Poets of John Company/A Letter from Shigram-Po



A letter from Shigram-Po to his Father.

Calcutta one hundred years ago.

You know, my dear Parent, how oft you and I
Talk'd in praise of Bengal, ere I wish'd you good bye.
Of the riches and rank which were sure to accrue
To those who its glittering paths should pursue;
No more on such faithless descriptions depend,
'Tis a fudge I've found out, from beginning to end!


You'll expect I am sure whilst my sorrows I utter,
That I write some few hints about charming Calcutta.
It is without doubt a magnificent spot.
Both charmingly sickly and charmingly hot!
'Tis the City of Palaces, long since so named.
And for very large mansions most justly is famed.
These mansions of bliss to extend may be said.
From the ghaut at Chandpal down the whole Esplanade,
Including the Court House, Town Hall and besides
The great house of all, where the Governor resides.
The first in the list is a mansion we find.
Where justice and mercy, are justly combined,
Where Lawyers dispute, but on one point agree.
And that is—the never refusing a fee.
Next, the Town Hall in turn, stands in splendid array,
Tho' many supposed, 't would fall down t' other day,
But confident grown, they by hundreds assemble,
And dance till they make every board of it tremble!
'Tis there, when they hold their famed conversationes,
Ladies meet their admirers, and men meet their cronies.

Then clubs oft assemble in commemoration
Of some great event, some of strange designation!
Amongst them, The Lunatics, who modest elves,
Have taken this Lunatic title themselves!
They meet once a month, when the Moon's at it's full,
With bumpers of claret their sorrows to lull.
But I doubt much indeed, if the day of the feast
Of all lucid intervals—is not the least.
How many there'd be at the club to imbibe,
If all who are Lunatic would but subscribe!


To those who're accustomed to ride on the course,
An Arab's considered the most showy horse.
Rotten Row of a Sunday ne'er made the display
Nor boasted the beauty seen there every day!
Where soon as it's sun-set, the ladies resort
By Hygeian gusts their weak spirits support,
In Chariots, Barouches and Sociables too.
All open of course, to ensure better view,
Or what is more likely, and what my lines mean,
They are open that they may both see and be seen!
Here friends meet together, converse as they ride,
And gentlemen follow the Barouche's side,
Who whilst they're inhaling the genial air,
Are talking soft nonsense besides to the fair!


We have newspapers too, as you have in the West,
Each editor striving to prove his the best,
With pages enough for a Counsellor's brief,
Tho' some of them still might turn o'er a new leaf!
The Journal, Gazette, The Harkaru and Post,
The India Gazette, and the awful nam'd Ghost.
The columns of some, we peruse but with pain,
Perceiving the feuds which they daily contain.
No paper appears but produces new schism.
Or charges perhaps of fresh radicalism,
But what should we do, we'd be bad off indeed.
If we had not a paper of some kind to read.

And here when a vessel arrives we devour
The news of six months in the space of an hour.


The customs of living are strange in th' extreme
And to you my dear Parent will very odd seem.


Here they rise very late, and beginning to dress,
Are surrounded by slaves for they can't do with less.
Here the natives of India to caste do so cling,
You scarcely get two to perform the same thing.
One puts on a stocking, one holds a serie
Another with chillumchees stands ready by,
A third has a mirror, he brings to your view,
A fourth fellow's tying the string of your shoe!
Or perhaps if undressing, a bearer's undoing
Your shoes or cravat, there's another shampooing
Your arms or your legs whiche'er he may light on
As famed Dean Mahomed shampoos you at Brighton I
Equipp'd to the table they hie to partake
Of breakfast, by far the best meal that they make.
Then each his own business prepares to pursue
But ere they proceed, smoke a chillum or two.


But now my dear father, 'tis full time to close
This very long letter, or you may suppose
That having commenc'd, I may never intend
To bring my remarks on our town to an end.
Adieu! then dear parent and long live to know
That I'm always your dutiful son Shigram-Po!