Category Archives: Historical Links / Pre-Independence

Tracing the last of Raj-era silversmiths

Kolkata :

A quiet revolution is unfolding in Mamata Banerjee’s backyard, courtesy her own MSME department.

The department’s retail body, Biswa Bangla Marketing Corporation, has started reviving a vanishing craft that is delightfully British, tracing the last of the Raj-era silversmiths — Maheswar Dutta — at Kansaripara.

TOI found Bengal’s only surviving “Sheffield craftsman” inside a crumbling edifice, down a backstreet of the CM’s Kalighat residence. These days, Kansaripara Lane — the cradle of Bengal’s traditional silversmithy — is no more than a place with decrepit houses that once belonged to Hindu sub-caste Kangshabaniks or Kansaris (bell metal workers) who settled here in the mid-18th century.

Squeezed between Sambhunath Pandit Street and Russa Road, this place is home to artisans who are still visited by leading jewellers for their outstanding craftsmanship. Dutta (63) is the last heir of a tradition extending back to Charnock’s Calcutta. His forefathers spearheaded a resurgence in heritage silver craft of the 8th century Pala dynasty.

“We were displaced from the nearby Gobindopur village, that constituted Calcutta 250 years ago when Robert Clive cleared the swamps to build Fort William,” said Dutta.

Some of the exquisite pieces Dutta and his apprentices, Alok Patra (38) and Biswanath Bodak (28), have forged will shortly travel to London for a Biswa-Bangla exhibition. The idea is to bring these intricate inlay work in dainty velvety boxes back to shoppers’ lists and eventually apply for the GI tag for the “nakshakari” work.

Only the other day, until Biswa Bangla’s chief consultant Partho P Kar tracked the roots of Bengal’s silversmithy, Dutta was a worried man. Now, they are the busiest stakeholders of the heritage craft revival project.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Ajanta Chakraborty / TNN / May 01st, 2017

At last, Chandraketugarh gets a museum

Kolkata :

Historians have often linked the archaeological site at Chandraketugarh with Alexandar and the Greco-Roman maritime trade. But on ground zero, nothing much has been done till date to preserve the site with a 250-year-old history. Prodded by Barasat’s Trinamool MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, things have finally started moving in the right direction. Fianlly, Chandraketugarh has started getting its due.

A museum has been readied to preserve artefacts that have found at Chandraketugarh. Though the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protects the site officially, there is no sign of “protection” anywhere apart from two signboards that stand at two ends of the mound. The half-excavated matrix lies exposed to daily loot and other ravages.

In 2009, after she became an MP, Dastidar was approached by local school and college teachers who had been trying to raise awareness over the site on their own. “They requested me to visit the site and see how soon everything will get lost. I was aghast at what I saw. ASI had done some piecemeal job and had left the site open and unattended. Since then, I have raised the issue in Parliament and approached the culture ministry to which the ASI reports. When nothing happened, I approached the West Bengal Heritage Commission, but unfortunately I was unable to stir up the imagination of the chairperson,” Dastidar said.

Finally, in August 2016, Dastidar wrote to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, seeking her intervention. “I told her clearly that unless we are able to set up a site office and a museum, the state will lose its most ancient archaeological site,” Dastidar added. Within days, the CM sent an investigation team — comprising the DM, bureaucrats and historians — that assessed the site, interacted with local activist groups and submitted a report that confirmed its antiquity.

Two TOI reports, one dealing with the deplorable state of things and another of a new research by IIT-Kharagpur experts trying to establish the antiquity of Chandraketugarh to Sandrocottus mentioned by Megasthenes, were also cited.

“Finally, at the CM’s insistence, we have been able to set up the museum and the site office, which will start functioning within a month. Local people who have been zealously guarding the excavated artefacts have agreed to donate them to the museum,” Dastidar said, adding that she has been able to recover artefacts worth a few hundred crores.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / TNN / February 21st, 2017

Pilgrimage to Calcutta with mother and grandmother’s memories as guide – Woman retraces family’s footsteps to home away from home

A yearning for Calcutta handed down three generations like a family heirloom has culminated in a fascinating journey by one of them back to where it all began.

The story starts with Myrtle Natal Borland, who in 1918 gave up a promising career in music in her hometown Durban to accompany her husband to India and become the first woman to sing on radio in Calcutta. Then came Marjorie, born to Myrtle at Calcutta’s Eden Hospital in 1922.

Mother and daughter returned to their native country in 1942, but continued to live with their India memories. Neither was able to make another trip, a regret that Marjorie’s daughter Olivia erased last Sunday when she landed in Calcutta for what she described to Metro as “a pilgrimage of sorts”.

Recently retired from a long career in teaching and journalism at Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, Olivia Schaffer had always wanted to retrace the steps of her grandmother Myrtle and mother Marjorie to Calcutta.

Myrtle had come to Calcutta by boat in 1918, when a lot of this expanding city did not exist. This Sunday, as Olivia embarked on her journey to the past from her hotel in New Town, rows of towering apartment buildings, zippy flyovers, a new Metro link under construction and the sight of “so many trees” appeared to impress her very much. But Olivia was soon enquiring about how long it would take to reach the “old city”.

Her blue eyes sparkling like a child’s, she said: “I am so excited about seeing the house where my mother and grandmother lived, and where my grandfather started Calcutta’s first radio station.”

John Rouse Stapleton was among those who had been present at the inception of Calcutta’s first radio transmitter and studio in a house rarely remembered for it. That was long before Akashvani Bhavan and Garstin Place became landmarks.

Stapleton had met Myrtle, then 18, aboard a ship to England in 1917. She was headed for London on invitation to sing in the opera houses there. “She had spent months performing across South Africa to raise funds for the trip. Yet she gave it all up when she fell in love with the ship’s British wireless operator,” said Olivia.

Talk turned to her present home in Durban and the Pride of India ( jarul) tree under which her mother’s ashes were scattered. In 2014, then suffering from her final bout of illness, Marjorie Getaz (nee Stapleton) was dictating her memoirs to daughters Olivia, Marianne and Suzanne. More than 70 years after leaving India, Marjorie had not got over her yearning for the city of her birth.

Olivia wrote to AIR on behalf of her mother, seeking to know what the Akashvani motto ” Bahujana Sukhaya Bahujana Hitaya” meant. Nudged by the then Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, AIR Calcutta supplied a translation of the motto “For the happiness of many, for the welfare of many”.

Being able to correctly remember what the motto meant thrilled Marjorie, according to Olivia. She recalled her mother saying: “I have no grumbles because I have enjoyed a very rich, varied and fulfilling life; I still appreciate the aromatic flavours in a good Indian curry.”

When Myrtle and her husband had arrived in Calcutta in 1918, the Marconi Company was starting test broadcasts from various locations after shifting base from Hastings Street to No. 5 Temple Chambers, beside Calcutta High Court. The first concert was heard at a distance of three miles, followed by a discourse 72 miles away. Stapleton and J. Briggs launched the Calcutta Radio Club in 1923 and soon another broadcasting transmitter called 5AF was installed at Temple Chambers. In 1926, a transmission studio for radio broadcasting started on the top floor of Temple Chambers. Stapleton became the station director and his wife the first woman to sing there.

The private Indian Broadcasting Company Ltd took over in 1927 and Stapleton was still the director at its new and more spacious Garstin Place address when the Indian State Broadcasting Service became All India Radio in 1936. For his efforts, Stapleton was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Marjorie’s memoirs include vivid descriptions of her childhood at 5 Temple Chambers. “We lived upstairs and Dad had his Marconi office downstairs. My first memory was at about the age of three years, when my father’s canary got out of its cage; all the servants were trying to catch it and it landed on my head. I can’t remember whether I was afraid or not but I do remember that my father loved that bird. It used to sing from morning to night. When it died, Dad took a brick out of the sitting-room wall and into that space he placed a coffin in which he had laid the bird.”

So, somewhere in the walls of 5 Temple Chambers, where Calcutta’s first radio came alive, are the remains of a singing bird. The idea comforted Marjorie.

A ride through Park Street past Flurys on Sunday took Olivia to Temple Chambers, which is now a lawyer’s den. It was built in 1910 on the corner of Esplanade Row West and Old Post Office Street, according to a design by Vincent J. Esch, assistant designer of the Victoria Memorial. A worn nameplate, trees growing out of crack, dark damp stains, thick electric cables snaking across the walls and dusty window slats made for a sorry sight. The interiors were dark and there were few people around. As Olivia scanned each floor lined by offices, her mother’s memories seemed unreal.

Past the seemingly immovable antique lift with grills, she climbed the wooden staircase, undaunted. “Unbelievable that these are the stairs my mother and grandmother used! Even the marble tiled floor is the same,” she said.

An open door on the second floor gave her a peek into what would have been her family home.

Marjorie’s narrative about India remains that of a teenager self-occupied and sensitive by turn. She and her mother Myrtle would often go shopping. Was it to the posh departmental store Whiteway Laidlaw & Co (Metropolitan Building), the Army & Navy Stores or the Sir Stuart Hogg Market (now New Market)? Olivia wouldn’t know. She visited the New Market flower shops and remembered what her mother had said of her grandmother. “She was always in search of books and little ornaments – and I was just looking! The chauffeur would take us, wait for us, and when we got home he would help carry the parcels upstairs and Dad would always say; ‘Oh, more junk!’ One day, in all innocence, Dad’s bearer, Nozier, said, ‘Oh, more junk!’ This had us all laughing for days. When I think back, we brought a lot of that junk to South Africa!”

At Akashvani Bhavan, the offices were closed. But Olivia was thrilled when chief announcer Barun Das recalled hearing that her grandfather had been appointed the first director in 1927. Some old musical instruments kept in a showcase reminded Olivia of her grandmother. “I can’t sing, I am an outdoor person,” smiled Olivia.

From The Town Hall to Prinsep Ghat, Olivia followed the trail her grandparents and mother might have taken. “Perhaps they danced in the Town Hall ballroom. Mother used to say she went for walks along the Hooghly, maybe she was here,” she said.

And then Olivia saw the Vidyasagar Setu. “Gosh! What a bridge!” she said, creating a little memory to take back with her.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Front Page> Calcutta> Story / by Sebanti Sarkar / February 15th, 2017

The accidental zamindar – The East India Company did not learn its lessons well

A painting by Benjamin West, 1765, of the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam, transferring the right of tax collection to Lord Clive

East India Company was basically a commercial enterprise; till the end it continued to make good money by exporting Indian goods. In the 19th century, its monopoly was corroded by the entry of other British traders; but trade continued to be a major activity till its demise in 1858.

But it was an odd bird from its birth. The Spanish and Portuguese adventurers who preceded it were an explicit extension of their home governments; the British crown, on the contrary, kept out of the Company’s affairs abroad. Charles II gave the Company power to judge and punish people in its territory abroad according to the laws of his kingdom in 1661; the power to make locally applicable laws followed.

The injunction assumed that the Company would occupy and own territory. But its territory in India was not virgin territory; it had its own administrative structure, of which the Company became one pillar. So it had two masters; and in so far as the two never talked to each other, it had considerable freedom of manoeuvre. But legislation and administration were not its main business; it tried to minimize the effort it put into them. One way it did so was to use local law where it existed, and import British law where there was no local law.

The two differed greatly in respect of landed property. In 1660, King Charles II abolished personal service due from noblemen and converted it into a monetary obligation; that is how land revenue became the dominant tax in Britain. In India, too, land revenue was the major tax; it was reckoned as a third of agricultural produce under Akbar. But it was not always in cash. And it did not necessarily go to the king; the nobleman delivered his dues in cash or in military service. The feudal structure applied to the Mogul empire, but not necessarily to other, smaller kingdoms. So when Lord Clive defeated the Mogul army in 1765 and took the Diwani of Bengal, the Company had to learn the ins and outs of zamindari.

The lessons it learnt are the main part of Law and the Economy in Colonial India, a new book by Tirthankar Roy and Anand V. Swamy. They are an odd pair. Tirthankar is a first-class economic historian. But he is not a leftist; so he faced discrimination from the academic powers-that-be in India. Finally he got fed up and left India; now he teaches in the London School of Economics. Anand Swamy teaches economics in Williams College. They have been running into each other in conferences, and working together on books once in a while.

Their conclusion is that the Company did not learn the lessons well. Its laws led to thousands of cases in Bengal relating to property, tenancy and rent; the system remained overloaded throughout British rule, and cases took decades. As if property law was not obscure enough, legal proceedings were complicated by succession law, which differed according to religion. They do not say so, but the mess was sorted out after Independence, first by legislation abolishing zamindari, and more slowly by population growth, which reduced the size of holdings.

It is difficult to imagine today that Indians could own slaves till 1843; and once slavery was abolished by law, all they had to do was to give a loan to the slave and turn him into a bonded labourer. That is not surprising, since Britain itself outlawed slavery only in 1811. But slavery served a purpose under conditions of labour shortage, which was commonly faced by plantations in the north-east. There were not enough workers in the area; they had to be brought from far away, most often tribals from Chhota Nagpur, which is now Jharkhand. Loading them into bullock carts and transporting them hundreds of miles cost money; a planter could not afford to bring them and then let them walk over to a neighbouring planter for a higher wage. So planters asked for and got laws which empowered them to jail their workers for not repaying a loan. But maltreating workers also earned a planter a bad reputation that he would rather avoid; so planters who could get and retain workers more easily avoided using penalties. Roy and Swamy deal with these labour market adjustments in some detail.

I found their discussion of contract law fascinating. Before the statification of the Company, Indian governments did not legislate or enforce laws. But commerce had existed for millennia; and where there was trade, there was always scope for cheating and breach of promise. Traders used social networks to deal with these risks; loss of reputation and standing was the punishment for breach of contract. But this could work only with those who had reputation to lose; it could not work with Santhal labourers or indigo farmers. When it came to workers, the Company gave penal powers to their employers. That could not be done with indigo farmers; they were not housed by indigo buyers, and could not be jailed or beaten up. So indigo buyers collected chits documenting debt against various farmers, and when an opportunity arose, sold them off to someone who had greater influence on the debtors. Partly under their influence, a contract act was passed in the 1860s; but few cases were filed under it.

Such are the narratives collected by Roy and Swamy. Their book is neither a treatise on law nor a history book: it does not systematically align legislation and case law, and it does not tell a story. The topics it has chosen are broad; a systematic treatment would take more space. Making a history out of it would require a larger role for the personalities involved; a legal treatise would require links with both legislative and case law. So there is a case for expanding the book.

Roy and Swamy should also try their hand at pathology of Indian law. The Indian judicial system is hugely overloaded, and extremely slow; the two aspects are connected, but slowness is not just due to overload. It is a good deal due to antiquated procedure; for instance, judges let lawyers drone on and on, briefs cite piles of cases unnecessary to make the point, and courts give postponements and adjournments for the asking. There are too many briefless lawyers, and too few judges. High courts reverse a high proportion of lower court judgments, generally on the ground of poor police investigation. Other systems have faced these problems and overcome them.

No one in India has looked critically at the judicial system except Arun Shourie; anyone who thinks of doing so is bound to consider the possibility that he may face judicial bias if he is hauled to court. Roy and Swamy do not have to worry about that. At worst, a book of theirs would be banned in India. But that would not be much of a loss; hardly any book sells more than a thousand or two copies in India, and the publicity would increase the book’s sales outside. If the judicial system is to be repaired, someone has to start somewhere, and no one is better placed to do so than Roy and Swamy.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> Opinion> Story / Writing On The Wall: Ashok V. Desai / Tuesday – February 14th, 2017

Queen Victoria’s last letter to India unveiled at Victoria Memorial

The three-page hand written letter, dated December 14, 1900 with a Royal Seal and Windsor Castle being written next it

The letter, written nearly a month before the monarch’s death, was was gifted by Lord Curzon in 1904.

Queen Victoria’s last letter to India, written 116 years ago, is on display for the first time at the Victoria Memorial, one of the finest monuments built in her memory.

The three-page handwritten letter, dated December 14, 1900 and bearing the Royal Seal, was unveiled for the public on December 16 at the Prince Hall of the Victoria Memorial.

“This letter is an important piece of historical correspondence between British India and Britain. The letter was gifted by Lord Curzon in 1904,” Jayanta Sengupta, curator of the Victorial Memorial told The Hindu.

Mr. Sengupta, also a historian, pointed out that the letter by Queen Victoria was written nearly a month before her death. She passed away on January 22, 1901.

The letter is Queen Victoria’s reply to the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon, who in an earlier correspondence to the Queen had expressed his sympathies on the death of one of her “soldier grandsons” “The Queen Empress has to thank the Viceroy for the very kind letter of the 9th November, full of sincerest sympathy of her beloved soldier grandson…,” the letter begins.

The references in the letter are to the death of Prince Christian Victor, the eldest son of the third daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Christian died on October 29, 1900 in Pretoria, South Africa during the Second Boer War.

“He was as good as he was brave,” Queen Victoria writes in the letter about her grandson. “All the Viceroy says of her own trials and anxieties the Queen feels very much, and she cannot deny that she feels a good deal shaken by them.”

Along with the handwritten letter, a typed copy of the text has been displayed alongside for the convenience of visitors.

Within few weeks of Queen Victoria’s death in January 1901, a meeting was convened at the Town Hall of Calcutta in February 1901, when a resolution was passed for constituting an all-India fund for building a memorial. King George V, then the Prince of Wales, laid the foundation stone of the Victoria Memorial on January 4, 1906 and it was formally opened to the public in 1921.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> States> Other States / by Shiv Sahay Singh / December 21st, 2016

Channel to boost Indo-Bangla ties

In 1971, Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was opened on Circus Avenue by freedom fighters from the erstwhile East Pakistan.

The transmissions from the radio station inspired people on both sides of the border to fight the oppressive Pakistani rule. The station folded up on December 16 after the birth of Bangladesh but All India Radio (AIR) continued broadcasting – albeit intermittently – on Special Bangla Service till a transmitter broke down in 2010.

Six years on, Akashvani Maitree is being launched to remind Bangladesh and India of their similarities. The growing presence of Radio China and Radio Iran in Bangladesh might have played a part in prompting the authorities to open the channel.

Akashvani Maitree – which will air at 594 kilohertz – will crackle into life at 11am on August 23. President Pranab Mukherjee is set to inaugurate the channel and its multimedia website from the Yellow Room of Raj Bhavan.

“Maitree was originally planned for a launch with much fanfare in June but the President’s schedule didn’t match. We will have a short programme in the evening at Nazrul Mancha, which will be broadcast live,” an AIR official said.

The programme will include performances by folk troops of Bengal, a reading of Jibanananda Das’s Banglar Mukh and other poems by actor Soumitra Chattopadhyay and recitation by Bratati Bandyopadhyay.

Akashvani Maitree will offer Bangladesh-specific news and entertainment and will also address the student community through programmes highlighting secular, anti-fundamentalist views.

The programmes will be designed in a way that Bangladeshis are encouraged to choose India as a medical destination and opt for Indian universities instead of those in the UK or the US.

Some of the programmes to be aired are Sambad Prabhaha (an exchange of news and views), Campus-ey Adda, Boiparar Khobor (about books and periodicals published in India and Bangladesh), Sholoanna Bangali (about people who have contributed to Bangladesh in some ways) and Ek mati Ek Sur (about similar cultural events like baul melas in Jadavpur and Kushtia).

“This is an outreach program which will bring people closer. There is a desire in people on both sides of the border to know how similar traditions thrive on different soils. Never before have we been able to frame a channel that invites artistes from neighbouring countries to perform in our studios,” said Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar.

The popular stage and screen personality of Bangladesh, Mamunur Rashid, hasn’t heard of Maitree yet. “It must be the train you are talking about,” he told Metro over the phone from Dhaka.

On being told about the channel, he recounted the days of the liberation war when he would make radio plays with Mustafa Monwar, Aly Zakher, and others.

“If the radio connection is revived it will be a good thing. To connect more should be our motto. The more we meet the less we hate, the less we will be taken in by blind beliefs and threats by mischief makers,” Monwar said over the phone from Dhaka.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Front Page> Calcutta> Story / by Sebanti Sarkar / Monday – August 22nd, 2016

Kolkata body wants to bring Rammohun Roy’s treasures, manuscripts back home

The Raja’s statue in College Green in Bristol, where he died on September 27, 1833. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The Raja’s statue in College Green in Bristol, where he died on September 27, 1833. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Tagore called him the man who inaugurated the modern age in India. Of all the personalities who ushered in Bengal renaissance, Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) was one of the tallest. A hunt is about to begin for bringing back the priceless historical documents related to the father of Bengal renaissance Raja Rammohun Roy including manuscripts and personal belongings much of which are lost, fell into the hands of treasure looters while a few remain scattered in various parts of the country and abroad.

Sachindra Nath Bhattacharya, the director of Raja Rammohun Roy Memorial Museum set up in 2000 to conserve his works told HT, the move to recover original documents was triggered by the discovery that many fake documents are stored in some archives in the country.

The museum is run by a trust.

“There is an urgent need to preserve the documents and rare manuscripts of Rammohun Roy that are lying in various universities and archives across Benares, Patna, New Delhi and the UK. We want to bring back all his original documents, including complete written works, documents related to the Sati movement, his dress, head gear and store in our museum for posterity,” Bhattacharya told HT.

“We’re in a hurry as many documents are already missing. We want to recover the remaining ones before they fall into the hands of treasure thieves. We’ll also approach the British Library which stores many documents of Rammohun Roy,” He added.

Bhattacharya has approached the union culture ministry for the project.

A research team would scout through schools registries in Patna, Sanskrit University in Benares and President’s House in New Delhi once the process gets a green signal from the government.

The Treasure Trove Act, 1878 and Antiquity Registration Act, 1972 empower the Centre to initiate legal processes to collect these documents from anywhere.

The Raja Rammohun Roy Memorial Museum in Kolkata. (HT Photo)
The Raja Rammohun Roy Memorial Museum in Kolkata. (HT Photo)

The museum authorities have sought President Pranab Mukherjee and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s help so that a ‘territorial policy’ is framed under which documents related to a particular museum must be kept in its custody.

The authorities will attempt to unravel many unknown facts regarding his sudden voyage from Midnapore’s Khejuri port in a Albanian ship to Britain, his vital interactions with Dwarakanath Thakur (1794-1846) and other Atmiya Sabha and Brahmo Samaj members, close door discussion with Lord William Bentinck, David Hare and debate with William Carey through the collection of original documents spread across several places.

“We’ll visit all the places across the country where Sati was prevalent in Punjab, Rajasthan to West Bengal. We have already gathered vital information regarding exact numbers of women, including Muslim women, who became sati.

Soon, a drive will begin to collect all legal documents related to the Sati custom and its abolition.

We’ll also try to scout for details of his correspondence regarding introduction of allopathic medicine to the country,” said Bhattacharya.

An attempt will be made to collect documents regarding his pioneering works of Indian journalism such as publication of Sambad Kaumudi (Bengali weekly newspaper), Mirat-ul-Akbar (Persian journal) and Tuhfat al-Muwahhiddīn (Persian book on monotheism).

In 1828, Roy set up Brahmo Sabha that was the precursor to Brahmo Samaj, one of the most prominent socio-religious reform movements of Bengal.

source: http://www.hindustantimes.com/ Hindustan Times / Home / by Atonyu Choudhurri, Hindustan Times,Kolkata / August 20th, 2016

Where history is set to fade into oblivion

Historic documents lie in neglect in National Library. / Special Arrangement
Historic documents lie in neglect in National Library. / Special Arrangement

Newspapers announcing Independence and other events lie in ruins at Kolkata library

“India Independent Today,” announced the August 15, 1947 edition of Amrita Bazar Patrika, one of the highest selling newspapers of India in 1947. The headline is placed above the masthead. But, 69 years later, the August 15 edition is so brittle that it is impossible to open it. It is not only the August 15 edition of Amrita Bazar Patrika that is frangible — 20,000 newspapers stacked up in the reading room are either soiled or so fragile that they will all turn to dust soon.

The rare editions are stored in a dusty and dark section on the second floor of Bhasha Bhavan, located in the western part of the 30-acre campus of the National Library at Alipore. The dark room resembles a mortuary where some of the papers are kept in plastic sheets coated with a thick layer of dust. Water leaks out of the air-condition ducts and during monsoon, buckets are placed to catch the droplets.

“About two weeks ago, the room was filled with ankle-deep water,” an employee of the library said. Some of the volumes were “partially drenched.” “Look at this,” a staff member said, “the August 9, 1942 edition of The Statesman with the news of the All India Congress Committee’s endorsement of Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Quit India Movement… The pages crumble even as you try to remove the dust.” The Statesman’s October 17, 1905 edition with a graphic description of Banga Bhanga, or the first Partition of Bengal, was lying next to The Statesman or Amrita Bazar Patrika. Both announced on Page One that Rabindranath Tagore returned his Knighthood on May 30, 1919, in protest against the Jalianwalla Bagh massacre. Both have nearly disappeared.

The employees said the volumes dating back to 1889 were brought to the Alipore campus in south Kolkata three years ago, for microfilming, from the original building of the Library in central Kolkata. Secretary of the National Library Employee’s Association, Santanu Bhowmick, said there had been “no progress” in the microfilming work.

The Director-General (Additional Charge) of the National Library, Arun Kumar Chakraborty, denied the allegations.

“Perhaps, it [the project] is held up because of the complications in the tendering process,” he said.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Kolkata / by Soumya Das / Kolkata – August 14th, 2016

Afghan tribe star of Museum show

Kolkata :

On International Day of World Indigenous People, observed on August 9, Indian Museum brought to the fore an anthropological treasure it has had in its store since 1929. Physical anthropologist Biraja Shankar Guha, former director of Anthropological Survey of India, had brought in a model of the Khalash community of Afghanistan after his study on them. Khalash community. It’s accession no is 11813.

In Afghanistan, at the extremities of Hindukush are some isolated mountain valleys of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, known to rest of Afghanistan and Pakistan as Kafiristan.

The word ‘Kafiristan’ underlines that the Khalash community follows its own religion. They have liberal customs, rituals and beliefs – for instance, elopement is as common as married women choosing their new husbands, said Indian Museum education officer Sayan Bhattacharyya.

The Khalash religion is similar to the religion that was practised by Rigvedic Aryans and the community has retained most of the Indo-Iranian traits as well.

A wooden statue put on display shows the pagan origin of the community. Some of the Khalash people claimed to be descendants of Alexander the Great and a recent genetic analysis has substantiated this belief.

During the 1970s, local Muslims and militants tormented the Khalash because of the difference in their religions and multiple Taliban attacks on the tribe lead to its numbers shrinking to just 2,000.

However, protection from the government has ensured decrease in violence by locals and Taliban. It has also brought about a great reduction in the child mortality rate. The last two decades has seen a rise in their numbers.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News Home> City> Kolkata / TNN / August 11th, 2016

Eco-friendly transport in Kolkata’s Fort William

Battery-powered rickshaws wait for passengers in the Fort William campus in Kolkata.— Photo: Special Arrangement
Battery-powered rickshaws wait for passengers in the Fort William campus in Kolkata.— Photo: Special Arrangement

Battery-operated rickshaws, locally called ‘totos,’ are now allowed to ply in Fort William, the headquarters of Eastern Command, for civilians to commute in the 177-acre campus. The initiative has benefited those who work in the Eastern Command — both former and current employees — as they routinely visit Fort William, located on the eastern banks of the river Hooghly.

“Electronic rickshaws are immensely helpful. We had to walk a kilometre or two to reach the canteen from one of the main gates,” said Shibnath Ganguly, a retired Air Force staff and added: “It was an arduous walk, especially in the summer.” The e-rickshaws charge a subsidised rate of two rupees from each passenger for each trip.

235th anniversary

The rickshaws ply from 8 am to 8 pm inside Fort William, which completes its 235th year in 2016.

Opened in 1781, the fort, with a formidable arsenal and personnel presence, was named after William III of England. Many civilians, a few thousands in number, stay inside, while scores of employees daily report to their offices offices.“This is primarily a welfare service, not only for the benefit of the public but also for the boys who operate the rickshaws,” explains Col. Richard Fernandes, the Commanding Officer of 12 Garhwal Rifles, who ensures smooth operation of the rickshaw service. The drivers are civilians, selected by the Army, to run four such rickshaws.

“The Army has provided the e-rickshaws. The drivers are not only paid Rs.3,000 every month [by the Army] but also make additional money by providing the service to people,” said Col. Fernandes. The rickshaws are not allowed to go outside the Fort’s campus. However, that is “not a major concern” for Mritunjay Kumar, one of the drivers who covers 50-60 km every day. “I am earning about Rs. 100-150 per day and making about Rs. 8000 each month,” said 19-year-old Mr. Kumar, whose father is a civilian employee of the Army.

The officials believe that the earning of the drivers from the e-rickshaw project, promoted as “an eco-friendly” venture, will go up from localised tourism, as the Vijay Smarak [War Memorial] at Fort William was recently opened to the public.

The e-rickshaws charge a subsidised rate of two rupees per passenger per trip

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> National / by Special Correspondent / Kolkata – July 14th, 2016