I write this from the historic Bengal Club, the oldest such institution in the country, founded as it was in 1827. As a building it may not be as impressive as the Madras Club but it makes up for that by way of what lies within. From a solid wooden table I look out through six foot windows on to a rain-soaked Russel Street.
Yesterday was a glorious day-long outing to see various Durga Pujas in the city. For someone who grew up here, I had not done this much as a kid and so made up for it in a way, with the wife and my friends Dr Vijay Sriram & Kavitha.
We began with the 175-year old Ramgopal Saha puja on Akrur Dutt Lane.
En route this place, we saw a pandals where the decorations were made with dry paddy stalks.
It was while walking along that I noticed this facade and realised that we were standing outside the first office of the Hindustan Records company.
Later found an excellent article on this in this link from The Telegraph.
We then moved to Jorasanko. The guide was happy to take us to see Rabindranath Tagore’s house at Jorasanko, now splendidly maintained as a heritage property. Inside is also Tagore’s car, in a shed. Outside this was parked a Nano and it made our day when some tourists thought that was Tagore’s vehicle.
Close by are the residences of the Dawn family with two pujas organised. One, in the crumbling residence of a not-so-well-to-do branch made up by its piety and simplicity,
while the other stunned us with its grandeur.
It began to rain at this point and we took shelter in this nameless mansion where another puja was in progress.
Our next stop was the awesome Ghosh Bari on Pathuriaghata Street where I am sure some scenes of Guru Dutt’s Saheb, Bibi aur Ghulam were shot.
This house has massive marble corridors like these
and this grand puja.
In the middle of all this, we visited the puja at the residence of the famed legal family of the Chunders.
For anyone interested in Calcutta history, the Sovabazar Rajbari and its Durga puja hold enormous importance.This family traces its origins to Raja Nabakrishna Deb, Munshi to Robert Clive. It was Deb who in 1756 organised the first puja in Calcutta. The family has divided over the years into branches and two pujas,one held at the same place where Clive attended the first one in 1756, is particularly noteworthy.
In the afternoon we saw several public pujas. Some of these are featured below.
I saw some awesome sand art featuring scenes from the Ramayana in the one shown above. The main frieze itself depicts not Mahishasuramardhini but Rama praying to Durga before going to wage war against Ravana.
Some learning yesterday
1. When I write about stately homes of Madras I need to be careful because not one can approach even remotely the palatial buildings on Calcutta.
2.The heritage movement is much stronger here than in Chennai. The Government definitely takes more interest. But the city is far dirtier than Chennai
3. There are around 38,000 Durga pujas in Kolkata this year. Some cost as much as Rs 2 crores and the overall money spent is around Rs 600 crores at a conservative estimate.
4. The creativity displayed is amazing. But there is the sobering thought that all this will be standing for just a week.