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New Market - Kolkata

In December 1985 a snag in New Market’s electrical wiring sparked off a raging inferno which brought down the northern façade in a smouldering debris. Calcuttans reacted as if a limb of their life’s mainstream had been wrenched out.

New Market, standing on central Calcutta’s Lindsay Street, was born out of an English whim.

The earliest urban homes of the Englishmen appeared in an area which today is the pulsating core of Calcutta’s officialdom, BBD Bag or Dalhousie Square. Terretti and Lal Bazaars nearby were customary marketing haunts of the British gentry. There was also Chinabazaar which captured the English imagination with its sartorial creations. The ceaseless march of the Britishers into the city with settlements in Kashaitola, Dharamtala and Chowringhee brought in its trail, bazaars such as Sherbaran, Chowringhee and Chandni Chowk.

The affluent and blue-blooded Englishmen however chose to stay away from the hoi-polloi and shopped at exclusive retailers like Rankin and Company (dressmakers), Cuthbertson and Harper (shoe-merchants) and R.W. Newman or Thacker Spink, the famous stationers and book-dealers.

As Calcutta entered the 1850s and British colonies became the order of the day, the Britishers overtly displayed their contempt to brush shoulders with “natives” at the bazaars. In 1871, swayed by an orchestrated cry from English residents, a committee of the Calcutta Corporation contemplated a market which would be the prize preserve of Calcutta’s British citizens.

Spurred by the committee’s deliberations, the Corporation promptly purchased, in the hub of the city’s elitist environs, Chowringhee, Lindsay Street. The East India Railway Company executed the designs and with a renowned architect R. Bayney, pitching, an architecturally Gothic market-complex crystallized in 1873. bayney was honoured with a 1000 rupee award (an enviable sum in the 1870s) for his achievements. News of Calcutta’s first municipal market spread like fire. New Market had come to stay.

New Market was thrown open with fanfare to the English populace on January 1, 1874. Controversies regarding the origins of New Market’s name persist. According to some sources it was referred to as Hogg Market in the olden days. It came to be known as New Market soon after India’s Independence. Factually, New Market was formally christened Sir Stuart Hogg Market on December 2, 1903. This name was later shortened to Hogg Market. Bengali society, in the British Raj era, fancifully spoke of it as “Hogg Saheber Bazaar’. Sir Stuart then Calcutta Corporation’s chairman, we learn, had tenaciously supported the plans for building New Market. To this day, a painting of Sir Stuart Hogg adorns Calcutta Corporation’s portrait gallery. Beyond this historical trivia, this shopper’s paradise in every day parlance has been forever New Market.

New Market’s growth kept pace with the city’s urbanization endeavours until World War 11 stunned Calcutta’s social life into inertia. The northern portion of the market came up in 1909 at an expense of Rs. 6 lakhs. Finally, beneath the gathering clouds of World War 11, an extension on the south flanks was engineered.

A grand finale to these structural expansions in the 1930s was the installation of New Market’s historic clock-tower. At the pinnacle stands a solitary and weathered lightning fender.

Through the years, the city has spawned numerous municipal and privately-promoted markets. None, however have stolen the aura that envelops New Market. The stiff upper-lipped English and Indian intelligentsia who habitually frequented this market impregnated it with a snobbishness which still lingers. One wonders how many of its kind succeed in housing a conglomeration of poultries, piggeries, and boutiques.

Weaving through a variegated jumble of shoppers, you may even stumble upon a vintage contraption lying within the market’s premises which is fabricated to measure an individual’s weight and brawn. It is quite evident that the machine dates back to an age when strapping armymen and sailors thronged New Market.

The reconstruction of the northern façade is underway. Even so it will never look the same. It is well past a century now. But New Market is still new because it strangely refuses to age.

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