More than 30 years ago I paid 30 guilders in an Amsterdam antiquarian bookshop for the little book: De Nederlanders in Voor-India, by H. Terpstra, published in the Patria series by P.N. van Kampen & Zoon N.V, Amsterdam in 1947, the year of my birth. This is a concise write up in Dutch about the importance of the Dutch role in India that started in the early 17thcentury and lasted until 1825. It also was for me the first book that described what the energy of Dutch ancestors established in India. How they traded, what connections they had with Indian monarchs, what attitudes and behaviours they had on local cultural and religious actions.
In his final chapter entitled Our Legacy Terpstra wrote: “Who deeply researches and documents traces of the labour of our 17th century forefathers will reap a surprising harvest”. He wrote about the Dutch cemetery and Surat with the impressive grave monument of Adriaan van Reede tot Drakensteijn and other Dutch cemeteries, churches, loges and factories on all coast of India. His attractive writing started my research in archives and antiquarian bookshops in 1988.
In February 1989 this book and others and quite a few days of study in the National archives in The Hague helped me to plan my first trip to our shared heritage with India. Soon after that I came across In het voetspoor der vaderen, by Maurits Wagenviirt, a book from 1929 that showed me the first pictures from the Dutch heritage that was still existing in 1929.
Tha made take three weeks holiday from my work. I started in Calcutta where my friend Christiaan was working and his paper clipping of 1988 pointed me to Chinsurah. With his help with local contacts I did visit the cemeteries and fort in Sadraspatnam and Pulicat near Chennai. I crossed over to Cochin in Kerala for the Dutch church and cemetery on Fort Cochin. And I went from there by train to Surat and Bharuch in Gujarat. I made slides in all these places that I have digitalised in the late 1990s to publish a few on my first website.
Unfortunately mr. Ganesh Nandy of the Indian Netherlands Friendship Society fell ill. The INSF could not receive me in early February 2020. I was very lucky that I had been approached a few days ago by Byapti Sur who I know from our earlier Dutch India heritage group. She happens to be in Chinsurah for the marriage of her brother.
At the Chinsurah train station Byapti picked me up at 10:00. Her parents live nearby so I could drop off my suitcase there.
We started at the Portuguese church in Bandel. It was too catholic for me, too much pomp and glory.
Auto taxi’s brought us back to Chinsurah where I saw for the first time the pleasant effect of the renovation of the most visible Dutch monuments: the cemetery and the Susanna Maria Yeats- Verkerk tomb. The Archeological Survey of India has created lots of green at these sites making it look like a garden around monuments. Byapti was very surprised how good they looked now compared to what she remembers from her childhood.
We walked to the nearby Hooghly Imambara. That was impressive, with a massive front and spacious inner court.
We toured around some of the highlights from the booklet produced from the technical analysis of Dutch buildings done by Ayshwara Tipnis heritage architect. She did similar work for the French heritage in Chandernagore. I saw here and there near some of the buildings info-signposts that also result from the revamp.
The project also produced two websites with valuable content. One is www.dutchinchinsurah.in. The other one is www.dutchcemeterybengal.com, which’s gives individual information on each of the persons buried on the Dutch cemetery. Students of the Presidency University in Kolkata helped produce pictures and researched backgrounds.
On 30 January 2020 I had an interesting meeting with mr. G. M. Kapur, advisor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH) in West Bengal. This is the national agency for heritage conservation in India.
We discussed the Dutch heritage situation in Chinsurah and my forthcoming presentation for the INTACH members. He showed me a copy of the Bauke van der Pol’s book in English: The Dutch East Indian Company.
In the workspace with their collections staff was working to conserve old documents.
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More than 30 years ago I paid 30 guilders in an Amsterdam antiquarian bookshop for the little book: De Nederlanders in Voor-India, by H. Terpstra, published in the Patria series by P.N. van Kampen & Zoon N.V, Amsterdam in 1947, the year of my birth. This is a concise write up in Dutch about the importance of the Dutch role in India that started in the early 17thcentury and lasted until 1825.
From 1773 to 1786 Jacob Haafner was in India, where he had an adventure full and colourful life. First as klerk in Negapatnam, later as bookkeeper in the Sadras factory. From 1781 he worked some years in Calcutta as bookkeeper with the former British Governer and scholar in Bengal, Joseph Fowke.
Haafner was utterly indignant about the behaviour of the Europeans in India characterized in his view by greed, cruelty and indifference. Time and again he argued that the local Indians were victims from the European domination.