chapter  2
35 Pages

Nineteenth-century Calcutta: Renaissance city

KaliKatha, via Bypass (2002)1 begins with its main character, Kishore Babu, jaywalking across a main thoroughfare of Calcutta (Kolkata). “Unmindful of the speeding cars, fuming buses and minibuses, blaring horns and screeching brakes, Kishore Babu was seen crossing the busy Lansdowne Road in Calcutta – right from the middle – in front of the city’s newest and swankiest restaurant, the Golden Harvest” (Saraogi 2002: 2). What makes this act significant will become evident as the novel by Alka Saraogi progresses. Kishore has been an unscrupulous businessman and a tyrant for his family. After a heart operation, he is suddenly a new man, and jaywalking is a symptom of his changed life. Instead of endlessly bypassing the essentials, he will cut through to the core of his existence. The novel will also reveal the historical implications of Kishore’s “rebirth”.

Kishore Babu is a member of the Marwari community, a group occupying a special position in Calcutta history and in its urban space. Arriving in Calcutta from Rajasthan mainly in the early nineteenth century, the Marwaris became valued bankers and merchants who collaborated with the British and in some