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Kolkata, earlier known as Calcutta, was the capital of British India from 1773 to 1911. It was then capital of Bengal till partition of India in 1947 and has since been capital of West Bengal.


  • As we enter the town, a very expansive Square opens before us, with a large expanse of water in the middle, for the public use… The Square itself is composed of magnificent houses which render Calcutta not only the handsomest town in Asia but one of the finest in the world.
    • L. 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

  • 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, 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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
    while ago.
    • Nirendranath Chakraborty in the poem Jesus of Calcutta translated from Bengali by Manish Nandy. Used by 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 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.

See also

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