Friday, July 27, 2007

Calcutta 1947 Old Photos

Here are some of the old pictures of Kolkotta city (Previously knows as Calcutta,West Bengal,East India.)

The decriptions of the photos are the original words from the photographer himself.

The South Asia Section of the Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania recently acquired from a bookdealer a photograph album consisting of 60 photographs of Calcutta taken most likely between 1945-1946.

The photographer, Mr. Claude Waddell, also provided the interesting glosses accompanying each photograph. Several attested copies of this work has emerged including one with a 'title page' held by the Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

Mr. Waddell was a military photographer. Many of his captions sound like annotations that would be found in a typical military magazine.The album begins with several general long shots of Calcutta and ends with a picture of A mysterydhobi-s (washer men) washing clothes. The text accompanying the last photograph also sounds as if the author intended to finish with that picture of one of the "great mysteries of India.".

The annotations have been included because of their intrinsic interest not only to the photographs but to a 'typical' American impression of India at this time.

I have included below a few recent titles published on Calcutta which the reader may be interested in consulting and comparing with this collection of photographs. The call numbers are to the volumes held by the Van Pelt Library.

Howrah Bridge - Engineering Marvel

Howrah Bridge - Engineering Marvel

Calcutta boasts the third largest cantielver bridge in the world. Its real importance, however, lies in the fact that it serves as Calcutta's gateway to the wese, being the city's only bridge spanning the Hooghly. Taking 7 years to build, it cost $10,000,000. It towers 310 feet as the city's highest structure, is 2,150 feet long with a center span of 1,500 feet. It was completed in 1942, opened in February, 1943.

Chowringhee Square

Chowringhee Square

Calcutta's main thoroughfare, an amazing parade of fascinating sights and sounds. Every soldier who has trod its length retains memories of one of the most colorful and interesting streets in the world.

The Mohammddan mosque, Juma Masjid

The Mohammddan mosque, Juma Masjid

The Mohammddan mosque, Juma Masjid, is shown at left. This is actually one of the quiet moments when GI trucks, taxis, bicycles and other modes of transport can move with comparative freedom.



A bewildering mass of billboards at the corner of Harrison Street (Burra Bazar) and Strand Road. One of the oldest secions of Calcutta, at the foot of Howrah Bridge, it is a fine vantage point for photo-graphing the passing parade of oddly dressed natives and curious vehicles.

Calcutta's traffic

Calcutta's traffic is usually snarled. And the reasons are clearly shown. Shuffling coolies and padestrians with little regard for their lives seem completely oblivious to the perils of automitive traffic.

This coconut market

This cocoanut market on Cornwallis stret is a sample of the haphazard way in which many basars are opperated. The popular pauses for refresment is indulged by Indian in central foreground drinking cocoanut milk.

Sidewalk tonsorial parlor.

Sidewalk tonsorial parlor. India probably has a greater proportion of barbers than any nation, for in addition to the many salons which cater to the European and higher type Indian trade, these sidewalk shavers seem to ply their trade in every other block.


Nightlife In Calcutta

Nightfall in Calcutta stirs the imagination and curiosity as to waht goes on down dimly-lit alleys often leads an occasional soldier into the out-of-bounds areas. If you don't know the way, five rupees will buy a trip to the few still existent brothels in one of the garies shown here. (Warning: MP's take a poor view).

Reading Stuff

Corner bookstalls, specializing in lurid novels, sec treatises, are fascinationg spots for British and American soldiers alike. Typical titles, "The Escapades of Erotic Edna", "Kama Sutra, The Hindu Art of Love".

New Market

Probably the largest market in the East is the New Market. Convering several blocks in the downtown area, the 2,000 stalls offer most anything you could ask for, wartime shortages excepted. In addition to all the items appealing to the local and tourist trade, the market contains giant food departments.

Waiting for the trains

An Indian family sweat out a train. Cooking vessels, clothes and beggin are surrounded by this group which is distinguished by the presence of one of India's wandering holy men, (at right with painted brow).

The mark of Snack

A group of GI's take a close look at the snake-wallah's hooded cobra. Both the snake and his master are good specimens. The fangs, of course, have been removed so the reptile can strike at will, scaring no one.

Snake Charmer

This weird-looking snake charmer is doing his best to coax a balcony audience to toss down enough baksheesh to get his cobra and mongoose in the mood to stage a fight to the finish. Actually the combatants always seem a bit bored with the act and after a few fierce

snorts and lunges, decide it is better to live.

Old Court House Street

This buffalo herd's movements seem to be guided by whim alone and are typical of the complete indifference
to traffic control by man and animal alike. This is Old Court House street, one of Calcutta's busiest. In left background is Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta's best, used by U.S. Officers as a billet.

Young mothers

India has thousands of child brides. The unfortunate young woman shown here feeding the infant from the giant coconut in foreground has been seen on Calcutta's streets day after day with he child. Her misery is more than typical thousands of India's unfortunates.


Anonymous said...

Thanks to Mr. Claude Waddell who visited this city during the 2nd WW, I was not born then but these photographs are telling me now how
were those in Calcutta.
I am sure that he is no more but he did leave some valuable documents for all of us.

Unknown said...

Great Pics - very nostalgic. I have roamed these streets of Kolkata in the early 70's - the city of Joy. Now I am in Mumbai.


Abuzar N. Zakir

Anonymous said...

Thanks is not sufficient for this wonderful and valuable pictorial document of Calcutta, for us who loves this city. We are grateful to you Mr.Claude Waddell.

Subir D Gupta, Kolkata,India.

Haemish Kane said...

I was born in Calcutta 1939 and I therefore can relate to all the photos. As a young kid I remember the Gi's walking down Chowringhee. At the side of the New Market (where all handbags are sold today) the 'Ghora garies' horse carriages were parked, ready for customers from the New Market, Lightouse and the New Empire cinemas.
The song has ended but the melody lingers on.

Anonymous said...

To see a series of over 550 rare photos of old Calcutta for the period 1690 to 1947 arranged chronologically in the Nostalgia Kolkata Album on Orkut, visit -

Anonymous said...

Ok ok. Love the photographs of old Calcutta, I also was born in Calcutta June 1947,lived close to Mother Teresa's lames centre, and passed daily going to school at St Thomas's School.
I returned to Calcutta after some 50 Yrs and was dealt culture blow. I have ever seen a city looking in this state, almost as if there is no control or rules. For me very sad, I had to run away to Darjeeling and then shocked again. India needs a drastic reform and serious rebuilding.
I was glad to leave the country of my birth. I will try not to return.

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