Babu Culture

Babu Culture - An era in Medieval Calcutta


 

History and Geography consists of mainly-place, time and persons.  This article is based on Kolkata, the old Calcutta. To keep the fragrance of the time, we will not call the city in its new name “Kolkata”, rather to keep the content intact with its originality, we will address the city through out as “Calcutta’ only. Right from the origin to its flourishment to its peak, is carries a nice depiction through its history.

There is a gradual history of the foundation of Kolkata. Warren Hastings took tobacco in “gargara’ and Job Charnok took hookah. He married a Brahmin girl. He invited all to stay in Dihi Kolkata, Sutonuti and Gobindapur. At first came the Portuguese. They are half English and half Portuguese. They were called as Phiringi. They were the employees of the first phase of East India. Later off, they became khasnama and servants of the Englishmen and their wives became the ‘aya’ of their madams. Then the Armenians came in Delhi from Kandahar, Kabul and Kherson and also from Gujrat, Surat, Bihar and Benaras. They stayed in Chinsurah for a long span of time. Finally they settled down in Calcutta. The Hindu, Greek, Jews, Muslim-all came along with them…………Thus Calcutta was established. It is somewhat in1690.


Here, a clear depiction is given of the characteristics, habits and the lifestyle of the "recently rich" Bengali Babus of Calcutta They belong to the class of the "noveau riche", which consisted almost exclusively of the landed gentry or zamindars who had palaces built in Calcutta and had become residents of this fair city. These foppish dandies whose half-baked "Anglicization" and "Sanskritization" had earned them the sarcastic title of "ejuraj" or "educated raja" and "phool Babu" or the "flower-delicate fop", spent most of their time and wealth on consorting with women of ill-repute and throwing lavish parties.

 

During the bygone days of the British, as the capital of undivided India Calcutta was regarded as the second city of the British Empire (after London) and was aptly renamed "City of Palaces" and the Great Eastern Hotel was regarded as the "Jewel of the East". During that bygone era, Calcutta was famous for its "Babu Culture" --- incidentally a cross-fertilization of English Liberalism, European fin de siecle decadence, Mughal conservatism and indigenous revivalism inculcating aspects of socio-moral and political change. This culture was fostered in its wake by the Zamindari System, the Daebhaga System the Hindu Joint Family System, the Mitakshara System, the Muslim Zenana System , the Protestant spirit of free capitalist enterprise, the Mughal inspired feudal system and the Nautch. This also fostered the Bengal Renaissance, literally an awakening of modern liberal thinking in 19th century Bengal, and which gradually percolated to the rest of India. Like the Italian Renaissance, it challenged orthodox social convention to usher in an era of humanistic idealism.

 

 A whole new way of living evolved around these new Babus and gave rise to what is known as the "Babu Culture” of Calcutta during the reign of the British Raj. This article is about these Zamindars who had their palaces in Calcutta.


These Babus had innumerable addictions in their life.

They were governed by lust, wealth and debauchery. It is said that they learnt to take drinks in mother’s womb, are brought up by the maids and servants, are restricted to enter in the andar Mahal in the teen age, keep “kepts” in their youths, compete with the other Babus and are circled by many “mosahebs.” These zamindars of Kolkata all had their Zamindari in rural Bengal and they had become residents of Calcutta so that they could enjoy the ease and the pleasures of city life.

 

 The Babus used to go out in the evening in his decorated carriage namely landaulet driven by milky white strong horses with a coachman and came back in the next early morning. The gate-keeper opened the huge gates of their residence with a loud shout” Hushiaar Ho” which means the alert to the others outside the premise that the Babu is going out in a speedy carriage and the others must carefully move go off. After he goes off, the gateman again closed the big front door and remained stand still again for the next opening of the gate.

Some times they came back early also if politically the area becomes disturbed. They never took any risk of staying out outside those days.

Even when they came in the mid nights, their carriage stood under the portico, and they, with the aid of their servants they come inside their house as they were heavily drunk, they fall asleep in the drawing room where cozy bed was set ready for them. The room was filled up with the scent of attar. Returning only in the wee hours of the morning, dead drunk. They seldom went inside their bedroom to their wives for sleeping. Also sometimes if they came back in the early mornings, without disturbing any one, they used to change their out dresses and wear a homely dress, gives off their valuable diamond rings, shoes and their dresses to their dedicated servants.

They had a keen competition with their competitors of the same level with the game of yatch diving on the river, lighting up lavishing crackers in the Kali Puja and with the flying of the pigeon. The pigeons were of grand birth and were bought from the west. They were fed with the good grains of the wheat so that they could compete with the others. They had their tails high raised like that of a peacock. Even the cases went for several years between two households, encircling a very nominal issue like the flying o the pigeon. When the cases were won, there was a grand part to celebrate it which included a big feast, new dresses and music.

They had mujra and mehfil on nearly regular basis in their baithak khana, where the court was adorned with famous Baiji-s of that time who came from far off Benaras or Lucknow. They were excellent skilled artists with music and dance. The belowari jhar batis, which were lightened up by the dozens of candles, came from foreign and the mujras were adorned with famous baijis from near and far off. The Babus were a keen patron of good music. The mehfil ran for so many days. The baijis got gold coins, benarasis, and expensive gifts from the Babus. Even they received warm welcome in the bed room of the Babus also. The Babus gave mohor on the silver plates.  They had expert sarangi players and tabalchis whose beatings of the tabla made the programme more attractive with the fine beatings of the ankles and steps of the baijis. The children were restricted to enter the room. Even all the spectators had to keep open the shoes outside the room and then take their own seats on the thick sheet on the floor.

Indulging in these entertainments they had no time to keep a watch eye on their property and business as a result of which, all the treasury went on in wretch. . They left such mundane matters as checking the ledgers, settling business matters in court etcetera in the hands of their employees and occupied themselves with "wine, women and song". Unfortunately for them, most of their employees proved to be untrustworthy and the misplaced trust of the zamindars slowly led them to bankruptcy.  They also extended their property in their native villages. All the servant class knew these except for the Babu and the biwis. Their ponds, houses were mortgaged and finally sold and were handed over to others finally to make up the deficit.

 

Apart from these, they used to keep a permanent woman for their entertainment. They were treated and kept with great majesty and pomp. They used to have beetle from silver beetle container. They were covered with gold ornaments and had nose pins, bangles and earrings of diamonds even. They wore expensive saris. They were very talkative and pretended to be childish and cozy. They kept pets also and took care of them. Those women were never allowed to go outside alone or were strictly forbidden to talk with any outsider. These women took non veg nearly daily. They were kept in a different house altogether with all her assistance and maids. Sometimes the Babus took them in their own resorts or in a trip on the river or even sometimes in various fairs and festivals. They had various musical instruments, carets of wine and spicy food. The relation started with flirt but continued with later with involvement and reached to utter attachment and accountability. Seldom had the wives commented anything on this relationship as because as they came from another Babu family, they were accustomed with these habits. Sometimes the wives had also a very healthy relationship with the kepts of their husbands also. But that was a rare case. In most of the cases, those kepts were not allowed even to enter their mansion. If any evidence of mistrust about these women was received by them, with no haste either they left her alone which might have caused her to utter dire condition or would murdered her keeping no evidence behind.

They kept hired armed men of underworlds also who used to supply them various news in prior .There was unfortunate zaminder Babus who had gone bankrupt falling from the graces of the women whom they had once patronized. These women even beat these Babus by their hired servants and kicked them out of their houses.

They used to have bets on certain aspects. Some a time, one person was given to bet to eat 10 “ser” (a unit of weight of things at that time like-kgs) at a time. If that person succeeds to eat the same, he was honoured not only with the promised money or the food; he was also given silken dress as a token of love.

The Babus owed “mayur pankhis” (a grand huge boat) driven by 40 ores.

They used to take a special type of tobacco while taking lunch or dinner which increased their food appetite and led to a sound sleep. But finally the lustrous life had led them to a wretched health which ultimately caused a premature death in many cases.

 

 

But with the time, the palanquins were replaced by motor cars, gargara-hookahs were replaced by churut- cigarettes  Some Babus were there in Calcutta who were always updated with the news of the modern amenities and also they wanted to keep in pace with the time. Many modern amenities like gramophone, motor cars, steam engine, dolls, soap, perfumes, hair clips, fragrance hair and body oil, silken dress, silk ribbon, jhar- lantern and foreign liquor in various shaped bottles-- came from Manchester to the Chandpal Ghat through ships.

They respected their elders very much. They seldom disobeyed them. But they were surrounded by many false acquaintances that did no good to the Babus. They stayed in these mansions for the day over, ate and lavished in his money but were ready to leave him if he could not bear their expenditure no more. 

The Babus loved to dress up very decently. On every occasion and on all the evenings, they wore silken kurtas of malmal cloth, wore palm shoe, used attar and perfume, had white hanky, and took a stick with the handle of ivory tusk. Their bed was decorated with ivory tusk with minas on it. They were also had a keen interest in art and music. They kept excellent percussionist, vocalist and dancer. They praised the art and their artists. Even they had interests in botany and flowers also. They never gave a second thought for money if they can find any good orchid or plant. Also they had such a big heart that they also never thought twice to give away if any British Lord liked it. This was done mainly to impress him.

Many Babus kept an eye on what was going around in his own Zamindari area .They used to visit the treasury and the area at least once or twice a month by himself.

There was seldom a practice of education in the family. The majority of the zamindars, however, also used their wealth for helping philanthropic causes such as encouraging scholarships and founding schools and colleges. They also built temples and Dharamshala or free inns in sacred places to make pilgrimage easy for the weary travelers and performed many acts of charity, some of which was really spectacular, for acquiring "punya" or good deeds that would help them to achieve heaven with ease.

 The Babus had a soft heart also. Though they were very busy outside but they were quite careful about their family. They were in seeking of love and had a tender heart. They gave the proper respect to their wives. They never compared their wives with their kepts. The wives should be “sati”. If she commits any mistake, that would be unpardonable. The maintained a sacredness of the marriage in the sense that he might spend endless nights outside but never ever he married that woman or became a father of her child.

 

 

The wives of the babus had a very major and sometimes the least minor role in their husband's lives.

They were never addressed as Bibi; as they should as because they never got the same rank in comparison to their husbands in the society. The ornaments for the marriage of the dolls for the wives of these Babus came from France. They gave the marriages of their dolls with the dolls of their maids. They prepared dresses by themselves. They had a huge collection of Indian and foreign dolls of China Clay. They also engaged themselves inside the houses in indoor games with their maids. The made wedding between their pet cat with some others’ and spent something like a lakh of rupees on it. It took the shape of a real marriage. There was a baraat and a “wedding reception” and everything.

The wives were so dedicated to their husbands that are how much the men tortured them mentally; still the wives prayed to God that she must get this man as her husband in all the forth coming births. They had a strict restriction about the segregation between veg and non veg cooking. All the utensils and even the kitchen were also separate. The ladies performed fasting on various Pujas. And they would intake water that day only after their husbands would touch her drinking water, if not with hands, be with his fingers of his legs. Then she will drink that water religiously accepting that fact that her husband, the almighty man of her life has touched the water and had made thus her obliged.

She loves her husband to a fault. She is even ready to do anything under the sun to hold on to her husband. In order to get him close to her, the wives used ‘maduli-taaga-stones, fasting” and everything. They were sometimes conservative, uneducated shackled and dependent. But she revolts within the conventions of her society. She doesn’t want much. She wants company of her husband and, very important for an ‘Indian’ woman, her right to be a mother. In the cases where she cannot be a mother due to the biological imbalances of the husband.  Her husband ‘returns’ to her ultimately if he gets rejected by his ‘kept” in the old age, for  he can’t go anywhere else..

 

The Biwis are a prime example of the helplessness of an upper class Indian woman of that era: trapped in a gilded cage, expected to uphold family honour and spend her time “getting jewelleries made, breaking up jewelleries with valuable ruby, diamond, etc, playing with cowries, and sleeping”. They always dressed up finely with diamond and gold jewelleries. The barber’s wife put ‘alta” on their fair feet. They wore gold comb in the hair bun which bore the inscription” Pati Param Guru.” Basically, they were very good looking. In many cases the girls got married to a zaminder with of no money from her parent’s house if she had scorching beauty and attraction. There was nothing about being loved or valued for oneself. This woman’s life is expected to revolve around her husband—only her husband isn’t there. The husbands never took any idea, consultation or discussion and conclusion from their wives, be it good. They blamed their own fate and accepted the fact that they must have done a huge wrong in the past birth for which she is getting the punishment in her present birth.

When the biwis of the Babus wanted to go outside, the covered palanquin carried them. They were assisted by their maids who wore silken dresses, gatekeepers with golden or silver fastening or by the “khasnama” .The wives used to go for the Holy bath in the Ganges with their own maids in a covered palanquin.

There was a practice of “sahamaran” among the wives also, of accepting death whole heartedly or forcefully with their dead husbands in the same funeral pyre.

There were seldom educated wives too. They spend their time mainly in reading story books and religious books or chatted with their maids on different aspects. They did Puja in their own room. They maintained purity while Pujas. They took a bath and in changed dress, they started the Puja .Also they sent Pujas in the Kali Bari in some special occasions.

Mainly Jashoda Dulal Lord Krishna was worshipped. The Gods were of gold with gold made dresses with ornaments of gold, silver, precious stones and gems. The eyes were of diamonds. They worshipped daily devotionally, gave Bhogs to the deity, had fasting and also read the religious books or Bhagvad Gita in front of the deity. After Puja, the Prasad was given among all others. They were totally confined in the golden dilapidated cages.

 

 

The attendants, maids and the servants played an important role in this particular culture.

There was a selected head of the servants, who was the servant of the servants.” They used to come from far off states and worked in different divisions of the house. They were very much dependent on their masters for their households and the vice versa.

Another custom was also developed in these servants’ areas is the custom of having percentage in every job. If any one got appointment in these houses for any job, or if anyone’s child is born or if anyone resolves the quarrel between any two or let anyone to have the tobacco, then the doer will get a percentage in cash from the receivers.

If the masters would come early any day without any prior notice in the early evenings, the servants must attend them in full attention. Some a time, it happened that as the dedicated servant for the Babu was not present to help him to get down from the carriage, The Babu whipped the servant violently but he never uttered a single word, instead he accepted it as his punishment whole heartedly. They were ashamed of their own guilt and so on the next day, the servants were given money as a compensation of the same. Sometimes they were given bighas of land also, depending on the importance of the cases. But there were dedicated servants also in these families who had dedicated their lives by generations without thinking of a single penny for their benefit and also by keeping aside their own family in the native land. They considered their pay masters as God. They washed off their feet with Luke warm water, in need.

They had also addictions to tobacco. They used the hookah.  They played card, dice and chess also.

On the other hand, there was attendant or maid, who was very close or dear to any wife of the Babus. If that maid wanted to have any fasting on any special occasion then fruits along with other necessities for that fasting were supplied from the Andar Mahal.

 

These rich families had a huge celebration with pomp and brilliance in all the festivities and family rituals. Many Puja-Parbons-Utsavs were held in the deuri, Puja Bari, lawn, garden, nahbat khana, Bhisti khana, tosha khana, khajanchi khana, Ranna-bari, Kachhari Bari, seresta, baithak khana in the houses of the Babus.

During Pujas, gifts were a must to all the servants and also to the policemen. The ledger was maintained in an exercise book each year by the accountant. If any marriage or any occasion gets happened in their family, there was a great celebration on it. The mansion started to glow up with paints, decorations and lightings. Tobacco came from Gaya to add a new taste and flavour to it .All the members, dependants, servants got new dresses and new shoes. The tailors and the bucklers came in the house to take the shape and size of the shoes and dresses. No restraint of accounts was there for these expenses... Huge bulks of dresses, jewelleries and cosmetics came for the ladies and food & sweets were also prepared. No one was there to keep the proper ledger of it. But gradually with their down fall, all these expenses came to a full stop. Attar, rose water, garlands; flowers, tobacco, liquor and cigars were in abundant in supply for the visitors. The sarangi and shehnai players, who came from Lucknow, used to play Tori, Bhairav, Darbari- kanara without any cease. Gifts were also received and given in various kinds and in cashes.

Child marriage was apart of social life at that time. During marriage, the bride might have been of two months only and the bride groom of two years. Previously marriages were held by looking not at the bride groom but with the aristocracy of the family. But with the time, the parents of the bride started to take ns of the capital and the amount of money, the bridegroom was inherited and handling into.

There was also a practice of the inauguration of some addictions to the junior members of the house to bear and maintain the practice of the Babuana. By settling a special good day in the “Panji’, the child was given hookah .Silver gargara , the sitting sheet came from Chitpur’s renounced shop, the priest did the job of letting the child to take the first inhale in the proper time . The tobacco was made by some other with rose water in Benaras’s container. The servants used to get prize money for this also.


 

Now, let us discuss about some of the Calcuttian Babus’ Babuana in those days.

 

Some of them were great patronage of art and culture with an artistic sense in many other things. While some others busy in competition with others with of no use and were on the stand point of unnecessary huge expenditure. Some of these "new Babus" indulged in ludicrous extravagance.

 

It is very noticeable feature that Raja Ram Mohan Roy had a kept in his time. He told to Umananda Thakur once on this regard that keeping and maintaining such a respectable lady is equivalent to a Hindu married wife.

 

One can still visit the faded glories of the age of the zamindars of Kolkata if one goes to see some of the palaces that once graced the city with their architectural beauty. Most of them are dilapidated and gone, but one can perhaps form an idea of their past glory from what remains. We had the chance to visit one such building, the palatial nineteenth-century mansion in North Kolkata known as the Marble Palace. It is located at 46 Muktaram Babu Street in Kolkata. The house was built by Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835 and it continues to be the residence of the family of Raja Rajendra Mullick Bahadur.

 

We were told that close by, in the red light district known as "Sonagachi" or "Golden Tree", were some of the Babu’s favorite bordellos.

 

 

Ramtanu Dutta, son of a successful businessman Madan- Mohan of Hatkhola Dutta Street was probably one of the most luxurious Babus of that time. In his time, the house was cleaned and washed off twice a day with pure rose water which came from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.

 

 

 Another notifying Babu of that time was Sri Krishna Mullick, the proprietor of the house of Lohia Hospital. He wished to have the gate of his mansion to be of Governor of Bengal but government did not permit him to do so. He went to the primary court to get it done but after a long case, he was defeated. Again with his zeal to demonstrate his superiority, he went to Privy Council in England and ultimately won the battle but by that time he became penniless. He borrowed a lot of money from Haren Seal and so ultimately he had to give up his dream house to Haren Seal only as he was unsuccessful in meeting his debts.

 

Harendra Krishna Seal was an eminent Classical practitioner of that time. He got lessons from many other great musical personalities. He took lessons from Ganga Giri and Nanda Dighal, Surbahar from Ustaad Kaukar Khan, Ustaad Keramat Ullah and Ustaad Hafez Ali Khan. He also learnt harmonium from the famous Bhaia Saheb of Benaras and thungri, kheyal from many other. He took initiative to run the flow of kheyal in Bengali. His youngest son Umapati learnt the primary sitar from his father. Later he went to Ustaad Safique Ullah Khan. He was a famous “kirtaniya”. He also gave music in Bengali movies and yatras. Many famous musical patrons like vocalist Ganga Narayan Chattopadhaya, sitarist ”Chhatu Babu”, Hara Kumar Thakur of Pathuriaghata etc. adorned his house in many musical programmes. Later off, this house was sold to Pradyumna Mullick.

 

Another house was there in North Calcutta whose address was 365, Upper Chitpur Road and now is 279, Rabindra Sarani. It is known as “ghariwala bari.” Its proprietor Moti Lal Mullick collected innumerable clocks of variety of ranges.

 

Ram Lochon Ghosh, the powerful “dewan” of Warren Hastings and his second wife, Marian was a literate man and music lover. He knew many foreign languages. His descendant Bhupendra Krishna and his son Manmath had collected accumulated and had displayed many old, antique and modern musical instruments in their own musical museum. They performed Durga Puja in their 300 years old house.


Khelat Ghosh, grandson of Ram Lochon Ghosh, had different tastes and unique ideas. He made huge tight sweets on which the dancers were asked to dance and the most interesting part is that no sweet/shandesh will be broken even with the pressure of the dancer’s feet. This was a unique Babuana style of them. During Holi, aabirs was stretched on this big hall thickly on which the dance programme went on non stop. This room has become “Khelat Chandra Memorial Hall” now a day. The great author, Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhaya was the house tutor of them for many years.



 

 Talking of Calcutta’s Babus, comes spontaneously the name of Pradyumna Mullick (from the famous merchant and art connoisseur family of North Calcutta) resided in 67, Pathuriaghata Street which was constructed by Mackintosh Burn. Only ten of his 34 cars were Rolls Royce. One of his hobbies was to buy all the palatial buildings of Calcutta. For this, he was bankrupt. Finally, in the mid thirties due to his huge debts, he eluded with his wife in their “Marble Hall” in Madhupur, with his wife where he shot his wife first and then he shot himself dead.

 

But in Babuana, Manmath nath Mullick, the youngest son of Jadulal Mullick has surpassed his nephew Pradyumna Mullick. He rode in a brougham carriage that was drawn by Zebras instead of horses. He had many horses of high pedigrees in his stables and also had nine types of horse drawn carriages. But being an impulsive man in nature, he bought a pair of zebra from zoological gardens, Calcutta @ Rs. 6000/- in 1935.One of them died shortly. The other drew his car; in spite of that zebras do not get tamed. Even his car was also got coloured in the striped colour of zebra. The snap was published in The Statesman in 1936 with a caption, “An Indian gentleman has trained his Zebra, to draw his carriage and is here seen in his strange Equipage, near the Eden Gardens Calcutta.” Being a keen music lover, mujras and mehfil were held on every mid night.

 

One cannot miss to get to know about the competition between the Daw family and the Thakur family. During Maratha invasion, the Daw family migrated from Satgachi to Kolkata and started dwelling at Jorashanko. It was Gokul Chandra Daw who started the Durga Puja in 1840 and within a short epoch it became a topic of discussion in ‘Babu Kolkata’, due to its pomp and grandeur.

 

“It became like an old saying in the 19th century Kolkata that Ma Durga on her four days sojourn from her heavenly adobe first reached Sib Krisna Daw’s house at Jorashanko. She put on her jewellery there. Then the goddess went to the house of Abhay Charan Mitra to have her ‘Bhog’. Finally, in the evening, she reached Sovabazar Rajbari where elaborate arrangements were made to receive Her. Facts are also corroborated in the contemporary writings,” said P Daw, a descendent of the family. The famous Daw family of Jorashanko started Durga Puja in their premise in 1840.Shib Krishna Daw was adopted child of Gokul Ch Daw. All the ascending of the family in all spheres started during his time only. He had a wide decoration for the ornamentation of the Goddess. He used to bring ornaments decorated with ruby, pearl and diamonds from Paris and Germany. And a type of material called “tabak” with brass and copper was also brought from abroad by which Debi was adorned with. All these came in India through postal service from abroad. In Bengali, it is known as “daker saaj” as it came by “dak-jog” It was filled up with grander and brilliance. “The anecdote, which is closely associated with our ‘Protima’, is about its decoration. In one such occasion, Sib Krisna Daw, my great grandfather, during his visit to Europe, located beautiful metallic floral motifs and patterns of vain. He promptly ordered for 500 such items and asked for gold plating for further beautification. The materials reached our house through daak (courier) and were used as a substitute for ‘Sola and Chumki’ to decorate the Chalchitra (the holy arch fixed behind the idol),” he said.” The effect was colossal. Due to its gorgeous effect, it immediately became the talk of the town and pulled up endless spectators.

 

 On the other hand, Durga Puja probably started in Jorashanko Thakur Bari in 1784 by Nil Mani Thakur, the ancestor of Rabindra Nath Tagore. Their Goddess was adorned with solid gold ornaments. In comparison to the Daw family, the pomp was little dull in the Thakur Bari as per the ornamental competition is considered. But finally they surpassed the Daw as because we come to know from the note of Khitindra nath Thakur’s note that during emersion, the ornaments were taken off from Maa in Daw’s house where as the pratima of Thakur bari was immersed in the Holy Ganges with total set of gold ornaments…..The boatmen, coxswain or the other servants might have taken them from the river but those ornaments were never returned back to the Thakur family for any further usages. There lies the victory of the tradition of the Thakurs over the Daws.

 

 

Various famous novels and write-ups have emerged from this culture. Bhavani Charan Bandopadhay's caricature of the "new Babu Bilash” inspired Tekchand Thakur to write his novel "Alaler Gharer Dulal" (1858) in which he tells the story of a half-educated man who belongs to a recently-rich family and who falls into many undesirable situations. A few years later Kali Prasanna Sinha in his famous piece of writing called "Hutum Pancher Naksha"(1862) and Michael Madhusudan Dutta's farce "Ekei ki boley Sabhyata" (1859) gave us a close up view of the "naba Babu culture" of Kolkata. In this era, the writer Bimal Mitra writes about in his famous novel "Shaheb, Bibi, Golam" was soon to become history.  Kalighat Pats (Paintings sold near the temple of Kalighat (between about 1800 and 1930) and pictures painted by the European painter Baltazard Solvyn in 1804 are rich sources that tell us about the way of life of the "New Babus" of Kolkata. Solvyn showed a new world being built. His pictures showed new European style buildings of the zamindars going up next to the old, traditional temples. He drew the dancing girls and the musicians and all the pomp and circumstances of the lavish parties given by the land barons, the fabulously rich "new babus" of Kolkata. The Patuas (Painters) of Kalighat Pats depicted the every-day life of the "recently-rich babus", their fondness of music and dance and womanizing.


 The history of its culture is off in a blackish, handicapped, dreadful and hazy past. All the excessive expenditure to maintain the glittering of the baiji’s programmes, mujras, in the family rituals or sometimes with no cause even, useless competitions just to keep their egos had led to the decay of Babu Culture. When the maintenance of the carriages, the ornaments of their wives, the huge land property and the servants had become too high to bear any more, then they had to keep their property in mortgage in many a case. Thus the ruin of the Babu culture had started.

 

According to an eminent historian Atul Sur, “we are unable to specify when exactly Babu Culture started in Calcutta. Probably it emerged in the second phase of 17th century and ended up in the last phase of 18th century. We get the name of Gobindaram Mitra, the assistant of the collector of Calcutta as the first Babu of Calcutta who had three kepts respectively Rattan, Lolita and Mati. “We get these names from the list of compensation which was presented when Siraj attacked Calcutta.

 

The famous rich merchant Bhuban Mohan Niyogi of Bagbazar belonged to the last phase of the 18th century. It is heard that he used to light up his cigars with the burning of notes. He also gave the prostitutes of the both sides of Chitpur two thousand benarasis saris during the immersion of Saraswati Puja. Probably he was the last Babu of Calcutta.

 

Around this period the "new babus" were represented in popular art and literature as foppish figures, maintaining an absurd, although pathetic outer-appearance in the face of encroaching poverty. When India gained independence from the British, the "naba babus" lost their Zamindaris to the new government and the age of the zamindars of Kolkata came to an end. Theirs was an extravagant, extraordinary and magical era that will never be seen again.

 

And all of it against the backdrop of a disintegrating lifestyle, wealth literally given away in the assumption that there’s always plenty more where it came from, or in sheer indolence… leaving nothing but ruins in the cultivation of mere poisonous grapevine.



15.03.10//--\\1300

Comments