scenes from the past

The story of the elusive man who made these fascinating pastel postcards of Calcutta

Indians and Europeans share equal space on Frank Clinger Scallan’s vibrant canvases without indication of social hierarchy.

Postcards from Calcutta in the late 19th and early 20th century are widely regarded as belonging to the golden age of postcards. They were dominated by photographs taken by companies like Johnston and Hoffman, prints by Thacker, Spink & Co., or oleographs by Raphael Tuck and Sons – which were also based on photographs. The scenes reproduced and sold by Thacker had become so popular that when the poet and painter, Edward Lear, failed to satisfactorily capture Calcutta on his canvas, he followed an obvious course of action. In Edward Lear’s Indian Journals: Watercolours and Extracts from the Diary of Edward Lear, he writes: “Went to Thackers & Spinks, where I bought two dozen photographs...Walked back across the Maidan...No rest in Hustlefussabad.”

With the turn of the century, the number of companies looking to cash in on the burgeoning and relatively young economy of tourism in India increased manifold. The postcard itself underwent a significant change in its format between 1902 and 1904, as Naomi Schor notes in Cultures of Collecting, with the division of the “writing side” and a reversal of recto and verso. There were some remarkable exceptions, however, to what was largely an industrial product.

Take for example this series of six postcards of Calcutta:

Clive Street (Evening). Source: Author’s personal collection
Clive Street (Evening). Source: Author’s personal collection

The pastel shades and dramatic skies mark significant deviations from the standard images of the city that were in circulation. The artist may or may not have used photographs as reference, but unlike most photographs that depict churches, public buildings or trams, these drawings recall a city that is bustling with people. Indians and Europeans seem to share space on his vibrant canvases without indication of social hierarchy. But who is this Frank Clinger Scallan whose name appears in each one of these paintings?

The General Post Office from Dalhousie Square. Source: Author’s personal collection
The General Post Office from Dalhousie Square. Source: Author’s personal collection

Frank Clinger Scallan was born in Calcutta in 1869 or 1870. The little that we can glean from one or two existing biographical notes, tells us that he completed his schooling at the Calcutta Boys’ School, which was founded around 1877. According to Frank Anthony, the author of Britain’s Betrayal in India, our primary source of information on Scallan, the painter went on to join the Survey of India, where he served for nearly 40 years.

Jain Temple, Upper Circular Road (Morning). Source: Author’s personal collection
Jain Temple, Upper Circular Road (Morning). Source: Author’s personal collection

The chronology is not very clear, but it appears that Scallan spent a significant amount of time in Europe and trained under the eminent French painter and sculptor Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian in Paris. If we are to take Anthony’s word, Scallan’s works were exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, and he won a silver medal at the Calcutta Fine Art Exhibition in 1924. It appears he married one Edith Maude Wright, with whom he had a son who died in his infancy in 1903.

Writers Buildings and the Holwell Monument. Source: Author’s personal collection
Writers Buildings and the Holwell Monument. Source: Author’s personal collection

Anthony describes Scallan not just as a painter but also as a poet. So far, besides the postcards, several of his etchings and engravings have surfaced on online databases and auctions, including City Gateway in Lahore, Kashtaharini Temple in Munger, Kashmiri Beggar, Lahore, A Ballygunge Tank and several other drawings in London. A detailed but not exhaustive list is to be found in Anthony’s entry.

Theatre Road, looking west. Source: Author’s personal collection
Theatre Road, looking west. Source: Author’s personal collection

In 1910, Scallan’s services were called in by HG Tomkins’s Astronomical Society of India to design their official seal. The seal (barely discernible from the reproduction) is a “representation of the Constellation Scorpio above Observatory set among palm trees, the whole surrounded by a border of lotus flowers with the words and figures” (Astronomical Society of India, 1910).

Astronomical Society seal by Frank Clinger Scallan. Source: Journal of Astronomical Society of India (1911-'12)
Astronomical Society seal by Frank Clinger Scallan. Source: Journal of Astronomical Society of India (1911-'12)

His drawings and photographs circulated widely and perhaps, at this historical distance, incalculably. The Calcutta Historical Society, for instance, based its title page engraving of its journal, Bengal Past and Present on Scallan’s painting of the General Post Office.

“A Study in ‘High Life’- A Beggar on Horseback” by Frank Clinger Scallan. Source: Indian Ink (1914)
“A Study in ‘High Life’- A Beggar on Horseback” by Frank Clinger Scallan. Source: Indian Ink (1914)

Scallan contributed both as poet and illustrator to the Indian Ink (1914), which was an attempt to raise funds for the World War. The poem, dedicated to Aden, appears to promise deliverance to the port city on the Red Sea. Among others, his etching of “A Study in ‘High Life’- A Beggar on Horseback” appeared in the volume. Perhaps the best circulated among his works appeared as illustrations in Charles Hilliard Donald’s The Adventures of Bairam Khan, which was published in Lahore in 1930. Going by Anthony’s account, Scallan wrote historical articles in his later years (which are yet to surface) and died in November 1950, at the age of 80, leaving his traces on Kolkata’s past in a fine and indelible ink.

Village Street in the Suburbs. Source: Author’s personal collection
Village Street in the Suburbs. Source: Author’s personal collection
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward firstname.surname@___mail.com email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like coolgal1234@hotmail.com. You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that bitbybeatlemania@hotmail.com and hpfan@yahoo.com would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as depressingdystopian@gmail.com.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind scentofpetunia.blogspot.com could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.