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Birthday Bash: Kolkata celebrates coming of age

It was a birthday bash with a  difference. St John's - the city's oldest Church in the vicinity of the state secretariat- seemed to be just the apt place on a rain-swept evening for celebrating Kolkata's birthday for it is here that Job Charnock, ostensibly Kolkata's founder, lies buried.

‘Kolkata became the capital of the British empire in India almost by accident,’ declared Jawhar Sircar, CEO of Prasar Bharati, at an event organised by INTACH at St John's Church on Saturday evening.

‘The spot may not have been tempting with malaria, cholera, hot and sticky weather repelling the settlers. But it was Britain's established naval prowess which influenced the British settlers to choose Sutanuti since the other European settlers had chosen the West bank of the river to settle in,’ added Sircar. Along with Sutanuti, Kolikata and Gobindapur became hubs of trade and Charnock the chief merchant.

Subsequently, under Charles Eyre and Robert Clive, the East India Company thrived and Fort William became the vantage point for security purposes. Charnock was a British trader who landed near Nimtala Ghat on 24 August, 1690, and was unanimously considered to be the founder of Kolkata till now. He was believed to have received the lease of the three villages - Sutanuti, Gobindopur and Kalikata - from the then owner, Sabarna Ray Chowdhury.

The Sabarna Roy Chowdhury Paribar Parishad challenged the date and filed a PIL in Calcutta high court in 2001. They produced a copy of an old 1698 deed where Charnock's son-in-law, Charles Eyre, was leased out the three villages. The court formed an expert committee of historians comprising Arun Dasgupta, Barun De, Sushil Chowdhury and Naren Sinha, to look into the matter.

‘We unanimously decided that Kolkata's existence is certainly older than the arrival of Job Charnock. Even Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari (1590) mentions Kollegot, which can certainly be interpreted as Kolkata.

Naturally, you cannot celebrate the city's birthday on 24 August. Moreover, how can a city which is a landmass that grows over time, have a birthday, at least logically?’ asks a section of historians.
Incidentally, Sutanati Parishad, an NGO that celebrates many of the old anniversaries and events associated with the city, will start its Sutanati Utsav on 24 August. Sircar however says that no city can grow in a day.

Nandini Guha

Nandini Guha

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