Crime and Urbanization: Calcutta in the Nineteenth Century

Sumanta Banerjee

A long and twisting alley with sharp bends, from where emerge curious figures who alternately attract and repel us - the crafty old black zamindar of Calcutta, Gobindaram Mitra, hatching his abysmal plots while praying in the city's tallest temple that he built in Baghbazar; his namesake, the notorious housebreaker Gobindaram Chakravarty, who delights in digging holes into the houses of the opulent; the headless voluptuous body of the murdered prostitute Golap greeting us from the back lanes of Sonagaji; and the cunning conterfeiter Shyamacharan Mukhopadhyay winking at us with malicious glee from behind his makeshift mint from where he manufactures forged coins. Away from the raucous laughter and drunken brawls of the European sailors and soldiers in the Lalbazar taverns, we hear the shuffling sounds of creeping feet climbing up the putrescent walls of an old fortress in the southern parts of the city, and - lo and behold, we find that two infamous sahib chores of Calcutta, Warner and Healy, have jumped down from Harinbari jail! Meanwhile, in a boisterous festival of mischief, waif-like street urchins pick the pockets of unsuspecting pedestrians with nimble fingers and faithfully deposit their earnings into the kitty of their bosses. And deep down in Chitpur, behind the alley, we hear ominous whispers of conspiracies that are to ring the death knell of the Raj a hundred years later.