Nellie Sengupta Sarani Layers Of History

Joydip Sur

Lindsay Street, now renamed as Nellie Sengupta Sarani stretches from Jawaharlal Nehru Road in the west to Mirza Ghalib Street in the east.

Around two and half centuries back, Lindsay Street was known as Fenwick’s Bazaar Street, indicated in the map drawn by Mark Wood in the year 1784. A bazaar stood at the site of the present New Market, known as Fenwick’s Bazaar and the adjoining street owed its name to it.

In 1850, Fenwick’s Bazaar Street was renamed as Lindsay Street after Robert Lindsay (1754-1836) who had an adventurous career during days when company’s servant did not live on their official salaries alone. His made his booty from hunting tigers and elephants which were still plentiful and brought liberal awards from the government. On those days revenue was collected in cowries, transportation of which to Dacca was quite expensive. But Lindsay hatched a plan to remit the value of cowries in limestone for which he held the contract. It is said that fortunately, the demand for mortar was limited; otherwise the whole of the revenue collected would have passed into his pocket. He also set up a shipbuilding trade from the timber collected from the forests of Sylhet. Speaking about Lindsay, HEA Cotton in his book Calcutta Old and New remarked, “Thrown on his own resources he assumed by turns, as circumstances minister to occasion, the character of soldier, magistrate, political agent, elephant- catcher, tiger-hunter, ship builder, lime manufacturer, physician and surgeon.”

Robert Lindsay used to stay in the locality adjoining the Fenwick’s Baazar Street. His house was advertised for sale in the Calcutta Gazette of September 27, 1804. Following the construction of the Sir Stuart Hogg Market (popularly known to us as New Market) in 1875, Lindsay Street was also often referred to by the natives as ‘Nyah Bazar Ka Rustah’ (Road to the New Market).

As New Market fell into hard times, thanks to the innumerable shopping malls that have come up, Lindsay Street too has lost some of its previous grandeur, appearing cluttered in the melee of hawkers and parked vehicles.

On July 22, 1978, Lindsay Street was renamed as Nellie Sengupta Sarani after the patriot and the second European woman to head the Congress. Justice Sankar Prasad Mitra, the then Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court formally unveiled the plaque bearing the new name of the street.

Nellie Sengupta

Nellie Sengupta was born at Cambridge, England in 1886 to Frederick William and Edith Henrietta Gray. She passed her Senior Cambridge in 1904. At that time Jatindra Mohan Sengupta was a student of Downing College and used to often visit her house. They fell in love and secretly married in 1909. Soon after that Jatindra Mohan brought Nellie to Barama, his native home in Chittagong.

As Jatindra Mohan had thrown himself in the vortex of Indian Freedom movement in 1921, Nellie, though born British, left her cosy life and joined her husband to free her adopted country from bondage. Nellie addressed the Congress delegates in 1933 at Esplanade and was arrested from the venue. Nellie Sengupta became the third woman and the second European-born woman to be elected as the Congress President in 1931. She was the first lady to be elected as an Alderman of the Calcutta Corporation in 1933 and was re-elected in 1936 for another three years. She was also elected on a Congress ticket to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1940 and 1946.

Her sacrifice during the time of the freedom movement of India and her services to the city deserved a fitting tribute. In fact, Nellie Sengupta was one of the three foreign women who came to India and shared the sufferings of the people, the other two being Annie Besant and Sister Nivedita. After independence she continued to stay at Chittagong, her husband’s parental home and continued her social services. She was brought to Calcutta for medical treatment where she died on October 23, 1973 at the age of 87.