Mini Britain – Major India : British influence on major Indian cities

“Angrez chale gaye aur isse bhool gaye” – was a very common taunt endured by people who spoke good English or showed behavior not considered typically Indian.

The British surely robbed us of a great million things but they did leave some traditions and legacies behind which continue to thrive and in some cases are now even considered part of the Indian culture. In many cities in the country, there is still evident influence on the spoken language, delicacies, festivals, etc. The three major cities of the country namely Chennai, Mumbai and Calcutta show major signs of colonialism but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s try and uncover the rest.

Mumbai

In the heart of Mumbai lies Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus which was earlier called the Victoria Terminus. The morphology of this station is strongly influenced by the European Gothic and Victorian architecture whose key attributes were stained glass, lancet windows and flying buttresses. These attributes are abundantly found in some other famous buildings of Mumbai including the Xavier’s College. The fans of the Harry Potter series, which is set in the 20th century Britain, swoon at the sight of Xavier’s college because it is the closest to a magical castle that one can dream of studying in. The architecture is again evidently influenced by the trends that were followed in Britain. Even the names of most famous landmarks are British influenced, for example: Crawford market, Wilson College, Watson Hotel, etc.

These monuments built in the time of the British show characters that remind us of the British rule in India. Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue and Mount Mary Church are two buildings that fall into that category. Even community buildings like libraries have been named after the British like the David Sassoon Library. The British introduced the concept of theatre plays in the Indian community which was taken up by the youth of the country during the British Raj.

Because of this, the city saw the rise of a number of theatres out of which most are still functional like the Prithvi theatre.

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St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Picture credits – Parth J Dave, Flickr

Kolkata

The Parsi theatre like the theatres of Mumbai was also an integral part of the Kolkata community which is popular for its taste for art and culture. The Parsi theatre adapted concepts popular from in and around the cities that also collided with the British. Another social impact that may have had its roots in the British era is the love for English literature and poetry among the natives of Kolkata. The city has given birth to some of the country’s finest writers, poets and film makers; to name a few – Rabindranath Tagore, Amartya Sen, Satyajit Ray.

Kolkata also has a small replica of the Big Ben of London. The impact of the British on the architecture is evident even in this city. The Governor’s house in Kolkata now would have blended in perfectly in a British area had it not been for the Indian emblem.

Raj Bhawan, Kolkata (Governor’s Place) Picture credit – Chiradeep Mukhopadhyay, Flickr
Raj Bhawan, Kolkata (Governor’s Place) | Picture credit – Chiradeep Mukhopadhyay, Flickr

Chennai

The similar concept of theatre was also prevalent in Chennai during the British rule which continues to thrive today and one of the most famous theatre groups of that time was Albert Natak Company. Just like the other two cities, even Chennai’s architecture is highly influenced by the British style. Several of the churches in Chennai resemble churches of London.

Courts, educational institutes, municipal halls, post offices and even factories have a Victorian touch to their appearance. The different cultural activities thrived even under the British rule and continued to attract the attention even through the ages. With much appreciation for the art forms, India is now famous worldwide for its classical dances and even Carnatic music which is native to the southern states and cities of which Chennai is an integral part.

Midsummer night’s dream being performed in a theatre in Chennai. Picture credits – Ronald Philip, Flickr
Midsummer night’s dream being performed in a theatre in Chennai.
Picture credits – Ronald Philip, Flickr
Santhome Basilica, Chennai Picture credits – Vinoth Chandar , flickr
Santhome Basilica, Chennai
Picture credits – Vinoth Chandar , flickr

With the world moving forward at a fast pace, grieving about the heavy losses incurred due to the British colonial rule would be a further waste of time. We should embrace our identities and make use of the facilities that were originally set up by the British to flourish and grow together as a country. The British impact may not necessarily be a negative term and to see it in a positive light all it takes is a new approach.

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