30 November, 2020

A Surface Encounter

A casual journalistic exercise collated into a book. At best, it's a perfunctory reminder to Bengalis that they've done themselves grave disservice by forgetting what they and their city are really all about.

A Surface Encounter

There is a view, forcefully articulated by a shrinking band of ex-colonials in London’s gentleman’s clubs, that Calcutta was created and lovingly nurtured by the British and systematically destroyed by Indians after Independence. It’s a perception I share, but with a small caveat: the city’s decline began in the mid-’60s, a period coinciding with Red ascendancy, the closure of Firpo’s and the demolition of the grand facade of the Bengal Club. By 1969, the towering Ochterlony Monument had been renamed Shahid Minar and the grand bronze statues of the men who made Calcutta uprooted from their pedestals and dumped in a god-forsaken corner of Barrackpore.

Till the 1950s, Calcutta straddled two vibrant cultures: the mercantile capitalism of Scots-dominated boxwallahs working out of Clive Street and the indolent paternalism of the bhadralok elite. This happy amalgam left its mark on the city. On the surface there was a "white town" and a "black town" but the reality was more intertwined. The West and the East fed on each other.

Taylor’s account of the...



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