Kolkata, previously known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly Tiver, it is the principal commercial, cultural, and educational centre of East India, while the Port of Kolkata is India's oldest operating port as well as its sole major riverine port. As of 2011, the city had 4.5 million residents; the urban agglomeration, which comprises the city and its suburbs, was home to approximately 14.1 million, making it the third-most populous metropolitan area in India.
In the late 17th century, the three villages that predated Kolkata were ruled by the Nawab of Bengal under Mughal suzerainty. After the Nawab granted the East India Company a trading license in 1690, the area was developed by the Company into an increasingly fortified mercantile base. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah occupied Kolkata in 1756, and the East India Company retook it in the following year and by 1772 assumed full sovereignty. Under East India Company and later under the British Raj, Kolkata served as the capital of India until 1911, when its perceived geographical disadvantages, combined with growing nationalism in Bengal, led to a shift of the capital to New Delhi. The city was the centre of the Indian independence movement; it remains a hotbed of contemporary state politics.
- jal, juochuri, mithye katha
ei tin niye kalikata.
- English translation from Bengali: Forgery, swindling and falsehood, these three make up Kolkata.
- 18th century saying quoted by Sumanta Banerjee in The World of Ramjan Ostagar, The Common Man of Old Calcutta, published in Calcutta – The Living City Vol I, Oxford University Press, paperback edition, 1995, p 82.
- The red lights did not forbid,
Yet the city of Calcutta stopped suddenly
in its tempestuous rush;
taxis and private cars; vans and tiger-crested
double decker buses
stopped precariously in their tracks.
Those who came running and screaming
from both sides of the road –
porters, vendors, shopkeepers and clients –
even they are now like still life
on the artist’s canvas.
Stunned they watch
crossing from one side of the road
to the other, with uncertain steps,
a child, completely naked.
It had rained in Chowringhee a short
- Nirendranath Chakraborty in the poem Jesus of Calcutta translated from Bengali by Manish Nandy. Used by the Corporation of Calcutta in an advertisement. Reproduced in The Common Man of Old Calcutta, published in Calcutta – The Living City Vol II, Oxford University Press, paperback edition, 1995, p 254.
- The tradition is one of iconic crossings across the river Hooghly in the stretch of the river falling within the enlarged Kolkata metro area – Vivekananda Bridge (Bally Bridge), Rabindar Setu,[sic] (Howrah Bridge) and Vidyasagar Setu (Second Hooghly Bridge). While the mighty river forms the backdrop of the development of the region over centuries, it had also posed a challenge as regards connection to the rest of the country. It is this challenge that the continuing tradition addresses, and addresses a new with a state-of-the art, recently opened and the newly christened Nivedita Bridge.
- S S Chakraborty, in Design and Construction Features of Nivedita Bridge
- ‘Kali’ means “Kalichun” (a kind of lime produced from local snail shells) and ‘kata’ implies heaps of burnt shells. Thus, Kolkata has got its name from the manufacture of shell lime or Kalichun.
- Prof Suniti Kumar Chatterji in his book “Kalikata Namer Byutpatti”, quoted in Water Resources, Conservation and Management, p. 85
- ...In Bengal the British, who had been trading there since 1650s, settled for Calcutta as their base around 1690. Here a collection of bungalows which looked like ‘thatched hovels’, a stables, a hospital, a barracks, and a powder magazine could all be found huddled next to the imposing Fort William. The three as yet unpromising settlements of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, were eventually to become the power centers of British rule in India.
- Lizzie Collingham, in Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (13 April 2010), p. 86
- When Calcutta was attacked by Siraj ud-Daulah in 1756, the city was too valuable to abandon and a few months later Robert Clive retook Calcutta and defeated Siraj-ud-daulah[sic] at the Battle of Plassey.
- Lizzie Collingham, in "Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (13 April 2010)", p. 99
- Bullock carts formed the eight - thirteenths of the vehicular traffic (as observed on 27th of August 1906, the heaviest day's traffic observed in the port of Commissioners" 16 day's Census of the vehicular traffic across the existing bridge). The road way on the existing bridge is 48 feet wide except at the shore spans where it is only 43 feet in road ways, each 21 feet 6 inches wide. The roadway on the new bridge would be wide enough to take at least two lines of vehicular traffic and one line of trams in each direction and two roadways each 30 feet wide, giving a total width of 60 feet of road way which are quite sufficient for this purpose.... The traffic across the existing floating bridge Calcutta & Howrah is very heavy and it is obvious if the new bridge is to be on the same site as the existing bridge, then unless a temporary bridge is provided, there will be serious interruptions to the traffic while existing bridge is being moved to one side to allow the new bridge to be erected on the same site as the present bridge.
- Committee of The Commissioners of Port of Calcutta instituted to construct a new bridge across Hooghly River in Calcutta, in A Flashback: The Seamless Bonds of Time
- The New Howrah Bridge was re-christened as the Rabindra Setu in the year 1965, in the honour of the country's first Nobel laureate Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore.
- The Commissioners of Port of Calcutta, in "A Flashback: The Seamless Bonds of Time".
- The great thoroughfare, which commencing in the extreme south, assumes the various names of Russa Road, Chowringhee Road, Bentick Street, Chitpore Road, and Barrackpore Trunk Road, forms a continuation of the Dum Dum Road and was the old line of communication between Morshedabad[sic] and Kalighat. It is said to occupy the site of the old road made by the Sabarna Roy Choudhurys, the old zemindars of Calcutta, from Barisha, where the junior branch resided, to Halisahar, beyond Barrackpore, which was the seat of the senior branch.
- H. E. A Cotton, in Calcutta Old and New (1909), p. 221
- Even their enemies admit their courtesy, and a generous Britisher sums up his long experience by ascribing to the higher classes in Calcutta “polished manners, clearness and comprehensiveness of understanding, liberality of feeling, and independence of principle, that would have stamped them gentlemen in any country in the world.”
- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage.
- Kolkata is a great city, has great food and great people. We had some problems finding the kind of old buildings we were looking for, and even handling the crowds, but on the whole it was fun shooting there.
- As we enter the town, very expansive square opens before us, with a large expanse of water in the middle, for public use… the square itself is composed of magnificent houses which render Calcutta not only one of the best town in Asia but one of the finest in the world. One side of the square consists of a range of buildings occupied by persons in civil employments under the Company, such as writers in public offices.
- Louis de Grandpré, French visitor in A Voyage in the Indian Ocean and to Bengal, 1803, quoted by Sabyaschi Bhattacharya in Traders and Trades in Old Calcutta, published in Calcutta – The Living City Vol I, Oxford University Press, paperback edition, 1995, p. 210
- The pleasant surprise that awaits the visitor to Calcutta is this: it is poor and crowded and dirty, in ways which are hard to exaggerate, but it is anything but abject. Its people are neither inert nor cringing. They work and they struggle, and as a general rule (especially as compared with ostensibly richer cities such as Bombay) they do not beg. This is the city of Tagore, of Ray and Bose and Mrinal Sen, and of a great flowering of culture and nationalism. There are films, theaters, university departments and magazines, all of a high quality. The photographs of Raghubir Singh are a testament to the vitality of the people, as well as to the beauty and variety of the architecture. Secular-leftist politics predominate, with a very strong internationalist temper: hardly unwelcome in a region so poisoned by brute religion. When I paid my own visit to the city some years ago, I immediately felt rather cheated by the anti-Calcutta propaganda put out by the Muggeridges of the world.
- Hitchens, C. The Missionary Position, Mother Theresa[sic] in Theory and Practice (2012)
- Thus the midday halt of Charnock – more’s the pity! -
Grew a City
As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed
So it spread
Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and built
On the silt
Palace, byre, hovel – poverty and pride
Side by side
And above the packed and pestilential town
Death looked down.
- Rudyard Kipling quoted by Geoffrey Moorhouse in Calcutta: the City Revisited, 1971, Penguin Books, p 31.
- The vicissitudes of destiny had not completely obliterated so prestigious a heritage. Calcutta was still India’s artistic and intellectual beacon and its culture continued to be as alive and creative as ever, The hundreds of bookstalls of College Street were still laden with books – originl editions, pamphlets, great literary works, publications of every kind, in every English, as well as in the numerous Indian languages. Though the Bengalis now costituted barely half of the city’s working population, there was no doubt that Calcutta produced more writers than Paris and Rome combined, more literary reviews than London and New York, more cinemas than New Delhi, and more publishers than the rest of the country, Every evening its theatres put on several theatrical productions, countless classical concerts and recitals at which everyone, from a universally renowned sitarist like Ravi Shankar to the humblest of flute or tabla players, was united with the popular audiences before whom they performed in the same love of music.
- To countless Indians, and for most people familiar with India, the singularly unique name Chowringhee immediately identifies with Calcutta. It represents the nearest equation in India to what Piccadilly is to London, Fifth Avenue to New York and the Champs Elysees to Paris. Nostalgic Londoners like to regard their Circus as the centre of the universe. Calcuttans are more reserved in their acclaim, although the fervour they display for their city is perhaps unmatched.
- David William Martin (1997). The changing face of Calcutta. Vikas Publishing House. , in p. 21
- Calcutta is by far the richest city in India, even though its various problems have started to turn its richness into a collapsing wealth. It is possibly the richest city anywhere between Rome and Tokyo in terms of the money that is accumulated and represented here.
- Geoffrey Moorhouse in Calcutta: the City Revisited, 1971, Penguin Books, p 133.
- Calcutta, more than New Delhi, is the British-built city of India...In the building of Calcutta, known first as the city of palaces, and later as the second city of the British Empire, the British worked with immense confidence, not adopting the styles of Indian rulers, but setting down in India adaptations of the European classical styles as emblems of a conquering civilisation. But the imperial city, over 200 years of its development also became an Indian city…To me at the end of 1962, after some months of Indian small-town and district life, Calcutta gave me the immediate feel of the metropolis, with all the visual excitement of a metropolis… Twenty-six years later the grandeur of the British-built city… could still be seen in a ghostly way, because so little had been added since independence, so little had been added since 1962… The British had built Calcutta and given it their mark. And though the circumstances were fortuitous – when the British ceased to rule, the city began to die.
- V. S. Naipaul, in India: A Million Mutinies Now, 1990, Minerva, p 281-82.
- For years and years, even during the time of my first visit in 1962, it has been said that Calcutta was dying, that its port was silting up, its antiquated industry declining, but Calcutta hadn't died. It hadn't done much, but it had gone on; and it had begun to appear that the prophecy has been excessive. Now it occurred to me that perhaps this was what happened when cities died. They don't die with a bang; they didn't die only when they were abandoned. Perhaps, they died like this: when everybody was suffering, when transport was so hard that working people gave up jobs they needed because the fear the suffering of the travel; When no one had clean water or air; No one could go walking. Perhaps city died when they lost amenities that cities provided, the visual excitement, the heightened sense of human possibility, and became simply places where there were too many people, and people suffered.”
- Calcutta's the only city I know where you are actively encouraged to stop strangers at random for a quick chat.
- Where does one go in a tremendous city like Calcutta to find insider information? I recalled India's golden rule: do the opposite of what would be normal anywhere else.”
- Tahir Shah (2001), in “Sorcerer's Apprentice”, p. 123
- There is nothing quite as unpleasant as wearing a pair of briefs which have been trailed through a Calcutta courtyard. Nothing, that is, except having one's elbows and knees lacerated by unseen slivers of glass and discarded razor blades.”
- Tahir Shah (2001), in “Sorcerer's Apprentice”, p. 68
- Take your map of India, and find, if you can, a more uninviting spot than Calcutta. Placed in the burning plain of Bengal, on the largest delta of the world, amidst a network of sluggish, muddy streams, in the neighbourhood of the jungles and marshes of the Sunderbands,[sic] and yet so distant from the open sea as to miss the benefits of the breeze… it unites every condition of a perfectly unhealthy situation. The place is so bad by nature that human efforts could do little to make it worse.
- Sir George Trevelyan, in 1863. Quoted in Calcutta: Old and New by H.E.A. Cotton, edited by N.R.Ray, General Printers and Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Originally published 1909, Revised edition 1980, p 194.
- Those places where sadness and misery abound are favoured settings for stories of ghosts and apparitions. Calcutta has countless such stories hidden in its darkness, stories that nobody wants to admit they believe but which nevertheless survive in the memory of generations as the only chronicle of the past. It is as if the people who inhabit the streets, inspired by some mysterious wisdom, relalise that the true history of Calcutta has always been written in the invisible tales of its spirits and unspoken curses.”