Monday, November 16, 2009

P. Thankappan Nair

A visit to the National Library courtesy of Amitava Mukhopadhyay has given me another avenue to explore for traces of my great-great grandfather, Edward Alkin. After a tour of the Rare Books section (where I saw a copy of Hicky's Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Advertiser, 1780; William Carey's 1806 Grammar of Sungskrit Languages; Edward Fry's 1799 Pantographia 'containing accurate copies of all the known alphabets of the world' (and a dedication to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society) and a Tibetan manuscript written in 1670 and gifted to the Library by his Holiness the Dalai Lama), I was slightly stunned to meet P. Thankappan Nair. Mr Nair is an esteemed historian whose area of expertise is Calcutta. He has published 48 books and I had just come across some references to his writings at the Asiatic Society last week.

His work includes four volumes of the history of Calcutta, one volume per century from 16th to 19th; a history of the Calcutta Police; a history of the street names of Calcutta and a history of the actual name of the city. Unfortunately, most of his books are out of print and I plan to go to Bow Bazaar and College Street to scour some of the secondhand bookstores.

P.T. Nair was sitting at a desk preparing a lecture he is giving on 23rd November to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Ashutosh Mukhopadyay collection being donated to the Library ... some 87,500 books. That is another story!

We talked for a while about Calcutta, Australia, cricket, James Prinsep and air-conditioning. He advised Amitava to take me to the Calcutta Port Trust which has a good archive, and a copy of something he had written on the Hugli Shipping Pilots. And also to try the Officers Club as they also hold some documents and archives.

P.T. Nair said that he is at the library most mornings if I had any other questions. He tapped his chest and said that the room gets too cold to stay all day. He was wearing a woollen jumper underneath his shirt.


  1. oops! That should have been: Now I'M really envious! Early morning typing - and without my first cup of tea!

  2. you know I saw P.T. Nair at the Library again on Wednesday! now you will be envious, as he invited me to drop over to his home. I will do that next week.
    I also came across a book that you may have seen? 'Some 18th Century Armenian Graves in Calcutta', Mesroub Jacob Seth, 1938.
    Hoping to go on the weekend, so if you like I could have a look at it?

  3. Dear Michele,
    This request might seem a little odd, but if you or Mr P T Nair whom you have met have any information about Thomas Motte (the man who wrote A Journey to the Diamond mines at Sumbhulpoor)will you mind passing them to me? I'd be grateful.
    K K Mohapatra