Simanaitis Says

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WE JUST enjoyed curried fish for dinner and this reminded me that India is not among the places I’ve visited. It’s easy to do some armchair travel, though, so I dug out my Cook’s India, Burma, and Ceylon, 1912.


India, Burma and Ceylon, Information for Travellers and Residents, Thos. Cook & Son, 1912.

Unlike the more familiar Cook’s Handbooks for Travellers, this informative publication is for residents too, with a great deal of inside dope and lots of ads. “We sometimes have enquires on the subject of outfit, but many of our readers who have already paid one or more visits to India will not need any information on this head.” Well, that takes care of that.


Jaeger Pure Wool. This and other images from India, Burma, and Ceylon.

I’d have thought wool would be a bit daunting for Calcutta. (The Internet calls this Kolkata. Wherever is their SpellCheck??) Cook suggests that the climate dictates a time of visit, “say between November and March…” and recommends “ordinary summer clothing as worn in England, tweeds and flannel suits….” For milady, it suggests “a plentiful supply of underclothing (white and coloured).” Yes, that would be jaunty.

Calcutta’s Great Eastern Hotel offers “Every Modern Convenience… Electric Light, Fans and Lift… Winter Garden Lounge.” The Grand in Calcutta boasts “The Sanitary Arrangements are Perfect,” if you get the drift of their meaning. It also offers “Special Reduced Terms During Summer,” which brings me back to the matter of those woolies.


Don’t forget your Kodak. As I learned from Prince of Vagabonds Harry Franck, English speakers called all cameras by that name. Sic transit gloria mundi and a bow to digital imagery.


Getting there and back can be half the fun (or perhaps more). The British India Lines offer “Circular Tours & Return Tickets on very favourable terms.” London to Calcutta First Class (how else would one travel?) is listed at £37 10s to £41 10s. Adding a “fares subject to 10 per cent. Surtax” brings the latter to £45 13s (see “What’s That in Guineas?”), which works out to $228.25 in 1912 dollars, about $5500 today.

The Return fare is a bit more obtuse: Calcutta to London First Class is Rs. 550 plus that Surtax, total, Rs. 605. On the matter of Pound Sterling versus rupees, Cook says only “Indian Currency may be obtained at our offices at most favourable rates.” Dodging the matter, it does note that the rupee is divided into 16 annas, with 1 anna being 12 pies, almost as logical as the Pound Sterling being 20 shillings, 1s being 12 pence; and don’t forget a guinea being 21s.


A one rupee note, c. 1917, was worth around 1s 6p, roughly 38¢ at the time.

Another source entirely (I Googled “rupee history”) says £1 was worth Rs. 13.33 between 1926 and 1966. Close enough. The 1912 Calcutta to London Return of Rs. 605 works out to £45 8s. Being five bob less than the outbound fare, this is perhaps part of Cook’s “most favourable rates.” Or it might just be round-off error.

In booking, don’t forget POSH, port out, starboard home, which guarantees a cabin in the shade both to and from India.

Last, while researching the rupee exchange matter, I came upon a wonderful tale: Celebrating King George V’s ascension to the British throne in 1911, they issued a rupee coin bearing the image of His Majesty wearing the Order of the Indian Elephant. Alas, some thought the coin’s engraving made the elephant look like a pig, and the name “pig rupee” stuck. What’s more, India’s Muslim population was enraged and the coin had to be quickly redesigned. (It’s fortunate the new elephant didn’t look bovine.)

In retrospect, I’m glad my India, Burma, and Ceylon didn’t have any currency exchange tables. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

One comment on “CURRYING FLAVOR, 1912

  1. Manav
    March 10, 2022

    The elephant looking bovine wouldn’t have been a problem, I imagine, as long as it was very clear that the King was not shown tucking into a cow. 🙂 This is incredibly fascinating– I have one of the pig rupees. as they were called.

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