The Red Bus Robbery

In their quest for colonisation, the British faced many tenacious races all over the so-called third world colonies; men and women of varied colour, creed, ethnicity, and metal. Stories of whose bravery and strength are etched in the annals of human history. Of all the people they dealt with, perhaps they found the Bengalis to be the most intelligent of the human species. This intelligence scared them so greatly that from the very early days of their seat in Bengal, the Anglos ensured strict dominance of the race of Bengalis. More through strategised reward and lure and at times also through torture and sheer tyranny.

In 1867, Dadabhai Naoroji put forward the ‘Drain of Wealth’ or ‘Drain Theory.’ The ‘Father of Indian Nationalism’ expostulated that the Empire of Great Britain was annually draining a revenue of two to three hundred million pounds from the country. One hundred and forty-six years later, in 2013, the office of the Comptroller General of the Receipt and Issue of Her Majesty’s Exchequer and Auditor General of Public Accounts or in short, the British CAG would put forward an estimation of one trillion rupees as the total value of exploitation over three hundred years of reign from its Indian colony.

The year is 1945. Second World War is at its peak, and the passion of the Indian independence movement is at its height. The men and women of the subcontinent are hellbent to throw the British out of their bleeding motherland. The population is divided into two schools of thought. One followed Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach while the other led by more extreme leaders such as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose sought to gain independence through armed conflict.

Twenty-seven-year-old Boshonto sat along with his three younger brothers Shefali, Habu and Kochkey on one end of an under-construction concrete seating platform colloquially known as the Rock under the protruding verandah of a red-brick palatial residential building.

The Rock was just being built. Workers were laying and cementing the brick wall of this one-hundred-feet long and four-feet high concrete bench. Mortar would be filled in the next few days and final touches given to complete it. Young Boshonto was given the contract for constructing this Rock, by the owner of the building.

The massive and posh gothic-styled villa belonged to a particular Sur family, liquor merchants, part of the Bengali bourgeois class who benefitted from the exploitation of the working and lower classes and by oiling the British. The house stood on Duff Street behind Scottish Church College in the heart of North Calcutta, in the Hedua Talab area, the birthplace of Bengal renaissance and many legendary Bengalis.

“I don’t believe in the ways of the non-violent-naked-baldy,” shouted out Kochkey, the youngest of the brothers, a giant of a man known as the ‘Rod’ for his stubbornness and legendary physical strength. “Be respectful, you imbecile, the Mahatma may be non-violent, and we may not agree to his passive ways, but he is no less brave,” scolded Habu, slapping his younger sibling on the head. The third brother, a master firework maker, was the most balanced and levelheaded. No one in the entire city of Calcutta could bring out such brilliant and dazzling colours in the light and smoke of a firework, like he did.

“We need to pick up weapons and join the underground armed resistance,” added second brother Shefali, a speed-demon behind the wheels, who drove the 8B red-double decker bus between Jadhavpur and the Howrah Railway Station. “We have enough non-violence and a steadily growing armed resistance. What we need now is to put an economic dent,” added Boshont, the oldest and the wisest.

That evening’s discussions carried late into the night till the brothers had made up their minds about the part they were about to play in India’s freedom movement. They had to do something, after all their name was quite famous in the region as strong, fearless, and intelligent dogooders who always did things for the benefit of the people. Their plan was all set. They would execute it in two days, on the day before the final cementing of the Rock was executed.

The concept of banking in India can be traced back to the five-thousand-year-old Vedas. Here we find the first mention of the term kusindi or ‘usury,’ the practice of lending money at abusive interest rates, enriching the lender. The wise sages of the time such as Vashista forbade the Brahmin priest class and the Kshatriya warriors from engaging in the evils of usury. The practise, however, became more common by the second century CE.

Other written works such as the Dharmashastras of the first millennium BC, the Buddhist Jatakas from three hundred years before the birth of Christ, and Chanakya’s Kautilya Shastra between the fourth and third century CE, all mention the existence of rnapatra, a kind of loan deedThese monetary instruments continued into the Moghul era recoined in Urdu as dastawez between 1500 to the mid-1800 Anno Domini. The use of payment orders by royal treasuries called barattes, the evolution of credit instruments called hundis, and Indian bankers issuing bills of exchange on foreign countries, were all practised during the medieval period of Indian history.

Modern banking in the true sense was first established in the subcontinent by the British merchants in Calcutta through the amalgamation of the earlier Commercial Bank and the Calcutta Bank to the newly formed Union Bank in 1829. It started as a private joint-stock association and later became a partnership.

At about the same time, the British were at the height of their opium trade with the Chinese. They got the Chinese addicted to opium, and the successful opium trade operations in China helped Britain improve her silver reserve in the treasury. Incidentally, the state of Bihar in India was the largest producer of opium, followed by the state of Maharashtra in all of the British colonies. So, in reality, opium was exported to China from India illegally in exchange for Gold and Silver going into the coffers of the East India Company.

Now, to manage this massive flow of wealth, the Empire of Great Britain needed reliable banking establishments in the heart of its operations in the Indian colonies. This led The Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China founded by the granting of its Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1853, to open its branches in the Indian cities of Bombay and Calcutta in 1857 and a little later in Shanghai. Then in 1969, today’s Standard Chartered Bank was formed through the merger of the Standard Bank of British South Africa with The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.

Now in the year 1945, at the peak of the Second World War, at the height of the Indian freedom movement, this Chartered Bank of the number 19 corner building on the intersection of Fairley Place and Netaji Subhash Road (named so, much later in history) in the Dalhousie Square area (later renamed as BBD Bagh) was the ideal target in young Boshonto’s head to make the perfect financial dent in the British economy.

Standing on the opposite side of this colossal Byzantine-style building, toward the Eastern banks of the River Ganges, the four brothers could not help but admire this massive marvel of architectural engineering. While a theme of round arches crowned its octagonal minarets, a hundred-and-ten-feet tall central clock tower stood on the China Bazar Street side of this gargantuan financial palace. A hundred-and-thirty-five-feet tall entrance turret on the Clive Street (today’s NS street) facade welcomed spellbound customers to the central banking hall through the mammoth main entrance.

During the Second World War, India was in a strange and in-between position. As aptly described by historian Yasmin Khan in an article in 2012, “not quite a home front, nor quite a war zone, India was nevertheless critical to the war effort as a source of military power and industrial production.” The country found itself caught in the frontline of the Pacific War between the imperial powers of Britain and Japan. After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese aggression in 1942, Calcutta became most vulnerable to further advancements of troops from the ‘Empire of the Rising Sun.’

Following this, the city turned into a simmering cauldron of global war, with its streets, hotels, guests houses and military establishments teeming with soldiers from Britain, China, Africa, and America. The predominantly white-skinned American soldier though looked very much like the Brits had a more tolerant oriental outlook.

Being asked not to get involved politically, the average American G.I. was more friendly and shared books, culture, food, and drinks brought back from the States with the locals quite benevolently. It is during this era, that Coca-Coal, canned food, and Jazz music got woven into the fabric of the ‘City of Joy.’

The American soldiers’ pre-framed notion of India as the exotic land of the lavish Maharajas, as portrayed by Hollywood, was shattered when they saw Calcutta engulfed in devastating war-driven famines. Though they could not claim openly, many of them were sympathetic to the revolutionary efforts of the Bengalis.

Now the Duff Lane, besides today’s Holy Child school and three houses from the red-brick palatial house and the Rock of the Liquour merchants Sur’s, was one of the spots used by the American soldiers to park their supply trucks filled with different kinds of goods. The Americans were extremely friendly and mixed with the locals, sharing whatever they could. The four brothers had managed to befriend the American Captain in charge of this supply platoon.

“I have managed to acquire two loaded rattlers for you. Hope you know what you’re about to do. I do not even want to know,” said the American Captain as he handed over something wrapped in a jute gunny bag to the brothers in the dead of a dimly lit night with a blurry crescent moon.

RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TATA-TAT… PHISHEWW… RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TATA-TAT… PHISHEWW… The distinctive sound of a British STEN MK II submachine gun resonated through the walls of the central hall of the Byzantine-style bank building. 9mm Parabellum brass cartridges few and fell clanging on the Italian marble floor of the economic powerhouse of the Anglos. Red-hot lead loads lodged themselves on the walls and ceilings of the inner sanctum of the Chartered Bank building at 15:00 hours on the first Saturday of July in 1945, a day before the Rock on Duff Street was about to be filled with concrete. For the first time in Indian history, a firearm of such calibre was discharged inside a financial institute.

“We are not bandits, we are revolutionaries,” shouted a man with a handkerchief tied around his face under a pair of dark goggles. Trails of hot and white smoke still spewing from the nozzle of the MK II, which he now pointed at the four men carrying a steel trunk in the middle. They were waiting for an armoured vehicle to arrive at any moment to transport the metal box to a British ship docked at the Khidderpore port scheduled to leave the next morn for Great Britain.

“No one will be harmed, as long as no one makes a move,” cried out another of the three armed bandit-revolutionaries, as he lighted and threw homemade firecrackers that covered the place in a cloak of blinding light and smoke. Amidst the veil of haze created by the master firework maker, the teller at the central cash dispensing window saw a giant of a man the third bandit approach and take away the steel trunk. That which required every ounce of strength by four strong men to carry was lifted like a box of cotton by the masked brute.

The mammoth main door of the Chartered bank at 19 Fairley Place flung open and dazzling arrays of baffling lights and thick clouds of blinding smoke spewed out on the street. The faint silhouette of a man emerged from the Byzantine-style financial institute, lighting and throwing volleys of homemade light-smoke bombs from a leather satchel slinging around his torso.

Within moments the street in front of the bank was covered in a veil of a blinding light and chocking gaseous cloak. Only those who had handkerchiefs covering their nostrils could breathe, and with a special kind of air-tight dark goggles could perhaps see a little bit in the dazzling fire-light and the blinding smoke.

All of this happened in a matter of a hundred and eighty seconds. As blinded and coughing people tried to get a hold of their bearings back inside the bank and outside on the street, a speeding 8B red-double decker bus slowed for a few moments and then passed through the cloud of light and smoke.

As the blinding lights faded and the cloaking gases cleared, a minute later, as the armoured van approached the spot to collect the precious steel trunk, armed British soldiers dismounted the vehicle trying to gauge what had happened to their precious cargo. Guards from the bank joined them, but no one could see the Sten-gun-wielding robbers anywhere on the cobbled road.

The British never revealed what and of how much value was robbed from the Chartered Bank on one Saturday afternoon in July 1945. Some say that the cargo was so precious that they were too ashamed to reveal what was looted. One would never know how deep the economic dent was, but it certainly was a big slap on the face of the oppressive tyrants.

The last of the four brothers passed away in 2010. Boshonto, Shefali, and Habu went on to live and raise families and are survived by kids and grandchildren. Kochkey never married, leading an ascetic life, sleeping every night on the concrete platform out in the open and finally taking his last breath on the Rock itself.

Today if you happen to visit Duff Street behind the Schottish College in the heart of North Kolkata, do check out the concrete seating platform colloquially known as the Rock under the protruding verandah of the red-brick residential building of the Sur Liquor Merchants.

If you closely inspect the platform, at one spot you will see the barely visible alphabets BSHK etched with a finger when the concrete was being laid. The impression has worn over the years, and hardly anyone living today knows what the barely visible letters mean. One may take a guess though, of it being the initials of four legendary brothers that lived in the region and who knows what they sealed in the Rock the night before it was finally cemented.

The Red Bus Robbery


Copyright © 2021 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA

This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at trishikh@gmail.com or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trishikh

Trishikh Dasgupta

Adventurer, philosopher, writer, painter, photographer, craftsman, innovator, or just a momentary speck in the universe flickering to leave behind a footprint on the sands of time..READ MORE

66 Comments Add yours

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you sp much for liking and promot this story of mine. I really appreciate the gesture.

      Like

  1. KK says:

    This is an amazing story, Trishikh. This is against the backdrop of our great freedom struggle. So inspiring! It shows the confusion of youth then which route to follow. Since this is based on a true story not known to many, including me, I think it would have been better if you had not fictionalised it, so that people could know the real story of our brave people. It’s your call, Trishikh, but I really liked the essence and background of the story. Thank you.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      A lot of this story I heard from my father who is no more. I knew all of the four brothers personally, but all of them have passed away now. So I have no way to fact check. I was forced to fictionalise it, as I don’t want to state facts without proper evidence. I am so glad that you liked the story and get the message behind it. Always treasure your support and appreciation.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. KK says:

        Ok, that suits me. Always welcome, Trishikh!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Trishikh says:

        And I always treasure your comments and friendship.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I would have liked to know, if the money helped the resistance, but I presume it did. But India wasn’t really backward then was it, just different? India had and has a rich cultural heritage.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      No one knows what happened to the precious loot. We don’t even know what is was, money, or gold, or gems, or important financial papers or priceless artifacts. One thing is sure though, the British losing it was a big blow to the colonisers itself. Yes you are right, India has thousands of years of rich culture and heritage. During the British colonisation it also suffered a lot and lost a lot of its wealth too. Though all Britishers were not bad, many have contributed immensely towards the good of the people of India in different ways. I must thank you for liking my story and taking the time to write such a nice and engaging comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. saphilopes says:

    How did the imperialists get rich? They robbed all the wealth of the backward countries. They established their own institutions with the wealth they received from the colonies. Even shapeshifters today are the same logic. And the brothers took back what was theirs. One day there will be a war of the poor and the rich. It won’t work like that. I believe.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      You are right. That’s the sad reality of colonisation era and this concept of the rich getting richer by the exploitation of the weak is unfortunately still practiced today. Whenever there is exploitation , I think clash is eminent.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Remembering Kochkey da so much .A really talented person whose fate let him down .He had left memories for us to share, your babas childhood friend .

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Yes you are right. Kochkey had an illustrious life and a sad ending. Yes! I too remembered him a lot while writing this story. Many will not believe that this story is inspired by real life characters, a real Sten gun wielded Bank heist. Though I have fictionised a lot of this story, yet so much of it is really true.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Goff James says:

    Thanks for sharing another great story.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      You are most welcome Goff. Thank you so much for your constant encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much Ned for promoting my story in your blog. I cannot thank you for your this act of constant kindness.

      Like

  6. Ini•Udofa says:

    From the title it was captivating,the story itself is intriguing well done friend

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much friend for your kind words of appreciation. So glad that you find the title and the story captivating.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ini•Udofa says:

        You’re welcome 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  7. AmericaOnCoffee says:

    An interesting share on history. The same drain is happening today. If only we would learn lessons from history prayerfully. I love your title and photo. Best regards.❤️

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so my fellow coffee aficionado. You are very right. Economic drain by the rich and powerful by exploitation of the weaker keeps on continuing to this very day. It is funny, that we humans are fast to learn from the evils of the past and slow to accept the wrongs of history and move towards a corrected existence. I must thank you for taking this much interest in my story and thoughtfully commenting.

      Like

  8. The journey from 4500 -2500 B.C.E ( Before Common Era) where you stopped us for transactions of money in Vedas to 1900 C.E( Common Era) where the fight is about owning reflects your creative thinking to connect past with the present!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Wow, what a beautiful analysis you have drawn up. I am too flattered by this comment. Yes, it is my utmost effort in most of stories to connect the past with the present and the future even. Afterall all of the three are important in the stories we will leave behind for future generations.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. For us westerners who have very little knowledge about the turmoil, the Indian society went through during the Second World War while on the brink of revolution and liberation. The intriguing tale of a bank robbery, made of historical facts and fiction, infuses a kind of ordinary human touch into the account of those rather dramatic events.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      I could not have put this string of words together to so beautifully describe my little story. I always look forward to your analysis, they teach me so much from the stories that I write.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Appreciate this post

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much. So glad that you liked it.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I greatly appreciate this perspective on historical events. As always a very compelling post! I wish my hand could touch the four letters traced into the Rock.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you very much Patrick for enjoying my story. So happy that you cherished the historical perspective. I also yearn to touch historical objects in forgotten places, they stand testament to a forgotten era, waiting to tell us their hidden stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Your story would make a great film!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Oh, thank you so much. Yes many friends have suggested this for many of my other stories as well. If someday someone picks up one of my stories for a movie, it would be a matter of great joy and honour for me.

      Like

    1. Trishikh says:

      Really appreciate your kind gesture of promoting my story on your website.

      Like

  13. Anamika Dasgupta says:

    A beautiful blend of fact and fiction. Nice one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much Anamika for always liking my stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Fascinating and thought-provoking. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much. Really makes my day, when someone finds joy from one of my stories.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. great legendary story! Hope some day in the future I could go for a visit….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      We never know where our journeys take us. I wish you all the best for many travells on the days to come. Who knows one day you might land in the city of Kolkata also. Thank you so much for reading, liking, and commenting on this little tale of mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This is another powerful story Trishikh. I enjoyed every bit of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much Emmanuel. Always treasure your kind words of encouragement.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is my utmost pleasure to read you Trishikh.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much for promoting this story of mine.

      Like

  17. Eternity says:

    Thanks for your like of my Revelation 22 article; you are very kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      You are most welcome.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. The Rock too as a story to tell… but who wants to dig up all that concrete…? And maybe… just maybe… hear the echoing laughter of the Rock… after the poignant phrase… GOT YAH!!!
    🇯🇲🏖️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Oh yes, there are many “Rocks” in Kolkata, where traditionally and culturally people gather to gossip and chatter. These places bare the testaments of generations of Calcuttan’s, the trials and tribulations of the freedom movement, the cultural explosion of the Bengal Renaissance, and so much more.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. gabychops says:

    Perhaps, I should mention that today Indians are running this country(UK)
    and somewhat strangely they proclaim their devotion to the country they wish to be successful in every sense.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Well in my personal opinion when Great Britain colonised many countries of the world, amongst the many treasures that they salvaged from these nations, they got human beings too. I think there is a rich collection of many races from different parts of the world who have come to be British citizens. I think a developed nation should have people from all over the globe. Well, this I say keeping politics aside. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. gabychops says:

    Thank you for all your replies! I would love you to read my posts on
    naturetails.blog
    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Oh yes, it is my pleasure to read your writings.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. gabychops says:

    I should have mentioned that I came from Poland, and while I am British
    I understand the feeling of Indians as we were taken over by Russian
    and the Germans. My post of 24 December reflects my gratitude to an extraordinary Indian man who saved 1000 Polish orphans. Please, read it if you can.
    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Very true, our life experiences makes the best of stories. The people of Poland have endured so much, beyond comprehension for many of us. I only wish and pray that humanity evolves beyond its cruel self.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much. Encouragement and appreciation always motives me greatly.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much Craig for considering my story for your blog. It is a big honour for me when someone reblogs one of my stories.

      Like

  22. Vicky says:

    Reblogged this on Vicky.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      Thank you so much Vicky for posting this story.of mine in your blog.

      Like

  23. cocoliso says:

    Reblogged this on Cocoliso.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trishikh says:

      It is such an honour for me to see my story reblogged in your website. Thank you so much, really appreciate the kind gesture.

      Like

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