Paye Paye Park Street

Park Street Heritage Walk (Paye Paye Park Street) was arranged as part of Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob. It coincided with All Souls’ Day which is held annually on 2nd November. Incidentally, the Halloween day falls on 31st October and All Saints’ Day is on 1 November.

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The original name of Park Street is Burial Ground Road. So we started our walk from The Lower Circular Road Cemetery. We laid a wreath on the grave of Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Madhusudan Dutta is the father of the Bengali sonnet.

The Cemetery contains remains of memorable personalities like

  • Sri Haren Mookerjee – the first Bengali Governor of West Bengal & a Scholar and Patriot
  • The Rev. Lal Behari Shah – founder of the first Blind School in India
  • F. Andrews –  a close associate and adviser of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindra Nath Tagore
  • Drink Water Bethune – the Educationist who introduced Women Education for the first time in India

Then we visited the South Park Street Cemetry and by that time it had become dark. We were feeling eerie. The marble plaque at the gate reads “South Park Street Cemetery, Opened: 1769 Closed: 1790”. We walked around a pitch dark South Park Street Cemetery with just the distant moon showing us our way.

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The question that comes to our mind is that if there is a South Park Street Cemetery, was there ever a North Park Street Cemetery? As it turns out, there was. The North Park Street Cemetery has disappeared entirely, save for one grave – the Robertson family tomb. The cemetery was cleared in 1953 and the land is currently occupied by the Assembly of God Church and the Mercy Hospital.

Among the tombs lost, were those of Richmond Thackeray, father of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and James Achilles Kirkpatrick, Resident to the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the principal subject of William Dalrymple’s brilliant book, White Mughals.

Located on the south-western corner of the North Park Street Cemetery was the Mission Cemetery, which has also disappeared. Further north was the small French cemetery, which is now the site of the Apeejay School. Among the tombs lost when the French cemetery was razed was that of Josephine Tiretta, wife of town planner Eduardo Tiretta, after whom Tiretti Bazar is named. Her tombstone cannot be located, although several tombstones from the French cemetery are now on the walls of the South Park Street Cemetery.

The Park Street Cemetery was one of the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world, and probably the largest Christian cemetery outside Europe and America in the 19th century.

At the South Park Street Cemetry, we paid homage to Henry Louis Vivian Derozio who founded the young Bengal movement.

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The toms of other notable persons are:-

  • William Jones:- Archaeologist
  • Charles Hindoo Stuart: The major general of East India Company used to bathe in the Ganga regularly and perform Hindu rituals. His tomb is modelled on a Hindu temple with an ornate edifice and stone carving of deities.

The St. Xavier’s College is situated at 30, Park Street. The Sans Souci Theatre occupied this location until a fire in 1843 burnt it to the ground. The site was bought by 7 Belgian Jesuits. It is here that the present day campus stands tall.

Eugène Lafont the great science educator, installed a laboratory in the college—the first such science laboratory of modern India. He made a makeshift observatory which stands till today.With the financial support of philanthropist Mahendra Lal Sircar, he founded in 1876 the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science. Jagadish Chandra Bose was his student.

Park Street has many firsts to its credits. It is the birthplace of India’s first nightclubs. Mocambo was, independent India’s first nightclub, where a 17-year-old chanteuse named Pam Crain belted out numbers with a six-piece band led by Anton Menezes

Down the corner at Moulin Rouge, Carlton Kitto, one of the most popular jazz guitarists of the city, would enthral diners for hours.

Louis Banks, Usha Uthup, Skinny Alley, Marie Samson (Australia’s famous jazz vocalist) and Braz Gonsalves were regular performers at Trinca’s, Blue Fox and other restaurants on Park Street.

Magnolia had India’s first ice cream outlet and introduced the country to hamburgers.

Park Street also housed the subcontinent’s first department store, Hall & Anderson.
“A two-storey structure where everything from crockery to carpets and imported suits were available”

Flurys, the legendary tearoom was founded in the year 1927 by a Swiss expatriate couple Mr and Mrs J Flurys. It introduced the city its and its  many generations to authentic Swiss and International delicacies

The Stephen Court named after Arathoon Stephen.Born in Iran in 1861, Arathoon Stephen was a member of the Armenian community in Calcutta, which is believed to have spent a huge amount of money in shaping the growth of the city.

Stephen was a shareholder and the first managing director of Stephen Court Ltd. He founded the Grand hotel in Calcutta and the Everest hotel in Darjeeling, which also saw a devastating fire.

Peter Charles Earnest Paul was the owner of the land which Stephen Court was built.

19 Park Street is home to the Bengal Freemasons Trust Association. It is veiled in secrecy and the buildings are not visible from the street itself.

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George Pomfret was authorised by the grand master, Lord Kinston, to introduce freemasonry into Bengal in Calcutta. Captain Ralph Farwinter was appointed the first provincial grand master for East India in Bengal. The first lodge established in Bengal in 1730. It met in the Old Court House in Dalhousie Square. Subsequently, meetings were held in Lal Bazar, the Town Hall, and 55 Bentinck Street, till it moved into its Park Street premises. The cornerstone of the west wing of Freemasons Hall was laid in 1911.

The walk ended with a tour of Park Mansions and tea sessions at the rooftop of the building.

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Horse racing in India

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The release of Lynn Deas’s “Horse racing in India – A Royal Legacy” (published by Niyogi Books) was held as part of AKLF2017 at the RCTC.

The book was released by Chief Guest Naresh Kumar, iconic sports personality. This was followed by the author in conversation with veteran sports journalist Kishore Bhimani and well-known jockey Robin Corner at RCTC.

In writing this coffee table book Lynn Deas tells us about some interesting facts:-

  1. In the early days of Indian racing it was, without a doubt, the sport of the ‘white man’, royalty and the privileged and it was not until the introduction of the tote, that the common man had easy access to placing a bet.
  2. Horse racing is concerned with both horses and gambling, for it is more than merely a lottery. The central role gambling plays in horse racing is immediately obvious. For most people who go racing the day’s enjoyment lies in making decisions, placing bets and then being proved right or wrong. The excitement of the sport lies in its immediate and competitive nature. With the introduction of gambling, the gate numbers swelled.
  3. The system of classifying horses into four divisions was introduced in Calcutta. No horse could run other than in the division in which he or she was classified. Horses were promoted or demoted as their form dictated. The system evolved over a period of time, getting more defined and eventually perfected
  4. Racing started in Madras around 1777 and by 1799 English horses began to appear on the racetrack. The Bengal Jockey Club was established in 1803 and the Calcutta race results were published in England.
  5. One of the most famous names, the world over, the Aga Khan family, first began racing on the Indian race tracks in 1846. The Aga Khan family is the only family to ever win ten Epsom Derbies. His horses raced against those of the Maharaja of Darbanga who had a trophy named The Darbanga Cup. Along with the Viceroy’s Cup and the Turf Club Cup these races formed a highly prized nucleus of races, with victory much sought after by the biggest names in racing.
  6. In 1889 there were as many as 52 racecourses in pre partition India and in 1894; the number had increased to 73.

RCTC was obviously the most suitable place to release the book as it holds pride of place in organised racing in India.

At first, racing in Kolkata were held in the suburbs at Akra in the Garden Reach area where, at that time, the king of Oudh, deposed by the British, and his descendents lived in their palatial garden houses. The Race Course at Akra was to all accounts, a rudimentary affair.

As a result of the governor, Lord Wellesleys’s narrow outlook and reformist attitude, racing in Calcutta came to an abrupt, but temporary halt in 1798 and it was only five years later that it was resumed by an organization called the Bengal Jockey Club which had been formed with the sole object of keeping the sport going on a sound basis. In 1809, the venue shifted from Akra to the Maidan area which is now virtually the centre of the city and there it remains until today.

In 1812, the new course was laid out in Calcutta roughly where it is located today and interest now moved to this major centre.

In 1847 when the Calcutta Turf Club was officially born. It’s important roles were those of regulating all matters concerning racing and protecting the interests of the turf in Calcutta.

Later the Calcutta Turf Club would be called upon to administer the sport throughout the country, other than in Western India.

Also, Calcutta was the first center in the subcontinent to stage a Derby race called the Calcutta Derby Stakes.

The session was interesting.

Love in a Time of Vitriol – Narratives of Inclusiveness

The closing ceremony of Apeejay Lit Fest 2017 took place at the iconic St. John’s Church which is situated at 2/2, Council House Street, BBD Bagh.

St. John’s Church was originally a cathedral. It was among the first public buildings erected by the East India Company after Kolkata became the effective capital of British India. St. John’s Church served as the Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta (Kolkata) till 1847 when it was transferred to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The octagonal Moorish style tomb of Job Charnock is also situated in the precincts of the church.

This Anglican Church became the venue for discussion on the topic “Love in a Time of Vitriol – Narratives of Inclusiveness.”

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Along with other speakers, Hazi Syed Salman Chishty of Ajmer Sharif gave a brilliant talk on inclusiveness. Hazi Syed Salman Chishty comes from the dargah of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti which contains the domed tomb of the saint.

He belongs to the Chishtī Order, which is a Sunni Sufi order. The Chishti Order is known for its emphasis on love, tolerance, and openness. Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti is also known as Gharib Nawaz (Benefactor of the Poor). He served the poor of all sects.

“Prince Dara Shikoh (or Shukuh), the Sufi son of the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, was able to affirm that Sufism and Advaita Vendantism (Hinduism) are essentially the same, with a surface difference in terminology.”

One of the cardinal belief of Sufis is divine love.

“The heart of a mystics is a blazing furnace of love which burns and destroys everything that comes into it because no fire is stronger than the fire of love”, says Khawaja Muinuddin Chishty.

 

Hazi Syed Salman Chishty  said that “A person who loves God, unconditionally loves his creation.”

At Ajmer Sharif “Logo ka Kheyalo ka bhi kheyal rakha jata hai”. i.e care is taken to respect the feelings of people also. That is why people of all sects are served vegetarian food at community langar instead of Beef or meat dishes traditionally eaten by Muslims.

Inside Dargah Shariff two big Deghs (pots) are installed for cooking Niaz (purely vegetarian food; cooked with rice, ghee, nuts, safron & sugar).

He also said that Sufis believed in the path of moderation.

He said that Sufi tenants remain within the hearts and minds of ordinary Indian populace, which makes India an inclusive society.

Though there was no visible direct evidence of positive impact of Islam on Indian culture, interactions between common Hindus and Muslims, Sufi and Bhakti saints created an environment for the emergence of a Hindustani culture, wherein we can witness the mutual borrowings from both cultures and development of an inclusive society.

 

The Festival closed with a mass candle-light vigil, poetry and music in solidarity with the ideal of an inclusive society. It included Bob Dylan’s song ” Blowing in the Wind “

A Literature Fest and a river cruise down the Ganges

The eighth edition of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) started with a river cruise on board the cruiser vessel M.V. Paramhamsa, which is a four-decked vessel. There is no heritage site more intrinsic to Kolkata than the river whose banks it stands on, perhaps the very reason for Kolkata’s existence . Hence the cruise down the Ganges was chosen for inauguration of AKLF 2017.

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AKLF is India’s only literary festival created by a Bookstore and Kolkata’s first literary festival.

The theme of this year’s Literary Fest is “Inclusive society”.

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The inauguration too place on the Sun Deck. This is the top deck of the ship. This part has been exclusively created for Nature viewing, sun lounging, Entertainment, Star gazing through Telescopes, night vision Binoculars etc. It can also accommodate open-air conferences with all facilities.

Specification of M.V Paramhamsa:

  1. Length 55 mtrs
  2. Breadth 12 mtrs
  3. Draft 1.5 mtrs
  4. Speed 12 Knots
  5. Classed under Indian Registry of Shipping

Features

  1. All Rooms are River Facing
  2. Air conditioned with individual controller
  3. Attached Bath with Hot & Cold Water
  4. Intercom facility
  5. Personal Coffee/Tea Maker
  6. Locker on request
  7. The suites have extra bed provision

Bar and Restaurant:

  1. Capacity 80 Pax
  2. Terrace restaurant
  3. Cuisines from all over the world
  4. Live Kitchen to try out local recipes

Activity Rooms:

  1. Gym
  2. Massage Rooms
  3. Steam cum Sauna
  4. Juice counter
  5. Library and TV
  6. Loungers
  7. Gift Shop

24hours wireless internet facility

Paramhamsa Deck Plans:

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There are 54 ghats (quayside) along the Ganges and all have great history and heritage. Some of them are Bathing ghats, Ceremonial ghats where rituals are performed and then the Ferry ghat which connects the two banks at various places. Many monuments, memorials and markets are there by the river side, to be explored & experienced.

The cruise started from, Vivida jetty, Millennium Park to Botanical Garden and back. It was followed by Lunch on board the vessel.

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As we cruised on the banks of Ganga Shri Ashok Saha of Bhromora sang and performed traditional river songs of Bengal and heritage expert G.M. Kapur spoke about Kolkata’s historical spirit of inclusiveness in creativity and culture.

The main venue of AKLF will be St. Paul’s Cathedral grounds – chosen for its welcoming, accessible and inclusive nature. The festival’s closing event will be hosted at St John’s Church, built in 1787. The festival which started today on the banks of the Ganga, will culminate at St. John’s Church with a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the ideal of an inclusive society.

The Festival conversations will also be hosted at Royal Calcutta Turf Club, Tollygunge Club, the campus of iLead & Presidency University, Daga Nikunj and Harrington Street Arts Centre.

AKLF 2017 will introduce for the first time, Plug in, as a tribute to Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, showcasing the best young musicians in Kolkata across genres. Held in the heart of the city at St Paul’s Cathedral Grounds, the music festival will kick off in the evening after 7.30 pm on 15, 16, 17th Jan. The musicians and bands that will grace Plug in will be an eclectic mix of rock, rap, electronic, rhythm, instrumentals and harmony.

Like in past, we hope that it will be an unique festival involving all Kolkatans and a very inclusive one.

APEEJAY BANGLA SAHITYA UTSOB LITERARY HERITAGE TOUR

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Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob started with a ‘Literary Heritage Tour’ of Kolkata, where we visited the residence and workplaces of famous Bangla icons. I was fortunate to be a part of it. We visited the house of Raja Rammohan Roy(now the Kolkata Police museum) , Rammohan library, Upendra Kishore Roy Choudhury’s House, Vidya Sagar’s House and bangiyo, Shahitya Parishad with distinguished writers, bloggers and media persons.

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The first stop was The Kolkata Police Museum

This house at 113, A. P. C. Roy Road was built for Raja Ram Mohun Roy  around  the  year  1814.  In  1996  this  building  was  converted  into  a  Museum  of Kolkata Police. It houses important relics and documents related to India’s freedom strugle.

Recently 64 files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his family members are kept there by the Government of West Bengal for public viewing.

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The next stop was Ram Mohun Library & Free Reading Room

In 1904 some Bengali literati of eminence were among the founding fathers of the Rammohun Library & Free Reading Room. The proposal to establish a library as a tribute to Raja Rammohun Roy, the great harbinger of the Renaissance in Bengal, was first mooted on 27th chaired by Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar at the City College Hall.

A four storied building stretched over 1600 sq ft area located at the crossing of the Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road and the Sukhia Street near Maniktala. The ground floor houses the historical Auditorium .In fact, a trio of auditoria marked as Heritage Halls in Kolkata are – Town Hall, Albert Hall and the Rammohun Library Hall.

The first floor spaces out to the Museum & Archive; and a part of the Library; The second floor accommodates the Library, Reading Room, and the Office; and On the third floor is a Conservation Laboratory that caters to the preservation of rare books, the rich legacy of the Bengal renascence.

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The next stop was the House of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury

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Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury was the father of the famous writer Sukumar Ray and grandfather of the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray. He was a versatile genius, excelling in the fields of children’s literature, music, painting and printing technology. He was the father of the famous writer Sukumar Ray and grandfather of the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Upendrakishore first introduced modern blockmaking, including half-tone and colour block making, in South Asia. In 1913 he founded what was then probably the finest printing press in South Asia, U. Ray and Sons at 100 Garpar Road. Even the building plans were designed by him. At its inception the firm was named U. Ray after its owner; and Sons was added in 1900 when his son Sukumar Ray joined the firm. Upendrakishore ordered the necessary equipment from A.W. Penrose & Co., of 109 Farringdon Street, London.

Upendrakishore’s son Sukumar Ray going abroad on the Guruprasanna Ghosh Scholarship at Presidency College, Calcutta in 1911 to study at the London County Council School of Photoengraving and Lithography. An integral part of the firm, Sukumar was to take over the running of the press when his father fell ill and his knowledge and technical expertise regarding latest printing techniques, half-tones and multiple stops picked up at LCC and later at the School of Technology at the University of Manchester

In April 1913, when the building for the new press at 100, Garpar Road was still under construction, Upendrakishore started the magazine Sandesh, a popular children’s magazine in Bengali that is still published today. It was the first magazine for children in India that had coloured pictures, and it became an institution in Bengal.

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The building had three storeys and a fine flat roof, which Upendrakishore had used for his astronomy. The printing machinery was housed at the front of the building on the ground floor and directly above that were the block-making and typesetting rooms. The Ray family lived at the back on all three floors. To reach them, a visitor entered a small lane to one side of the house.

The Next stop was Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir 

Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir is the erstwhile residential house of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was an academic educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, and philanthropist. and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. His efforts to simplify and modernize Bengali prose were significant. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type.

 Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir  features two purposely renovated buildings and is in operation since 2000. The main building features a special study centre of IGNOU and the Vidyasagar Memorial Museum.

An exquisite terracotta mural, measuring 20×60 ft, which depicts the life and works of Vidyasagar is the main highlight of the museum.

The second building of Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir houses a well-stocked library and a well-equipped auditorium.

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The last stop was Bangiya Sahitya Parishad

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The Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Chitrasala was founded in the year of 1910.This historic landmark on Uper Circular Road, was the symbol of Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century.
At the time of its establishment 122 years ago at the residence of Raja Benoy Krishna Dev of Sovabazar, it was named ‘Bengal Academy of Literature’. The Institution was renamed as Bangiya Sahitya Parishat the next year. The present building  was constructed was a munificent gift from Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi . The iconic litterateur of Bengal like Ramesh Chandra Dutt, I.C.S., Rabindranath Tagore, Ramendrasundar Trivedi, Nabinchandra Sen, Jagadishchandra Bose, Nirmal Kumar Bose, Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay, Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay, Haraprasad Shastri and many others graced this organization as its Presidents or Vice Presidents.
The Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Chitrasala has a large reserve of the various artifacts , stone and metal statues, gold and silver coins, and art and craft work that throws light on the rich historical past of Bengal.There are almost 2.5 lakh books, thousands of letters and manuscripts

Bangiya Sahitya Parishat Museum of Old Manuscripts, called ‘Bangiya Sahitya Parishat Puthisala’, was established in 1894  as per the proposal of Jatindranath Roychowdhury and Rajanikanta Gupta. The museum boasts a collection of 9427 manuscripts in Bengali, Sanskrit, Hindi, Assamese, Oriya, Tibetan, Persian and Ceylonese including manuscripts written on ancient writing materials like palm-leaf, paper made of cotton pulp, bark of trees etc.
The most notable collection of the museum are :

  • (a) Only extant manuscript of ‘Srikrishnakirtan’ by Badu Chandidas.
  • (b) Manuscript of ‘Manasamangal’ composed by Khemananda.
  • (c) Manuscript of ‘Premabilas’ written by Dhayamani Pattamahadevi, queen of the King of Bishnupur.
  • (d) Manuscript of ‘Chaitanyabhagabat’ by Brindaban Das in Bengali and English.

 

A VISIT TO KUMORTULI

Kumortuli is a traditionally potters’ quarter in northern Kolkata. The settlement of Kumortuli, meaning “potter locality” (Kumor = potter, Tuli = locality), is over 300 years old.

Without Kumortuli, Kolkata’s famed Durga puja would be unthinkable as craftsmen of this area provide the city with idols of Durga. With their dexterous hands they transform crude structure of clay-and-hay to a beautiful idol of Goddess. The also supply images abroad to Bengali diaspora.

Rabindra Sarani is one of the biggest roads of Kolkata. Situated on it is the Banamali Sarkar Street. This narrow street is the nerve centre of Kumartuli. It is flanked by small and claustrophobic workshops that are packed with idols of Durga in various stages of completion. Nowadays, around 150 families live there.

A typical idols made of bamboo and hay. The bamboo serving as the skeleton and hay gives it the bulk. Once the structure is ready, entel maati, a sticky variety of clay procured from the bed of the Hooghly river is applied on it. Once it dries up, the idol is finished with bele maati, a finer variety of clay which also comes from the river. Later paint is applied to it.

The goddess comes to life with Chakkhu Daan, i.e. when the artisan paints the eye of the goddess.

You can also see artisans preparing accessories needed for preparation of goddess.

If you love art, you shouldn’t miss visiting Kumartuli. Kumortuli is a paradise for photographers who thong this place regularly.