According to historian P Thankappan Nair who has extensively documented Calcutta’s history, the name ‘Topsia’ may have been derived from the fish species Polynemus paradiseus , also known as the ‘topshe’ fish found in the waters of West Bengal, Bangladesh and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
The tanneries that once choked the bylanes of Topsia have long gone, shifted to the outskirts of the city. But a decade later this eastern neighbourhood of Kolkata has found it difficult to shed the association with the industry even though the pungent smells associated with the neighbourhood — a combination of tannery fumes and effluents, open ditches and the garbage landfill sites at nearby Dhapa — have long dissipated.
Several neighbourhoods have come up in the East Kolkata wetlands despite its ecological importance and for decades the area was home to the city’s tanneries that caused severe environmental degradation. In 1996, the Calcutta High Court ordered the tanneries to be relocated outside the city limits, a process that took at least another decade to fully materialise. Following the court order, the tanneries slowly left the neighbourhoods of Tangra, Topsia and Tiljala, only to be replaced by construction companies that swooped in and began filling up the wetlands to develop the area for residential and commercial purposes, despite it having been declared a Ramsar site in 2002.
Topsia became a part of the burgeoning metropolis of Calcutta in 1717 when the British East India Company rented 38 villages surrounding the city from Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar. The Company went on to purchase 55 villages, including the 38 that it had previously rented, from Nawab Mir Jafar in 1758 and incorporated them all as the outer fringes of the developing city.
The villages collectively came to be known as Dihi Panchannagram, the literal meaning of which is “55 villages”, and lay outside the Maratha Ditch, an approximately 5 kilometer ditch that was excavated in 1742 to form a perimeter around Calcutta to protect the British from the Maratha invasion that never came. The Maratha Ditch, built for the protection of the British, was entirely funded by taxes paid by Indians.
Source: The Indian EXPRESS