Joydip Sur
2023-03-16 08:02:55

Sudder Street Heart Of Cosmopolitan Calcutta

Sudder Street Heart Of Cosmopolitan Calcutta

Sudder Street is undoubtedly, one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant areas of the city, perhaps only next to Park Street and neighbouring New Market. It stretches from Mirza Ghalib Street (erstwhile Free School Street) in the east to J. L. Nehru Road (formerly Chowringhee Road) in the west. According to Wood’s map of 1784 and Upjohn’s map of 1794, Sudder Street was originally known as Ford’s Street named after William Ford, an Englishman.

Ford, a resident of this locality, had built his house in 1783. The plot of land had been purchased by Ford from Sheikh Ramjan and Bhonay on May 27, 1781. In the year 1801, Ford sold the house to George Chisholm and since then the building changed many hands. The property was later bought by the late Victoria Smith, and is more popularly known to everyone today as Fairlawn Hotel.

Thereafter, for a short while Ford Street became Speke Street when Peter Speke, Member of the Supreme Council, resided in a house which now stands in the middle of Indian Museum’s compound. Speke served as a Member of the Supreme Council from September 17, 1789 to October 2, 1801 and was for ‘long a ruling voice’. At the time of his death in 1811, he was the acting President of the Board of Trade and President of the Marine Board. He lies buried at the South Park Street Cemetery. 

The house in which Speke resided was built in 1790 and the premises of the property extended till Kyd Street. The tank in Indian Museum’s compound was once Speke’s property and he had erected a high perforated wall around it which allowed the public to draw water from it. The tank is in existence till this very day and Speke’s house presently serves as the office of the Board of Trustees of the Indian Museum.

The name Sudder Street dates back to those days when the Sudder Dewani Adawlut (local appeal court) held its sessions in Speke’s house and it was subsequently purchased by the Government. However, at the time of Lord William Bentinck, the Adawlut was shifted to a fine building with a long colonnade frontage in the Lower Circular Road, abutting on Bhowanipore. (This building was later used as the Military Hospital and currently houses the Bengal Area Headquarters.)

Speke’s house was later put to use by the Bengal Government as a Secretariat. That is why Sudder Street is described in the Bengal and Agra Directory of 1850 as “board ghur oothur rastah” – a road to the north of the Surveyor General’s office and leading from Free School Street.

According to the Calcutta Review of 1945, the Sudder Board of Revenue also occupied Speke’s house for a short while. It is interesting to note that poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore also lived in Sudder Street in 1882 at house number 10 and it is in this very house where he penned “The Awakening of the Fountain.” This event is documented in the Calcutta Municipal Gazette of May 13, 1950.

Today, Sudder Street is the paradise for budget travellers. The central location of the area actually makes Sudder Street a big hit among the travellers. On any given day, backpack carrying tourists are quite a common sight. While the run-down buildings serve as budget hotels and guest houses, this locale teems with foreigners seeking cheap “nirvana”. And with many foreign tourists looking for their share of “adventure”, the local drug peddling and prostitution trade thrive tremendously. When tourist Chimgainy Yoan was found bleeding profusely on Sudder Street on a Sunday - February 4, 2007, his throat slit, it sent shockwaves through Calcutta’s travellers’ hub. It has long been known that the road has a slightly darker, criminal underbelly, but this was one of the few instances when Sudder Street hit the headlines. And over the years both drug peddling and prostitution has developed into a major racket in Sudder Street.

The Wesleyan Church on Sudder Street is quite popular among backpackers living nearby. The church was consecrated in 1866 and boasts of a 133-year-old pipe organ. Almost all the foreign tourists staying at Sudder Street flock to the Wesleyan Church for their Sunday morning mass because of its proximity to the area. The Indian Museum, Geological Survey of India, Hotel Lytton, Institute of Cost and Works Accountant of India are some of the other popular landmarks on Sudder Street.

Sudder Street is not just another bylane of Calcutta. It is a melting pot of cultures where people from different nationality come and stay during their visit to the city. Crude looking foreign exchange kiosks line up the sidewalk jostling for space with shops selling curios, garments, and other knick knacks. The local food joint and cafes are always filled with tourists getting their fill of both Indian and international cuisine. The wall graffiti at Sudder Street is also very interesting and a refreshing change from the politically charged ones that we normally encounter on the streets of Calcutta; Sudder Street's graffiti border on the trippy to the obscure and outright funny. The folks here too, are of the friendly kind, willing to share an anecdote or two over a cup of tea or drink if you are in the mood for it. With its myriad charm, varied moods and cosmopolitan character, a walk down Sudder Street is a must for every Calcuttan.


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