27 July, 2021

The Walls Speak Calcatian

Indian, European influences coalesce seamlessly in old Calcutta, amid environs rarefied by an illustrious past

The Walls Speak Calcatian

The palaces and mansions of Calcu­tta’s old, ‘native’ quarter, or ‘Black Town’, were built from the second half of the 18th century through to the 19th, along the same time the British erected the mighty edifices of the seat of empire to the south. Zamindars built their townhouses there; others were constructed by traders who got enormously rich through trading with the East India Company. The facades of the grandest buildings were often built in the Doric, Ionic and Palladian styles, with more traditional interiors cen­­tred around a courtyard, complete with a place for worship (tha­­kur­­dalan). Such houses were crammed with priceless treasures imported from Europe, their gardens studded with neo-classical statuary; the owners led opulent, ‘decadent’ lives—money was thrown away on pigeon fights, pets’ ‘weddings’ and nautch-girls—‘Baboo culture’, too, is a byword for old Calcutta.

A century—or two—on, many of these mansions have aged gracelessly, but...

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