Monday, 29 September 2014

A Pandal-Hopping App for Android

Durga Puja, the biggest festival in my part of the world is here, and for all those in Calcutta who are hopping pandals and own Android phones, there is good news in the form of an app from Ancile tech Solutions. The App called Puja Parikrama allows you to navigate to pandals using Google Maps. You can even share stuff on Facebook, make wishlists of pandals you wish to visit, your favourites and all that jazz.

Suppose you're in Salt Lake and want to know what are the places to visit, simply search for Salt Lake and you'll get a list of pandals in the area. Alternatively, you can just click the "near me" tab, and the app will throw up all the pandals near you, with directions. Tap on each pandal, and navigate to it via Google Maps. The app is free, and is quite useful, but I would like to see more pandals added to the list. I would also like to see something like Zomato's user ratings and reviews, which will help determine, for a lot of people, what to visit and what to skip. There is a "Top Rated" tab, which will hopefully become much more useful as more and more people download and start using the app.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Hong Kong House, Dalhousie Square South

Photographers, who place a subject off-centre in a photograph, will often attempt to balance the frame with something else on the other side. Something similar happens in Calcutta’s Dalhousie Square. The entire Northern side is dominated by one single building, Writers’. It is the supreme, the ultimate of Calcutta’s heritage buildings, perhaps challenged only in importance by the Victoria Memorial. The Southern side, says author Brian Paul Bach, in his book Calcutta’s Edifice: The Buildings of a Great City, forms an impressive “jawaab”, so to speak. Dalhousie Square South contains four or three buildings, depending on how you count. There is the CTO complex, which may be counted as one, or as two separate buildings, one older, and one newer. There is the Standard Life Assurance Building, which is one of the most flamboyant buildings in the area. And finally, there is Hong Kong House.

Hong Kong House

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Imperial Department of Commerce & Industry, Council House Street

The Imperial Department of Commerce & Industry, North view

Taking up an entire city block, on the corner of Hare Street and Council House Street, on the South Western corner of Dalhousie Square (now BBD Bagh) is an Edwardian office block known today as the Commercial Library Building.  Montague Massey’s book, “Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century” identifies this as the offices of the Imperial Department of Commerce and Industry. The book also says that this building was built on the grounds where the old Foreign Office once stood. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ralli Brothers, Hare Street

Mention Ralli’s to anyone in Calcutta today and they will think of the sherbet and syrup making company. But Ralli Singh Arora who started that Ralli’s in 1898 in Calcutta, has no connection whatsoever with the Ralli’s building that stands today on Hare Street. The story of the company begins in 1815, in the Aegean sea, in the port of Chios, then part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ralli Brothers, a family of Greek merchants began importing corn, timber and hemp from the Black Sea to Leghorn on the Ligurian Sea, and from there to England, under the protection of the British fleet, stationed in Naples. By 1823, they had set up shop in England, expanding to Tabriz, Iran, by 1837. But important changes had happened in another part of the world by then. The East India Company’s monopoly in the Indian trade had been abolished, and Pandias Stephen Ralli, realizing that that’s where the future lay, decided to expand to India in 1851.

Ralli Brothers, Hare Street

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Fort Mornington Point, Gadiara

All that remains of Fort Mornington Point

Just over 80 km from the state capital of Calcutta is the village of Gadiara. A popular spot for picnics and day trips, Gadiara has three principal attractions. There is a government bungalow with beautifully manicured lawns, which is now available for picnics. There is a lighthouse, which is…err…well, a lighthouse, which did not interest me much. But the third item in the list most certainly did; the ruins of an old English fort.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Hanging of Maharaja Nandakumar

The well at the place of Nandakumar's execution

The trial and execution of Maharaja Nandakumar (referred to in contemporary documents as Nuncomar) was one of the most infamous episodes of the early days of the East India Company’s rule in India. Nandakumar was an Indian tax official, appointed collector of Burdwan and given the title “Maharaja” by Emperor Shah Alam II in 1764. A bitter enemy of Warren Hastings, Nanadkumar accused him, through a letter, of accepting a bribe from Mir Jafar’s widow Munny Begum for securing for her the guardianship of the Nawab Mubarak-ud-Daulah, then a minor. The case was taken up in the Supreme Council of Bengal by Hastings’ rival, Philip Francis. But Hastings was able to overrule the Council, and even though he admitted to accepting a bribe, could not be brought to book.