"Calcutta: Past and Present" by Kathleen Blechynden, published in 1905, lays before the reader a vivid picture in lucid style of the colonial Calcutta, then capital of British India, from its initial days at the time of Job Charnock till the time of Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of India. Adorned with rare engravings and photographs, this work was written by a British lady from a somewhat unusual perspective. In the author's own words, "My aim has not been to give any account of the great deeds by which the men of old Calcutta laid the foundations of the British Empire in the East, but rather to try and depict the lives they led, their daily cares and amusements, the wives and daughters who lightened their exile, the houses in which they dwelt, the servants who waited on them, the food they ate, the wines they drank, the scenes amid which they moved, the graves in which they laid their loved ones or sank themselves to rest."
A DAY in August in the height of the rainy season in Bengal. The muddy waters of the Hughly, beaten level by the ceaseless downpour of the rain descending in heavy unbroken rush, heaved sullenly in thick turbid swell, rising higher and ever higher as the strong downward current was met and checked by the force of the rising tide, rushing in from the distant sea. In the great circling whirlpools formed by the opposing forces, the bloated carcases of drowned animals, great branches of trees, or whole trees with a tangled mass of roots, swept round, lashed by the rain and whirling flood into semblance of some living monster, stretching octopus-like arms. Once and again would sweep by a human form, charred from the funeral pyre, borne on the rushing waters of the sacred stream to meet its final dissolution, devoured by the alligators, vultures, crows, and jackals who haunted the river waves and shores in watchful eagerness for their prey.
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