Camp Kalimati (extract from Tisco News - 3/10/2000)
This was more than a windfall for a company so proud of its legacy. The prospect of receiving artifacts from its past was extremely exciting. Mr. Hartshorne send not just a few, but 3500 rare photographs and 1000 documents to our Archives. Virtually the pot of gold at the end of rainbow.
Along with his wife Margarett, Richard Hartshourne had visited Jamshedpur as a guest of the company, on his 80th birthday to discover where his ancestors had once lived. It was their first visit to India. Axel Sahlin is a name familiar to us, and one that is revered at the Tata Steel Archives. Therefore, the proposed visit created quite a stir and aroused the curiosity of everyone there.
During their visit to Archives and Jamshedpur Mr. Hartshourne was reminded of a box he had inherited.
Robert Chandler Sahlin, the son of Axel Sahlin and Richard Hartshournes uncle, also worked at Steel Works from 1913 to 1915. When Robert Chandler Sahlin died in 1968, Richard and Margarett discovered large cache of photographs and memorabilia relating to the early construction stages of the Tata Mill.
The visit itself was a grand success. Richard and Margarett walked down memory lane, recalling incidents from the years that his grandmother too paid extensive visits to the job-site during the construction period. A few months after Richard and Margarett went back home came the email message and the pot of gold.
After receiving the valuable papers, letters and photographs, the Archives immediately started the task of identifying and sorting the documents, when suddenly a little frayed book caught the attention of the staff. Titled Personal Impressions of India, it was written by Axel Sahlin especially for his friends and covers the period between January 15 to April 21, 1908. In the form of a personal travelogue, it traces Axel Sahlins journey from Marseille to Bombay, the city with its millions of the most heterogeneous people
Here are a few extracts from it:
On his approaching Kalimati Station in a goods train, he writes, the country became mountainous and interesting. We were in the district Singhbhoom the land of the lion. We passed Sini junction, where once it was intended that the work should be located. Here I felt home. I knew the names of the hills, the villages and the rivers. One more station and we were in the jungle passed over along bridge spanning the Kharkai River; now the jungle to the north of the road is our land, 23 square miles of it, the wildest land we had passed.
He humorously relates their entry into the jungle in colorful procession, and so we started off our miles into the jungle; white, yellow, brown and black, all were there. The saises of the Tata Steel Co., already gay in their new blue and khaki uniforms and large blue turbans; the coolies of necessity in glossy black with a white lion cloth; our servants in their gay headgear and varying complexions; we ourselves in pith helmets, leather putties and light clothes. I assure you it made a motley crowd when we were swallowed up in the jungle.
On what he told of the every first sighting of the location he writes, On Christmas Day, two young men on horseback passed from Kalimati station to the Subanrekha River. They stopped on a plateau overlooking the river valley, and facing a beautifully wooded hill, the Dalma, 3600 feet high, which overhung the river. And it was decided, then and there, that here would be located the first office of the Tata Iron and Steel Co.
But it was the minute details of the Camp that makes his record interesting reading six weeks later we found here a settlement of 5oo people; a village of canvas and reed mats; 20 tents, in one of which I am writing this; 8 reed matting houses, dining hall, storehouse and 42 huts for coolies. In these huts live 337 coolie men, woman and untold numbers of children My tent is interesting. The bedroom tent is 14 ft by 14ft by 12 ft high to the ridgepole. It has two windows and double doors, is fitted with a blue and white carpet, and contains a bed, two chairs and a table. Over this whole tent is placed an outer one, forming in front a covered verandah, in the rear a carpeted bathroom, with tub, toilet and washstand.
A typical workday in described this we started off on foot, on horseback or on elephant to explore for water sites, reservoirs, railway connections, timber, sand, loam clay and gravel banks, stone quarries, or we go to the draughting room tent to discuss and try locations, estimate cutting and fillings, plan the streets and sewers of the town, write letters, debate on labor or other problems
The night brought with it a tranquility of its own and cast its spell over the camp. We dine to the music of the wild beasts mostly jackals in the jungle and the crickets in the trees. We have a glorious moonlight, and it is unique to out around the coolie camps and see little families cooking their suppers. This is primitive life.
Sahlin took keen interest in his surroundings and a gave a graphic account of the flora and fauna found around the camp. There are no tigers near; but the bear have a bad reputation and are numerous. Four bear cubs have been brought into the camp. The panthers are plentiful but they rarely attack a white man. Not a snake have I seen, but large lizards are plentiful. There are many beautiful birds around. The fever birds sing constantly outside my tent. Last week I came across a flock of peacocks that had settled in one tree and were keeping up a lively conversation. We often see parrots in beautiful colors. In the rivers are large black and white herons, also geese and many kind of ducks Sahlin was able to gather and understand the norms regarding the social hierarchy and prevalent Caste system and food habit in the camp. He writes It is funny camp, we Europeans eat alone, our own boys would not eat our food. Our civil engineer, who is a Brahmin cannot eat in out site, will not touch out hand and it would be impolite to go to his tent. My stenographer, who is Eurasian, cannot be permitted to mess with any of the staff. The Hindi eat by themselves and Parsees by themselves;
Four day before Sahlin was due to leave he surveyed the progress made at work site saying, I will never forget the beauty of this place, nor will I ever get over a desire to see it again. Today, it is just six weeks since we arrived, then there were two hundred coolies working with the surveying gangs, now we have 4000 at work making bricks, building railways, constructing reservoirs, making a weir 1200 ft. long across the Subanrakha River, excavating pumping station, making roads and construction bungalows. I had not given them a start and I am from now on of more use in Europe than here.
When just two more days left in Kalimati, Sahlin regretted that nature had to give way to economic progress. He was filled with sadness when he looked upon beautiful jungle. What a pity to come here, to disturb the people out of their simple life and centuries of calm possession, to destroy their green wilderness, this has been one of the interesting experience in my life. This free and crude life in a jungle camp, where, until six week ago nature lay untouched by human hand and where animal live their livesbut the time did come to leave our pleasant camp. The last tour was made through the long glades, where eight weeks earlier stood untouched jungle, to the sandy river bottom, now alive with workers a little town of tents, fiber mat hut and few substantial bungalow. In the moon lit night, I had my last ride to Kalimati Station, patted the white nag who had given me so many pleasant hours and was off. When next I came back, my old jungle will not be there