Monday, 27 April 2015

Chetla Baro Ras Bari, 78, Tollygunge Road

One of the four temple complexes in the Chetla area of South Calcutta (Kolkata), the Baro Ras Bari (also spelt Bado Rash Bari, Bado Rashbari or Bado Rashbadi) on Tollygunge Road is probably the most neglected, in spite of being declared a Grade A Heritage Building. The story of Baro Ras Bari begins in the village of Bawali, 30 kilometers to the South West of the city of Calcutta, where the Mondals had reigned since the Mughal era. Raja Ram Mondal had been granted full control of 15 villages by the Mughal Emperor. His descendants, Ramnath and Manick Mondal settled in Chetla on the invitation of Robert Clive. Their name is associated with three of the four temples in the Chetla area.

The ruined temples of Chetla Baro Ras Bari

Monday, 20 April 2015

Damzen Lane: A Street and its Story

Damzen Lane would be what in Calcutta is referred to as a “Muslim area”. What it means is that the people living in the area are primarily Muslim. The result is that such areas have an atmosphere of their own, very different from the other parts of the city. The people, understandably, look different. Women are seen clad in burqas or abayas, covered head to toe in black. The men are often seen in shalwar-kameez, with the lower garment, the shalwar, ending just a little bit above the ankle and often with a very thick hem. Beautiful handcrafted skull caps and fine flowing beards, often without the moustache also provide clues to the faith of the men sporting them. But this does not, by any means, describe all the people of the area. A large number of people of a single faith living in close proximity also give an area a certain look and feel. There is a certain rustic charm to Damzen Lane, but hiding within are stories and relics from a bygone era.

A goat pops out to say hi!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Portuguese Church, Brabourne Road

Calcutta’s (Kolkata) Portuguese Church, formally known as The Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary, has existed in various forms since 1690, but has always experienced some friction with the British. Many Portuguese migrants to India took native wives, and their offspring came to be known as Kintal. Many of these Kintals moved to Calcutta in search of fortune, and the East India Company allowed them to settle in specific areas near the river. Since the Kintals were the only people in India then breeding and selling fowl, the area they settled in is known as “Moorgeeghata” or “the fowl market” even today. Job Charnock had originally granted 10 bighas of land to the Roman Catholics of the Augustinian order to set up a mass hall in the area. But when in 1693 Sir John Goldsborough of the East India Company found the company’s Protestant factors were converting to Roman Catholicism in the mass hall and taking native wives, he ordered them out. The friars would return on his death only 6 months later, and this time they erected a brick Church, a little further away from the original mass hall, and this is where the Portuguese Church or The Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary stands today.

The Portuguese Church

Monday, 6 April 2015

Saroj Bhavan, Guruprasad Chowdhury Lane

The article in the Times of India’s Times City, on the 24th of March, entitled “House that! Old but still shining” by Saikat Ray and Subhro Niyogi caught the eye of many members of my mother’s side of the family. That was because the article carried a photograph of a house that they once called home. What the article calls “Sen Bari”, owned by the Sens of Senco Jewellers fame, was once known as “Paul Bari”, home to the Pauls of Burdwan, and that is not the only factual error in this story either. But let’s start from the beginning.

Saroj Bhavan today

The Pauls were landlords in the village of Gotan, Thana Rayna, in the district of Burdwan in West Bengal. Harendranath Paul (1877 – 1961), the 2nd of three sons, shifted to Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1899. Of his two brothers, one remained in Gotan and his family still stays there. The younger brother, Gour Chandra Paul, became an advocate. Among his classmates was India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He moved to Patna, Bihar and the family has lost touch with him since. In Calcutta (Kolkata), Harendranath initially joined the staff of Raja Subodh Mullick, doing mostly clerical work. A palmist is said to have recommended that he quit his job, and predicted that he would prosper if he started something connected with river trade. Harendranath had observed the comings and goings of vessels on the Hooghly and the Europeans engaged in the jute trade. He started by buying an old ship and selling it for scrap, making a large profit. This gave him enough capital to leave his famous employer and start his own business as a stevedore, partnering with a certain Biharilal Chakraborty under the name Paul & Chakraborty Private Limited in 1901. Within two decades he would make enough money to move his family from rented accomodations on Madan Mitra Lane (no connection to the current minister) to his own house, at the crossing of Guruprasad Chowdhury Lane and Shankar Ghosh Lane.