Park Street, Esplanade, Maidan, and Shakespeare Sarani – these formed the life of a random teenager in Kolkata back in the 90s. Seldom was there a need to venture beyond the confines of these neighbourhoods. Yet, it is just beyond, perhaps a trifle northwards, that one discovers there is more to Kolkata. Time flies, the teenager grows, travels and sees the world. Back home, he realizes that he knows more about the other cities he has been to in the past 10 years than he knows of his hometown. He could have read a book, but a book is only a gateway. The true beauty of a city has to be experienced in person. Such is Kolkata, earlier known as Calcutta.
Kolkata presents in its rich fabric of history, arts and culture, a myriad of options for the urban explorer. While the modern Kolkata is developing at a quick pace, the historic Calcutta perhaps has more arresting qualities. Be it an afternoon spent in Indian Museum or a morning walking the alleys of north Calcutta looking up the palatial of abodes of the once rich and famous of Calcutta, the city has much to offer to the student of history, architecture and photography.
It was on such a quest, that I set out one fine spring morning with friend to walk the length of Chitpur Road (now Rabindra Sarani). Starting from the Baghbazar end, we started following the tramline towards Lalbazar. Our first stop was Kumartuli (Potter’s Town). Aside from the usual work of the artisans, what caught our attention was the Shiva Temple on Chitpur Road. History says that on this is the very location of the famous Black Pagoda, built by Gobindaram Mitra in the 18th century. A cyclone, earthquake and time have not been kind to the temple. The current temple certainly does not reflect the grandeur of the one seen in the “Gentoo Pagoda and House” painting by Thomas Daniel, but one may still see the last remains of the architecture. Another example of temples from that era exists in the interiors of the Kumartuli, at the far end of Banamali Sarkar Lane. Again, a Shiva temple, one has to keep an eye out for this one, since in its dilapidated state it stays hidden amongst creepers and modern constructions.
Pathuriaghata and neighbouring Jorasanko has been home to a number of the notable families of the Raj era primarily the Tagores and the Malliks. Wander around long enough and one will come across the Tagore Castle, the Pathuriaghata Tagore house, Ghariwala Mallickbari, Kali Krishna Tagore’s residence and other similar mansions. Irrespective of their condition, the grandeur of these majestic residences still overwhelms. Close your eyes and you might just imagine how life may have flowed in these neighbourhoods back in the day. A special mention must be made of the Jorasanko Thakurbari, erstwhile residence of the revered poet Rabindranath Tagore and current seat of the Rabindra Bharati University. The contribution of these households to the development of Calcutta is perhaps beyond comprehension. Despite the oft-noted pomp and grandeur, these households produced champions of arts, culture and social welfare in their heyday.
With the mind reeling from our morning sojourn and the Sun steadily climbing overhead, we decided to stop for the day. The walk though remains incomplete, to be continued on another morning. Having soaked in the visuals and the associated history, I perhaps understand a part for the city a trifle better. I am discovering home now and it feels good.