How much real estate can you buy with Rs 1,300? Not much, you guess. But had it been a couple of centuries ago, Rs 1,300 would have fetched you at least three villages. Sounds unbelievable? Once the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) opens the door to its digital archive, work on which is currently underway, you can check for yourself the original sale deed that shows the East India Company had paid exactly the same amount to ‘buy’ Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kolkata.
According to sources, KMC will be India's first civic body to set up a digital archive (on the top floor of its annexe building) of its precious past. The archive is based on the Calcutta Municipal Gazette and several other archival treasures.
To contemplate the historical and socio-cultural character of city and Kolkata's development graph, a journey through the pages of the Calcutta Municipal Gazette is a must. This is the thought that went behind the idea of preserving all the historical records dating from the 17th century. Accessioned from several agencies, including the British Museum, the collection comprises office records, manuscripts, still and moving images, ledger volumes, vital records, maps, blueprints, and sound recordings.
“India's freedom struggle recorded in the speeches and letters of patriots like Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Deshbandhu Chitaranjan and others... their statements, activities and their deep-rooted connection with the then Calcutta Corporation are the best treasures that we have. But the records are extremely fragile and digitisation is the only way to preserve them," said KMC's special officer, Arun Kumar Roy, who is helming the painstaking job of digitising two lakh pages.
The archive will be christened Amal Home Archive in tribute to the founder-editor of the Gazette. On November 15, 1924, Home, appointed by then corporation CEO, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, became the first editor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation's weekly. He remained its editor till 1949. The archive has letters written to Home by the likes of Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru.
“Very few Kolkatans know about Amal Home and his contribution to Bengal's cultural history. These have become extremely valuable archival material,” Roy said. The weekly market reports published through the gazette would give researchers an insight into the economy. For instance, there are price graphs for mutton selling at 90 paise per kg in 1924. The gazette was almost like a newspaper, reporting everything – from Netaji's disappearance to deaths of important personalities to important business developments.
Among the more fascinating pieces of information culled from the gazette
is that the money you need to buy a basic mobile phone today was enough
to bring home a car – and a foreign-made one at that – in 1936. An ad
in an issue from that year mentions Rs 4,500 as the price of a car
manufactured by Dodge, the Michigan-based company. The price of a 2015
Dodge Durango starts at around $30,500 (Rs 19 lakh). Back then, French
Motor Company Ltd, which is still in business, was the Dodge dealer for
Scientist CV Raman’s message, published July 4,
1931 edition. It begins with a note of thanks to Amal
Home for his work. (Raman Research Institute
Amal Home's collection includes sketches of Chitpur Road as it was in 1792, Writers’ Buildings in 1805, photographs of 152 famous Kolkatans, street names from 1889 to 2014, advertisements, notices, information on councillors and aldermen, graded list of heritage buildings, death extracts of famous people and records of the mayoral administration – providing extensive information about every aspect of Kolkata from 1698 to the present.
Among other things, Amal Home is acknowledged as the man who mooted the
idea of celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary while he was
still alive. The first Tagore birth anniversary was held at Town Hall
in 1931, with the Nobel laureate attending the event.
Lead image: Panoramio