The Last Bungalow by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (9780143101185)
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Located at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati, Allahabad, or ?Godville??the ?babu? translation of the name that Mark Twain came across?has been frequented by pilgrims for two thousand years. However, it was only towards the latter half of the nineteenth century that Allahabad shed its identity as another dusty north Indian town and emerged as one of the premier cities of the Raj and the capital of the North-West Provinces. This metamorphosis, ironically, was brought about by colonial rule, whose beginnings Fanny Parkes has described at great length. Allahabad was the home not only of the Pioneer newspaper, where Kipling was employed, but also of literary figures like Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Suryakant Tripathi ?Nirala?. Its university, one of the oldest in the country, attracted students from far and wide. Visited by the Buddhist scholar Hsiuan Tsang in the seventh century, the city is today visited by spiritual con men and con women, as well as ordinary pilgrims, who come to attend the Magh and Kumbh Melas. As Kama Maclean?s essay shows, far from being an ancient religious festival, the Kumbh Mela, which is held every twelve years, originated as recently as the 1860s.
Colonial Allahabad, along with the intellectual energy that colonialism generated, has all but disappeared. The bungalows have gone, and so have the last of those who inhabited them. Their descendants can only recall a lost time.
In 1824, Bishop Heber wrote that Allahabad was a ?desolate and ruinous? place. Three years later, Mirza Ghalib compared it to hell, only hell was better. But for Jawaharlal Nehru, Allahabad was where he was born and where he cut his political teeth; for Nayantara Sehgal, it was a model for civilized living; for Ved Mehta, it was, like other Indian cities, ?a jumble of British, Muslim, and Hindu influences?; for Saeed Jaffrey, it was a place where a good time could be had, while one picked up a decent education; for Gyanranjan, it was a city one could fall in love with in one?s youth; and for I. Allan Sealy, it was his parents? home town, a reservoir of family lore.
The Last Bungalow: Writings on Allahabad is a memorial to a now forgotten city, whose rise was as meteoric as its fall.