CALCUTTA, THE CAPITAL OF INDIA
The best time for a stranger to visit Calcutta is during holiday week, for then the social season is inaugurated by a levee given by the viceroy, a "drawing-room" by the vice-queen and a grand state ball. The annual races are held that week, also, including the great sporting event of the year, which is a contest for a cup offered by the viceroy, and a military parade and review and various other ceremonies and festivities attract people from every part of the empire. The native princes naturally take this opportunity to visit the capital and pay their respects to the representative of imperial power, while every Englishman in the civil and military service, and those of social or sporting proclivities in private life have their vacations at that time and spend the Christmas and New Year's holidays with Calcutta friends. Moreover, the fact that all these people will be there attracts the tourists who happen to be in India at the time, for it gives them a chance to see the most notable and brilliant social features of Indian life. Hence we rushed across the empire with everybody else and assisted to increase the crowd and the enthusiasm. Every hotel, boarding-house and club was crowded. Every family had guests. Cots and beds were placed in offices and wherever else they could be accommodated. Tents were spread on the lawn of the Government House for the benefit of government officials coming in from the provinces, and on the parade grounds at the fort for military visitors. The grounds surrounding the club houses looked like military camps. Sixteen tents were placed upon the roof of the hotel where we were stopping to accommodate the overflow.
Good hotels are needed everywhere in India, as I have several times suggested, and nowhere so much as in Calcutta. The government, the people and all concerned ought to be ashamed of their lack of enterprise in this direction, and everybody admits it without argument. There is not a comfortable hotel in the city, and while it is of course possible for people to survive present conditions they are nevertheless a national disgrace. Calcutta is a city of more than a million inhabitants. Among its residents are many millionaires and other wealthy men. It is frequently called "the city of palaces," and many of the private residences in the foreign quarter are imposing and costly. Hence there is no excuse but indifference and lack of public spirit.
The Government House, which is the residence of the viceroy, is one of the finest palaces in the world, and in architectural beauty, extent and arrangement surpasses many of the royal residences of Europe. None of the many palaces in England and the other European capitals is better adapted for entertaining or has more stately audience chambers, reception rooms, banquet halls and ballrooms. It is truly an imperial residence and was erected more than a hundred years ago by Lord Wellesley, who had an exalted appreciation of the position he occupied, and transplanted to India the ceremonies, formalities and etiquette of the British court. The Government House stands in the center of a beautiful garden of seven acres and is now completely surrounded and almost hidden by groups of noble trees so that it cannot be photographed. It is an enlarged copy of Kedlestone Hall, Derbyshire, and consists of a central group of state apartments crowned with a dome and connected with four wings by long galleries.
The throne-room is a splendid apartment and the seat of the mighty is the ancient throne of Tipu, one of the southern maharajas, who, during the latter part of the eighteenth century, gave the British a great deal of trouble until he was deprived of power. The banquet hall, the council chamber, the ballrooms and a series of drawing rooms, nearly all of the same size, are decorated in white and gold, and each is larger than the east room in the White House at Washington. The ceilings are supported by rows of marble columns with gilded capitals, and are frescoed by famous artists. The floors are of polished teak wood; the walls are paneled with brocade and tapestries, and are hung with historical pictures, including full length portraits of the kings and queens of England, all the viceroys from the time of Warren Hastings, and many of the most famous native rulers of India. In one of the rooms is a collection of marble busts of the Caesars. These, with a portrait of Louis XV. and several elaborate crystal chandeliers, were loot of the war of 1798, when they were captured from a ship which was carrying them as a present from the Emperor of France to the Nyzam of Hyderabad.
The palace cost $750,000 and the furniture $250,000, more than a hundred years ago, at a time when money would go three times as far as it does to-day. Lord Wellesley had lofty ideas, and when the merchants of the East India Company expressed their disapproval of this expenditure he told them that India "should be governed from a palace and not from a counting-house, with the ideas of a prince and not those of a retail dealer in muslin and indigo."