May 14, 2021 3:45:37 pm
Among the many bylanes in Kolkata, easy to miss if one isn’t seeking them out, is the approximately 100 meter long Gumghar Lane. A stone’s throw from Chandni Chowk in the heart of the city, this narrow lane’s existence isn’t well known even among long-term residents of the city.
Not much is known about this lane, but historian P. Thankappan Nair writes in his book ‘History of Calcutta’s Streets’ that the earliest known mention of the lane can be found in the Bengal Agra Directory of 1850. But that too is a passing mention, and has been referenced using a different spelling than what is presently used: “Goomgur lane, north side of the native hospital, dhurrumtolla.”
It isn’t clear when the lane came to be referenced using its present spelling but ‘Goomgur’ may have been an anglicised version. It was the hospital located in this lane, mentioned in the directory, that gave the lane this name, writes Nair.
“The native hospital went by the name of Goomghur as it was a house (ghar) for isolation (gum),” Nair writes. While there is no clear historical documentation to confirm this, the name of the lane suggests that the hospital may have specifically been used for isolation and quarantine purposes.
The building in this lane was different from other medical institutions in colonial Bengal because as the name indicates, it wasn’t called a ‘hospital’ or even the term’s equivalents in Bengali, Hindi or Urdu. That means this structure may have only been used for isolating patients who may have been afflicted from contagious diseases.
Gumghar Lane wasn’t the original address of this isolation facility. The 1852 edition of the Calcutta Review mentions that it was first established in Chitpore Road in September 1794. But four years later, in 1796, “the managers purchased ground in “the open airy road of Dharmatala”. At that time there were only three or four houses in the street”, the Review says, indicating that the neighbourhood hadn’t fully developed at that time, making it ideal for setting up an institution of this kind.
A report by the Rivers Pollution Commission in 1868 titled ‘The Domestic Water Supply of Great Britain’ presented in both houses of Parliament in Britain indicates that cholera, endemic in Calcutta during that time, was one of the illnesses to be treated at the Native Hospital in the city, while the Calcutta Review says that small-pox was also treated at the institution.
In many ways, this institution was the predecessor of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital that was established in College Street in 1835, Asia’s first medical college. Some 78 years later, in 1874, this institution was once again shifted, this time to Strand Road near the Hooghly river, renamed Mayo Native Hospital where it still stands.
Sometime in 1990, the hospital was shut down but revived two decades later in 2010. The hospital has been converted by the West Bengal state government into a facility to treat Covid-19 patients living in central Kolkata, in the neighbourhoods of Posta and Burrabazar for whom accessibility to this institution would be easier.
It is not clear where the Goomghur once stood in the bylane named after the institution. Some old colonial style homes on either side of the lane exist, albeit in a dilapidated condition. Over the years, these large structures have been subdivided into smaller sections and are now occupied by several families living in close proximity.
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