Vanity Fare



The National Library in Kolkata in Alipore is housed in a magnificent building amidst rolling parklands and ancient trees, and has a great history itself.

Once the pleasure palace of the infamous Mir Zafar, Nawab of Bengal, gifted, or maybe forced to gift it, to Sir Warren Hastings, Governor General of Companies India, to be used as his official residence.

Once the Governor General of India’s official residence shifted to the current Raj Bhavan, this became the National Library.

Services of The Library

This being very close to where we stay while in Kolkata, we use the sprawling grounds for our morning walks, and occasionally spend time in the quiet and vast reading room browsing over books.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts GalleryRare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

This library has the most comprehensive collection of books in India, and the pride of place goes to the rare books section, housing some extraordinary treasures.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

During my last visit to Kolkata, on a state holiday, we took the help of an acquaintance who is a curator of this section, and enjoyed the privilege of an exclusive look at these treasures.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

They included many rare manuscripts, some on palm leaves, and others on bark, or very early handmade paper. Some were in fine leather, printed in gold, bound in gold plated leather.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts GalleryRare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

Original handwritten scripts of the Tulsidas and the Krittibas Ramayana, the Koran handwritten by Aurangzeb, and other rare manuscripts in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Pali and Tibetan were there.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts GalleryRare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

There was calligraphy to be marveled at, and specimens’ from the first printing press in India.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

The first drafts and working notes of famous novels, letters, diaries, it was a treasure beyond imagination, each item with a story of its own.

Rare Documents and Manuscripts GalleryRare Documents and Manuscripts Gallery

But by far the most interesting display with a fascinating story of vanities hidden in it was the original document of the Constitution of India, as signed by the constituent assembly which is on display here.

vanity fare

The story is something that came to my mind, observing the document, and is a logical deduction with a bit of imagination based on what is known of the characters involved.

The final page of the document bears the signatures of all the members of the constituent assembly in two rows.

vanity fare

By the time this was ready to be signed, the British colonial masters had officially left the sub-continent, putting in their place their erstwhile cronies in a divided country, partitioned over the blood of millions of its citizens, leaving scars that generations have not healed. Two products of Macaulay’s endeavor to create coconuts, brown outside and white inside, Nehru and Jinnah, were ruling over the torn out parts.

See the source image

Jawaharlal, the nation’s Uncle, first Emperor of the Dynasty was on the throne. Wags said that his move from the mistress’s bed to the master’s throne was a demotion of sorts, but that is not part of our story.

Nehru Edwina


Therefore, when the document came up for signature, Panditji, with his inborn sense of entitlement, signed it first, as the first signatory.

See the source image

However, in his hubris, he had made a faux pas, breaching protocol.

For the titular Head of State of India was the President, Babu Rajendra Prasad. And as he was technically and officially the senior member of Government, he should have signed first.

But this occurred neither to the sycophantic babus and party members who put up the document for signature, nor their newly appointed chief.

But the President was upset at the slight to his stature. And he was not a person to meekly submit to the insult.

He therefore, drew an arrow to the top, besides the text, and signed his name.

Thus, his name came on top, even if not in the place designated for signatures.

And the original document, till this day, bears witness to this little vanity fare, and preserves it for posterity.

Ironically, this document proclaiming India’s independence from the British, signed by the inheritors to their throne, is housed in the building built by the puppet nawab of Bengal, the notorious collaborator Mir Zafar.

See the source image


  1. Article contains many parallel themes such as history of this magnificent building, hints how Bengal came to East India Company, parallel streams of Indian polity one of suit boot wala and other of down to earth politicians.
    Well written blog, contains all and maintains curiosity as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An historical lesson for me too. Of course, Chacha Nehru who love d and likedd everything best in life was known for his aristrocracy. You have in your inimitable style informed all of us that he was the greatest NARCISST TOO.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The story of the Constitution signature was the real story, and an eye opener. The rest was a preface, I suppose. Thanks for the history about the Library. With you shifting to Kolkata soon, we hope to see more Kolkata centric stuff among your writings. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sir,
    A very interesting observation and a very interesting narration.
    A lesser know anecdote comes to light.
    And what can one say about the National Library , A great edifice and a treasure house of books.
    The reference to Mir Zafar is interesting.
    A very good read sir.
    Prantik Mitra

    Liked by 1 person

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