Dacres Lane: Kolkata’s Tiffin Gali
James Hickey Sarani was formerly known as Dacres Lane. The short lane stretches from Waterloo Street in the north to Esplanade Row (East) in the south.
Dacres Lane was named after Philip Milner Dacres, who was the Collector of Calcutta and later on, became a member of the council. He proposed the formation of the ‘Patriot’s Band’ or the first European Volunteer Corps in Calcutta. Dacres resigned and returned home in 1784 after selling his house (in present day James Hickey Sarani) to Henry Scott for Rs 13200.
In contrast to its present decrepit appearance the Dacres Lane was once a fashionable locality. The Moore’s Assembly Rooms situated at Dacres Lane played host to many a historic social function in the early part of the 19th century including the farewell banquet of Lord Minto who served as the Governor General of India (1807-13).
For almost 200 years, Dacres Lane was the eating ground for sailors who came to Calcutta from various countries. Dacres Lane served as a platform where sailors used to hang around and exchanges tales of their voyages and heroics over generous platters of food. In the 19th century, after the British left India, the tradition has been since carried forward by the city’s fiercely food loving residents. Dacres Lane is a must visit for street food connoisseurs.
In fact, considered by many to be the Mecca of street food in Kolkata, Dacres Lane is a great destination for gulping down mutton stew and bread toast from morning till night all through the week. Hundreds of ‘suitors of this sensational stew’ can be found queued up in front of ‘Chitto dar dokan’ to satiate their gourmet desires. With numerous other eateries also lining up along the stretch, the road is popularly referred to a Tiffin Gali (lane). Dacres Lane is also renowned for its Chinese gourmet at cheap rates with chili chicken, chowmein and fried rice being chart toppers.
The Road Renaming Advisory Committee of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation at its meeting held on February 22, 1982, recommended renaming of Dacres Lane as James Hickey Sarani.
The renaming of Dacres Lane after James Augustus Hickey was in commemoration of the bicentenary of the appearance of India’s first English newspaper, The Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Advertiser. James Augustus Hickey entered the printing trade in London in 1754 though he was an apothecary by profession. He landed at Hijili in December 1772 and lived in Calcutta till 1802.
The Bengal Gazette was started by James Augustus Hickey on Saturday, January 29, 1780. Hickey’s gazette announced itself as “a weekly political and commercial paper open to all parties but influenced by none.” It consisted of two sheets about twelve inches by eight inches, three columns of printed matter on each side, much of which was devoted to advertisements: the greater portion of the small budget was made up of correspondence from local and distant contributors and occasional extracts from the news latest received from Europe.
There was a space for poets, the Poets’ Corner. Advertisements mainly about auctions were printed and the articles, which were entitled ‘London Fashions’, ‘Folly of a Fashionable Life’ and ‘Evils that Arise from French Refinements’ reminded us of the papers like The Tatler of Richard Steele and The Spectator of Joseph Addison and was moral in tone. Some stories of scandals, love affairs, local gossip were also accommodated to hold a mirror to the life of the European community in Calcutta. Full reporting was occasionally done of the balls and dances. The paper and printing quality of The Bengal Gazette were quite unimpressive. The paper ceased publication in March 1782.
Hickey was jailed, confined at a prison in Lall Bazar because he earned the wrath of the then Governor-General Lord Warren Hastings for steadily criticizing his policies particularly on the Regulating Act and the Rohilla war. He also accused Hastings and other British officials of amassing wealth, illegally. HEA Cotton, wrote about Bengal Gazette: “It grew so scurrilous, however, that in the following November Warren Hastings prohibited its circulation through the channels of the General Post Office, on account of its lately having been found to contain several improper paragraphs tending to vilify private characters and to disturb the peace of the settlement.” Hickey continued to write from jail until his movable types were seized from him under Lord Hasting's orders.
Hickey’s press was situated at Radha Bazar and his residence was at Collin Street. According to the Calcutta Gazette of December 16, 1802, Hickey died on board a ship while sailing to China. James Augustus Hickey will always be remembered as the father of Indian Press and a champion of journalism.