporatist yoke? Landless labourers who toiled on the great estates called latifundio seized the fields they farmed. According to government estimates, about 2,200,000 acres were occupied. Some 1,000 estates were collectivized.

Something like the Spanish Civil War seems to have been fought out in miniature but with roles reversed. Claiming that fascism had to be defeated, Portugal’s reformist Socialist Party and Stalinist Communist Party sprang to support the MFA and the junta it had installed. Social historians believe they destroyed the chance of a socialist revolution. Lisbon promulgated the Land Reform Review Law in 1977. The collectives were dissolved. The original owners repossessed the latifundio. Portugal’s aristocracy has retained its wealth through centuries of upheavals. Some of the mansions and manor houses have been in the same family for generations. Hoardings in the vineyards along the road from Évora to Lisbon proudly proclaim the ownership of families like the Fonsecas. No lingering memory of the 1974 uprising disturbs Évora’s tranquillity.

The official justification is that the Alentejo collective farms could not be modernized. In the mid-1980s, agricultural productivity was half that of the levels in Greece and Spain and a quarter of the European average. Land holdings were polarized between small and fragmented family farms in the north and inefficiently large collectives in the south. Even Bangladeshi immigrants who had managed to acquire Portuguese work permits fled to more prosperous economies. Decollectivization was said to be the only hope.

I learnt more about Évora and its unexpected links with Bengal from Trilokesh Mukherjee, my graphic artist friend who lived in the Dordogne in France for many years. Now he seems to spend more time in Oxford and South Wales but remains a storehouse of the minutiae of Indo-European culture. Trilokesh told me Évora was the birthplace of Manuel da Assumpção, an Augustinian monk who spent many years near Dhaka and is credited with writing and printing the first dictionary and grammar of the Bengali language, Vocabulario em idioma bengalla e portugueza. “The Portuguese even cast some Tamil and Malayalam types. But they never could cast Bengali types.” It’s a matter of everlasting regret to Trilokesh that this final triumph eluded the Portuguese. “The first book to be printed in Bengali was printed in Lisbon though the writer, translator and the compiler came from Évora,” he wrote. Alas, it was set in Latin type.

Évora’s state library treasures another historic document, the manuscript of Brahman-Roman-Kyathalik-Samvada: an argument on Law between a Roman Catholic and a Brahmin by the Bengali Dom Antonio de Rozario. Dom Antonio’s life is shrouded in mystery. No one knows his Bengali name. He was apparently a princeling of Bhusana, which some place near Dhaka and others near Jessore. According to one version, Mug pirates took him to Arakan as their prisoner. Another has it he was sold into slavery in Goa. Both agree that another Portuguese Augustinian priest was his saviour and that he converted to Christianity.

The reinvented Dom Antonio is believed to have converted 30,000 Hindus in and around his estate, thereby arousing the wrath of the Jesuits in Goa who sent a senior priest to investigate. He confirmed Dom Antonio’s proselytizing success but added the converts had little knowledge of Christianity and had been paid to be baptized. It must be added before ghar wapsi fanatics reach for their purifying water that this was the competing camp’s verdict. No rivalry is more relentlessly bitter than that between the pious who are convinced of their monopoly of the truth.

Religion and language are the two main links. Vasco da Gama wasn’t quite the pirate in priest’s clothing that Bharatiya Janata Party loyalists made out on the 400th anniversary of his landing at Calicut, but he did have a strong religious motivation. Another Portuguese sailor, Luís de Camões, called Portugal’s Shakespeare, immortalized his achievement in the epic poem, The Lusiads. If Calcutta had Anthony Feringhee (Hensman Anthony), Dhaka’s Christians revere Sadhu Antoni (St Anthony of Padua). Some credit the Portuguese with creating Bengal’s first modern city in Hooghly. Others hold their imports of tobacco, potato and guava changed Bengali taste for all time.

With so many connections, it was exciting to stumble upon a Bengali gift to Portuguese (or so I imagined) when my wife was allotted the janela seat on the train to Sintra. I emailed a friend in Calcutta who passed it on to Aditi Roy Ghatak who messaged me from Macau, where she was holidaying, to say the former Portuguese colony had given her a janela on Portugal. I now learn that far from being Bengali, janla is an import like potato, guavas or tobacco. Derived from the vulgar Latin januella, the Portuguese janela travelled east with those first Europeans to inspire the Sinhalese janelaya and Tamil cannal. Our own janla is like almirah or kameez. Borrowing within reason is all right providing it doesn’t prompt Mamata Banerjee to follow the late P.N. Oak and claim that Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower are really Bengali creations.

source: / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> Opinion> Story / by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray / Saturday – June 04th, 2016

On the street where you live

An advertisement in the PM Bagchi Directory Panjika proclaiming its superiority to other almanacs as pundits of all centres of learning depended on it
An advertisement in the PM Bagchi Directory Panjika proclaiming its superiority to other almanacs as pundits of all centres of learning depended on it

The last entry of the Calcutta Street Directory of 1915 published by P.M. Bagchi & Company Private Limited is on Halliday Street named after Sir Frederick James Halliday, KCB, the first lieutenant governor of Bengal (1854-1859).

The street was swept aside when the Calcutta Improvement Trust (set up in 1911) began the construction of Central Avenue, later renamed Chittaranjan Avenue. What only remains of this street is Motilal Seal’s Free College, whose headmaster in 1915 was Jagabandhu Ghosh, BA, according to the “directory”. This entry provides the names and sometimes the professions of the residents of each building on this thoroughfare, as it does in the case of all the other streets and lanes of the city of Calcutta listed in the “directory”. Its function, as scholar Gautam Bhadra pointed out at the launch of the tremendously value-added version of the original last Wednesday, was to “direct”.

Originally an appendage of the almanac or panjika published by P.M. Bagchi, the street directory in Bengali, unlike Thacker Spink & Company’s older one in English of mostly “white” neighbourhoods, covers the “native” areas too, and is part of the urban ethos, said Bhadra.

However, he pointed out that the first such “directory” was Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhyay’s satire published in 1823 titled Kolikata Kamalalaya where city slickers point out to country bumpkins the city landmarks. Marketing Bengali almanacs was a highly competitive business, and P.M. Bagchi had undertaken this huge survey of the city. Playwright and humorist Amritalal Basu had written in Kautuk Jautuk that sadly, Bengalis were losing their hold over Calcutta. But Basu was wrong, said Bhadra, for the city never belonged to Bengalis alone. This street directory presents a layered and complete picture of those living in the city. He congratulated Jayanta Bagchi, grandson of Kishorimohan Bagchi and current director of the firm, for bringing back to life this century-old street directory, adding valuable material to it. The book carries a wealth of old advertisements which indicate prevailing popular tastes.

“Current histories on Calcutta are sterile and irrelevant,” said scholar Sukanta Chaudhuri, on the occasion. There is hardly any material on the city’s growth and development, its present and future and public utilities. However, this street directory, unlike websites, telephone directories and Yellow Pages, presented a total picture.

Scholar Samik Bandyopadhyay, who is one of the two editors of the street directory, said when one goes through the book one gets a clear idea of community building. It initially projects a macro history, and a micro history thereafter.

The other editor, urban historian Debasis Bose, has written the preface which presents a history of P.M. Bagchi and that of other such directories. He traced the rag-to-riches story of the entrepreneur, Kishorimohan Bagchi, who had established the firm in 1888 and became a resident of Masjidbari Street in Darjipara, where he specialised in making rubber stamps, stamp pads, various kinds of inks, syrups, glue and toiletries.

The brand was so much in demand, fakes swamped the market. So he got the inimitable labels printed in Germany. Kishorimohan named the firm after his father, Peary Mohan, who had once disowned him for he feared his son would turn out to be a loser.

In mid-19th century, people could not think of beginning the day without consulting an almanac or panjika. But to give his products a cachet, Kishorimohan imported two printing presses from England. Besides churning out typical Battala fare, he also brought out Harisadhan Mulhopadhyay’s popular history of Calcutta in novel form titled Kolikata Ekaler O Sekaler. Kishorimohan died at the age of 55 in 1923.

During the days of the East India Company, the pundits of Bhatpara, Nabadwip and other centres of learning, on an invitation from Maharaja Krishnachandra, put their heads together and standardised the dates of all festivals. Almanacs began to be printed probably at the beginning of the 19th century. To make them even more popular, invaluable information on postal and legal fees and suchlike, began to be added as these tomes became weightier. Thacker Spink’s almanac dominated the scene for 80 years.

Among Bengalis, Ramanath Das was the first to publish an almanac with a treasure trove of information needed all the time. When Kishorimohan first published the street directory priced at one and half rupee (against Rs 24 for the Thacker Spink one), a review read: “A Bengali Directory with a Bengali Almanac on the model of Messrs Thacker, Spink and Co’s work on the same line. This is perhaps the first attempt of its kind that has been made by a native of Bengal.”

But Kishorimohan did not ape the English. His team of field workers fanned out all over the city to gather information and nothing was untouchable for them. Even the names of the denizens of Sonagachhi and other red-light areas are mentioned here. Sadly we have no inkling about the identity of these field workers.

In those days, when there was no compulsion for being politically-correct, there was no reason for concealing regional chauvinism, and derisive nicknames for settlers from our neighbouring states in eastern India were freely used. Many neighbourhoods were named after the caste which perhaps dominated that area. Take for instance Chasha Dhobapara (now Girish Park north) from No. 146 Baranasi Ghosh Street. It was intersected by Brahmanpara Lane. Nothing escaped the attention of those who did the field work – thus vacant plots, ponds, slums…everything was indicated along with the address.

There are interesting nuggets on the history of Calcutta. There are several entries on the Banaji family, the first Parsi family to settle down in Calcutta – Parsi Church Street, where Rustomji Cowasjee Banaji established the first fire temple of the city in 1839, Parsibagan Lane near Maniktala, Parsibagan Street. Falgun Das Lane, which intersects Sankharitolla Street, was named after a man from Odisha who made a fortune by supplying coolies to ships.

What we know as Loudon Street was actually Loudoun. The wife of Lord Hastings was in her own right the Countess of Loudoun. The “u” was dropped at some point of time. An entry recounts how electric lights were introduced in the Kalighat temple (Kalighat First Lane). At No. 15 Gobinda Sarkar Lane near Banchharam Akrur Lane was a Philharmonic Orchestra, and a Bengali circus company belonging to Nabagopal Mitra operated from Canal West Road. Asutosh Mukherjee’s slum at 1-6 Kankulia Road included paddy fields, and the man owned other properties on the road. Was this Mukherjee our ” Banglar Bagh”

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Front Page> Calcutta> Story / by Soumitra Das / Friday – September 04th, 2015

Ready to become India – Celebratory canopies in enclaves on eve of country merger

Preparations at Mashaldanga, the Bangladeshi enclave, for Friday’s transfer of territory. Picture by Main Uddin Chisti
Preparations at Mashaldanga, the Bangladeshi enclave, for Friday’s transfer of territory. Picture by Main Uddin Chisti

Dinhata :

The people of Mashaldanga built the road themselves with mud and covered it with bamboo cane. A big gate draped in blue cloth stands at the start of the road which leads to a colourful canopy.

The road did not cost much but the pandal did – Rs 2 lakh. Yet the people of Mashaldanga, the biggest Bangladeshi enclave in India, paid for it out of their pockets because on Friday this is where they will celebrate their coming into being.

On July 31 midnight, as Bangladesh and India exchange territories, the borders of the enclaves will dissolve.

It will mean that Mashaldanga and 50 other Bangladeshi enclaves in India will become Indian territory. Similarly the 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh will become Bangladesh territory.

For the people of Mashaldanga it will mean having a country in the real sense for the first time in their lives.

For 67 years since Independence, the people in the enclaves have been overlooked by both the countries. They have been denied everything that a state can give its citizens, starting with identity.

From Saturday morning, for the first time 14,000 people on the Indian side and 41,000 people in Bangladesh will become citizens of the respective countries.

Enclave residents were given a chance to choose their country. No one from the Indian side – the Bangladeshi enclaves are mostly in Cooch Behar and a few in Jalpaiguri – is crossing over.

In total, 979 people are coming over from the four districts in Bangladesh with enclaves – Kurigram, Lalmanirhat, Nilkhamari and Panchagarh – said the superintendent of police of Kurigram, Mahammad Tabarukullah.

Mashaldanga illustrates perfectly what being denied a country is like.

Through the middle of the green fields of Madhya Mashaldanga, the part of the enclave where the celebrations are being held, run electricity lines.

Yet no house in Madhya Mashaldanga has electricity because it is in Bangladesh.

Through the middle of Mashaldanga runs a road, but not many step on it, because it leads into the outer world – India.

Only one house in Madhya Mashaldanga has electricity, because that house is in an Indian enclave within the Bangladeshi enclave.

This enclave, with its only house, since it is Indian territory, has electric lines reaching it, resting on a row of poles that cut through the green fields.

What applies to electricity also applies to jobs. No Mashaldanga resident has ever had one.

If the children go to school in Mashaldanga, they need to cook up the name of a father as no father here has identity proof.

Jainal Abdedin, a 23-year-old from Madhya Mashaldanga, who was at the forefront of the movement to exchange enclaves, is a third-year political science honours student at Deoanhat College in Dinhata. Even if he became a graduate, he would not be able to get a job, because he would need more identity proof than required so far.

He has been able to go through school and college using the name of another person, an Indian citizen, as his father. Because his father, like all other residents of Mashaldanga, has no papers.

“Mithye bolte bolte obhyesh hoye gechhe (I have got used to telling lies),” he says.

But may be that would change now. With him becoming an Indian citizen, he can think of having a job.

The enclave exchange has been achieved, says Diptiman Sengupta, the man behind the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, because of the will of the people. The organisation has led the movement for the exchange and Jainal is a member of this organisation. Jainal, with his friend Saddam Mian, also look after the social media presence of the movement.

Sengupta points out that the history of enclaves began in the displacement of people. From the 1880s, when land began to be organised in India by the British and be marked, the landowners of the areas in which the enclaves – chhitmahal in Bengali – lie, began to gift each other mauzas as stakes in card or chess games.

But that was undivided India, and the stakes got scattered over what would come up as borders between first, India and Pakistan, and then Bangladesh.

After Independence, depending on the ownership, these plots remained Indian land in Pakistan/Bangladesh or Pakistani/Bangladeshi land in India.

And all the countries forgot them, though there were agreements from time to time.

The first one was between Jawaharlal Nehru and Feroze Khan Noon, the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in 1958. In 1947, the Land Boundary Agreement was signed by Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Many governments and working groups and decades later, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ratified the agreement on June 6, 2015, during his visit to Bangladesh.

“The government moved aggressively when it felt the will of the people,” says Sengupta. He thinks the exchange is a triumphant example of a history-making event that political parties could not interrupt.

The Indian authorities are making arrangements to receive the people from Balngladesh, who are expected after November 30.

Tota Mian, a Mashaldanga resident in his seventies, said today: ” Akhon swadhinata pailam (We have got independence, finally).”

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / by Chandrima S. Bhattacharya and Main Uddin Chisti / Friday – July 31st, 2015

In six decades, Santhals have turned away from agriculture

The Santhal community is celebrating a festival at Bhalukshole village in Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
The Santhal community is celebrating a festival at Bhalukshole village in Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Study conducted by Anthropological Survey of India.

Research undertaken by the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) has pointed to a shift in the socio-economic and cultural life of tribal communities like the Santhals over the past few decades.

A recent study conducted by the AnSI at Kuotala village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, has revealed that in six decades the economy of the village has shifted from agriculture to one of menial work. Most of the men from the village now work as daily labourers, rickshaw pullers, gardeners and caretakers at private residences. The women are engaged as maids in the various households in the region.

Interestingly, a seminal work on the Santhals of the village by Nabendu Datta Majumdar titled ‘The Santhal — A study in cultural change,’ based on the research he carried out in the 1950s, clearly states that the tribal society was primarily agrarian.

“The principal economic activities of the Santhals of Kuotala and adjoining villages are agriculture, hunting, fishing, rearing of domestic animals and day labour. Agriculture is the chief source of livelihood…” the book published in 1956 stated.

“However, now, the village economy has transformed with the rise in demand for cash in hand at the end of the day. Menial work in various developmental activities run by government or non-government organisations is being sought after by the villagers of Kuotala,” Shyamal Kumar Nandy, Research Associate, AnSI, Kolkata told The Hindu.

Along with the economic activities a change has also come about in the cultural and religious practices of the tribals. While Mr. Majumdar’s book clearly referred to a strict hierarchical order in the society, headed by a chief known as Manjhi, the latest research points to a weakening of the social structure among the Santhals.

“Some members of the community are not willing to hold the post of the Manjhi as they feel that they will have to devote a lot of time to community activities and not be able to make sufficient money,” Mr. Nandy said.

The researchers have come across an instance where the Jaherthan or the sacred grove of the Santhal community had to be shifted because of construction work carried out by the Visva Bharati, Kakuli Chakraborty, head of office, Eastern Regional Centre of (AnSI) told The Hindu.

Jaherthan — a cluster of trees — is considered by the Santhals to be the abode of their principal deities.

According to the publication of Mr. Majumdar, Kuotala dates back to 1865, long before the central university was set up, when a few immigrant Santhal families from the Santhal Parganas had settled there.

According to the book, in 1938, the land in and around Kuotala and the adjoining Santhal villages were purchased by Visva Bharati from the local zamindar of Surul and the Santhals automatically became the tenants of Visva Bharati.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> National> Other States / by Shiv Sahay Singh / Kolkata – February 05th, 2015