“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” ― L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl
I begin today’s post with such a quote as it is specially connected to what this post is going to be about. Today I write about memories forgotten by many and unknown to many . Kolkata as we now know it , which is home to many of us has turned so modern that many cannot visualize what Calcutta was like. Though I do find some remains of old Calcutta here and there and mostly in North Calcutta, much of what was, is lost to us. The buildings demolished, the mansions brought down to make multi-storey buildings and above all the people who knew the past are fading away quietly burying with them the many secrets of Calcutta.
Unfortunately I myself have not ever had a chance to communicate with such people but the good point is that these scenes are captured by great artists in their works. These works would never die and remind us of our culture and heritage whenever we forget it . I still remember during one of my college breaks when I entered a famous bookstore in Park Street and while my friends were looking at books I was staring at some paintings of Old Calcutta. A young man called for an attendant and asked him about the paintings to which the attendant looked clueless. In fact he replied that no one ever buys those and they just lie there year after year gathering dust. I was amazed by the reply which the young man gave and that reply is one of the primary reasons I am writing this post today he said and I quote” I am most unfortunate to not have been able to see the beauty of Old Calcutta and I am just trying to discover and keep that fire alive in society“. That day he stunned two people with his reply- the attendant and me as well.
Since then I have started my own research about paintings of Old Calcutta and I think it would be best that they tell their own stories rather than me describing them today. Though there are lots of copyright issues I have still managed to find some that will not put anyone in trouble.
Starting with the oldest, anyone who has ever read the history of Calcutta would know the Battle of Plassey.
This is a painting of one of the famous animal sports played during the Raaj. Armed men would be seated on top of elephants and begin their hunt to kill an animal. These were some of the atrocious animals sports played and I sometimes wonder whether they are one of the reasons that wildlife is becoming endangered and extinct today.
Up next two of the most renowned and famous temples of Kolkata- Dakhineshwar Temple (Above) and Kalighat (Below). Earlier one used to cross the Ganges on shared boats to reach the Dakhineshwar Temple but today the infrastructure is so developed that hardly one sees anyone coming there by boat. In fact the boats seen in the sketch of Kalighat are near extinct. If one is lucky one might get to see some of them parked at the Ganges Ghat.
If temples are found in Calcutta, churches are also no less. Considering that the British ruled over us for 200 years it is impossible that churches were not built. The Scottish Church (Above ) and St Peter’s Church in Fort William (Below) are two of the oldest churches in Calcutta. However if one visits them today, one would not be able to imagine the difference between the paintings and reality.
These form three of my personal favorite paintings and sketches. The First painting (above) is a view of the Esplanade road from Chowringhee. Looking at the place today it is hard to imagine that horses roamed the very streets once.The next one (Middle) is a painting of Belvedere House Alipore. Interestingly such old houses today are the hotspots of ghost stories . Whether these stories are true or just tales told by locals to scare away people for their own personal gains is yet to be discovered. The third (Below) , a pencil sketch of Victoria Memorial by Samir Biswas would always remain etched in the minds of those who take one look at it.
Since this post deals with sketches and paintings it would not be fair if I do not add a painting of an art gallery. And lastly I end the post with two very popular traditional Bengali paintings. The first by Jamini Roy and the second depicting the famous Sindoor Khela during Durga Puja.
Though much has changed today in terms of technology and infrastructure development, still I sense that “Sometimes. . . . the things I remember are more real than the things I see. ”