The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The curtain raiser of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2016, 14th-17th January

January is the season of book fair and literary meets in Kolkata. And AKLF is the first literary meet to roll. Organized by Apeejay Surendra Group and Oxford Bookstore, it had a curtain raiser with a heritage walk on College Street, the city’s book and academic hub, on the last Sunday morning (10th January). The walk was organized by Streets of Calcutta. Rangan Dutta, a well-known travel blogger and writer, led the walk. I joined it at College Square and continued till the end at Swami Vivekananda’s residence. About seventy heads met and took the walk.

The famous swimming club at College Square, named College Square Swimming Club, was founded in 1917 by a group of seventeen people headed by Pramotho Nath Ghosh with the objective of imparting scientific training of swimming and development and promotion art of life-saving in water for the society.

College Square

Calcutta University was the first institution in Asia to be established as a multidisciplinary and secular Western-style university, was established in 1857.

Calcutta University

We were walking along College Street which is the largest book market in the country and also the largest second-hand book market in the world.

The building at the crossing of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee Street where the legendary Indian Coffee House, the heritage coffee shop, is located

The college which was founded as Hindoo College in 1817 was rechristened Presidency College in 1855 and turned into Presidency University by the state government in 2010.

Rangan Datta (in blue) with the participants in Presidency University

There is this plaque near the main gate in the memory of its gate-keeper Ram Eqbal Singh (a harmonious name!) who died chivalrously defending his college in the riots of 1926.

There is this statue, hardly noticed, at the College Street-MG Road junction (diagonally opposite erstwhile College Street market). It is of Rai Kristodas Pal Bahadur who was a renowned journalist (1838-1884) and a legislator. He was awarded the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (CIE). It was an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1878.

The statue of Rai Kristodas Pal Bahadur

The old College Street market was demolished to make India’s first book mall by the state government. The showpiece mall named Barnaparichay (The name of the first book in Bengali), perfectly fitting this book-loving city, was conceived in 2007 to be built under PPP. Due to some reasons, the construction is still not complete and only a part of it is operational now. Its main entrance has been kept intact due to the heritage status.

College Street market

The famous  Laha Bari- a house aged more than 200 years, belongs to the Laha family who bought it from another Bengali family. Well known for its Durga Puja and numerous Bengali and Hindi film shoots.

Laha Bari

Thanthania Kalibari, one of the famous temples of goddess Kali, was founded by Shankar Ghosh in 1803, a mentioned in the temple building itself. However, according to another inscription in the temple, its foundation was laid in 1703. The deity is called Siddheshwari and it is made of clay.

Thanthania Kalibari

We stopped by this old sign of a tram stop which has surprisingly withstood eras. An old man in his late seventies sitting in a shop near it was telling us his experience of it seeing our enthusiasm. He said it was already built while he was a small kid. Rangan and Shaikh Sohail, a heritage enthusiast in the group tried to second-guess its age and agreed that it must be more than a hundred years.

 An old tram stop sign from the British era

The Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was formed in a public meeting of Brahmos held in the Town Hall of Calcutta on 15th May 1878. ‘Brahmo Samaj’ means a community of men who worship only Brahma or the Supreme Spirit of the universe.

 Sadharon Brahmo Samaj

The culmination of the walk turned out to be the biggest highlight. We visited the home of Swami Vivekananda which has been turned into a museum by Ramakrishna Mission. The entry ticket costs Rs 10 and you need to leave your shoes in the racks outside. This tranquil place on the busy Bidhan Sarani was Swami Vivekananda's home throughout his childhood and early youth. The large house was built by his great-grandfather Rammohan Dutta. All the furniture and accessories used by him and his family are tastefully preserved and displayed. The anecdotes of his childhood are illustrated through life-size statues.

The condition of the house deteriorated terribly over time. Finally, in 1999, it was acquired along with an adjacent plot by Ramakrishna Mission. It was painstakingly restored through great preparation and research and monstrous efforts with the help of Archeological Society of India over 1999-2004 and made into a museum and cultural centre. It was thrown open for public visit in 2004. There is a short audio-visual played inside which depicts the truly historic restoration. A large auditorium is being built at the backyard now.

The residence of Swami Vivekananda

The adjacent building, now an education centre run by the mission

There was an unofficial sweet ending at Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy, the legendary sweet shop at Hedua that specialises in sandesh, not far from the said museum. Indrajit Lahiri and Soumya Shankar Ghosal of Streets of Calcutta treated us with a sandesh each. The naram paak (soft made) nolen gur sandesh handpicked by Indrajit, a food blogger by passion, was sublime to put it in short.

To know more about AKLF, visit its website (Link given in the first line), its Facebook page and Twitter handle.

#AKLF #AKLF2016 #HeritageWalk #CollegeStreet #KolkataHeritage #Kolkata
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