On August 1, 1846, a treacherous
thunderstorm raged through London. ‘Vivid flashes of lightning' struck, the
wind howled, and in a hotel room, very close to Bond Street, a ‘Prince' died.
Dwarakanath Tagore was only 52 when he died in the company of just two members
of his vast family -a son and a nephew.
Four days later, they buried him, without
ceremony in Kensal Green Cemetery.
Among the mourners were his youngest son
Narendranath, nephew Nabin Chandra Mukherji, four medical students who had
accompanied him on his trip to England and his former partners Major Henderson
and William Prinsep. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert -who had welcomed him to
their court like `an old friend' just over a year ago -sent four carriages. It
was a princely send off.
Whatever may have been his reputation back
home, in London Dwarakanath was the darling of fashionable society. He gave
lavish parties, dined with royalty in England and France, showered his friends
and hosts with expensive gifts and gave generously to charities. He was
immensely popular with European ladies and made no attempt to conceal his many
`friendships'. He even kept a boat on the Thames with a certain Mrs Caroline
Norton -a divorced, small-time Victorian poet of some `beauty and wit' -where
he hosted the literati of the day from Charles Dickens to WM Thackeray.
Pioneer, philanthropist and partner in
Carr, Tagore and Co, Dwarakanath dabbled in everything from customs, salt, tea,
coal and steam navigation to indigo and sugar plantations and opium. A great
friend of Rammohun Roy, he was a strong voice behind the anti-Sati movement,
freedom of Press in India and women's education. Never shy of controversy, he
was almost the self-styled mayor of Calcutta at one point.
The hotel where he died still stands,
although under a different name. Brown's Hotel on 33, Albermarle Street is now
a luxury five-star hotel in Mayfair. A room for a night costs anything between
£ 460 and £ 3,000 and a Sunday three-course lunch for two will set you back by
£ 100. A stay fit for a `Prince' indeed.
by: Swagata Ghosh for The Times of India
author is a former journalist who has worked for British and Indian newspapers.
She now works at Bath Spa University)