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Calcutta: Past and Present

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
A DAY in August in the height of the rainy season in Bengal. The muddy waters of the Hughly, beaten level by the ceaseless downpour of the rain descending in heavy unbroken rush, heaved sullenly in thick turbid swell, rising higher and ever higher as the strong downward current was met and checked by the force of the rising tide, rushing in from the distant sea. In the great circling whirlpools formed by the opposing forces, the bloated carcases of drowned animals, great branches of trees, or whole trees with a tangled mass of roots, swept round, lashed by the rain and whirling flood into semblance of some living monster, stretching octopus-like arms. Once and again would sweep by a human form, charred from the funeral pyre, borne on the rushing waters of the sacred stream to meet its final dissolution, devoured by the alligators, vultures, crows, and jackals who haunted the river waves and shores in watchful eagerness for their prey. Moving carefully and slowly up stream with the rising tide, came a varied fleet of merchant vessels, and small "country boats," which had ridden together at the last safe anchorage, and now toilsomely accomplished another stage of their journey on the dangerous waterway. Sailing with the others came a little "country ship," commanded by an English seaman, Captain Brooke, and bearing a small company of Englishmen, servants of the Honourable Company of East India merchants. Their destination was the village of Chuttanutty, where they had traded at various intervals for several years past. Steering for "the great tree" which was the "sea mark," the worthy captain brought his vessel to a safe anchorage in the deep water below the high bank on which the village stood; and this is how the record of the arrival stands in the old books of the company:— "1690. August 24th. This day, at Sankraal, ordered Captain Brooke to come up with his vessel to Chuttanutty, where we arrived about noon, but found the place in a deplorable condition, nothing being left for our present accommodation, and the rain falling day and night. We are forced to betake ourselves to boats, which, considering the season of the year, is very unhealthy, Mullick Burcoodar and the country people, at our leaving this place, burning and carrying away what they could." 
In this way was Calcutta founded, and such was the manner of the coming of Job Charnock to his last port—the spot where his bones were to lie beneath a stately mausoleum through the centuries, while the settlement he founded amid every circumstance of discouragement and discomfort grew and prospered till it became the capital city of the British Empire in India, such an Empire as the wildest dreams of the Great Mogul never compassed. Before proceeding further, we may well pause and try to conjure up the three villages, set amid marsh and forest, which at that time occupied the site on which Calcutta now stands. Chuttanutty, where Charnock landed, was a thriving village occupied by weavers, and, by reason of its position on the river-bank at a part where deep water afforded safe anchorage to the trading vessels passing up and down the great waterway, it commanded a good trade in cotton cloths and thread. The name Chuttanutty, or Sutanuti—derived fromsuta, thread, and nuti, a hank—has been fancifully translated Cottonopolis. The site of Chuttanutty is now occupied by the northern portion of the town: the river-bank at this point has changed less than has been the case lower down, so that Hatkola, as nearly as can be judged, covers the position of the village, and Dharmatola or Mohunton's Ghat that of Chuttanutty Ghat, the actual spot on which Charnock and his companions must have landed.