With the Calcutta Police
People in Calcutta, now called Kolkata, may enjoy this description of Calcutta police in the late 19th century when the city was the capital of India. I found it here
and couldn’t resist adding it here. It was a newspaper sketch by Rudyard Kipling which later appeared in his books.
The City was of Night — perchance of Death,
But certainly of Night.
The City of Dreadful Night.
IN the beginning, the Police were responsible. They said in a patronising way that they would prefer to take a wanderer round the great city themselves, sooner than let him contract a broken head on his own account in the slums. They said that there were places and places where a white man, unsupported by the arm of the Law, would be robbed and mobbed; and that there were other places where drunken seamen would make it very unpleasant for him.
‘Come up to the fire look-out in the first place, and then you’ll be able to see the city.’ This was at No. 22 Lal Bazar, which is the headquarters of the Calcutta Police, the centre of the great web of telephone wires where justice sits all day and all night looking after one million people and a floating population of one hundred thousand. But her work shall be dealt with later on. The fire look-out is a little sentry-box on the top of the three-storied police offices. Here a native watchman waits to give warning to the brigade below if the smoke rises by day or the flames by night in any ward of the city. From this eyrie, in the warm night, one hears the heart of Calcutta beating. Northward, the city stretches away three long miles, with three more miles of suburbs beyond, to Dum-Dum and Barrackpore. The lamplit dusk on this side is full of noises and shouts and smells. Close to the Police Office, jovial mariners at the sailors’ coffee-shop are roaring hymns. Southerly, the city’s confused lights give place to the orderly lamp-rows of the maidân and Chowringhi, where the respectabilities live and the Police have very little to do. From the east goes up to the sky the clamour of Sealdah, the rumble of the trams, and the voices of all Bow Bazar chaffering and making merry. Westward are the business quarters, hushed now; the lamps of the shipping on the river; and the twinkling lights on the Howrah side. ‘Does the noise of traffic go on all through the hot weather?’ ‘Of course. The hot months are the busiest in the year and money’s tightest. You should see the brokers cutting about at that season. Calcutta can’t stop, my dear sir.’ ‘What happens then?’ ‘Nothing happens; the death-rate goes up a little. That’s all!’ Even in February, the weather would, up-country, be called muggy and stifling, but Calcutta is convinced that it is her cold season. The noises of the city grow perceptibly; it is the night side of Calcutta waking up and going abroad. Jack. in the sailors’ coffee-shop is singing joyously: ‘Shall we gather at the River — the beautiful, the beautiful, the River?’ There is a clatter of hoofs in the courtyard below. Some of the Mounted Police have come in from somewhere or other out of the great darkness. A clog-dance of iron hoofs follows, and an Englishman’s voice is heard soothing an agitated horse who seems to be standing on his hind-legs. Some of the Mounted Police are going out into the great darkness. ‘What’s on?’ ‘A dance at Government House. The Reserve men are being formed up below. They’re calling the roll.’ The Reserve men are all English, and big English at that. They form up and tramp out of the courtyard to line Government Place, and see that Mrs. Lollipop’s brougham does not get smashed up by Sirdar Chuckerbutty Bahadur’s lumbering C-spring barouche with the two raw Walers. Very military men are the Calcutta European Police in their setup, and he who knows their composition knows some startling stories of gentlemen-rankers and the like. They are, despite the wearing climate they work in and the wearing work they do, as fine a five-score of Englishmen as you shall find east of Suez.