Monday, 23 May 2016

Choong Ye Thong Church (Chinese Temple), New Meredith Street

Wherever there is sunshine, there will be Chinese. Wherever there are Chinese, there will be Hakka” – Chinese proverb

A little removed from Calcutta’s (Kolkata) old Chinatown in Tiretta Bazar, on 19-20, New Meredith Street stands the Choong Ye Thong Church or Chinese temple. The quaint little building has enough architectural uniqueness to make it stand out from the other structures in the area. But few Calcuttans ever venture inside the building, and fewer still know, that this building once served as a school started by Calcutta’s thriving Hakka Chinese community.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

In Print 3 - Soul City: Inside Stories From Calcutta

Thanks to my friend Preeti Roychowdhury, I got the opportunity to be part of a book on Calcutta (Kolkata), called “Soul City: Inside Stories from Calcutta”. There have been many books on Calcutta before this, but what sets Soul City apart is the fact that this is more a book about impressions of the city. 14 people have collaborated on this book, each contributing a chapter. Soul City is stuffed with memories, poetry, urban exploration, and many fine photographs.

Photograph courtesy Preeti Roychowdhury

Monday, 9 May 2016

Lake Mosque, Rabindra Sarobar

The Lake Mosque is the only example of a mosque in the middle of a lake in the city of Calcutta (Kolkata). It is also one of the city’s many little secrets, because, in spite of the fact that it is right there, staring everyone in the face, many people are not aware of its existence. But how did a mosque come to be located in the middle of the Dhakuria Lake or Rabindra Sarobar, as it is now called? Who built it, and when? Let us begin with the story of the lake itself.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Jama Masjid, Lucknow

When I told my family that I wanted to visit Lucknow’s Jama Masjid, everyone was surprised. “There’s a Jama Masjid in Lucknow? We thought that was in Delhi”! Many non-Muslims would probably react in the same way because few know that the name “Jama Masjid” does not refer to a specific mosque, but rather to a particular kind of mosque. Before I tell you about Lucknow’s Jama Masjid, perhaps I should explain what a Jama Masjid is.


Monday, 25 April 2016

Tomb of Malik Ambar, Khuldabad

On the 14th of May 1626, at the grand old age of 80, Malik Ambar, the man who turned the little village of Khadki into the city we now know as Aurangabad, halted Mughal ambitions in the Deccan with an entirely new kind of warfare, and almost single-handedly saved the Nizam Shahi Dynasty of Ahmadnagar from obliteration, breathed his last. An eyewitness of Deccan affairs over many years, the author Bhim Sen wrote in his Nushka-i-Dilkusha, “although Malik Ambar was dead, but his sweet fragrance still remained behind”. He was a man so remarkable that even Mu'tamad Khan, Mughal Emperor Jehangir’s biographer, who had no love for him, was forced to acknowledge, “in warfare, in command, in sound judgement, and in administration, he had no equal or rival”. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Malik Ambar was the fact that this Indian king, was in fact, not Indian, but African.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Mughal Gardens of Khuldabad

The little town of Khuldabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra was known as Roza or Rauza meaning garden of paradise thanks to the large number of Dargahs or tombs of Muslim saints that it is home to. But apart from the saints, there are also two other interesting tombs. One is of a royal while another is of a warrior. One is well known while the other is obscure. But around both, a Mughal Garden was originally laid out. Armed with Pushkar Sohoni’s book on Aurangabad and Khuldabad, I set out in November of 2015 to find these gardens. But before I tell you the story of my quest, let me tell you about what a Mughal Garden is.

Jahan Banu Begum Bagh

Monday, 11 April 2016

Aurangzeb's Tomb, Khuldabad

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s tomb in the little town of Khuldabad, near Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is the first Mughal tomb I ever visited, and it is starkly different from any other Mughal tomb. No grand Taj Mahal like structures here. The Emperor was a pious man of austere habits and hated ostentation. His simple tomb, open to the sky, is a lesson in humility. But how did that the richest, most powerful man in the world come to be buried in an open, unmarked grave?

Aurangzeb's Tomb - note marble "jaali" screen placed by Nizam of Hyderabad

Monday, 4 April 2016

United Service Club, Chowringhee

If the name United Service Club sounds unfamiliar to Calcuttans, that is because the club does not exist anymore and its handsome building on Chowringhee (now Jawaharlal Nehru Road) is known as the office of the Geological Survey of India. While the story of the club is certainly interesting, equally interesting is the story of the building itself, because, in all of Calcutta (Kolkata), this is possibly the only building to be shaped like a Maltese cross.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Army & Navy Stores, Chowringhee

I distinctly remember the day I first heard the name “Kanak Buildings”. I was in college and was entering the Maidan Metro station when I happened to look up and on the wall found the sign saying “Kanak Building Exit”. While I was much less curious about heritage buildings back then, it did strike me as very odd. The red and white building in Edwardian style could pass for a Raj era government building. But “Kanak” was an Indian woman’s name! What the hell was going on here anyway? Many years later, when I started writing about Calcutta’s (Kolkata) heritage buildings, I chanced upon the Flickr page of DCR Finch and discovered that this was once The Army & Navy Stores.


Monday, 21 March 2016

The Metropolitan Laboratory & Nursing Home Ltd., Theatre Road

“That building over there? That used to be the Metropolitan Nursing Home”, said my colleague Robin in answer to my question. He has been working at our office on Camac Street for much longer than I have, and our 13th-floor veranda gives us a bird’s eye view of the building on 18 Theatre Road (now Shakespeare Sarani). By the time I started working, the building was far past its prime, the nursing home was shut, and the entire plot was overgrown. It was only recently, over a cup of tea at my uncle’s house on Amherst Street that it emerged that my uncle, Dr. Dipak Ranjan Sarbadhikari was connected to this building.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Victoria Memorial, Lucknow

It is not only Calcutta (Kolkata) that has a Victoria Memorial, but also Lucknow! I was completely unaware of this monument until I visited Lucknow in the winter of 2014. Although Lucknow’s Victoria Memorial is nowhere near as grand as Calcutta’s, it is a beautiful monument and sadly, not many outside of Lucknow seem to know about it.


Monday, 7 March 2016

Aurangabad Caves

Before we visited Aurangabad, I had done some basic research on the city and the surrounding areas of the Indian state of Maharashtra, and it is during that research that I had found out about the Aurangabad Caves. I planned an itinerary and sent my sister off to the Maharashtra Tourism office in Calcutta (Kolkata) to make some enquiries. She came back and told me that the Maharashtra Tourism office had never heard of the Aurangabad Caves! I was rather taken aback; after all, the caves are mentioned even in the Wikipedia article about the city. But it seems, in spite of being nearly 2000 years old, the Aurangabad Caves are not really high on any tourist’s list of priorities.


Monday, 29 February 2016

Graham Building, Clive Street

One of the reasons why I do what I do, photographing and writing about old buildings, is because I personally got fed up looking at buildings and not knowing what they were. According to author Brian Paul Bach, Calcutta is one of the least demolished cities in the world and a combination of declining economic activity in the East of India, a hopelessly overstretched judiciary and antiquated laws has meant that many of Calcutta’s colonial era buildings survive, still occupied by tenants. However, pro-tenant laws ensure that the revenue generated by many such buildings is so minuscule that their proper upkeep is often not possible. The sad truth is that if you own a commercial building with a heritage tag in Calcutta, it is much more profitable for you if that building collapses or goes up in flames. Thus, many of Calcutta’s old buildings continue to exist in a precarious condition, ghostly reminders of a colonial past. One such building is the one at 14, Netaji Subhas Road (formerly Clive Street).


Monday, 22 February 2016

Baneshwar Shiva Temple, Bonomali Sarkar Street

The Baneshwar Shiva Temple of 2/5 Bonomali Sarkar Street in Kumortuli in North Calcutta (Kolkata) is one of only two surviving terracotta temples of the city. Terracotta means baked earth, and many of Bengal’s temples, notably the ones in Bishnupur, are decorated with terracotta tiles. These tiles depict tales from the Hindu epics, scenes from daily life and society, wars and historic events, or simple floral or geometric patterns. Intricate designs and fine workmanship are the hallmarks of Bengal’s terracotta tiles. But unfortunately, the relentless march of progress has deprived Calcutta of many of her temples. Many have been demolished, many have been lost altogether and many have been “renovated” by rank amateurs, who have simply removed all external ornamentation, smoothed the surface with cement, and added a layer of distemper, often of a gaudy shade. There were probably not many terracotta temples in Calcutta (Kolkata) to begin with since by the time the city became a major centre of art and commerce, the art of terracotta was already in decline. The Baneshwar Shiva Temple is the sole surviving example of it in North Calcutta and it is now under threat.