Journalist, Author, Activist and Urban Thinker
“You’ve got to get out and walk”
Jane Jacobs (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American–Canadian journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies. She had no formal training in architecture or urban planning yet her influential book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (published in 1961) introduced ground breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.
Jacobs saw cities as integrated systems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used. With a keen eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design and self-organization.
A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work, and play.
Started in 2007, a year after her death, Jane’s Walks are held annually during the first weekend in May, to coincide with her birthday. Jane’s Walk consists of a series of neighbourhood walking tours. The walks are led by local volunteers and offered for free.
Jane’s Walk Calcutta (Kolkata) Edition
3 – 5 May. 2013
“To Calcutta much abused, much loved and always interesting”
The 2013 Calcutta (Kolkata) edition of the Jane’s Walk was organised by The Telegraph Explore Calcutta Walks, in association with Calcutta Walks and was presented by Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Nine walks (including a bicycling ride) was designed by Calcutta Walks to cover the different cultural, social and even environmental aspects of the “City of Joy.”
Jane’s Walk, Calcutta (Kolkata) Edition Schedule
May 4 & 5
East Calcutta Wetlands
Paroma Police Station
Kalighat Police Station
Victoria Memorial Main Gate
Calcutta Theatre Story
Girish Park Metro Exit
Chatubabu Latubabur Bari
Victoria Memorial Main Gate
Chinatown – Tiretta Bazar
Joseph Percy Ling
Poddar Court Remeonds
It was a tough decision choosing the walk, and after a series of decisions and indecisions I decided to head for the East Calcutta Wetlands Walk on 5 May 2013.
East Calcutta Wetlands Walk
With Bonani Kakkar, 5 May 2013
“If the Maidan is the lungs of Calcutta, the East Calcutta Wetlands would be the kidney!”
Bonani Kakkar, Environment Activist
Located on the eastern fringes of the city the East Calcutta Wetlands is an interesting mix of natural and man made water bodies interconnected by a complex network of canals. Covering an area of 125 square kilometers, the East Calcutta Wetland include salt marshes and salt meadows, as well as sewage farms and settling ponds and is the world’s largest wastewater fed aqua culture system.
The East Calcutta Wetlands provide a very cheap, efficient and eco-friendly system of solid waste and sewer treatment system for the city of Calcutta (Kolkata), hence
Sadly for majority of Calcuttans the East Calcutta wetlands is just a quick glance from the passing car window along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass or a glimpses from the office window of Salt Lake (Sec. V).
The Jane’s Walk of the East Calcutta Wetlands kicked of from the Bantala Dock after a 3 km drive from the Paroma Island. Walk leader Bonani Kakkar, environmentalist and activist who rums the NGO People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLiC), introduced the wetlands standing next to one of the numerous sluice gates that controls the flow of water in & out of the wetlands.
According to Bonani Kakkar Calcutta (Kolkata) slopes West to East and away from the river. The East Calcutta Wetland comes to the rescue saving to the city from flooding. Time and again unplanned planning have led to excessive water logging in some pockets of the city, Bonani cited the example of Lake Town being flooded after the construction of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.
The walk soon started and we made our way past some ruined structure, which according to Bonani was a sewage water treatment plant set up by the British. But Calcutta had its own natural sewage treatment system and quiet likely the plant never started operation.
As we made our way past one of these structure a slithering snake, which lived in perfect harmony with a family of pigs, welcomed us. Soon our discussion shifted to wildlife of East Calcutta Wetland and Bonani shared her experience of spotting monitor lizards and mongoose. Sadly our wildlife spotting was restricted to few water birds like kingfisher, cormorants, herons and the rare open bill stork.
Soon the discussion changed to ecology, and Bonani explained the role of water hyacinths in providing shade to small fishes and the role of algae in keeping the four feet deep water of the wetlands (locally called bheri) clean.
As we crossed a rickety bamboo bridge and ventured deep into the bheri region Bonani became nostalgic as she narrated about the epic battle against the West Bengal Government to protect the East Calcutta Wetlands. Bonani went on to narrate the story of Justice Umesh Ch. Banerjee being welcomed to the bheri by a yellow coloured giant frog (locally called sona bang) on his official visit to the wetlands. Finally in 1992 it was victory for Bonani and PUBLiC, Justice Umesh Ch. Banerjee of High Court ruled that no development activity could take place without its prior permission. More success followed as in 2002 the East Calcutta Wetlands was declared as Wetland of International Importance by Ramsar Bureau.
We continued our walk along narrow embankments separating one bheri from the other with the Calcutta (Kolkata) skyline in the distant horizon. We walked passed boats and fishing nets left to dry and strange bamboo screens which prevented the fish from moving from one bheri to another.
Occasionally we made way for fishermen on bicycles carrying fresh stock of fish to the market. Bonani’s husband Pradeep, who was accompanying us, explained that the East Calcutta Wetlands not only provides fish to the Calcutta market but also fresh vegetables grown in the adjoining land, which is technically a part of the wetland.
We finished our East Calcutta Wetland walk discussing about the threats to this fragile ecosystem. Although a protected place the land sharks are always lookout for an opportunity. Also the toxic chemical wastes are threatening to contaminate the fish and vegetables.
- The File Photos are not shot during Jane’s East Calcutta Wetland Walk on 5 May 2013.
- Bonani Kakkar for the wonderful introduction of the East Calcutta Wetlands
- The Telegraph for hosting the Jane’s Walk in Calcutta
- Calcutta Walks not only for its efficient management but also for supporting this blog
Burial of Christ ~ Armenian Good Friday
St. Gregory, the Illuminator, Armenian Chapel, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Also see my blog post on Armenians of Calcutta (Kolkata)
The coffin bearers slowly carried the black coffin, beautifully stacked with flowers outside the small chapel adjoining to the Lower Circular Road Cemetery in Calcutta (Kolkata). Strangely it was not a funeral and nor the black coffin contained any dead body !!!!
It was the Good Friday service of the Armenian Christian community at the St. Gregory, the Illuminator Armenian Chapel at Park Circus.
The Armenian history in Calcutta dates back to the mid 17th century. The Armenians have believed to have settled in Calcutta far beyond the days of Job Charncok, the controversial founder of the city.
The Armenians also have the distinction of having the oldest Christian Church in Calcutta. The Armenian Church, officially known as the Holy Church of Nazareth was originally constructed in 1707, but the present building dates back to 1724. The Armenian Christmas Mass, which is held on 6 Jan. instead of 25 Dec., is held at the Armenian Church.
The Good Friday service is held at the St. Gregory, the Illuminator, Armenian Chapel, which is hidden inside a narrow winding lane in the Park Circus area and is adjoining to Lower Circular Road Cemetery.
St. Gregory, the Illuminator, Armenian Chapel was constructed in 1906 by the funds raised by the Indian Armenian Community. The chapel, located on a narrow lane in the Park Circus area is extremely difficult to locate.
The complex also houses an old age home named after an eminent Calcutta Armenian Catchick Paul Chater. The complex also contain several graves of the Chater family. The complex is beautifully decorated with lawns, flowerbeds and marble statues. It can be considered as an oasis of peace in one of the chaotic locations of Calcutta (Kolkata).
Sadly the Good Friday services lacks the grandeur of the Christmas, which is normally attended by the entire Armenian community of Calcutta (Kolkata). On the other hand the Good Friday service is attended only by a handful of Armenians.
The Good Friday Service starts at about 3 pm. Lead by Rev. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, pastor (priest) of Armenians in India and assisted by Rev. Fr. Geghart Ghabaghyan along with a host of boys from the Calcutta Armenian School and College. It recreates the burial of Jesus Christ.
The black coffin, beautifully stacked with flower was placed before the alter. Prayers were said and songs were sung. The coffin bearers final lift the coffin, supposed to contain the body of Christ, and make their way slowly outside the chapel. They made their way round the chapel and the coffin returns to the original place.
Further prayers follow and the services come to an end with the distribution of the flowers stacked over the coffin, which are said to bring good luck.
- To my Armenian friends Liz Chater and Max Galstaun for providing valuable information about the Good Friday Mass and also about the location of the St. Gregory, the Illuminator, Armenian Chapel.
- To Rev. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, pastor (priest) of Armenians in India and the entire Armenian Community of Calcutta.
Wikipedia Takes Kolkata II
Second Wikipedia Kolkata Photowalk, 3 March 2013
“The 29, busy professionals on weekdays and hobby photographers on weekends, were participating in the second edition of Wikipedia Takes Kolkata. The aim? Not to build impressive personal collection of photographs but to increase the number of city images available on the the number one information resource for GeNext.”
Sreyoshi Dey, The Telegraph, Kolkata , 7 March 2013
“Wikipedia Takes Kolkata II is the second edition of the event organised by the Wikipedians, encouraging the masses to contribute to the world’s largest, quickest online encyclopedia”
Suruchi Gupta, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, 3 March 2013
Wikipedia the world largest online encyclopedia runs on entirely voluntary effort. Each major city in the world has a a Wikipedia chapter, who apart from contributing to Wikipedia carry out different activities like Wikiacademy and photowalks.
The main objective of Wikipedia Photowalk, officially known a “Wikipedia Takes,” is to build a database of photos of landmarks of the city. The photos can later be used in the relevant articles.
The first edition of the Wikipedia Kolkata Photowalk was held on 18 Dec. 2011 and was restricted to active Wikipedia contributors only. The second edition held on 3 march 2013 was however open to all and Facebook played an active role in promoting the event. 29 person turned up but sadly there was no women participant.
The aprox. 7 km long photowalk was not only aimed at areas not covered by Wikipedia but also aimed at capturing the diversified aspect of Kolkata, formally Calcutta. Over the last three centuries Kolkata has been a melting pot of several religion and culture. The Wikipedia Takes Kolakata II aimed at documented the diversified activity of the city.
The 4 hours scheduled route (actually it took a little over 5 hours) covered First World War Barracks to hidden Chinese Temples and from Parsi Fire Temple to Portuguese Church. The route also covered the Armenian Church, which has the distinction of being the oldest Church in Kolkata, and also a couple of Synagogues.
With the walk complete the job was only half done. The participants soon started to upload there photos in Wikimedia category “Wikipedia Takes Kolkata 2.” and several of the photos have already been used in different articles of Wikipedia.
Places Covered in Wikipedia Takes Kolkata II:
- Bow Barracks
- Kaplitola Kali Temple
- Parsi Fire Temple
- Parsi Dharmasala
- Buddhist Temple
- Agha Khan Palace
- Chinese Temples
- Chinese Breakfast
- Beth El Synagogue
- Magen David Synagogue
- Portuguese Church
- Armenian Church
- Carey Baptist Church
- Lebdev’s Theatre
The Telegraph and Hindustan Times gave extensive coverage of Wikipedia Takes Kolkata II event.
Suruchi Gupta of Hindustan Times provided a pre-coverage of the Second Wikipedia Kolkata Photowalk and it was published on the very day of Wikipedia Takes Kolkata II.
Sreyoshi Dey and photographer Anindya Shankar Roy of The Telegraph participated in the Photowalk and report was published on 7 March 2013.
- Suruchi Gupta of Hindustan Times
- Sreyoshi Dey, Anindya Shankar Roy and Kaushik Ghosh of The Telegraph
- To all the participants who made the Wikipedia Takes Kolkata II a grand success
Portuguese Church (1799)
~ Catholics Cathedral of Calcutta (Kolkata) ~
Also see my compilation of Calcutta (Kolkata) Churches
Historical evidences indicate that the Portuguese arrived in Calcutta (Kolkata) much before Job Charnok, but their relationship with the English has never been friendly.
The first Portuguese place of worship in Calcutta (Kolkata) date backs to the late 17 th century, consisted of a mud hut. In 1700 it was converted into a brick structure.
In 1757 Lord Clive expelled the Portuguese from Calcutta (Kolkata) and the Catholic Portuguese Chapel was converted into an Anglican Protestant Chapel.
Four years later the ban was lifted and the Portuguese got back their chapel in 1796. They decided to convert the chapel into a Church and funds were raised. The well known Portuguese traders Baretto Brothers were leading contributors.
The new church, which exsists to this day, was opened to public on 27 Nov. 1799. Designed by James Driver it was constructed at a cost of Rs90,000.
Dedicated to Rosary Virgin Mary, the Portuguese Church serves as a Cathedral Church for the Catholic Christian’s of Calcutta (Kolkata).
Built in typical Catholic style the Portuguese Church comes in with twin towers which are shaped more like minarets, topped with crowned shaped cupolas. The extended portico is crowned with a triangular pediment decorated with beautiful relief work.
The inside is even more spectacular with long corridor leading to beautifully decorated alterflanked with intricately decorated circular stained glass windows.
The walls are lined with confession boxes and statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and various other Biblical character complete with fairies and angles.
But the star attraction of th Portuguese Church are the 14 Cross Station of Christ. The beautiful coloured bass relief tables are framed in polished wooden frame and are hung along the walls of the Portuguese Church.
Portuguese Church located on the Murgihata Street just off the Brabourne Road and Canning Street crossing. Although located in one of the busiest localities of Calcutta (Kolkata) it serves as a oasis of peace like most of the Calcutta (Kolkata) Churches.
- 10 Walks in Calcutta by Prosenjit Das Gupta
- Swasato Kolkata ~ Ingrej Amala er Sthapothya by Nishitranjan Roy
Lascar War Memorial
~ Napier Road, Calcutta (Kolkata) ~
“He had thought that the Lascars were a tribe or nation….. he discovered now that they came from places that were far apart, and had nothing in common, except the Indian Ocean; among them were Chinese and East Africans, Arabs and Malays, Bengalis and Goans, Tamils and Arakanese.”
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Sandwiched between the two buildings of the Navy House in Napier Road in Hasting region of Calcutta (Kolkata) stands a towering structure built in the honor of 896 Lascars, who died fighting for the British Navy during the Great War of 1914 – 18 (First World War).
The 100 ft memorial built in the Indo-Mughal style has prows of an ancient galley projecting from each side and is capped by four mini minarets and a large dome. Along the facade are undulating lines symbolizing waves.
Lascar War Memorial was erected by shipping and mercantile companies at the southern end of the Maidan, within 100 yards of Prinsep Ghat and in the shadows of the Second Hooghly Bridge. It was designed by William Ingram Keir, who was also the man behind the Kidderpore Bridge, buildings at Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and Islamia College. He also replaced the damaged spire of the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Lascar War Memorial earned William Ingram Keir an award of Rs 500 for its design in an international contest in 1920.
The Lascar War Memorial was unveiled to public by the then governor of Bengal, Lord Lytton, on February 6, 1924. A plaque inside the Lascar War Memorial stands as a witness to the historic event. The other plaque is in the memory of the 896 Lascars, although the term “Lascar” is not used. They have been mentioned as “Seaman of Bengal, Asam and Upper India.” The third smaller plaques tells about the renovation and lighting of the Lascar War Memorial.
After independence the memorial has practically forgotten and lay in utter neglect. During a trip to Kolkata in the 1980s, William’s son James Keir had noted with sadness that lack of upkeep had turned the monument decrepit and surrounding grounds riddled with overgrowth.
In 1994, commodore B K Mohanti spotted it during his morning walk and struck by its significance, decided to get it restored. “The first challenge to restore the memorial and its precincts was to determine who owned the land. Since it’s in Army land, it had to be transferred to the Navy. Then the ground had to be fenced off after 200-odd trucks that used to be parked there were evicted. Now, the challenge is to keep it in good shape and make citizens of Kolkata aware that a splendid memorial for subalterns exists,” said Mohanti.
Renovation and lighting was complete in December 1994 but did the Indian Navy take any steps to to make the Calcutans aware of its existence? My personal experience says no. I was almost held at gunpoint while shooting the Lascar War Memorial in 2010 and was forced to delete the photographs from my memory card.
But things are on for a change as in the recent past the Lascar War Memorial has been the venue for several cultural events. The Kolkata chapter of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had meet at Lascar War Memorial on 3 Nov. 2012 with James Keir as guest. The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) was also held at the Lascar War Memorial on 13 Jan. 2013 and the photographs were shot at that time as I still don’t have the courage to go and shoot the memorial on an ordinary day !!!!
- Special Thanks to Nidhi Dugar Kundalia of Kindle Magazine for inviting me to the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF)
- Oceans Apart by Soma Basu, The Statesman dated 20 Nov. 2011
- Forgotten War Memorial gets a place in history by Subhro Niyogi, The Times of India, 4 Nov. 2012
- Tears of Subaltern by Soumitra Das, The Telegraph, 12 July 2009
North Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta (Kolkata)
~ The Lone Surviving Tomb ~
Tucked away in the South – Eastern corner of the the Assembly of God Church Tower (AG Tower) complex is a strange circular structure. Supported by six Ionic pillar and crowned with a dome. It is often used for drying clothes and even as a storage space.
The structure known as the Roberson Monument is the lone surviving grave of the demolished North Park Street Cemetery.
The Mallick Bazar entrance of the Mother Teresa Sarani (formally Park Street and even formally Burial Ground Street) once housed cemeteries on its both side.
Today the cemetery only on the southern side exists and is called the South Park Street Cemetery, but the cemeteries on the north side have been demolished decades ago to give room to the expanding city.
The North Park Street Cemetery gave room to the AG Towers while the Apeejay School was built over the French Cemetery.
Opened in 1797 the huge North Park Street Cemetery once housed the graves of several well known British citizens of Calcutta, including Richmond Thackeray, the farther of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.
The North park Street Cemetery also housed the grave of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who was made immortal by William Dalrymple, in his best selling book White Mughals. Although his grave didn’t survive the test of time but his memorial plaque can still be seen in St. Johns Church.
Today the almost camouflaged Robertson Monument happens to be the only remaining witness of the huge North Park Street Cemetery. It is a family grave of the Robertson Family, who have been in Calcutta for three generations and several of its male members have served the Calcutta Police in high ranks.
According to some sources it was the “Police Connection” that saved the grave from being demolished, but its locational advantage (located at one corner) definitely played a role.
Today the grave contains two plaques, although there are place for three, on the walls and one on the floor. One contains the name of Edwin Roberson, Superintendent of Calcutta Police.
Sadly the only remains of the former North Park Street Cemetery lies is utter neglect and thousand of pedestrians walk past it every day without knowing its existence.
Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple, Kolkata (Calcutta)
A Piece of Myanmar (Burma) in the Heart of Kolkata (Calcutta)
As I climbed the dimly lit staircase of Kolkata’s (Calcutta’s) only Mayanmarese (Burmese) Buddhist Temple a few lines of Amitav Ghosh’s best selling novel The Glass Palace flashed in my mind.
“Rajkumar’s favorite haunt was a small Buddhist temple in the centre of the city…. They would make their way across town on a bus and get off at the stop for the Eden Hospital. They’d climb up the grimy marble stairs and when they reached the top, they would step into a hall that seemed to be a world away from its surroundings: full of light, perfumed with scent of fresh flowers…. “
Rajkumar, literally meaning prince, the principle character of Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Glass Palace was by no means a prince. In the first chapter of Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh descrbes Rajkumar as “His name meant prince, but he was anything but princely in appearance.”
As my memory wondered through the pages of The Glass Palace I made my way to the top floor of the building housing the small and beautiful shrine. Straight in front of me was the statue of Lord Buddha dressed in golden attire with is gleaming white face.
The Maynmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple is located on 10 A Eden Hospital Road, next to the horse mounted statue of Rana Pratap, just off the Central Avenue. The two boards on the no descriptive three storied building are the only evidence of the Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple in Kolkata (Calcutta).
I have passed the building numerous time and have photographed it from the outside but never managed to get inside as it perennially remained under lock and key. Every since I read The Glass Palace by Amitabha Ghosh about a year back, the Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple has been my most sort after place in my explore Calcutta itinerary.
The Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple of Kolkata (Calcutta) was established in 1928 by U San Min and the building was purchased for Rs 47,000. It was called the Burma Buddhist Dharmmasala which later came to be known as the Myanmar Buddhist Temple. Today the shrine is located on the top floor of the three storied building. The ground floor is let out to raise funds for the maintenance of the temple while the first floor serves as a guest house or dharmasala for the Burmese monks visiting the city.
Recently Arnab Banerjee, a fellow Calcutta (Kolkata) enthusiast informed me that the Maynmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple remains open every day in the evening and photography is allowed inside. The very next weekend I was out to visit and shoot one of my most sort after places in Kolkata (Calcutta).
I entered the building through a entrance heavily encroached by hawkers. A winding staircase laid me to the top floor. Two Burmese monks welcomed me into the small but elegant temple, in spite of a severe language barrier it was definitely a very warm welcome.
The alter contains a magnificent statue of Lord Buddha with a glowing white face is covered with gold leaves. The statue is seated on a golden throne and dressed in golden attire complete with a golden crown and umbrella.The alter is also decorated with several other statues, coloured candles, incense sticks and last but not least Chinese made flashing lights.
Sadly a sheet of glass in front of the statue makes photography extremely difficult, only option is to shoot from the small openings on either side and it was all I did to capture one of the most magnificent Buddha statue of Calcutta (Kolkata).
Please seeAmitav Ghosh’s Twit on the Kolkata’s Historic Burese temple.
- The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
- Lone Monk preserve Temple in Kolkata
- Trespass threat to Myanmar Temple
- Special thanks to Arnab Banerjee a fellow Calcutta (Kolkata) enthusiast who provided me with valuable information on the Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple, Kolkata (calcutta).
This article on Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist Temple, Calcutta (Kolkata) has been twitted by Amitav Ghosh.
Photo Publication – VI
The Telegraph, Calcutta
Dated 4th November, 2012
On 26th October 2012 the t2 Suppliment of The Telegraph, Calcutta carried an article ON Photowalks. The article covered various aspects of photowalking and also highlighted on the Photowalking clubs of Calcutta (Kolkata) like the Kolkata Photograpers Club (KPC) and Kolkata Weekend Shots (KWS).
The article also offered readers to send in their photowalks photos for publication, I immediately send in one of my photographs. On 29th and 31st October The Telegraph t2 published several of the reader’s photo but sadly my photo didn’t feature. in the list.
On 4 th November the Sunday issue of the t2 contained 4 pages of readers photographs, including my photograph of a bhisti(water carrier) making is way through the brick red buildings of Bow Barracks, in central Calcutta (Kolkata).
The caption read “With reference to the Photowalk article in t2, I am sending a photograph. Thisphoto was shot as part of The Fifth Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk (Calcutta edition). The photo shows a bhisti (water carrier) making his way through the red buildings of Bow Barracks.”
It also said a few lines about me “I have been Photowalking in Calcutta for over 15 years. First with a point and shoot film camera, then with a SLR and presently with a DSLR.”
12 Aug. 1930 – 12 Jan 1972
I knew it wont be easy, but when I entered the Bhabanipur Cemetery with my friend and fellow terracotta enthusiast Amitabha Gupta, I understood that it was far more difficult than I have imagined. It was like finding a needle in a bunch of haystack.
We were on the lookout for the grave of David McCutchion, famous for his pioneering work on the terracotta temples of Bengal. Had David McCutchion, who had succumbed to an attack of polio in Calcutta at the early age of 41 on January 12, 1972, been alive today, he would have turned 82 on August 12, 2012. Today his mortal remains lies in the Bhawanipur Cemetery in Kolkata.
Finding a single grave in a large cemetery is never a easy task. With almost no information about the graves location, Amitabha and I continued with a random search. Hours past with no results and we almost decided to call it a day when a grave decorated with small terracotta panels attracted our attention, and there it is – the grave of David McCutchion.
The grave is remarkable well maintained and from time to time the terracotta enthusiasts of Kolkata have paid tribute to the great man by putting up plaques in his grave. As I photographed the grave my mind flashed back at the remarkable man whose pioneering work inspired a generation of terracotta lovers, including me.
Soon after Independence, there arrived in Bengal a youngish, independent-minded academic from Britain, who, in spite of his pioneering work — a prodigious number of photographs and a series of writings on the terracotta Hindu temples of both West and East Bengal which he travelled extensively, patas, and Indo-Anglian literature, which was in a nascent stage then — is a forgotten name today.
In 1960 he moved to Calcutta and joined Jadavpur University as lecturer in comparative literature, and in 1964 he was promoted to the post of Reader, and thus began the most active period of his short life. Here he met Tarapada Santra, whose help he sought to decipher and interpret the plaques in terracotta temples.
Two men who often accompanied McCutchion on his tireless and unremitting quest were Tarapada Santra and Hitesranjan Sanyal, both of whom continued their research on Bengal’s built heritage and folk culture till their death. Both Sanyal and Santra addressed him as “Davidbabu”, a name not unsuited to a man who lived like a hermit and dressed at home like any middle-class Bengali in crushed pyjamas and bush shirt.
In his tribute to David McCutchion, Hitesranjan Sanyal had made an assessment of his exhaustive documentation of terracotta temples: “When David McCutchion started his work on Bengal temples there was not much information on them…. But the countless temples that were constructed all over Bengal between 15th century and early 20th century had not attracted much attention.… The material he collected is a huge repository of information — a data bank.”
Around 1960 McCutchion also met and developed an important friendship, based on a relaxed rapport, with Satyajit Ray, with whom he shared a taste for western baroque music. Ray asked him to help translate his film dialogue from Bengali into English, a task that helped inversely to increase McCutchion’s use of Bengali. It was while on shooting location in Birbhum district for Abhijan in 1962, that McCutchion developed a fascination for the brick temples scattered across the Bengal landscape. Over the next decade they became a passion; of categorising, conservation and documentation, driving his use of photography as a recording device. His photographic collection amounting to some 20,000 images (colour slides and b/w prints) was acquired by the V & A with copies held by the ‘International Centre for Study of Bengal Art (ICSBA)’. He also studied and collected the Bengali patua art, or scroll paintings of traditional artists, which developed out of the religious art surrounding the temples. This collection was later bequeathed to the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry.
Sadly McCutchion died prematurely at the age of 42, due to an attack of polio, leaving his work on terracotta temples incomplete but in the process inspiring a generation of terracotta lovers.
List of David McCutchion’s work:
- The Temples of Bankura District (Calcutta, Writers Workshop [c1967])
- Indian Writing in English: Critical Essays (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1969)
- Late Mediaeval Temples of Bengal: Origins and Classification (Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1972)
- The epistles of David-Kaka to Plalm’n [1960-1971]: the record of a friendship (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1972)
- Brick Temples of Bengal: From the Archives of David McCutchion, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), his research collected, interpreted and published by George Michell.
- Patuas and Patua Art in Bengal by David McCutchion and Suhrid K. Bhowmik, (Calcutta : Firma KLM, 1999).
- Unpublished Letters & Selected Articles by David J. McCutchion, (Calcutta : Monfakira Books, 2009).
- Davidbabu’s data bank by Soumitra Das, The Telegraph, dated 10 Jan. 2010
- Wikipedia entry on David McCutchion
St. James’ Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Jora Girja, Church with the twin spires
Also see my compilation of Calcutta (Kolkata) Churches
Jota Girja is an important bus – stop on the Lower Circular Road (Presently AJC Bose Road). The name originated from the twin spires of the St. James Church.
The original St. James Church of Kolkata (Calcutta) dates back to 1823 and was located in the Nebotola Lane, near Amherst Street. The foundation of the church was laid in 1820 by the first Bishop of Calcutta T F Middleton. The church was open to public by the Bishop Heber in 1823.
But the church had serious construction errors and soon started developing cracks and chunks of masonry soon started crushing down. The church authority were forced to close down the church in 1855.
The present building, sandwiched between the St. James’ and Pratt Memorial School, of the St. James’ Church dates back to 1868 and was designed by the East Bengal Railway Architect Walter B Granville, who also designed the Kolkata High Court, GPO and Calcutta University Senate Hall (the last one no longer exists).
Built in Gothic style the St. James’ Church or the Jora Girja is one of Kolkata’s elegant churches, with pointed Gothic arches on both its exterior and interior.
The twin spires, one of which contains a clock, is joined by a beautiful triangular pediment. The interior contains a long passageway leading to the alter.
But the star attraction of the St. James’ Church is the beautifully decorated black mahogany wood work at the ceiling. Something so durable, that even the termites of Kolkata have spared it for 146 years. But the termites haven’t spared the wooden floor of the second level. With the church crumbling again the parishioners finally decided to give it a face-lift.
Kolkata based conservation architect Manish Chakraborty was assigned the job of restoring the 146 year old St. James’ Church. The beautifully restored church was handed over to the parishioners of 11 December 2011. I was specially invited by Manish Chakraborty to photograph the St. James’ Church on the eve of the hand over.
- Mr. Manish Chakraborty, conservation architect.
- Swasat Kolkata by Nishitranjan Roy
List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)