Hukitola Building: A Symbol Of Past Maritime History In Neglect
An ancient monument in a lonely island, forgotten, neglected and facing ruin, is located in the Bay of Bengal and straddled by the river mouth of the Mahanadi. The Hukitola building in Kendrapara district of Odisha is crumbling under the ravage of time. 146-year-old Hukitola building reminds the tourists and locals of the legacy of British rule and glorious maritime trade of the state. The place was located by the then Collector of Cuttack John Beames, the then Chief Engineer of Irrigation J Huki Waker and a senior Indian Civil Service officer, Macforson.
During the infamous Naanka Drought in 1866, the British government was searching to construct a big storehouse to stock the imported rice from Burma and other areas of undivided India through the sea route and the officials located the lonely island at the river mouth of the Mahanadi, surrounded by sea. John Beams, in his autobiography Memories of a Bengal Civilian, vividly described about the construction of the Hukitola building on the island, which was covered with mangrove vegetation at that time. The building was named after the then Chief Engineer of Irrigation of Orissa, J Huki Waker, as he had designed the construction of the building in 1867.They had organised a champagne party in the island to name the building. Stones from the ruins of the Barabati fort of Cuttack were brought by the ships and boats to construct the 120 feet length and 60 feet in width building with six large rooms inside.
Beamsus wrote in his autobiography about Hukitola thus: “The site being uninhabited was also nameless and they cast about for a name for it. Several were suggested and rejected. At last, Macpherson said, ‘Let us call it Hookey Tolah after old Hokkey Walker.’ The idea was accepted and the place was solemnly named and a bottle of champagne was drunk by the company to christen it. Some years later WW Hunter, a British officer, in compiling his gazetteer, found this name in use and supposing it to be a native word, thought it proper to write it according to the scientific method of spelling Indian names—Hukitola.”
Hukitola embodies the diverse heritage and glorious past of our country .The monument bears testimony to the advances made in construction technology in the olden days. An underground water reservoir in the basement of the Hukitola building was designed to store rainwater. The people of the tiny island and its nearby areas used to use the stored water for their needs over the year. The ruggedness of style and sturdiness of its architecture has allowed it to survive to this day, braving the onslaughts of nature. “The building is a magnificent piece of colonial architecture,” said Dr Basudev Das, a researcher of Kendrapada. Hukitola is an important part of Odisha’s maritime and political history. In the past, it was an important centre for trade and commerce. “During the Second World War, the British people used the Hukitola building as a naval base,” revealed Das.
A forest guard guarded the Hukitola building. However, due to inaccessibility to the area, the guard stored rations for a week. In 1978, the guard suddenly died. But news of his death reached the authorities three days later. However, by then, a group of fishermen went on rampage and ransacked the entire building. The raiders removed every fitting and accessory that came in their way. Doors and windows, made of Burmese teak, a silver plaque, two iron chests, cots made of teak were pilfered. By the time the police arrived, the building had been emptied of antiques.
Since then, the building has been lying in neglect. A forest office was functioning in the building till the super cyclone in 1999. But now the building is deserted and nobody is looking after the building. On the paper, Ministry of Surface and Transport is the owner of the building but the department does not spend a single pie for the preservation of Hukitola, said Dr Das.
By Ashis Senapati from Kendrapara