Anecdotes from Contemporary Sources

Mutty Lall Seal and His Charity

The Man from Barrackpore

The direct charity of Hindu householders is too often indiscriminate But it is in accordance with habits long cherished and with the precepts of religion. The late Babu Mutty Lall Seal established an attitishala or almshouse not far from Calcutta on the Barrackpore road where from four to five hundred travellers are daily fed. He used to seat himself in the verandah of his home there and watch the poor being fed In his later days this constituted one of his principal pleasures. He was a man of great wealth a friend of Europeans and yet a man of the simplest tastes. On one particular Sunday while seated with some friends near the avenue where the poor were being fed he observed one of them most greedily devouring the food utterly unmindful of all that was passing around. The benefactor earnestly watched the progress of the poor hungry man’s meal as he feasted on the rice and curry gratuitously bestowed on him. When that was concluded the Babu asked him whether he had been in want of food. I left Barrackpore for Calcutta yesterday morning said he and have had no food for forty eight hours. I am feeble and lame and travel slowly. The benevolent Babu could hardly restrain his tears as he remarked to his friends around him that he was amply compensated for all that his charity cost him by that one case. Nor did the poor wayfarer leave without substantial marks of the benevolent rich man’s favor.

“Ornaments are the Only Savings Bank”

On another occasion Babu Mutty Lall Seal was told by a neighbor that before he began to distribute his charity the poor could hardly get two meals a day but since the opening of his almshouse they were able to purchase ornaments from their savings. Here was the effect of that very indiscriminate charity so much decried in Europe and not without reason. “I gain a double object by my charity”, was the benevolent Babu’s reply, “I not only feed them now but contribute to their support in the future. The ornaments are often the only savings bank known to the people of India. ” Direct charity is more practised and appreciated by the Hindus notwithstanding the abuses that often flow from it.

(Littell’s Living Age vol. 150)

That word was in fact considered as binding as a bond.

As a merchant, Mutty Lall was scrupulously honest and honourable in his dealings. If the high credit of a country be dependent, as I believe it is, as much on the honour and enterprise of her merchants, as upon the sagacity and wisdom of her statesmen, his countrymen may well be proud of Mutty Lall Seal. He always strove to choose the right path, and after he had made his choice, never swerved from it. When he had passed his word on any transaction, the latter was as good as done. That word was in fact considered as binding as a bond.

At the time of an unprecedented monetary crisis, a European gentleman of unquestionable respectability and a high officer of the late Supreme Court, being deeply involved, applied to him for pecuniary assistance. Mutty Lall Seal, with a degree of promptitude which he had little anticipated, at once agreed to lend him a very large sum upon a doubtful security, and though warned by his friends against his acting so precipitately, his answer was that he would not flinch from his promise whatever the consequences might be. Eventually he recovered but a very small portion of his advance.

Again a well-known attorney of the late Supreme Court having fallen in difficulties applied to Mutty Lall, with whom he has been personally acquainted, for pecuniary assistance. His application was readily and cheerfully complied with. Such instances might be multiplied. There were several parties, both European and Native, who applied to him in distress, and who were liberally accommodated by him.

( Mitter 1993 : 20-21)