Monday, 24 December 2018

The Ghosts of Garstin Place

One of the first references I read about there being a ghost in Garstin Place near Dalhousie Square in Calcutta (Kolkata) was in an article that appeared in The Telegraph. My friend and college classmate IftekharAhsan, who pioneered walking tours in the city was doing a haunted night tour. 1 Garstin Place was the location of the former studios of All India Radio and supposedly, a musician committed suicide in the studio and sometimes a piano can still be heard playing late in the night. “Buildings have many lives”, photographer Luc Peeters told me long ago, when I was just starting my journey as a photographer. The statement is also true of neighbourhoods, and especially true for Garstin Place which has seen some incredible changes and dramatic events over the last few centuries.

Garstin Building no.4 (left) and 5 (centre) - the only surviving buildings

Monday, 10 December 2018

Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra

“Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar, guardian of mankind” – I learnt the Kipling poem when I was in school, and its opening lines were all I could think of as we drove the 5 miles from Agra to the Emperor’s final resting place, Sikandra. Growing up in India, the history you are taught in school is somewhat one sided, but creates a lasting impression, especially about the Mughal Emperors of India. Babur was the conqueror. Jahangir was the just one. Shah Jahan was the romantic. Aurangzeb was the angry old man. But only Akbar was “The Great”. A king who was just, fair, a great warrior, a wise administrator, a man who gathered around him a court of such brilliance that stories about it are told to this day. Every child in India knows the stories of Akbar and his court wit, Birbal, about his Hindu Rajput wife, Jodha Bai, who in all fairness is more legend than fact, and about how his court musician, the Vaishnava Tansen, could make it rain by singing the raga “Malhar”. Akbar is to Indian history what Shahrukh Khan is to Bollywood cinema – a superstar you see on screen or read about, but never imagine will be able to approach. Needless to say, I was excited as I stepped into the vast funerary garden at Sikandra – this is the closest any human being could get, to Akbar the Great.

Akbar's Mausoleum, Sikandra


Sunday, 2 December 2018

How Guides are Destroying the Murshidabad Experience

I have visited the Murshidabad thrice in 2018. The city was the last capital of Bengal before the East India Company took over and the power centre shifted to Calcutta (now Kolkata). From 1704 to 1757, Murshidabad was the seat of the powerful Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, who ruled over the richest province of the Mughal Empire, accounting for some 50% of the Empire’s GDP. There are a large number of historic structures and ruins left over from that period which make the historic city a fascinating place to visit. Like all historic sites, tourist guides are locally available. But while these guides are supposed to enhance the experience, in Murshidabad, their effect is quite the opposite. Tourist guides, who behave like goons, harassing visitors makes a trip to Murshidabad deeply unpleasant. Through my last 3 visits, here are some experiences I have had.