21 August 2008

Mapping Colonial Calcutta: Buster’s First Bleg

Over the summer, I’ve been slowly banging out a translation of a curious short story I found last year, written in English, but only published in Russian. As far as I can tell, the original manuscript has been lost, so I’ve been having fun trying to reconstruct a piece of 1920s proletarian prose from a rather awkward Russian translation.

The story takes place in early twentieth-century Calcutta. The protagonist is a young student revolutionary who over the course of the story travels all across the city, trying to shake a spy. It’s a nice little device that gives the author an excuse to take the reader on a tour of colonial Calcutta and its various contradictions.

But I’m having some problems putting together my map of the story’s action and accurately translating the place names for a couple of places. Hence, my first bleg.

I’ve roughly mapped the protagonist’s path across the city onto an amazing 1850s map of Calcutta I stumbled across here.

[click to enlarge]

The story starts at (1) which is called the "Ministry of Health" in the story. Now, my colonial Indian history is shaky, but I am guessing this is a reference to the Indian Medical Service, though I haven’t been able to figure out where they were. So BLEG ONE: does anyone know where the IMS offices might have been, across the river from Calcutta in the early twentieth century?

After meeting his undercover comrade revolutionary at the “Ministry of Health,” our young nationalist takes a boat across the river landing just up river from Fort William (2) and walking through the foreign quarter (3?). From there, he walks by the Grand Hotel (4) and a spy begins to follow him. He tries to lose the spy in Chandni Chowk (5) and then meanders through the Eurasian Quarter (6?—total guess on my part, based on the map to the right taken from P. Sinha’s Calcutta in Urban History). Then he proceeds to Wellington Square (7) and turns north to head to Sonagachi (9). Somewhere in between he visits a large open market (somewhere within the oval marked 8, I think) called the “Circle Bazaar” (kruglyi bazar, in Russian). And here’s BLEG TWO: does anyone know which bazaar "Circle Bazaar" may be referring to? Buster, Sr., maybe?

I appreciate any help.

Oh, and yes, I know that these maps antedate the events in the story by fifty years. It's the best I could do for now.


Anonymous said...

You do turn up the damndest stuff--Arthur Koestler and Langston Hughes side by side in an Uzbek cotton field is commonplace by comparison. Obviously I can't offer a shred of help, but I'd be very interested to know who wrote this story in English and got it published in Russian.

(The Captcha on this comments page reads, so help me David Sarnoff, oitvtv, which is how I often feel.)