Monday, March 5, 2012

South Boston

I was in South Boston during a recent meeting.  It is an old, industrial looking place with brick buildings and faded signs for manufacturing that is now in the process of being “gentrified”.  Much safer than it was 10-20 years ago, I took a couple of walks through it on a dull rainy evening. 
Half of the buildings look empty, and there are faded signs of old graffiti that serve as a memory of its rough heritage. 

South Boston sits by itself as an appendage to the rest of Boston, uncrowded and relatively clean of high-rises.  This is the view from the entrance to Lucky’s Lounge, a hard to find, unmarked  bar and restaurant in the basement of an old building that plays host to a cast of regular characters.
You can get an idea of what a big city in the States might have looked and felt like in the early 20th. Century.  Brick red seems the color of South Boston.
Matter-of-fact industrial buildings presiding over an old and built up waterfront reminds me of so many other cities throughout the world, including Kolkata, and the businesses that must have plied a couple of centuries ago.  Ramdulal De, the ancestor of a close friend of mine (who now lives in Maryland),  was one of the first Bengali traders to have been involved in commerce with American traders in the early 19th. Century.  His ships came to Boston, and perhaps to the docks and wharfs around here.  He became immensely wealthy and there is a fairy tale story behind his rise from rags to riches.  Employed as a servant to a rich businessman in early 19th-late 18th. century Calcutta, he was carrying some of his employer’s money as a courier when he came upon a ship that was being auctioned off.  News was that it had taken in water on its way out of the port of Calcutta and its cargo of expensive silks had been destroyed.  The ship was being sold for a pittance and Ramdulal, on a hunch, bought the entire craft along with its goods with his employer’s money on the spot.  Within minutes fresh news arrived that the damage was not as bad and that its cargo was intact and unharmed.  Ramdulal, already by now the owner of the ship, sold it back immediately at a tidy profit.  Upon returning, he handed over the gains to his employer.  Impressed by his acumen and honesty, his employer awarded him the profits and Ramdulal struck out on his own.  He ended up one of the richest Bengali businessmen of his times.  He was particularly well liked by the Americans--a portrait of his resides in the archives at Washington D.C., and they named one of their ships that sailed out of Salem, after him.  Ramdulal’s profligate sons—Chatu Babu and Latu Babu—frittered the money away in frivolous pursuits that are legendary (upon seeing an expensive mirror displayed outside a shop with a sign stating that nobody could afford this mirror, Chatu Babu immediately purchased it, laid it flat on the road, and asked his driver to run his horse coach over).  So in a strange, weird way, I though about Ramdulal De on this walk through South Boston, wondering how these docks would have looked like a couple of centuries ago.

1 comment:

  1. Being a descendant of Ramdulal De and still living in our ancestral house at Beadon Street-I liked the
    article. Thanks !