One day the prince – the heir apparent spotted the girl while she was taking a bath and promptly fell in love. Their love flourished and the two decided to flee to the neighbouring kingdom of Bijapur on the birthday of the king. However, on the same night the girl committed suicide, leaving behind a note that said she was not fit to be his queen. “But in my memory do construct a place where ladies can take bath, avoiding the eyes of men,” she implored the prince in her note. True to his love, when the prince did ascend the throne he built Goshamahal Baradari in her memory.
This was Calcutta of the 18 th Century – where thanks to a monopoly trade of salt and opium apart from fine cloth, the British merchants and nabobs made fortunes. Next came a section of the natives, the Bengali agents of the Company who worked under European masters and amassed great wealth though the means were seldom just. They were the new class of wealthy natives, the dewans and the banians who steadily climbed the social hierarchy with their new found riches. Finally, Calcutta was home to those who lived like predatory sharks – tricksters, embezzlers, swindlers and even extortionists who exploited people in the name of the society.
Mohun Bagan Athletic Club occupies a pride of place in India’s sporting history. But few are aware that the club was named after a beautiful garden-house where its footballers practised in the initial days.
A Dyanora black and white television, an old murphy radio, a grubbly-looking His Master’s Voice gramaphone, a German-made organ; as I wandered around, looking at the haphazard display I could not help but turn up my bulbous nose at the modest collection. After all I hail from the city which is home to the great Indian Museum; or if you consider my present home – it boasts of the great Salar Jung Museum. So if you detect a certain degree of snootiness creeping in for the oddball display in Visakha Museum at Vizag I should be excused.
[In search of a soul in Ladakh]
Frustrated for not being able to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, the Dilip Kumar fanatic went on to first join the Indian Air Force with guardian advice from his army-man uncle. I can recall him saying “I remember when we became trainers, we used to keep count of how many fellows we kicked out of the airplane during free fall training!” – Then from Air Force to the Indian Army, to the Core of Signals, from being a wild horse to becoming a soldier, a decorated officer.
(A Short Story)
The perfect opportunity presented itself, a few days later. Ria, Indrani’s new daughter-in-law sat with parcels and packages strewn all around after a marathon shopping expedition. Ria and Tana aka Tanaji had come down from UK for a few weeks intending to spend the Durga Puja with friends and families. They planned to spend a few days in Delhi with Indrani and Ena before leaving for Kolkata where Ria’s family was based. Ria had just returned home after a tiring but fulfilling day and was now showing her purchases to mom-in-law.
She sat with her head bowed low on her knees, singing one of the devotional songs of Tagore in a low voice; Uncle sat beside them reading, occasionally lifting his face to look at his daughter with tenderness. At that moment, precisely I decided against revealing to them, my new found knowledge about the family dynamics.
Indeed, it is Job Charnock, the founder of the trading post of the East India Company at Chuttanutee or Sutanuti, which eventually grew into the second city of the British Empire. But it is not Job Charnock or his contribution which is our subject of interest but the “great tree”. It not only provided shade to Charnock and his companions, who resided in simple thatched huts in contrast to the large elegant structures that later came to dot the imperial city but was an important landmark for mariners.
There are many anecdotes of one-upmanship that was common among Babus (neo rich Bengali under company’s rule) of Calcutta. The rivalry between Nabakrishna Deb and Churamoni Dutta knew no bounds. the rivalry between two groups culminated in an incident that rocked the Hindu society and left it divided and subsequently, came to be known as Kaliprasadi Hungama (ruckus over Kaliprasad). Calcutta witnessed a clash of titans who were equals in terms of wealth and influence in society.
Abanindranath conceived his Bharat Mata or Banga Mata – as he had originally named the painting – very differently from later visualisations of Mother India – as a Hindu goddess, in all her finery, perched on a lion with a banner and a weapon with a map of India as a backdrop. She seemed to be an Indian version of Britannia with the lion. In contrast Tagore’s Bharat Mata, painted in ‘delicate colours’ eschewed religious connotations. She is a picture of serenity and purity; dressed in a simple garb of saffron she is more of an average Bengali woman with conch shell bangles. Depicted as a yogini (woman ascetic) she stands for renunciation and transcendentalism, very Indian in ethos.