In December 1985 a snag in New Markets
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 lifes mainstream had been wrenched out.
New Market, standing on central
Calcuttas 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
Calcuttas 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 Calcuttas British
Spurred by the committees
deliberations, the Corporation promptly purchased, in the hub of the
citys 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 Calcuttas 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 Markets 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 Indias 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
Corporations chairman, we learn, had tenaciously supported the
plans for building New Market. To this day, a painting of Sir Stuart
Hogg adorns Calcutta Corporations portrait gallery. Beyond this
historical trivia, this shoppers paradise in every day parlance
has been forever New Market.
New Markets growth kept pace with
the citys urbanization endeavours until World War 11 stunned
Calcuttas 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 Markets
historic clock-tower. At the pinnacle stands a solitary and weathered
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 markets premises which is fabricated to measure an
individuals 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.