Telegraph Office, Calcutta (Kolkata) - 1878

If one reads Purnendu Pattrea’s Purono Kolkatar Kathachitra (Tales of Old Calcutta), there is a fascinating list of Calcutta’s wonders listed at the start of the book in an old song by Rupchand Pokkhi. Rupchand lived between 1815 and 1890. The song compares Calcutta rather grandly to the celestial court of Indra.

“ধন্য ধন্য কলিকাতা শহর স্বর্গের জ্যেষ্ঠ সহোদর
পশ্চিমে জানহবী দেবী দক্ষিণে গঙ্গাসাগর
(পূবে বাদা চিংড়ীহাটা পদ্মা নদী তদুত্তর)
হেস্টিংস ব্রীজ বাগবাজার, এই আয়তন তার
সারকিউলার রোড পোরমিট ধার, চতুঃসীমা সার”

Calcutta, you are elder brother (superior) to the very heavens
To your west flows the Janhabi and to your south is Gangasagar
To your east lies Chingrihata and the river Padma to the north
Hastings Bridge to Bagbazar, this far stretch your limits
Circular Road and the Permit zone, make up your four sides.

“অতুল্য মর্ত ভুবনে, বৈকুণ্ঠ যায় হার মেনে, হেরে টেলিগ্রাফ
বলে বাপ, লাজে লুকায় পুরন্দর
(তারেতে তার, বর্ণ বিস্তার, ধন্য শিল্পী কারিকর)
তার হেরে তাঁর লাগল দিশে, তারে তারে খপর এসে
ছয় মাসের পথ এক দিবসে, মেলে তত্ব অনাসে
ধন্য ডাক্তার ওসগনেসী, সকলকে করেছেন খুশী
ব্রিটন দেশী গুণরাশী, সুখে বসি হউন অমর
(রোগশোক তাপ নাশি হউক সরল অন্তর)”

Rupchand seems to have been especially awed by the telegraph as he devotes the next eight lines to that miracle of modern communication. He describes the telegraph as incomparable to anything on earth. The gods admit defeat and hide as wires carry news that once took six months in a matter of days. He then goes on to praise a doctor Oshognessy (Rupchand’s pronunciation) who has made everyone happy.

It took me a while to figure out that the doctor who is showered with blessings and ardent wishes for his continued good health was actually Doctor William O’Shaughnessy and a fascinating character. As a doctor in England he discovered that the blood of cholera victims was generally deficient in water and salts and became the first person to suggest intravenous saline and oral re-hydration therapy.
O’Shaughnessy went to India in 1833 like a lot of his contemporaries. This brain drain saw nearly 30% of Trinity graduates emigrate to India by 1860.
Two years later he was a professor at the newly created Calcutta Medical College. He worked across a range of disciplines and developed methods to detect specific poisons such as arsenic, first used zinc to prevent rusting and experimented with the use of colour in photography. He observed the use of cannabis in various folk remedies among his patients. This led to a study of its effects and his use of its extract as a painkiller and muscle relaxant in diseases such as arthritis, rabies and tetanus.


Outside his duties as a doctor, he conducted experiments in telegraphy at the Botanic Garden in Shibpore. The first telegraph line was laid between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour. He returned to England to present his various discoveries and inventions to the scientists of the time. Upon his return to India in 1844, Lord Dalhousie set O’Shaughnessy to work on telegraphy. 4000 miles of telegraph wires were laid in India between 1853 to 1856.

Rupchand Pokkhi and contemporary Indians were not the only people to thank O’Shaughnessy for his work on the telegraphs. He was knighted in 1856. As the British had realised, whoever controlled the telegraph wires, controlled the news; whoever controlled the news could also control the country.

Info: The web

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  1. spunkybong says:

    Delightful. Your writings enlighten at so many levels. :Bravo!

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