Sunday, 18 March 2018

Forgotten History: The Gunpowder Magazine of Achipur

In Achipur, near Budge Budge, approximately 33 km to the southwest of Calcutta (Kolkata), stands an abandoned gunpowder magazine with an interesting story behind it. On google maps, the area is currently marked as “Birlapur Riverside Picnic Spot” and locals call it the Achipur “barood-ghar” (barood – gunpowder, ghar – house). Veteran blogger Rangan Datta was the first to bring these abandoned structures to my notice. Trying to find details about them led to the uncovering of a wealth of information, but as is the norm with Bengal, there more questions than there are answers.


Thursday, 1 March 2018

Serampore's Danish Tavern Re-opens

Serampore’s Denmark Tavern was formally inaugurated on the 28th of February, 232 years after it was first opened by British innkeeper James Parr. Part of the “Serampore Initiative” of the National Museum of Denmark, the restoration of the Denmark Tavern took 3 years and was led by the National Museum of Denmark, INTACH, MASCON and Continuity Architects. Manish Chakraborti was the restoration architect with inputs from Danish architect Flemming Aalund. Ambassadors from 5 Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland attended the inauguration ceremony. With the restoration project making news around the world, a little-known chapter of India’s history is also highlighted.


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Ladakh Travelogue Part 7: Palaces & Monasteries of Leh

We had spent just over a week in Jammu and Kashmir. Harsha, Prasenjit, Ananya, Sreyashi and I, had been to Srinagar, Kargil, Drass, Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake and were now at the end of our trip. We would spend our last day in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, exploring the monasteries and palaces in the neighbourhood and shopping.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Agra's Roman Catholic Cemetery and the Red Taj Mahal

Anyone unfamiliar with the early period of Christianity in India will likely be shocked upon first entering the Roman Catholic Cemetery of Agra, because it does not resemble any of the better-known colonial era cemeteries, such as the South Park Street Cemetery of Calcutta (Kolkata). Here in Agra, with its Mughal legacy, the tombs are built of sandstone more than marble, and their design makes them appear more Muslim than Christian. Added to this is the fact that inscriptions on many of the headstones are in Persian script. Furthermore, if it were not for the crosses atop these tombs, it would be difficult to identify them as actually Christian.


Tuesday, 2 January 2018

My Publications in 2017

2017 was the year where I ventured into writing for publications in a big way, concentrating mostly on online publications, as opposed to print. I must thank Devjyot Ghoshal of Quartz who got me started down this road. He emailed me expressing interest in republishing my article about the “invisible cemeteries of Kolkata”, which was re-run by Scroll. I then approached Scroll asking them if they would be interested in the kind of stuff I write for, and to my surprise, they said yes. I also must thank the wonderful people at Live History India, from whom I have done a couple of articles this year and hope to do more in the future.

Here’s a list of articles I did for publications this year –

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Nimtita Rajbari: The Jalsaghar House

The boy stood by the east window, waiting patiently. He had missed his chance earlier. When he had seen the black Landmaster going past his school and towards his house, he had paid it no heed. It was only when he came back home that he was told who the Landmaster was ferrying. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He had been waiting at that window ever since the family Jeep had left for the station to fetch their famous visitor. It was mid-February in the dusty little Bengal village. The once grand mansion was now in ruins and stood perilously close to the river that separated India from East Pakistan. It was 1956. It would be another 15 years before Bangladesh would be born in a bloodbath.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Balmer Lawrie & Co., Clive Street

Calcutta’s central business district around Dalhousie Square has two things in abundance. One, Scottish firms set up during the Raj, but now continuing under Indian management, and two, heritage buildings, belonging to the aforementioned Scottish firms, approximately half of which are in a woeful state. If one were only to look at the names – Mackinnon Mackenzie, Turner Morrison, Shaw Wallace, Graham, these are all Scottish names. The Scots were the merchants of the Raj and they made their fortune in the imperial capital. What sets Balmer Lawrie & Co. apart from the rest is the fact that it has survived and prospered much better than its neighbours. The head office on Clive Street (now N.S. Road), therefore, is also one of the best maintained in the Dalhousie area. The legendary Calcutta firm has a rich history filled with many fascinating stories, beginning with how the firm got its name.


Monday, 6 November 2017

Taj Mahal by Moonlight: A Magical Experience

Had it not been for my friend Krishnendu Kes of Maavalan Travels, I would never have gone for the moonlight viewing of the Taj Mahal. India’s number one tourist attraction, its most famous monument is open every day of the week, except Fridays, from sunrise to sunset. But on nights when there is a full moon, and two nights before and after, a special nighttime viewing of the Taj is permitted, for a very limited number of people. But the reviews of this seemed mostly to be negative and there was not a single decent photograph of this on the entire internet. This blog even mentioned that getting a decent photograph of the Taj Mahal by moonlight was almost impossible. So, in spite of being in Agra for the full moon, I had decided to drop my plans for the moonlight viewing until I had a word with Krishnendu, who assured me that not only was the experience magical, but also that he strongly recommended it to all his foreign clients. But, it was already late, the number of tickets were limited, and the tickets could only be obtained from the ASI office on Mall Road in Agra. I did not have the time to get the tickets and wasn’t even sure they were available, but Krishnendu arranged for tickets for the following night’s viewing to be delivered to my hotel! And just like that, I was off for an experience that few people will ever have.

The Taj Mahal by moonlight. Canon 5D Mark IV + 24-105 IS II L @ 55mm. f/8, ISO 100, 80-second exposure.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Blood of the Faithful: An Outsider's Experience of Muharram in Calcutta

Every year as Muharram approaches, Calcutta (Kolkata) radio veteran Mir Afsar Ali must remind his non-Muslim listeners not to wish their Muslim friends a “happy Muharram” because it is not a happy occasion. For most non-Muslims in India, Islamic rituals and practices in general, and Muharram, in particular, remains a complete mystery. People’s reaction to Muharram commemorations is tinged with fear. So this year, I set out to experience and document Muharram commemorations in my hometown, Calcutta (Kolkata).

The gathering at Gol Kothi, listening to the story of Karbala


Saturday, 30 September 2017

Durga Puja 2017: My Top 10

This year I set out to cover 100 Durga Pujas in Kolkata. It was more an endurance test than anything else as the heat and the humidity were quite unrelenting. But, I did manage to photograph 100 pujas by Navami morning, the penultimate day of the festival, and now, as Bengalis prepare to tearfully bid adieu to their beloved Goddess, here are my top 10 favourite Durga Pujas of 2017, in no particular order.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

12 Stunning But Lesser-Known Hoysala Temples of Karnataka

While tourists flock in large numbers every month to the Chennakeshava Temple of Belur and the Hoysaleshwara Temple of Halebid, there are exquisite Hoysala era temples in hundreds of villages scattered around Karnataka that receive few or no visitors. The Hoysala Empire was extremely prosperous and the kings and rich individuals across the empire commissioned stone temples that have survived invasions and the ravages of time. In 1978, Dutch professor Gerard Foekema visited Karnataka for the first time. Over the next few years, through repeated trips, he was able to thoroughly document every Hoysala era temple still surviving. While there are some 100 temples or temple ruins still in existence, for the tourist, a visit to a dozen or so of these temples will prove interesting. But to understand Hoysala temples, we need a bit of background on the Hoysalas.

Sculptures on the exterior of the Lakshminarayana Temple, Hosaholalu

Saturday, 19 August 2017

No, Suhrawardy Avenue is not named after "The Butcher of Bengal"

Jaideep Mazumdar’s article in Swarajyamag on August 16th carried the sensational heading – 'It’s A Crying Shame That ‘The Butcher Of Bengal" Has A Road Named After Him In Kolkata”. Swarajya has been publishing one-sided, inflammatory articles for some time now, but in this case, the article is factually incorrect, because Suhrawardy Avenue is NOT named after Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the last Prime Minister of Bengal, but after Sir Hassan Suhrawardy, the first Muslim Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Basu Bati, Bagbazar

Basu Bati on Bagbazar Street in North Calcutta (Kolkata) deserves to be known as one of the most unique heritage buildings in the entire city. Its architecture is in a style that is not seen anywhere else and its history is rich and eventful. But while few have stepped into its hallowed portals, fewer still know its full story.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co., Strand Road

Inchcape House, known to most as the Mackinnon Mackenzie Building and today as Diamond Heritage, is one of the most prominent buildings on Strand Road and part of Calcutta’s skyline visible from across the river. While the building is not as remarkable architecturally as some of the other buildings in the Dalhousie area, it is magnificent because of its staggering proportions and its history. Mackinnon Mackenzie’s story is another of the great Scottish success stories in Calcutta (Kolkata). It is also one of the rare buildings in the city that has been saved from complete oblivion.