The early history of the Clive House, also known as Burra Kothi, is still veiled in the mist of the unknown. Located at 91 Rastraguru Avenue, Dum Dum, it is probably one of the oldest residential buildings in Calcutta. A desolate plaque at the entrance of the age-old and weather-worn structure indicates that, once Lord Clive used to reside here and probably it earned its name from that. It is therefore evident that the building was in existence before 1756. In fact, after the battle of Plassey, Lord Clive renovated the huge building and made it his country house. He introduced some basic changes in its architectural pattern, added the upper storey and also laid the lush green extensive gardens and the walks. However, the actual reason for the construction of such a fort like building is really a mystery. Unfortunately, no authentic account about this enigmatic building is available and nobody is aware about its original owner or the year of its construction.
It is considered by some scholars that, probably the building was constructed during the late Mughal period, which subsequently became the property of Nawab Alivardi Khan and later his grandson Nawab Siraj-ud-daullah. It is also believed by some persons that, once it was a Portuguese or a Dutch factory or a godown of Cotton and Salt Pete alias Potassium Nitrate, a salty white powder, which was used to preserve meat and also used in producing explosives and fertilizers.
Strangely enough, the building stands on a mound, just like a fort stands on the top of a hill. According to a local gossip, the mound was built in a single night. If that is true, it is really a mystery, as to why the mound was built and how the Herculean job was completed within the few hours of a night. It is also believed by the locals that the mound and the house are haunted.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that, after the battle of Plassey, Lord Clive renovated the building and in the process of renovation, he altered the ground floor in such a way, as to destroy its basic character as a defensive position.
Probably, for the first time the name of the building was referred in the ‘History of the War in Bengal’, a book written by Robert Orme, a British historian of India. In the book he mentioned that, in the dense foggy morning of 8 February 1757, while marching from the camp of Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah at Sealdah, Clive crossed the Dum Dum Road, where he marked an old building, strangely constructed on a high mound. It was also mentioned by Lewis O’Malley, a civil servant, in his article of 1911, where he commented that, the old building with its elevated position and strong structure appeared to be quite capable of a stout defense against anything but artillery. He also wrote that, originally it was a one storied block house, well equipped with underground chambers and was constructed in such a manner as to secure a flank fire position from all the sides. The walls of the building were strongly built with thick walls. In the same article O’Malley reported that, the name Dum Dum is originated from the word Damdama, which means heaped mound or battery.
Subsequent to Clive, his garden house has changed hands several times. For some time, the officers of the Bengal Artillery lived in it for field practice. After that phase, the building was rebuilt and since then the house and gardens were well-maintained. Reginald Heber, who was once the Bishop of Calcutta, visited the house in the 1820s and highly praised the excellent beauty of its gardens. During that period, the building served as a private residence of notable Englishmen. In 1891, it served as a headquarters of Presidency Volunteer Reserve Battalion and after their departure it was let out for rent. Sir Owain Jenkins, who worked for Balmer Lawrie and subsequently became a distinguished industrialist of independent India, lived in this place for a few years in the 1930s.In his memoirs of India he mentioned that he was compelled to leave the place as he was unable to tolerate the unbearable stinking smell of the adjacent market.
After independence of India and the consequent partition between India and Pakistan, about 20 to 25 helpless refugee families from the erstwhile East Pakistan took shelter in the building and the surrounding area. Despite non maintenance, the building was in fairly good condition and the roof was intact, though porous, even twenty years ago. However, the encroached families had to leave the house in apprehension, as finally a portion of the roof caved in and the core of the building became full with heaps of debris. Gradually, with the unreliable ghostly columns without the roof, broken windows, heaps of debris on the floor, chipped off plasters from the walls and the wild growth of the unwanted foliage, the building really attained the look of a haunted place.
As late as in 2001, a decorated part of pottery was found from the periphery of the mound and it attracted the attention of the then chief of the Archaeological Survey of India. With his experience, he could sense its archaeological importance and at his personal interest and drive, an extensive excavation started in the north portion of the mound of Clive House. As he expected, the excavation revealed the remnants of a very early civilization in the area, dating back far beyond the days of Christ. Till then, there was no idea about the existence of any such ancient civilization prevailing in that particular area of south Bengal. It is believed that the statuettes, terracotta and the seals or the emblems, which were unearthed from the site, belong to the Shunga period, which was around 187 to 78 BC. Those unearthed items are also said to have a strong resemblance to those found in Chandraketugarh, which is located along the Bidyadhari River, near the township of Berachampa in 24 Paganas district. All these findings signify that, Calcutta or greater Calcutta was not born and flourished during the last two hundred years, it has a more glorious history of an ancient civilization.
According to a report published in a local newspaper in 2006, the deep-rooted wild trees were removed from the existing wretched structure and the huge mass of the heaped debris was also cleared from inside the southern side of the building. A crescent-shaped stairway leading to the arched opening was discovered after removing the debris blocking the northern side.
A balcony, supported by pillars, which was hanging in a precarious state, was repaired and strengthened. However, though some stairways were restored, the main staircase on the north western side remains untouched. Unfortunately, further progress of the work has since been suspended for quite a long time, for reasons best known by the authority.