It was only after 1856, when Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the then Nawab of Awadh, Lucknow was exiled in Metiabruz by the British Government, this place transformed dramatically.
Metiabruz meant fort made from mud (in Urdu, ‘matia’ mean ‘mud’ and ‘bruz’ mean ‘fort’). In those days, it is said, it was called Parikhana, and the Garden Reach area was called Muchikhola then.
Once the Nawab settled in his exile, his royal house in Metiabruz started to bustle with activity – Awadhi language, art, music, dance, singing, poetry, smell of atar (fragrance made from flowers) were populist style of his living. The city also got a taste of Awadhi cuisine, rich, spicy yet light on the stomach. The signature Awadhi Biriyani, Nargisi Kofta, Tunde and Gelawati Kababs are some of the delights prepared by the chiefs and cooks of the erstwhile Nawabi kitchens.
His another major contribution of today’s Metiabruz is the introduction of Hindustani Darjees or tailors. At that period of time there were very few tailors in Bengal who had the artistic skill and concept to match the talent of these Hindustani darjees from Lucknow. Gradually, these darjees became so famous in Bengal that they started getting orders from Bengali Zamindars, Babus and even British Officers. As time passed on holding the hands of these skilful darrjees, Metiabruz became one of the prominent centers of fashionable garment making in Eastern India. Now around 56% of the total youth in Metiabruz is into the business of garment manufacturing. Bulk shipment of garment produced from Metiabruz is now sent to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka every month.
“Wajid Ali Shah infused the Lucknow-ie culture into Metiabruz. It’s as if he transplanted a miniature form of Lucknow into this part of Calcutta.” Wrote Abdul Halim Sharar in his book in Persian, Guzishta Lucknow, which has been translated into English: “There was the same bustle and activity, the same language, the same genteel style of poetry, conversation, wit, the same tehzeeb, and many of the same aristocrats, nobles and commoners. No one thought he was in Bengal: there was kite-flying, cock-fighting, quail-fighting, opium addicts reciting the same tales, the same lamentations in the recitals of marsiya and nauha.” Sharar’s father was a senior figure in the Nawab’s court.
Sharar’s book provides a fascinating glimpse of life in Metiabruz from 1856 until Wajid Ali’s death in 1887. Wajid Ali, wrote Sharar, used to stay at a palace called Sultan Khana which, along with two other mansions (Asad Manzil and Murassa Manzil), were given to him by the British. But within a few years, the Nawab constructed beautiful new palaces with sprawling gardens on the banks of the Hooghly. Sharar documented in detail the nawab’s fondness not only for art, music and dance (notably thumri and kathak), but also animals. The exiled prince had a large zoo with thousands of birds and animals including tigers, leopards and giraffes, the first of its kind in Eastern India. He also built what was perhaps the world’s first snake house with hundreds of reptiles, whose daily feeding of frogs drew fascinated crowds. The nawab used to spend nearly a fifth of his monthly allowance of one lakh rupees from the British for the upkeep of this zoo. Sharar also provides an account of the nawab’s other monthly expenses, including those on his legion of concubines, and the court’s decadent ways even during exile.
All this, however, came to an end abruptly after Wajid Ali’s death in 1887. “The British immediately threw out all the nawab’s family members, officials and others from the palaces he had built, and auctioned off these properties, even demolishing many of them,
Before he reached Calcutta, his retinue of 500 persons had arrived by the land route and rented a house belonging to the Maharaja of Burdwan close to Bichalighat for Rs 500 a month. Initially, the Nawab lived in that house. Later, he rented other houses in the vicinity for his retinue. Iron Gate Road in Metiabruz borrowed its name from the palace and the wrought iron railings and portico with a deep verandah, all of which belonged to the Maharaja of Burdwan.
He made extensions of this along the riverbank up to Babubazar in Hastings. The Kidderpore docks did not exist in those days and there was direct access to Metiabruz. Part of the Awadh family burial ground has been leased out to Hindustan Lever. The Nawab lived here for 32 years.
Later, the Burdwan building became Ispahani jute mill. The pond where the Nawab’s body was washed is still there. It changed hands and became Calcutta Jute Mill and now it is a warehouse.
The property was sold part by part by the Nawab’s descendants for litigation and to maintain a luxurious lifestyle. Now only the places of worship such as Sibtainabad Imambara, Baitul Najat (Chhota Imambara) and the ladies imambara, Quasrul Baiza, have survived.
The piece of information is hard to believe, but that is what is written on the plaque at the historic Imambara. The plaque reads: “National Flag (replacing the British flag, Union Jack) was unfurled on this monument 27 years after Independence on 26th January 1975 by Mr. S. M. Abdullah, chairman, Garden Reach Municipality, organized by Prince Nayyer Quder, the newly appointed first nationalist trustee of King of Awadh’s Trust.”
On 21 September 1887, Wajid Ali Shah died and was buried at Sibtainabad Imambara, which he had built in 1864. His funeral was attended by more than 10,000 people from all communities and walks of life.
Population and Lingustics
The population of Metiabruz consists mainly of Muslims (approx 90%). Main spoken languages include Bengali, Urdu and Hindi, spoken widely in the large migrant population. It is home to a large number of unskilled labourers that settled here from rural areas in West Bengal and Bihar, who are employed on a daily wage; this includes construction workers, cleaners, plumbers, and painters.
Education in Metiabruz does not feature highly on the local government agenda thats why it still lacks a college in the area.