During the early days of British rule in India, the British insurance companies were not at all interested to spread their business in the British Colonies, due to the high mortality rate of the Europeans stationed there. However, after the merger of the Standard Life Assurance and the Colonial Life Assurance Company in 1846, all Standard business in the East was vested under the control of the Calcutta office and as their business galloped to flourish, the Standard Life Assurance Company established their first building in the City of Calcutta in May 1896. The Oriental Assurance Company followed them, when they opened their third office in Calcutta in 1914.
However, long before that, they started their business in India on 5 May 1874 in Bombay and the dramatic increase of their business in the country inspired them to open their second branch in Madras in 1901 and the third in Calcutta.
During those days, the Insurance sector in British India was monopolized by the British Insurance Companies and initially they offered policies only to the European community stationed in the country, as due to non availability of any record or statistics, it was simply not possible for them to ascertain the value of life of a native. However, the Oriental Government Security Life Assurance Company took a brave step and became the pioneer to break this traditional system.
Built in 1914 and located between the imposing Yule House in the northeast and the huge building of Jessop Company in the west across the road, the imposing building of the Oriental Assurance Company stands on the busy but narrow thoroughfare named Dr Rajendra Prasad Sarani, formerly known as Clive Row.
The tall and massive building, complete with several entrances and the walls decorated with stucco, seems to be a mismatch in the crowded and dingy locality. The central part of the building is equipped with a rather small pediment, adorned with an inverted star inside a rising sun, which probably is the symbol or the logo of the company. The star in the blazing sun is surrounded by serpentine flowery designs. Apart from that, each side of the building is designed with four columns with Ionic capitals, separating the bays. The two projecting side bays of the side entrances are also crowned with pediments. Atop each of the four columns that divide the building’s bays, there stands four giant Greek male figures, with their arms extended upwards, as if holding up the entire roof. The optimum point of the entire second floor windows are also decorated with a human face, embellished with decorative wreaths.
The more than a century old vintage building of 1914, which is one of the finest buildings of the Dalhousie area, stands secluded from many other gorgeous buildings of the colonial period dotted in the neighbourhood and now presents a pathetic picture of negligence and non maintenance. The massive structure has become dilapidated, unsafe and vulnerable. Chunks of collapsing masonry are creating a threat and panic to the pedestrians. Portions of the stairs have already collapsed.
Strong roots of wild plants have created deep cracks all over the building. Some of the Greek-looking figures have lost their hands and are partially covered in weeds and moss. Probably, the neglected building is going to be collapsed or demolished in the near future, to make room for a new unimaginative multi-storey building.
Except no 2 and 6, other pictures used in the story are by courtesy of Deepanjan Ghosh, collected from Oriental Assurance Building.