ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Love in Calcutta

Sex and Sensibility: Richard Blechynden's Calcutta Diaries, 1791-1822 by Peter Robb (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2011; pp xvi+260, Rs 695.

Richard Blechynden (1759-1822) was a surveyor and architect in Calcutta (Kolkata) at the turn of the 19th century. He arrived in 1782, after an early life in London in which he learnt mathematics, astronomy, and navigation. While on his first job as a midshipman, he was taken prisoner by the French. After he was freed, he wrote an account of the adventures. In 1782 he left another employment on board a ship to seek his fortune in Calcutta.

There was already an India connection. His sister who had recently died in a shipwreck had been in India, and there were acquaintances as well. In 1784, Blechynden found a job as an assistant to Edward Tiretta, superintendent of streets and buildings. Tiretta remains famous in the geography of the city, thanks to Tiretta Bazar in the Bowbazar-Chitpur area (the old Chinatown), and the Park Street cemetery, which he acquired in order to bury a young wife who died in childbirth. Blechynden himself was a man of relatively modest means. But he was honest and hard-working in professional life, as well as passionate and sensitive in the conduct of personal life. And he pursued his penchant for writing by keeping a diary, more than 80 volumes of which are archived in the British Library. A large part of the diary recorded his experience with and his reflections on the many women in his life.

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