August 24, 1690: landmark date, yes but birthday, no. Festivals, yes, but official functions and cakes with candles, no.
“Not in any way can we observe Calcutta’s birthday on the date that Job Charnock set foot at Hatkhola ghat, in Sovabazar,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee, on the eve of what is believed to be Calcutta’s birthday.
“There are several records and references of the origins of this city that go beyond 1690, like the reference in Mongol Kabbo, a collection of poems written in 1450,” said the city’s first citizen. “History does not prove that the city of Calcutta began from 1690. Neither the Calcutta Municipal Corporation nor the West Bengal government observes August 24 as the city’s birthday.”
Then why were no questions asked when Calcutta commemorated its tercentenary year in 1990, when government and other buildings were illuminated and several functions held' And why did no one raise a hue and cry over the date for 10 years after that, ask organisations like the Sutanuti Parishad and Concern for Calcutta.
The Saborno Roy Chowdhury family has contested August 24 as the birthday of the city, saying that the actual date should be November 10, 1698, the date when an agreement was signed that gave the family landlordship rights over the three villages of Gobindopur, Sutanuti and Kolikata. Its representatives have even gone to court, seeking a ruling on this.
And, based on the petition, the chief justice of Calcutta High Court has set up a five-member committee of historians to examine whether August 24 should be referred to as the birthday of the city and, if not, what date it should be.
The task has to be completed in six months, and the report submitted to the court on October 31 this year.
Till then, “there is no reason why citizens wanting to symbolically celebrate the day as the city’s birthday should not do so,” felt Partho Ghosh, president of Concern for Calcutta. “It’s a matter of personal opinion. There’s no positive and conclusive proof that Christ was born on December 25, but there is a consensus all over the world that the date be observed as Christmas,” he said.
Former mayor Kamal Basu, now president of Sutanuti Parishad, observes the date that Job Charnock arrived in Calcutta as the date to start his organisation’s three-day Sutanuti Utsab.
The Parishad has been doing so since 1992. Its past joint secretary, Gopinath Ghosh, points out: “The date of Calcutta’s birthday depends on which aspect of the city one refers to — the location of the city, or the origin of the three villages that made up Calcutta, or the beginning of Calcutta as it is internationally known now.”