Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Alliance Bank of Simla

Alliance Bank of Simla building
The Mail of Adelaide carried, on the 28th of April, 1923, the story of the closure of the Alliance Bank of Simla. The reason shown was the “heavy losses reported in the last report, and the subsequent withdrawals”. The truth is, the bank failed because of heavy speculation by the management.
Established in 1874, Alliance Bank of Simla was a British run, but India registered bank, that began by taking over the business of the United Bank of India. The bank acquired several other firms over time, including the Delhi and London Bank, Bank of Upper India and even the Bank of Rangoon. The Calcutta branch was opened on the 15th of October, 1889. The building was constructed by Sir Rajen Mookerjee's firm Martin and Company, who were the people behind the vast majority of Calcutta's landmarks, including the Victoria MemorialThe building on Council House Street remains in pristine condition, sandwiched between Hong Kong House and The National Insurance Building. After the failure of the bank, it was taken over by the Imperial Bank, which became the Reserve Bank of India in 1935. After independence, the building was found to be too small to house the central bank of the nation, and a gigantic soviet-style monstrosity was built on the Northwestern corner of Laal Dighi. 
The Alliance Bank of Simla building, while small, is something few banks can claim their headquarters to be. Pretty.

Detail of stucco ornamentation and cast iron grille work
The RBI Building opposite Writers'

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Peliti’s Restaurant, 11 Government Place East

An old photo of Peliti's from
Chevalier Federico Peliti was born in 1844, near Turin, and came to India in 1868, as the personal caterer for Richard SouthwellBourke, 6th Earl of Mayo, when he was appointed Viceroy of India. On a visit to the convict settlement of Port Blair, in 1872, Lord Mayo was assassinated by a Pathan convict named Sher Ali Afridi, with a knife.

Upon the Viceroy’s death, Peliti left Government House, and started his own establishment. By appointment to H.R.H., The Prince of Wales, and H.R.H., The Duke of Connaught, Peliti’s was one of the better known institutions of it’s day. By the 1890’s it had become quite popular among the business community of Clive Street, and many would flock to the establishment for their traditional Friday family lunch. Pelitis’ was famous for their three course lunch which could be had very quickly, for the somewhat hefty sum of Rs 1.50. Peliti was also well known as a great confectioner, and won an award at the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1889, for his 12 foot tall Eiffel Tower, “a miniature marvel in sugar”. Peliti’s operated in Calcutta until the 1930’s.

Peliti's today
In 1919, an expatriate businessman R.J. Coombes returned to Calcutta from a business trip to the USA with authority from Rotary International to organize a club in Calcutta. 45 of his European friends expressed interest, and it was in Peliti’s, on the 26th of September, 1919, that the first meeting of the Rotary Club of Calcutta was held, with a membership of 20. It was the first Rotary Club in India, and only the 3rd in Asia, the Rotary Clubs of Manila and Shanghai predating it by only a few months.

The marble plaque identifying the building
The building that was once Peliti’s still stands, although it has clearly seen better days. It is easily recognizable from the long balcony on it’s first floor which has a timber superstructure. It is currently owned by the LIC, who have plans of renovating it, or so we are led to believe.

The Original marble plaque, bearing the name of the restaurant’s illustrious owner, may still be seen, on the right of the main entrance. It reads “By Special Appointment to His Excellency, The Viceroy, Federico Peliti, Importer of English, French and Italian Provisions, Fancy Presents, and Wine Merchant”.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh