Category Archives: Travel

Bird fest takes wing

Ravikant Sinha inaugurates the bird festival by lighting a lamp on Saturday. (Anirban Choudhury)

Alipurduar:

The second edition of the annual bird festival was inaugurated at the Buxa Tiger Reserve on Saturday.

The state forest department and Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature & Adventure Foundation (HNAF) are jointly organising the event.

Forty bird lovers and experts from different parts of Bengal and even from Delhi are participating at the four-day fest.

The Buxa Tiger Reserve is rich in avifauna and the fest is unique as it aims to bring together eminent ornithologists, researchers and bird enthusiasts from the region. “It (the fest) offers an opportunity to explore nature’s avifauna in this region alongside the rich biodiversity and wilderness of BTR,” Ravikant Sinha, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) of the state, said after inaugurating the fest.

The fest will also help foresters to make a checklist of the birds available in the reserve, generate awareness among people about conservation of birds and study their habitat, said foresters.

Last year, 127 species of birds were sighted during the fest. They included rare birds like the mountain imperial pigeon, Rufous-bellied hawk eagle, Silver-eared mesia, Jerdon’s baza, Sultan tit, Brown dipper and wreathed hornbill.

“We want to highlight the avian population in Buxa, which is no less attractive (than the animals) . We have plans to make it a state-level festival in the coming years. The Buxa Hills are comparatively undisturbed and we hope more species will be sighted this year,” said Sinha.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> West Bengal / by Anirban Choudhury / January 07th, 2018

Focus French connection

French consul general Damien Syed during an earlier visit to the Registry Building in Chandernagore, accompanied by Metro

Calcutta:

Registry Building, a derelict colonnaded structure with louvered screens, caught in the clasp of myriad tree roots at the corner of the Strand, declared as condemned by the civic body, is the focal point of an initiative in Chandernagore for the former French colony to reconnect with its built architectural heritage.

Friday will see the launch of Know Your Indo-French Heritage, a week-long multidisciplinary workshop that is taking place within the ambit of Bonjour India, a celebration of Indo-French partnership in innovation and creativity across the country, organised by the French Embassy and Institut Francais.

“It is a collaborative workshop designed for the restoration of French-built heritage which will not survive unless people are proud of the town’s assets and realise that this can be a source of economic growth,” said French consul general Damien Syed, who reiterated his distress at the state of dereliction of the French heritage structures.

Students from Jadavpur University, Chandernagore College and The Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture, Lyon, will meet at Chandernagore College on Friday. “They are expected to come up with innovative design solutions as to how public spaces in the town can be better utilised. One of the outcomes of the workshop would be a sustainable business model for the reuse of the Registry Building. IIM Nagpur will collaborate on that,” said Aishwariya Tipnis, a conservation architect who has worked to identify the heritage buildings in Chandernagore. Seven buildings from her list, including the Registry Building, have recently been selected for notification as heritage structures by the state heritage commission.

All ideas from the workshop will be exhibited on the Strand as part of the closing ceremony on January 12 for the public as well as French ambassador Alexandre Ziegler to see. “We will also launch a crowd-funding initiative which will possibly be a first in India for restoration of a building,” she said.

Four heritage adda sessions will take place involving eminent residents like lighting wizard Sridhar Das and representatives of heritage businesses like confectioner Surya Kumar Modak.

Beyond Chandernagore

France will be the partner country this year at the state government’s Bengal Global Business Summit. “For the first time, we will have a delegation of nine or 10 companies,” said Syed. This is a significant development after the pullout of a French joint venture from the Haldia port which was blamed on strong-arm tactics by an entrenched lobby close to the ruling establishment. The then ambassador Francois Richier had raised the matter with the state government during his city visit in 2014.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Special Correspondent / January 05th, 2018

City girl on a roll in New York

An outlet of The Kati Roll Company, which has branches in New York and London

Calcutta:

The Calcutta girl who makes “the next best wrap after Pashmina” rolled out her sixth kati roll shop in New York in November and has another one lined up in March.

Payal Saha, who comes from a music family that runs Hindusthan Records of 1932 vintage, has five stores serving up kati rolls in Manhattan New York , where she is based, and a solo near Oxford Street in London.

The newest store of The Kati Roll Company opened at Grand Central in New York and the earlier ones are at Greenwich Village, East Village, Midtown West and Midtown East.

Daughter of a college professor and an entrepreneur, Payal perhaps had it in her blood to excel in business. Both her grandfathers were entrepreneurs, she said over an email chat from New York.

Payal’s paternal grandfather founded Hindusthan Records after training in Germany. “He travelled through India looking for regional content from the brothels of Varanasi, recording recitals by baijis to Bade Ghulam Ali and Debabrata Biswas,” she said. The Akrur Dutta Lane studio of Hindusthan Records was inaugurated by Tagore where he also recorded his songs.

Payal Saha

Her maternal grandfather jumped ship on Staten Island as an illegal immigrant in NYC and went on to become a chemical engineer from New York University before returning to Calcutta to open a paint factory.

The first store of Kati Roll Company opened in 2002 and soon became a raging trend for “fast casual dining” in New York. It has been widely covered in the American and London press, including The New York Times and BBC America. “After 15 years we still have snaking queues and on weekend nights we need bouncers to manage the rush. Last year, we sold over a million rolls,” Payal said. The bestseller: Chicken Tikka Roll with Achari Paneer a close second.

The decor at her stores is very street and Bollywood with film posters and a rugged charm.

Payal studied at Loreto House before moving to Lawrence School in Ooty for her PLus II and Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi for her graduation. She left for New York in 2000. “My husband (Anil Bathwal) was working in advertising and found a job in New York,” she said.

While Payal missed her Calcutta food, it was the kati roll that she most yearned for. Her personal favourite: Golden Spoon on Middleton Row near her school. “I also like the rolls at Stop and Go near Ballygunge Phanri,” she added.

Soon, Payal started experimenting with recipes and came up with The Kati Roll Company. On her next visit to Calcutta, she visited as many roll shops as she could – from Anamika in New Alipore to Badshah in New Market. She also gained some hands-on experience at a kati roll shop run by a Bengali in Mumbai. “I was determined to make it taste like the best of Calcutta rolls, if not better,” she said.

In the early days, Payal made everything on her own, with just one helper. “We would grind the spices, make the parathas and marinate the fillings. It was a lot of work.”

With several shops under her wings, operations stabilised and a baby to take care of, she now depends more on her “capable managers”.

The core menu is authentic kati roll but for healthy eating, she offers chapatti instead of paratha. Recently, Payal started a line of flavoured lassi with organic yogurt. Mango Lassi and Mishti Doi Lassi made with patali gur are among the top picks.

Her one earnest wish: Bengal should apply for a GI tag for the kati roll.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Anusuya Basu / January 02nd, 2018

Kolkata boy defeats asthma, scales nine peaks in five years

Kolkata :

A mountaineer from Kolkata completed the rare feat of scaling nine peaks, including the Seven Summits (the highest peaks of each of the seven continents), on Saturday. Software engineer Satyarup Siddhanta, 34, climbed Mt Vinson in Antarctica shortly after 9am (local time) – his ninth summit since 2012.

An asthma patient who has never had any formal training in mountaineering, Siddhanta climbed the Everest in 2016. He has also scaled Mt Albrus, Mt Aconcagua, Mt Kilimanjaro, Puncak Jaya and Mt Denali. These apart, Siddhanta has also climbed Mont Blanc and Carsten’s Pyramid in Pappua New Guinea – the highest point in the Australian continent.

A resident of Kalitala Housing in Thakurpukur, Siddhanta is now based in Bangalore. According to his fellow climber Rudraprasad Haldar, Siddhanta once went to the Everest Base Camp and was inspired to begin his mountaineering journey, though he had no training. “It changed him forever and he decided to climb the Seven Summits,” said Haldar. Siddhanta’s website, however, mentions that he is a certified mountaineer from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling.

He overcame asthma which could have been a major barrier. “I realized I needed to reduce my dependency on inhalers when I was in college. I was also allergic to food items which triggered asthma. I struggled for years, continuously challenging myself by avoiding inhalers and consuming the food I was allergic to, without taking anti-allergic medicines,” Siddhanta wrote on his website.

But he didn’t give up. “I wanted to push limits to see how far I could go. Finally, with exercises, discipline, diet and some considerable will power and determination, I got rid of asthma,” he wrote.

His mother Gayatri, a homemaker, stayed up all night on Friday, following his march to the peak of Vinson.

“I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was more relieved than happy when he finally reached the summit,” she said. Siddhanta’s father Subhamoy is a doctor.

Gayatri said Siddhanta received funds from a few corporates for the climb. “He also auctioned some of his belongings and took a loan of Rs 30 lakh,” she added.

source: http://www.timesofindia.inditimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Monotosh Chakraborty / TNN / December 17th, 2017

Kolkata driver wins award for shunning horn for 18 years

Kolkata driver wins award for shunning horn for 18 years | Kolkata News – Times of India

Kolkata :

It will be tough to find people who can resist honking on the roads for 18 minutes. But this man from Kolkata has done wonders.

Meet Dipak Das, a city-based driver, who has not honked for 18 years. Seems incredible? His car even has this placard, ‘Horn is a Concept. I care for your heart.’ Das has won awards for this unique and rare habit.

With this no-horn policy, Das wants to inspire others to follow the practice. Thus noise pollution can be reduced, he believes, saying if a driver follows this no-horn policy, she/he will become more alert while driving.

He dreams of making Kolkata a “no-honking city” someday.

The 52-year-old, who lives with his wife and daughter, has worked as a Metro Rail helper. Dipak got his driving licence in 1991.

He says, “One day, I dropped a passenger in Golf Green area. I was taking rest in front of a school, but was woken up rudely because of senseless honking of cars.” On that day, he decided not to honk while driving. Das said, he was influenced by a poem of famous Bengali poet Jibanananda Das. Das’s daughter rides bycycle, but like her father she also does not honk.

Earlier, people used to call him ‘disturbed’. But today they respect Das’s ideology. He was awarded in this year’s Manush Mela. Eminent personalities who have travelled in Das’s car also appreciate this.

“I went to various places with him. He is special. His patience, sensibility has amazed me” says famous percussionist and tabla player Tanmoy Bose.

Singer Sidhu of the famous Cactus band also said, “I went to Mukutmanipur with Dipak. The guy has not honked for once. He is a rare talent.” Seriously!

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News> Civic Issues / by Sumit Dey El Samay / December 13th, 2017

ER observes 60 years of local trains

People take pictures of the special local train from Howrah to Sheoraphuli on Tuesday. / Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Howrah:

More than 300 passengers travelled on a special Howrah-Sheoraphuli local train on Tuesday morning to mark 60 years of Eastern Railway’s first EMU local train service.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had flagged off the first train between the two stations on December 12, 1957.

On Tuesday, the train was decorated with flowers and railway officials presented passengers with chocolates as many took selfies with the train.

Motorman Sekhar Chattopadhyay and guard Swapan Kumar Modi, both due for retirement in some months, flagged off the train at 11.52am from platform No. 8.

The train reached Sheoraphuli at 12.40pm.

The railway board had sanctioned the project in June 1954 and the first train pulled out of Howrah three years later.

Harindra Rao, GM, Eastern Railway, said the Sheoraphuli-Burdwan and Sheoraphuli-Tarakeswar sections were electrified by December 1965.

The electrification of Howrah-Burdwan Chord and Calcutta Chord link was completed in 1966, he said.

Today, Eastern Railway runs 1,393 EMU trains – 476 in Howrah division and 917 in Sealdah division – every day.

Sudhir Agrawal, additional general manager, and Manu Goel, divisional railway manager, Howrah, were present on the occasion.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / by Staff Reporter / December 13th, 2017

The Danes are back: How a Bengal town is restoring its European legacy

Serampore, near Kolkata, was an important 18th century Danish colony. A grand heritage restoration programme is underway in the town to restore its major landmarks to their former glory.

Serampore, near Kolkata, was a Danish outpost for 90 years (1755-1845). The 210-year-old Lutheran St Olav Church’s restoration was completed in 2015. The project won the Unesco Heritage Award of Distinction in 2016. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

From the white colonnaded verandah of the Denmark Tavern in Serampore, a sub-divisional town 35 km from Kolkata, the panorama is serene: a placid river Hooghly flows next to the late 18th century building, towards its final resting place, the Bay of Bengal. Even on a busy suburban weekday, the waterfront is usually quiet. These days, however, the peaceful atmosphere is often punctured by sounds of hammers, saws and drills, thanks to the restoration work going on in the building. The tavern’s renovation is not a stand-alone project; it is a part of a heritage restoration programme underway in the town, which was a Danish outpost for 90 years (1755-1845). The Danes had two other colonies in India: Tranquebar (now Tharangambadi in Tamil Nadu) and the Nicobar Islands.

Other than the tavern, several other Danish-era structures are being restored: The 12,000-square feet Danish Government House (DGH) and its two gates; Red Building (a British-era structure located inside the DGH campus), and the cast iron gate, fence and staircase of the Serampore College, which completes 200 years in 2018. The 210-year-old Lutheran St Olav’s Church’s restoration was completed in 2015.

“Tranquebar and Serampore were different kinds of outposts. The former was a port town; the sea gave it a carefree atmosphere. Serampore was a commercial and educational-missionary hub, and more urban. So its heritage has had to grapple with the challenges of an expanding town and burgeoning population,” says conservation architect Manish Chakraborti.

The DGH is located at one end of its 6.7-acre compound. The former residence of the Danish governors is an imposing colonial-style building, but not ornate. The middle part of the yellow and white house, which has an extended porch and six Iconic columns, juts out. A flight of steps will take you into the rooms. Under the Danes, DGH was the administrative headquarters. It continued to be so under the British and till 1990, the Bengal government too had its offices in the building. It was abandoned in 1990 after a fire. Today, the DGH campus, which houses the sub-divisional magistrate’s office, looks rundown. The compound is more or less barren, and doubles up as a parking lot. The town outside is dense, heavily built up, teeming with people and small businesses.

However, even today, the structure and pattern of the main street of the town centre remains as it was constructed by the Danes. The St Olav’s Church is just a few steps away from DGH. It has a portico of twin columns and has the royal monogram of Christian VII, who was the King of Denmark when the church was consecrated. It is flat roofed and reflects the designs of contemporary churches in British India.

Heritage town

“The church is special not just to Christians but all communities… It is a critical component of the town’s life,” says Mohit Ranadip of the Shrirampur Heritage Restoration Initiative, a local citizen-led body. “The town’s heritage, however, is not just about the Danish heritage …. one must not miss the elegant houses of the rich Indian trading class of the 18th century and the ghats they built on the river…we must restore them too.” Some residents, however, allege that the local municipality is not doing enough to save the town’s heritage. “For example, they shouldn’t allow high-rises around the historic centre and concretise roads,” says a resident, who did not wish to named.

While the Church was restored with funds from Denmark’s ministry of culture, DGH’s restoration is being funded by the Centre, the West Bengal Heritage Commission (WBHC), and the Serampore Municipality is in charge. The renovation of DGH will be completed early next year. The National Museum of Denmark (NMD) is overseeing the restoration of the tavern, the Serampore College, and the Red Building. Realdania, a philanthropic organisation, has provided Rs 10 crore (2012-18) funding for the project, which is called the Serampore Initiative.

“Initially, I was sceptical about restoring heritage buildings outside Denmark, but after we began researching for the project, we realised that locals also have a great appreciation for these old buildings and want them to be restored,” says Dr Bente Wolff, project leader, Serampore Initiative, NMD. “Our historian, Simon Rasten, accessed 20,000 pages of Danish documents from the West Bengal State Archives and found information about the town and the architectural plans of the building.” Rasten also traced the only existing map of the Danish areas and the buildings in The Queens Reference Library, Copenhagen.

Bengal’s Little Europe

The Europeans began trading with this region from the 16th century, an era that coincided with the birth of the large trading companies in the continent. But it was only in the last decades of the 17th century that Europe-Bengal trade in textiles, raw cotton, silk, sugar, saltpeter and opium flourished and their outposts came up along the river. Starting with the British in Calcutta, there were the Danes in Serampore, the French in Chandernagore, the Portuguese in Bandel and the Dutch in Chinsurah.

The Danish history in Bengal, however, was not one of smooth progress: In 1698, they acquired a trading settlement called Dannemarksnagore. But it was closed down in 1714. In 1755, the Nawab of Bengal, Ali Vardi Khan, granted the Danes the right to settle down in Bengal as well as free trading rights. Along with the parwana, the Danes bought land and established Fredricksnagore, in the honour of King Fredrick V. In the next few years, three more villages were added to Fredricksnagore: Serampore, Ackna and Pereapore. Since then the Danish territory has been colloquially called Serampore, only officially it was Fredricksnagore.

It was under the administration of Governor Colonel Ole Bie (1776-1805), that Serampore flourished. His abilities and cunning entrepreneurship brought prosperity to the town and the present historical town centre, which is being restored, is his legacy. Contemporary travellers also wrote eloquently about Serampore’s glory days. In 1803, George Annesley wrote that the buildings of Serampore were “picturesque being white, with expensive porticoes to the south and the windows closed by Venetian blinds painted green.”

Though Serampore was managed by the Danes, it also attracted other Europeans and Indians. “The manufacturing of cotton and silk textiles as well as salt petre and sugar led to the rise of a local class of Indian traders, middlemen and agents, and the gradual urbanisation of the settlement… Some Indians eventually became powerful, economically and politically,” Rasten told HT. The turning point in the history of Serampore was the British occupation of Denmark (1807 to 1814). The British monopolised trade in India, and in 1845 Denmark sold Serampore and Tranquebar to the British East India Company.

The challenges of heritage restoration

“When the West Bengal Heritage Commission handed over DGH in 2008 to me, it was in ruins: The floor was broken, the roof had collapsed and tree roots were coming out of the walls,” says conservation architect Gopa Sen. “There were false partitions, destroying the internal plan of the house…. It was a terrible and heartbreaking sight. And a challenge for us.”

The same was the case for the Denmark Tavern, whose front verandah, which overlooks the river, had collapsed. “The campus had been converted into quarters for policemen and additional structures had come up in its precincts. The police line is now being shifted,” says Manish Chakraborti, who is restoring the tavern and parts of the Serampore College. He is also the man behind the restoration of the church, which won the Unesco Heritage Award of Distinction in 2016. “We started with the St Olav’s Church because it had a defined boundary and a single ownership. It is also has immense historical importance because missionary, educationist and botanist William Carey was the first preacher here,” explains Chakraborti. “These buildings could have been saved much earlier but there was not much political support, nor funds. Restoration was seen as a bourgeoisie exercise. The state never looked at public spaces as vibrant community spaces.”

The architects and historians involved in the projects accessed old paintings, maps and documents to get a flavour of the core heritage zone of the town and the how the buildings looked during the Danish period to help them draw up a restoration plan. “The challenges in projects such as these are always unknown. Despite hours of planning, there can be surprises when you start work in an old building, which means reworking the original plan… while keeping to the strict norms,” says Sen.

Both Sen and Chakraborti are ensuring that all the work that is being done follows the heritage norms. This means that the building materials have to be same as those the Danes used: Lime, surki, molasses and khayer. Masons from Murshidabad, who know this old construction technique, have been employed for the project. The architects are also reusing old materials, especially the Burma-teak doors and windows.

For a restoration project to be successful and sustainable, it is important that people have a stake in the project. On that score, Serampore has not done badly: Citizens participated wholeheartedly in a competition to design a new bus stand, which will be shifted from the historic core area. Ranadip’s organisation is also pushing schools to teach their students the town’s Danish lineage.

Future plans

For heritage buildings to survive and ensure their long-term maintenance, which can be expensive, it is important to have an “adaptable re-use plan”. By early 2018, the 200-year-old Danish Tavern will be back in business: It will have a coffee shop, a Danish bakery and six well-appointed rooms for guest accommodation.

“The DGH will have a museum of the town’s Danish past and an exhibition hall,” says Dr Basudeb Malik, officer on special duty, WBHC. “Once the restoration is over, we are expecting tourists interested in Bengal’s colonial-trade history to come not just to Serampore but other outposts in Bengal as well. The government is working on a project to ensure this”.

“I see the restoration work in Serampore as a triggering process; It will hopefully lead to greater investments in urban restoration and push for developing safe, clean and secure community spaces, which Bengal –– for that matter, India –– is woefully short of,” says Chakraborti. “There are no green spaces here…the quality of open environment will improve for the people,” says Flemming Auland, architect, NMD.

The tourism sector is also upbeat about the opportunities such restoration programmes could bring. “Our Little Europe Tour will take tourists to the colonial settlements along the river,” says Navpreet Arora of FunOnStreets, a Kolkata-based tourism company.

Serampore, more than just commerce
The 18th century ushered in an era of Lutheran missionary activities in Serampore, thanks to the patronage of Danish rulers. Though they came to preach Christianity, they also dedicated themselves to education and social reforms. The protagonists were William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward. They established the Serampore Mission, the Serampore Mission Press and the Serampore College. The press printed the Bible in 45 languages including Assamese, Awadhi, Telegu, Bengali, Mooltani, Persian and Pushtu. Journalism in Bengal can be said to have begun with the Serampore missionaries who were the first to expose the lapses of the British government. The Serampore College was designed by a Danish architect and the front gate and two beautiful staircases were gifts from the king of Denmark.

For Denmark, it is a restoration of a link that was lost in time. “But this is just not Danish heritage… this is a part of the world’s shared heritage, which had never been studied. It deserves to be showcased,” says Dr Wolff.

“When [foreign] governments undertake these kind of projects, there is, of course always an objective of image building and visibility,” says Gulshan Sachdeva, director, Europe Area Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. This, however, Dr Sachdeva adds, is not necessarily a negative assessment. Some of these projects genuinely improve awareness and contribute to the local economy through increase in tourism etc. “Ultimately, it is a win-win for both the partners,” he adds.

The rise of the Indian trading class
Approximately at the same time as the Danes came to Serampore, the founder of the Goswami family, Ramgovinda, settled in the western part of the town. His two sons – Harinarayan and Ramnarayan – built a large fortune thanks to their positions as middlemen and their good relations with the Danes. Harinarayan functioned as the diwan of customs (collector) under the Danish East India Company, while his brother Ramnarayan became the official moneylender to the factory. They established an aristocratic colony on the western side of town and became influential people in Serampore. “Unlike other colonial rulers, the power equation between the Danes and Indians were different… locals such as the Goswami family called the shots because they were very rich,” says Simon Rasten, historian, National Museum of Denmark.

@kumkumdasgupta

source: http://www.hindustantimes.com / Hindustan Times / Home> India / by KumKum Dasgupta, Hindustan Times / December 10th, 2017

City secrets: Art Deco architecture spread across Kolkata, thanks to a state law – and jugaad

Preserving Art Deco architecture in the city is uniquely challenging because it is so commonplace, residents take it for granted.

Photo : Deepanjan Ghosh

In 2015, author Amit Chaudhuri started a movement to preserve ordinary Bengali homes in South Kolkata. The architecture of these homes, Chaudhuri said, was unique and its destruction would be a disaster. His movement and the pressure group that he created, Calcutta Architectural Legacies, has helped to shine a light on the kind of buildings that ordinary Kolkatans do not think of as constituting heritage.

“When we speak of Calcutta’s architecture, we usually mean the colonial institutions that the British erected,” wrote Chaudhuri. “Or the aristocratic mansions of North Calcutta built by Bengali landowners. But the houses I’m speaking of were built by anonymous builders for middle-class Bengali professionals: lawyers, doctors, civil servants and professors.” Chaudhuri also notes that a lot of these houses have in common, the presence of Art Deco elements such as “semi-circular balconies; a long, vertical strip comprising glass panes for the stairwell; porthole-shaped windows; and the famous sunrise motif on grilles and gates”.

Art Deco is so common in South Kolkata that most people are intimately familiar with it without even realising it. These neighbourhoods were the focus of a walk on December 5, led by Jawhar Sircar, the former CEO of Prasar Bharati. The walk was organised by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, an interdisciplinary, global network of architectural and archaeological heritage experts. “Jawhar Sircar has had a deep engagement with South Kolkata’s Art Deco style and advocated for it on various public forums,” said Kamalika Bose, urban conservationist and co-ordinator of the ICOMOS programme. But the focus on these architectural curiosities also raises a question – why did a 1920s European architectural style find so many takers in 1950s and 1960s Kolkata?

Photo credit : Deepanjan Ghosh


A modern style

Styles rarely evolve in a day, but the definitive moment for Art Deco that experts point to is the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, held in Paris in 1925. Fifteen thousand exhibitors from 20 countries presented to 16 million people a highly decorative “style modern”, using fine craftsmanship and expensive materials. Even the name “Art Deco” is an abbreviation of the title of the exposition. This style would spread rapidly around the world, from skyscrapers in New York to ocean liners that crossed the Atlantic. It can still be seen today, in structures such as the Chrysler Building, the General Electric Building and the American Radiator Building of New York. But while American skyscrapers were the largest and most visible examples of the style, Art Deco encompassed almost all forms of the visual arts, architecture and design, including painting, sculpture and even typography.

In Kolkata, the sole example of the Art Nouveau style, which preceded Art Deco, is the Esplanade Mansions opposite the Raj Bhavan, built in 1910. But there is little evidence to suggest that the Art Deco buildings seen in the city today evolved from here. In an age without internet, trends caught on through magazines, which meant that Asia lagged a decade behind Europe. Art Deco’s dominance in the West ended with the beginning of World War II, but here in India, the earliest Art Deco structures were built in the 1930s and the style would continue well into the 1960s in Kolkata. Mumbai is known to have the world’s second-largest collection of Art Deco buildings but what makes South Kolkata’s Art Deco homes unique is the fact that they are more a result of jugaad than formal architectural decisions.

Photo credit : Deepanjan Ghosh

Metro-style ‘baadi’

Among the earliest examples of Art Deco in Kolkata are Victoria House, now the headquarters of the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, built in the 1930s and Reid House on Red Cross Place, built in 1941. But the icon of the city was the Metro Cinema Hall. Designed by Thomas White Lamb and built by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Metro Cinema stood on Dharmatalla crossing, one of the city’s nodal points. With its waterfall-style columns and grand staircase, Metro became the building that a new class of up-and-coming Bengalis wanted to ape.

The building boom in South Kolkata began around the same time with large numbers of people moving out of the North, or later moving to West Bengal post-Partition. While these people were affluent, they had nowhere near the astronomical sums of money needed to construct the lavish mansions of North Kolkata. Buildings in the north followed the pattern of rooms arranged around a central courtyard. This placed an emphasis on communal space. But with changing sensibilities putting a greater stress on personal space, this style was thought of as both wasteful and outdated.

Photo credit : Deepanjan Ghosh

Scenographer and artist Swarup Dutta has taught design for a decade and closely studied the evolution of Kolkata’s architecture. He points to a peculiarity in the law in Bengal, which allows civil engineers and draftsmen to file the plans for a building, as opposed to architects, who would be required in other states. This was good news for homeowners, since architects would charge between 2% and 5% of construction cost, says former civil servant Jawhar Sircar. The demand that Bengalis made from their civil engineers, aka “contractors”, Sircar says, was, “amake Metro style baadi baniye dao” – build me a house in the Metro style. Because civil engineers were concerned with the technical side of construction, instead of the aesthetic, their response was to present their clients with a collection of templates. These would then be tweaked according to each client’s needs. Since the buildings in areas like Hindustan Park and Lake Temple Road all came up around the same time, and used the same technique, entire neighbourhoods ended up looking like variations on a theme.

Why is it important to save these buildings? Chaudhuri says in an interview, “In a city like Kolkata, what we embrace, what we celebrate it for, is its modernity. It’s a form of existence that teaches us to look and experience life in a certain way…as exemplified by these non-heritage residential buildings which form these astonishing residential neighbourhoods that have art deco features as well as traditional features and European provenances.”

But saving them is proving to be a challenge for a number of reasons. With economic stagnation in the east, the younger generation have had to move out in search of work and many homeowners now no longer have the means to maintain the houses they are living in. With the buildings being worth much less than the land they stand on, a developer’s offer is difficult to refuse.

Photo credit : Deepanjan Ghosh

But the greatest challenge is to get ordinary Kolkatans to think of these buildings as special. “You don’t notice them,” said restoration architect James Simpson who was also a part of the ICOMOS walk, “because for you, they are commonplace. But once you know what to look for, these buildings keep popping out at you.” If anything, Chaudhuri’s initiative has at least managed to put these buildings in the spotlight. Three friends, Manish Golder, Sidhartha Hajra and Sayan Dutta have begun a project to document these buildings on Instagram. Their handle, @calcuttahouses, now has more than 2,000 followers. Chaudhuri hopes his campaign will make people “look at these buildings again – something we’ve stopped doing for a number of reasons”. Whether that will be enough, remains to be seen.

Jawhar Sircar. Photo credit: Deepanjan Ghosh.

source: http://www.scroll.in / Scroll.in / Home> Magazine> Archtecture/ by Deepanjan Ghosh / December 12th, 2017

River heritage walk

The heritage walk on Saturday. ( Pranab Debnath)

Krishnagar:

In a bid to rediscover and rebuild the cultural relationship between Bengal and the UK that developed over centuries along the banks of the Hooghly and the Thames, a group of contemporary artistes, authors and historians from Calcutta and London on Saturday participated in a walk in Nadia’s Krishnagar.

The walk, a part of the 10-day initiative titled “Silver River India Walk”, began from Azimganj in Murshidabad on Thursday. It will conclude at Calcutta’s Victoria Memorial Hall on December 16, with stops at 10 important heritage sites like Barrackpore, Chandernagore and Batanagar – all located along the banks of the Hooghly.

The walk has been organised by the British Council in India in association with UK-based art organisation Kinetika and India-based Think Arts, with the support of the Union ministry of culture, the state tourism department and several other organisations to mark the 70th year of India’s Independence.

On Saturday, around 40 artistes from Bengal and the UK paid a visit to the clay model hub in Krishnagar’s Ghurni and learnt about the craftsmanship of the artisans.

“It is a great experience to see the artisans working with delicate artefacts with such fineness. Stories of these artisans need to be known by people that live on the banks of the Thames too,” said Kevin Rushby, a travel journalist with The Guardian.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> West Bengal / by Subhasish Chaudhuri / December 10th, 2017

Kolkata Chinese makes it big with Tangra-style food in London

Kolkata :

Kolkata-born Chinese who took Tangra-style cuisine to London is planning to leverage the popularity of the Indo-Chinese food that he serves at his restaurant in Harrow to start a chain across UK.

Steven Lee, whose father had migrated to India in the 1940s from Guangdong province in China, was born in Kolkata in 1971 and grew up in Tangra, the Chinatown that once housed tanneries that have now been converted to restaurants.

Like most Chinese living in Kolkata, Lee had bland Chinese food at home. But it was the spicy Indian-Chinese served in Chinese restaurants that he loved.

“Indo-Chinese food is a Tangra creation that is now a worldwide sensation. This fusion is unique on its own and loved by foodies all over. It is different because this fusion is prepared by using Indian ingredients while still accepting the Chinese cooking technique,” explained Lee, who started Indo-Chinese kitchen bar Hakkaland named after the Tangra’s Hakka community.

While Lee left Kolkata to work in at China Garden — a popular Chinese restaurant by Nelson Wang in Mumbai — nearly 20 years ago, he still visits his relatives in Kolkata annually during the Chinese New Year.

Around 17 years ago, celebrity chef Udit Sakhel invited him to London to work at his restaurant Dalchini. There, Lee used his experience and knowledge of Tangra-type Chinese to introduced Indo-Chinese food. “I infused many new dishes to this fusion and Asian taste which was widely accepted in the UK and the restaurant was a huge success in early 2000s. “Keeping the multi-cultural diversity of UK in mind, I introduced Hakka Chicken, Ginger Chicken, Fish Pepper Salt, Tai Pai Paneer, Soya Chilli and a lot more,” Lee recounted.

After working for Dalchini at Wimbledon, Spice n Ice at Croydon and Bombay Wok at Hounslow, Lee teamed up with partners to launch Hakkaland a year ago. During Durga Puja, Lee’s restaurant served to Bengali patrons at the Ealing Town Hall.

Encouraged by the customer response, Lee now plans to make Hakkaland UK’s first Indo-Chinese restaurant chain with joints in Manchester, East London, Leeds, Lecister and Birmingham. Lee isn’t sure yet but if things go his way, he even has eyes on bringing his brand home to where it all started, Tangra.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Subhro Niyogi / TNN / November 20th, 2017