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, 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 lat 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.
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra was born in Lahore in 1947. He is the author of four
books of poems, the most recent of which is The Transfiguring Places (1998), and one of translation,
The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasapatasathi (1991). His edited books
include The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets (1992) and An Illustrated
History of Indian Literature in English (2003). He lives in Allahabad and Dehra Dun.
Back of the Book
Hsiuan Tsang Ralph Fitch Reginald Heber Ghalib Bahadur Singh Bhatnagar Fanny Parkes Matilda
Spry Bholanauth Chunder Edmonia Hill Mark Twain David Lelyved Jawaharlal Nehru Harivansh Rai
Bachchan Narmadeshwar Upadhyaya Amaranatha Jha Sudhir Kumar Rudra Rajeshwar Dayal
Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ Nayantara Sehgal Kate Chisholm Saeed Jaffrey Esther Mary Lyons Ved
Mehta Pankaj Mishra Kama Maclean Gyanranjan I. Allan Sealy Palash Krishna Mehrotra.
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