Calcutta under the British EIC and later the Raj. Calcutta became a major port during the expansion of global trade which brought first the Portuguese and later the Dutch VOC and the English EIC. India had been a player in Global Trade since the day Caesar Augustus berated his hussy of a daughter for sashaying around naked. The hussy replied she was not naked because she was artfully dressed in Indian muslin and silk! Calcutta became a creation of the EIC. Hence the ‘Victory Arch’ in the picture. Most victory arches are for military victories but this arch was for trade, capitalism, big business, and greed is good. The ‘conquest’ of India by businessmen was a first in history. Though labeled a devious plot later by Indians it was entirely unplanned howbeit devious.
Calcutta’s first Westerners who came and moved in and stayed were the Dutch of the VOC and the British of the EIC. The Dutch pretty much invented the financial revolution, partnerships, corporations, consortiums, stock markets, insurance, and consumerism. That turned a tiny piece of land into the richest nation after Venice went belly up — courtesy of the VOC which circumnavigated around their monopoly of the Silk Road and Spice Routes. The British decided to invent ‘New and Improved’ by copying the VOC. Volia! The EIC. The East India Company. That dapper man bestriding across India was conquering it not by way of that ornate but useless sword but rather by economics and global trade.
Calcutta became the de facto capital of India because of global trade. A remarkable aspect of the Great Divergence that made some nations rulers and other nations ruled was the placement of the capital. If the capital was inland to serve a court then it soon moved into Negative Divergence. The capitals that were sea ports on routes to global trade became capitals of the world. Hence London became the first city in the West since Rome to become a city of a million people courtesy of hundreds of piers located at the Docklands. Delhi became a backwater. Calcutta became India’s capital until the turn of the century. But what about Bombay? That was unloved younger sibling until the Suez Canal when it became the upstart sibling.
Calcutta India House Whitehall was the cornucopia of India for London. The EIC, a business, sorta kinda ruled a nation. Sorta. But the EIC nearly went bankrupt twice and sold it’s debt, in effect the National Debt of India, to London. Then the Bombay Opium Barons broke it’s spine ie it’s monopolies. Then London was converted to the gospel of Free Trade. Down went tariff and other barriers. Businessmen did not need the EIC as a consortium but it needed someone to keep India safe for business and a bastion for global trade. India’s ports had to be modernized and be made safe. India’s roads had to be modernized and made safe. Dacoits and Thuggees had to weeded back. Too many internal tariffs in the 200 principalities were confusing. Too many borders were confusing. Weights were different. The Rupee was a mess. Wars were always breaking out. The borders were nonexistent. In sort, India was like Europe and it needed an Economic Union and a Nato. So the EIC became a privatized and outsourced government for hire to provide EU and Nato for 200 principalities speaking 200 languages who were busy killing each other. Businessmen were given a new mission statement: Profit For Progress. Do-gooders said the EIC had to become ‘moral’.
Calcutta was given a second bunch of engineering geniuses to engineer a railroad up the Ganges to Delhi. To the British it seemed logical. To the Indians in 1856 it seemed terrifying. Gigantic steel bridges and tons of steel snaked northwards. Everyone said India would riot. But when the first train depot appeared some 30 miles north and tickets were sold there was a riot! Everyone wanted to ride the train! There were naturally classes. First Class. Second Class. Third Class. British Society was divided into classes — money classes — -as Dickens wrote in his novels, money could buy class and title and morality if not heaven! India was Caste based but everyone bought tickets tor ride the brand new railroad. Ganesh the elephant god of prosperity and enterprise was given ticket # 1. He had a private railroad car for his guests. India then invented Fourth Class: people clinging to the roofs and outside windows as if a thrill ride. But the railroad was heading into Oudh and Doab — the most reactionary districts in India. Reactionaries planned a different reception for the railroad.
Calcutta impacted the West. Hundreds of words , foods, and ideas entered the British language and culture and cuisine. The West also impacted India. A Hindu lady sits India style on an English chair. A Calcutta hussy flutters her eyes at us in an oil painting. The Nawab of Oudh paid a Western painter to paint him. It was so novel he told the painter to add himself! Naturally the Nawab had to be the biggest person in the picture. That was required in Indian Art. The West and East flirted uneasily with each other. But in 1857 the flirting turned to killing.