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Calcutta 1981

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Jean Racine

Session I. A. The Foundations of the Present: Understanding Calcutta

4. The city with two pasts

Alok Banerjee

Texte intégral

Introduction and assumptions

  • a The paper, as presented in the Seminar, was published in two instalments on 22nd and 23rd June 1981 (...)

1To the non-Calcuttans, the city of Calcutta has a distinctive image of its own. The image depicts the city as the place of origin for the modem (i) educational, (ii) reformative, (iii) literary, (iv) cultural, (v) recreational and (vi) political movements in India. Calcutta is also remembered nostalgically as a beautiful metropolis with all civic amenities available for the residents and comparable to the cities of the West. But at present she has lost her pre-eminence in the socio-cultural-political field; civic amenities have almost disappeared and the communities living in Calcutta eke out a living in a semi-doomed city. What is puzzling however, is the fact that this community, which has lost so much, still go on trying to live a normal and in many instances, a creative lifea. This apparently confusing character of the city will however appear less confusing, if the picture of the city that emerges today is examined within the perspective of the city's past.

2Calcutta was the product of an economic and political process imposed from outside India. The city originated as a tiny trading post, on the wrong side of the river Hooghly (in terms of the united Indian market Howrah would have been a better location) on semi-marshy land, which provided natural protection for a small group of British merchants against the representative of the Moghul imperial power as well as other European rivals. Within a few decades of its origin, Calcutta became the political, economic and commercial hub of British Empire in Asia. Its geographical location, at the eastern fringe of a dying indigenous empire, far away from the emerging Indian powers during the eighteenth Century, encouraged the British to conduct their empire building activities from Calcutta. The city was strategically located from the point of view of British trade with the Far East and Australia as well as of the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin with abundance of paddy, saltpetre, salt, fine textile and indigo and later jute, tea, and mineral wealth of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

3The fringe benefits of an imperial city attracted indigenous communities who acted as suppliers of raw-materials, semi-processed goods, and business services; and later on an economic interest was created within the local dominant communities which were dependent on the continuous presence of the British.

4The imperial past of the city made her prominent as the second largest city of the empire. Within a couple of centuries of her birth, the city declined rapidly and slipped down her high citadel of dominance. This is the logical end, the inherent corollary of the imperial growth of the city and the self-destructive process of the colonial pattern of trade and socio-political framework.

5The process, which was the foundation of Calcutta's short-lived glory, created an environment in which the community at large never shared the benefits of the city and therefore remained unconcerned with the deprivations of Calcutta. Later on, another group, close to the British, lost finally faith in the British System of government. They refused to identify themselves anymore with the British interest, and were thus equally deprived of the fringe benefits of the imperial city. They were not troubled with the slow death of the "imperial past." In a sense they anticipated and welcomed it.

6This paper suggests that the communities of Calcutta emerged out of two "pasts". The ostensible and apparent decadence of the city is the logical conclusion of one past. The manifestation of creativity and vitality is the product of Calcutta's second past.

Calcutta and her "imperial past"

  • b Murshid Kuli Khan, the then Governor of Bengal on behalf of the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb, transferr (...)
  • c "Burdened white" refers to Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden" for the whites suffering for the (...)

7In spite of setbacks like the epidemics of 1757 and 1762 and the Bengal famine of 1772, Calcutta had more population than Murshidabad in its heydayb. According to Montgomery Martin, as early as 1796 there were business houses in the city which registered an annual turnover of around Rs. 20 million. Baron Haiwell estimated in 1857 that the population of Calcutta was 4,00,000. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a city with half a million of population was a rare phenomenon. However, all the affluence of this city was the by-product of the operation of a foreign empire, as the centre for recruitment, formation and sustenance of an army to conquer and retain India, organization of the tea gardens, creation of exploitative industries, etc. This was Calcutta's "imperial past" which was built for the "burdened whites", and their "supporting babus" to run the Empirec.

  • d Banians or Banias: In northern India and particularly in Gujarat, Hindu traders. In the Calcutta co (...)
  • e Educated people of the middle class; white collars. The upper middle class included affluent and in (...)

8The communities which came closest to the British in the formative years of the city were mostly urban merchants and influential Hindu families with a background of serving the Moghul officials. These groups mainly worked as political banias, munshis, financiers, etc., to the East India Company and Company officialsd. They interpreted to the British the strength and weakness of the people whom the latter were trying to conquer and subjugate. These groups also provided credit for British enterprises as well as service for the management of their affairs. A number of rich houses emerged out of these groups in Calcutta. These families, serving as political and economic middlemen for the Company, earned fabulous fortunes, which were mostly invested in mahajani (loan finance for agrarian productivity) and creation of urban landlordism. They owned landed property in Calcutta itself, which they let out at rack rents to poorer inhabitants. The subdivision of such tenancies and properties and the influx of workers and the lower middle class from the countryside have led to the creation of the bustees of today. The imperial past of the city fostered bhadralok classe which in many ways served, as a complementary wing, for the expansion of British empire. The leadership of this bhadralok community, in the nineteenth Century, was controlled by the influential families. The reformative and other movements, which took place during this period were always dependent on the approval and support of the Government. The superiority and beneficence of the British Raj, compared to the preceding regimes, was asserted again and in all the Indian-controlled magazines and papers that were published those days.

Plate 2: A CITY WITH TWO PASTS...

Plate 2: A CITY WITH TWO PASTS...

1. The colonial past. An Indian Prince pays a visit to the Old Government House, on Esplanade. Drummers, palanquins, elephants on one side; a palace of Palladian style on the other: an image of colonial Calcutta, where for a long time the local aristocracy supported the alien power. (from Daniells' "Views of Calcutta" 1788).

2. The Indian substrata. Near the Black Pagoda erected in 1730 on Chitpur Road by Govinda Ram Mitter, a rich landlord, a house built on a go down, small shops with thatched roofs so typical of the Bengali villages, cartmen beating their bullocks: off the central core of the colonial city, Calcutta grew by the migration of the wealthy and the poor alike. (from Daniells' "Views of Calcutta" 1787).

  • f Developed by Saiyid Ahmad (1786-1831), the Wahabi movement preached for the revival of the original (...)

9Not that there was no criticism of excesses committed by individual British officials, but the British occupation with its systematic exploitation was neither questioned nor resented. In the thirties and seventies of the nineteenth Century, the British government tried to bring the British citizens in India under the jurisdiction of Indian judges. The agitations against the proposal organized by the British planters and merchants were supported by important Indian leaders. That the Gladstone government in London intended to give protection to Indian cultivators and the labourers in the tea gardens was hardly explained. Abstract equality with judges of the ruling race was enough for the beneficiales themselves. The uprising under the Wahabi movement or the Santal uprising of 1855 was hardly noticed by the city's Indian intelligenstia. The revolt of 1857 actually made the Calcutta intelligenstia close their ranks and give wholehearted support to the Britishf. When the people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar came out in open rebellion against the British occupation of India, the leading citizens of Calcutta were repeatedly holding meetings and passing resolutions expressing their whole-hearted support to the British. There were also proposals for organizing a militia in Calcutta to Tight the mutineers, if necessary. Great joy and satisfaction was expressed whenever there was news of setbacks of discomfiture of the "rebel" forces. The Sikh and the Nepalese forces helped in suppressing the revolt, fighting alongside the British. The bhadralok dass in Calcutta provided the intellectual and moral support. However, this pattern of behaviour was inevitable since the whole System which sustained their economic and political dominance depended on the existence of the British Raj.

10The bhadralok community not only established a stranglehold on Calcutta but extended its hegemony all over India. Wherever the British went they accompanied them as political banians, officials, and subsequently as Professionals. In the late nineteenth Century, there were lamentation in the Bengali press over the gradual decline of the number of Bengali officials, teachers, Professionals, etc., in other parts of India because of the emergence of indigenous, rival middle class in those areas.

The "other past"

  • g Dhobis are washermen. Palkis are palenquins. A palki required at least two bearers (the rickshaw, w (...)

11Almost simultaneously with the growth of the imperial city or Calcutta, in the later decades of eighteenth Century, the "second past" of the metropolis came into existence, with the continuous inflow of population from the exploited eastern region of India. The tragedy was that Calcutta alone presented a semblance of an alternative life in contrast to the dull and tortured life of the people living in this region. The total decay of indigenous industries and exploitation of the cultivators, brought about by the introduction of permanent settlement and zamindars, coupled with the employment potentiality in Calcutta as a result of the creation of the port and jute and textile industries. For the first time in the history of India an urban labour force found employment in the organized industries. The first major inflow of the communities were spearheaded by domestic servants, persons belonging to the service sectors, such as dhobis, transport workers (i.e., mainly palki bearer)g, masons, artisans, port labourers, etc. followed by factory workers. The palki bearers mainly came from Orissa, the factory workers in the beginning were mostly Bengalis from the surrounding districts. Later on, a significant percentage of factory workers came from Bihar and the eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh. Numerically, other language groups always were and are not so significant in this city.

12These immigrants partly obtained employment in the domestic services of the British who organized their day-to-day fife after the style of Indian princes. Persons offering themselves for domestic service were also hired by the rich and economically affluent bhadralok community of the city. The domestic services sector was in a sense part of the "imperial past" though it formed its lowest rung. The labour of the ports, the palki bearers and the factory workers did not fit in with the "imperial past". It is true that the need of the imperial city created a demand for their employment, but they retained their individuality and traditional way of life as far as possible. These groups came to Calcutta to obtain employment and earn a wage, which was not available to them in their villages. Psychologically they were always linked with their home villages and whenever the opportunity came, they returned there. The city had exploited the countryside and in a way they had come to claim their due. Whatever they saved from their earnings, they transferred to their village home. Even today the labourers and domestic servants in this city are regular money senders to the villages where they come from.

13The Calcutta of so many "firsts", (the first sewerage System in India in 1859, the first filtered water supply System in 1860, the first horse-drawn trams in 1873, the first academic institutions imparting western education, etc.) and so many parks and palaces had its darker facet, too. Grandpere writes: "As we enter the town, a very extensive square opens before us, with a large piece of water in the middle....the square itself is of magnificent houses, which render Calcutta not only the handsomest town in Asia, but one of the finest". But Mackintosh, a British around the same period writes: "....from the western extremity of California to the western coast of Japan, there is not a spot where decency and convenience are so grossly insulted as in the scattered confused houses, huts, sheds, streets, lanes, alleys windings, gutters, sinks and tanks, which jumbled into an indistinguished mass of filth and corruption, equally offensive, to human sense and health, and compose the capital of the English Company's Government in India.”

14While discussing physical improvement of Calcutta, in the context of fund to be raised through one per cent employment tax imposed by the British Government, Baron Dowlean, in 1860, recommended the following actions:

  1. The European part of the city, i.e; the division south of Park Street, which is well ventilated, should be maintained as such and the growing bustees should be removed;

  2. Status quo should be maintained in the intermediary division, between Park Street and Laibazar, having mixed communities of Eurasians, Indian Christians and Indians, and which is reasonably ventilated;

  3. About the north division, north of Laibazar, with predominantly Indian population, which is non-ventilated and filthy, having only two avenues and two squares for an area with around 9,000 brick houses and 42,000 huts, nothing can be done, excluding opening up of a couple of more squares.

Fig. 4.1. Calcutta in 1785: an image of the double past.
"Europe and Natives" on a British map of the XVIIIth Century.
Source: Fort William - India House corresponderse, vol. V, India Record Series. National Archives of India.

15The gorgeous part of the city was never for these people, living outside the vortex of the activities of the empire building community. The civic administration in the eighteenth and nineteenth Century planned to provide various facilities to the European sector of the city and considered making provisions for the creation of avenues in the Indian sector of the city. There was never any plan for accommodating the immigrant labour forces. There was not even a negative planning like imposing restriction on indiscriminate settlement of tenants by the urban landlords without providing minimum planning and subdivision of plots for ventilation. The jute and textile factories which started emerging from the middle of nineteenth Century and caused influx of thousands of labourers, disowned any responsibility to provide minimum housing facilities to their employees. Though there were Indian representatives in the municipal administration and though a number of Indian journals interested in local issues were published from Calcutta, neither the Indian representative nor the papers even referred to this extremely important social issue of inefficient and callous planning and non-provision of minimum civic facilities to these people.

16The great debates of the Bengali bhadralok community hardly referred to the lot of these migrants to the city. Some references to the industrial labourers are available only in the records of the various Companies responsible for the management of these factories. These reports again and again stated that their labour force was highly "unreliable" as the labour was never attracted by the prospect of permanent employment. Normally, after working for several months, and as soon as they had accumulated some savings, they returned home to spend their money. Only when such savings were exhausted, they would return to the factories. On an average, the daily absenteeism came to around 20 to 25 per cent. However, this was not a question of native apathy to work as depicted by the European managements of these factories. This reflects their reluctance to leave their village homes unless driven by the lack of employment opportunity. Given a chance, they would return to their village.

17Unfortunately, though from early nineteenth Century a number of bengali magazines, wecklies and newspapers, were published in Calcutta, they chose to ignore the historical happenings involved in emergence of the first organized urban labour force in India. To the "imperial past", psychologically, these communities were non-existent. There is hardly any recorded history of these communities during that particular crucial period. Stray informations in Company reports from 1870 onwards, record that the workers resisted wage cuts, non-declaration of a public holiday on auspicious days, etc. Even on working days the workers resorted to "go slow" tactics, even general strikes were organized because of non-fulfilment of their demands in spite of the absence of any organized trade union movements.

18The first strike reported in the newspapers occurred in 1830, when the palki bearers of Calcutta went on general strike, because the government imposed upon them certain fixed rates and forced them to get a licence paying a fee, to operate their palkis. The protest against "oppression" against the established authority in Calcutta, through "open confrontation" was started by these palki bcarers and factory workers and it was they who for the first time went beyond conducting meetings and submitting petitions to the Government. These facts of strikes, exploitation of the labour by the management in factories, etc. were not extensively reported in any of the Indian newspapers of those days.

19Although during the nineteenth Century, the municipal form of civic administration was introduced in Calcutta with Indian representatives and even though a number of eminent reformers debated various forms of reforms within the Society, little attention was given to the unhappy physical environment within the bustees. They were as much the creation of callousness of the administration as of safe investment made by the affluent Calcuttans of those days.

Emigrants out of the "imperial past"

20From the seventies of the nineteenth Century, a part of the bhadralok community gradually came out of the total control of the comprador classes in the city. The exploitation of the cultivators by the indigo planters and resistance by the cultivators did create a positive impact in the mind of this group. There were repeated criticisms of the behaviour of the indigo planters and accusations that the European district officials always favoured the planters. The plantation labour policy of the government was severely criticized. Nor did the Indians have a share in the jute industry. The jute industry was looked down upon as an economic drain to India which destroyed the indigenous gunny bag makers. How far British occupation had in fact benefited the Indians was also questioned. Some of the journals of those days, particularly the Hindu Patriot and that remarkable journal Som Prokash, analytically referred to these baneful aspects of the Empire, from the second half of the nineteenth Century. A section of the middle class community started losing its everlasting faith in the British System. The "Swadeshi movement", boycotting of British goods, organized resistance against the partition of Bengal and sporadic terrorist movements, in the early decades of the twentieth Century, were the manifestations of their rejection of identification of interest with the continuous British occupation of India. This in turn led to the rejection of the Bengali educated community by the Imperial Government.

21This section of the educated bhadralok class gradually outgrew the mesmeric influence of British dominance. Their participation in political agitation as well as revolutionary activities led the Imperial Government to discriminate against them and to force them outside the fringe of opportunities connected with the "imperial past" so long as the Raj existed. These "emigrants" from the "imperial past" along with the Calcuttans of the "second past" did not feel any adverse after-effects of the death of the "imperial past". Both the communities, one from the very beginning and the other from a latter date, had no share in the material-gains of the Empire. Therefore losing those fringe benefits had no meaning to them. These two groups had to come doser together for protecting their common interest. From the third decade of the present Century, it was a common occurrence that the ministerial classes, i.e., the great grandsons of the pro-Empire, urban educated classes, were joining forces with organized labour, for trade union as well political movements. Whatever they gained, they gained from this period onwards and whatever they lost, was not theirs to loose. This is the spirit which provides inner strength to the Calcutta of today.

The two pasts and communities of Calcutta today

22The historical processes that caused Calcutta's meteoric rise to political, economic and cultural dominance in India within a short historical span of time, and her subsequent fall from the seat of eminence in five decades (1690 when Calcutta was founded; 1912, when the political capital was shifted from Calcutta to New Delhi, and 1947 when the British left India and Bombay started functioning as Indian economic capital), provide the perspective within which communities of Calcutta today should be assessed. The ostensible physical decadence of the city, as a consequence of callous planning which ignored the immigration of the service sector and labour force to the city and permitted indiscriminate settlement of tenants by the urban landlord did not make any appreciable impact on the majority of the city dwellers, who hardly ever enjoyed any civic amenities.

23Historically speaking, since the beginning, Calcutta had an insignificant planned area with beautiful mansions, parks and squares. The larger part of the city suffered from open drains, seasonally flooded hutments, scarce supply of drinking water, crowded trams. Therefore whatever civic amenities are provided to them is a gain while the occasional failure of the mass transit System, non-availability of power, seasonal water logging, etc. do not rouse their immediate protests of the sort expected in cities accustomed to better facilities. This is perhaps one of the basic reasons for their patience and tolerance to the so-called civic non-amenities and appreciation of any improvement which might take place in this direction. It may be stated that in a paradoxical sense, the majority of the Calcuttans do not suffer from the physical decadence of the city, as the city never offered minimum facilities to them. In the last two or three decades, however, some efforts are being made to provide minimum facilities to them. In this direction at least, the majority in Calcutta are better off than they were in the past.

24In the eighteenth and nineteenth Century, the bhadralok community in Calcutta were closest to the British and through their acquaintance with the English language, they became exposed to the western thinking and movements in the field of education, literature, science, culture and politics. Some of the illustrious persons translated, interpreted and assimilated many of those ideas during that period. As the members of this community moved to different parts of India, they transmitted these ideas to people living in those parts. However, the majority of the bhadralok worked as middlemen for the British political economic interests and only a small minority served as the channel for the diffusion of new ideas. But their role as the channel for transmitting western concepts became insignificant with emergence of similar middle classes in other part of India. Similarly since almost all the educational institutions modelled on the western System of education originated in Calcutta, the new schools and colleges in other parts of the country recruited teachers from Calcutta and Bengal. This created a sense of leadership in Calcutta in the field of education and culture. With the rise in the level of higher education, in other parts of the country, the Calcuttans and Bengalis lost opportunities for employment even in the early twentieth Century. Such elevation and prominence in these fields followed by decline was the logical consequence of an "imperial past", and though this adversely affected a part of the bhadralok class, for the Calcuttans as a whole it was not such a hard blow. When compared to the lack of primary education in the rural areas and the slowing down of the rate of literacy growth, the phenomenon pales into insignificance. The literature, created by some remarkable literary figures during those days are evergreen masterpieces. Their literature, however, was not the product of Calcutta alone as in their thoughts and writings they encompassed many other parts of India. If Calcutta does not now posses literary gaints of the stature of some of the novelists, poets and dramatists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this does not mean that the thoughts and writings of the new literacy personalities are not worth pondering on.

  • h Khatris came mainly from Punjab and United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). Amongst traders and busin (...)

25In the economic field the Bengali families who created significant merchant capital through their contact with the British in the eighteenth and the early nineteenth Century started investing in land and became landlords. That part of the trade and commerce which was not controlled by the British mainly went into the hands of the Khatri businessmen of northern India and later into the hands of the merchants from Rajasthanh.

  • i This play by Dinabandhu Mitra was one of the first Bengali dramas (1860). Its strong anti-British s (...)

26In the cultural field, dance and music never reached any exceptional heights in the nineteenth Century. Whatever did excel was modelled on the decadent Mughal Court culture. But in the twentieth Century new dimensions to music were imparted in Bengal as experiments based on the fusion of folk music, classical music of different schools and western music were made. Similar dimensions were also opened in case of dance. Drama, in the nineteenth Century was mainly modelled on European forms, mainly romantic in nature, and did not have much contact with the realities of life. Neeldarpani in 1860, which vividly described the excesses of the indigo planters, was an exception. Later on, the plays by Tagore enriched the thinking of the dramatists. Then gradually the social contact of the "deviant" bhadralok class with the industrial labour and the village communities paved the way for experimentation in this field. Such experiments, with the theme of going back to the masses, is going on in Calcutta today though even here Brechtian derivatives have not been cast aside by indigenous content.

27In the twentieth Century, political movements took national and later on international dimensions in India. Calcutta claimed a significant place in these movements from the beginning and Calcutta still remains an integral part of such movements.

The future

28Calcutta is thus a city with two pasts. One community, the product of a combination of historical forces rose to relative prominence and subsequently slipped out of its seat of eminence. Another community, the product of a second past, initially managed to survive and exist and now is in the process of asserting itself. This second community, with the second past, has been further strengthened by gradual fusion with a large segment of people who were fugitives from the first past. One Calcutta has been ruined and the signs of her ruins, cultural as well as architectural, are visible. The other Calcutta is coming to light and the vitality of an emerging community is evident. This is the basic reason why a writer might feel confused by Calcutta. The physical inconvenience and tolerance, economic deprivation and non-parochialism, extreme political views and the growing lack of consumers protest—all these are the manifestations of a dead past and the wisdom of an emerging community, which has suffered for decades and in the process has developed a sense of nonchalance to new problems. It is the wisdom of the second past which enabled Calcutta to absorb 6,00,000 displaced persons from erstwhile East Pakistan in one and half decades, from 1950 to 1965. This fact like many other amazing happenings, such as movements of industrial workers of the nineteenth Century, etc., are yet to be recorded in their true historical perspectives. More economic and sociological research on them is necessary before any judgement is passed on their significance.

29The second Calcutta is yet to assert herself. The city is still in a transitory stage. The impact of the "imperial past" is still distorting the economy of the city and creating confusions in the programme for reconstruction. Calcutta will find its salvation when the second past will take full control of the city.

Piate 3:. AND WITH TWO PRESENTS

Piate 3:. AND WITH TWO PRESENTS

Two symbolic photographs illustrate the acute contrast, in Calcutta today, between the haves (wealthy upper-class golfers, or, on a subdued note, modest middle-class smokers of Charminar) and the have-nots, coolies and pavement-dwellers. Obviously, for some men, things never go smoothly. Above: in Munsi Bazar. Below: in Rash Behari Avenue.

30At this point a question arises in the minds of the Calcutta-watchers: when is the second past going to assert itself in order to build the future Calcutta? The pioneers of the second past consist of groups of politicians, administrators, planners experts in various fields and even intellectuals. However, the programmes implemented or being implemented or going to be implemented lack one vital ingredient —the popular participation of the Calcuttans in the planning and implementation.

31If the transitory stage of the second past in asserting itself is prolonged too much and if public participation in remaking Calcutta continues to be niggardly, there is a possibility that this second past may also turn into a stagnant one, ultimately preventing the Calcutta of the future to materialize. Unless the Calcuttans of the second past spontaneously take up the initiative in directing the development of future Calcutta, the non-imperial Calcutta may well remain a dream without fulfilling its promise for greatness and without its wisdom of non-dependence on too much of artificial amenities, which the world of today utterly lacks.

32It is not possible to predict when and how the Calcutta of the second past is going to assert itself in the sense referred to above. It is also not within the scope of this chapter to discuss whether such a process can be deliberately engineered. However, it may be speculatively stated that such a process can be hastened with the increase in communication between various sectoral and professional groups belonging to the second past. Initiative in this direction is seen within neighbourhood groups or professional groups in isolation from the total city and confined to the area or profession to which they belong. The office workers or labourers do demand and press for the amenities they require for fulfilling their duties. Each neighbourhood also demands and recommends specific facilities that they require. Greater sustained communications between these groups would be a vital factor in shaping the future Calcutta.

Bibliographie

REFERENCES

Bandyopadhay, B.N., Sangbad Patre Sekaler Katha (Part I and II).

Bose, N.K., Culture & Society in India.

Census of India, 1951, Vol. VI, Part III: Calcutta City, Mitra, A. Government of India, 1954.

Census of India, 1961, District Census Handbook, Calcutta, Vol II, Government of West Bengal, 1966.

Census of India, 1971, District Census Handbook, Calcutta, Government of West Bengal, 1973.

Choudhury, P. and Mukhapadhay, A., Calcutta, People and Empire, Calcutta, India Book Exchange, 1975.

Dasgupta, R., Material Conditions and Behavioural Aspects of Calcutta Working Class (1875-1899). Calcutta, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, unpublished occasional paper.

Ghosh, B., Samaik Patra Banglar Samaj Chitra, Vol. 1, 2 and 3. Patha Bhavan, Calcutta.

Gupta, S.K.: Unabingsha Shatabdite Banglar Natya Jagaran.

Majumdar, R.C. et al., British Paramountcy and Indian Renaissance. Calcutta, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1965.

Oadud, H. A., Banglar Jagarani.

Sinha, J.C., Economic Annals of Bengal, London, Macmillan, 1927.

Sinha, N.C., Studies in Indo-British Economy, Hundred years ago.

Sinha, P., Calcutta Urban History, Calcutta, Firma K.L.M.

Notes de fin

a The paper, as presented in the Seminar, was published in two instalments on 22nd and 23rd June 1981 in the Calcutta daily The Business Standard under the title "Explaining Calcutta: A Historical Approach" (J.R.).

b Murshid Kuli Khan, the then Governor of Bengal on behalf of the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb, transferred the capital of Bengal from Dacca to Maksudabad in 1702. That city became Murshidabad in 1703. After 1772 the city lost its pre-eminence as capital of Bengal. The first estimate of its population gave 1,65,000 inhabitants in 1815. But in 1759, Clive wrote: "the city of Murshidabad is as extensive, populous and rich as the city of London with the difference that there are individuals in the first possessing infinitely greater property than in the last city (see: W.W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal, London, 1876. Reprint, Concept, New Delhi 1974. Vol IX. p. 64) (J.R.).

c "Burdened white" refers to Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden" for the whites suffering for the humanitarian cause of colonization ("Go bind your sons to exile to serve your captive's need"...) Kipling's poem actually refers to the United States intervention in Philippines. 'The supporting Babus" in the eighteenth Century were members of rich Hindu families of middlemen, traders and bankers, helping the East India Company to develop its activities and to strengthen its grip on the country (J.R.).

d Banians or Banias: In northern India and particularly in Gujarat, Hindu traders. In the Calcutta context, Banians were traders, but also Hindu agents or bankers working for the East India Company.
Munshi: a generic name for scholars or writers. In the Calcutta historical context the term refers to Indian clerks, translators and Interpreters (J.R.).

e Educated people of the middle class; white collars. The upper middle class included affluent and influential bhadralok nouveaux riches (J.R.).

f Developed by Saiyid Ahmad (1786-1831), the Wahabi movement preached for the revival of the original precepts of Islam. It tried to give back to the Muslims the preeminence they lost in northern India with the firm establishment of Sikh rule in Punjab and British rule in Bengal. Ultimately it became a frankly seditious movement, particularly active in Bengal between 1830 and 1850. The Santals, an important tribe settled on the borders of Bengal and Bihar rebelled against the Bengalis and British in 1855-56. Some 30,000 insurgents fought against the changes brought about by colonial rule. The revolt of 1857 refers of course to the Mutiny which knew no success in Bengal (J.R.).

g Dhobis are washermen. Palkis are palenquins. A palki required at least two bearers (the rickshaw, with a single puller, was introduced in Calcutta in early twentieth Century) (J.R.).

h Khatris came mainly from Punjab and United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). Amongst traders and businessmen from Rajasthan, the most powerful ones are the Marwaris (J.R.).

i This play by Dinabandhu Mitra was one of the first Bengali dramas (1860). Its strong anti-British stand created a great stir, and sent its British translater Rev. James Long to jail (J.R.).

Table des illustrations

Titre Plate 2: A CITY WITH TWO PASTS...
Légende 1. The colonial past. An Indian Prince pays a visit to the Old Government House, on Esplanade. Drummers, palanquins, elephants on one side; a palace of Palladian style on the other: an image of colonial Calcutta, where for a long time the local aristocracy supported the alien power. (from Daniells' "Views of Calcutta" 1788).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5230/img-1.jpg
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Légende 2. The Indian substrata. Near the Black Pagoda erected in 1730 on Chitpur Road by Govinda Ram Mitter, a rich landlord, a house built on a go down, small shops with thatched roofs so typical of the Bengali villages, cartmen beating their bullocks: off the central core of the colonial city, Calcutta grew by the migration of the wealthy and the poor alike. (from Daniells' "Views of Calcutta" 1787).
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Légende Fig. 4.1. Calcutta in 1785: an image of the double past."Europe and Natives" on a British map of the XVIIIth Century.Source: Fort William - India House corresponderse, vol. V, India Record Series. National Archives of India.
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Titre Piate 3:. AND WITH TWO PRESENTS
Légende Two symbolic photographs illustrate the acute contrast, in Calcutta today, between the haves (wealthy upper-class golfers, or, on a subdued note, modest middle-class smokers of Charminar) and the have-nots, coolies and pavement-dwellers. Obviously, for some men, things never go smoothly. Above: in Munsi Bazar. Below: in Rash Behari Avenue.
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© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

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