Monday, 25 January 2016

Garia Rajbari, South 24 Parganas

I have been staring at the Garia Rajbari of South Garia for years without knowing what it was. You see, every year, before the Kali Puja festival, a bunch of my friends and I travel to the firecracker market of Champahati and we pass a crossing known as China More or Cheenar More (more being Bengali for crossing or crossroads), and right there, next to a pond, stands this palatial building. Last winter, I carried my camera with me and managed to take a shot. When I asked around in the local market, a shopkeeper told me that this was the house of someone called Durgadas Banerjee. A google search threw up the following information…

Durgadas Bannerjee (1893-1943)

Major Bengali actor in Calcutta Theatres. Born in Kalikapur, 24 Parganas District. Introduced to film by Sisir Bhaduri (Taj Mahal Film) in 1922. From his first major film, Maanbhanjan, until the late 30s, he was the definitive Bengali screen hero.

I get it, actors are rich people, and they can have large houses, but why here? Surely it would make more sense for someone who worked in the studios in Tollygunge, to have a house in Calcutta (Kolkata)? And the house certainly does not look like it was built in Durgadas’s lifetime. So I returned, armed with a camera, and with my friend Ranajit, determined to get to the bottom of this. What I found was completely new to me. As it turns out, Garia Rajbari is the ancestral home of actor Durgadas Banerjee, politician Bijoy Banerjee (who served as speaker of the Bengal Legislative Assembly) and musician Sudipto “Buti” Banerjee of Bengali rock band, Cactus!


Monday, 18 January 2016

Duff College (Jorabagan Police Station), Nimtala Ghat Street

I'm standing on Calcutta’s (Kolkata) Nimtala Ghat Street taking photographs of the building known as Duff College (now Jorabagan Police Station) when suddenly I hear a voice behind me say, “I see you've found our heritage forest”. The cheeky humour and sarcasm, as well as the voice itself, make me turn around. This is the voice of a man who is used to commanding people. The only equivalent that comes to mind is Bengali actor Kamal Mitra whose portrayal of tough father-in-law characters would make people quake in their boots. The source of the voice turns out to be advocate and author Guru Biswas. “You should upload this photograph with the caption, Is this a heritage forest?”, he chuckles, and he isn't very wrong. The building is completely overgrown with weeds and trees making it impossible to get a clear shot. Mr. Biswas takes me inside the Jorabagan Police Station, which now occupies a modern building behind Duff College, and I manage to get a few shots of the northern side of the building as well. But ever since I saw photographs of this building in INTACH’s book on Calcutta’s built heritage, I have wanted to find out exactly what this massive structure was, and how it was connected to Scottish Missionary Alexander Duff. Let us begin with Duff himself.


Monday, 11 January 2016

Niyamatullah Ghat Masjid, Nimtala Ghat Street

The Niyamatullah Ghat Masjid stands on Calcutta’s (Kolkata) Nimtala Ghat Street. Notice something curious there? Nimtala and Niyamatullah sound rather similar don’t they? That is what originally sparked my interest in this mosque. So who was Niyamatullah and why is a mosque named after him? And how did the area come to be known as Nimtala? As it turns out, several stories intersect at this one location.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Photo Feature: Chandi Mela, Behala

Behala’s famous 10 day annual fair, known as Chandi Mela , known as Chandi Mela is held in the winter of every year at the Sakher Bazar crossing of Behala, in South Calcutta (Kolkata). Stalls are generally set up in the lanes to the west of Diamond Harbour Road at Sakher Bazar and take up the better part of an entire municipal ward. To my mind, there are two things which make this fair unique. First is the fact that it is not limited to an open ground and spills out on the streets, and the second, the fact that in the middle of a modern metropolis, Chandi Mela offers all the attractions, sights, sounds and smells of a rustic village fair. The fair gets its name from the Chandi Puja (worship of the Hindu Goddess Chandi, another incarnation of Goddess Durga) which was started by Mahesh Chandra Ray Choudhury, of the Sabarna Ray Choudhury family, in 1792.