I have always believed Kolkata to be one of the best cities in the world and the one reason why I said that is becoz of its old grand houses and aristocratic mansions. Kolkata’s grand old structures were the home for Zamindars (rich businessmen) of the city. When we talk about beautiful large houses and aristocratic mansions, southern and northern part of the city comes to mind. Locations such as Chitpur, Shovabazar, Dalhousie, Park Circus, Khidderpore, Bakulbagan, Hindustan Park, Sarat Bose Road, Paddapukur Road to name just a few where Kolkatans have lived and still living has ageing two or three storeied houses, which catches the eye and nothing less than a historic precinct.
These structures are remarkably distinct and unique to Kolkata, must be showcased to the World, just as Prague and other cities across the globe showcase their architecture and neighborhood. There are couple of benefits if we do that; firstly, Kolkata will attract lots of International visitors who would like to see and research these structures representing the culture of Kolkata, some of them might end up writing a book or article on these properties and localties, which will make these buildings more popular attracting tourists. Kolkata can then become one of the best tourist spots for the travelers heading for India; secondly, if revenue can be generated through tourism, the government would also pay attention to save these valuable historic communities; and finally, this will create more awareness among the local population to save and preserve their own heritage.
As a child, I remember travelling to different places in the north as well as south side of Kolkata with my father, specially during Durga Puja and Kali Puja. Suburbs of Kolkata has similar huge historical mansions and houses too and are equally beautiful.
At the beginning of 19th century, the time when the glory of Zamindars started to fade and British began takingcontrol, these big mansions became the home for traders of the East India Company. Every Building, every Mansion tells its own story. These structures are the pride of Bengal, however most of these houses are crumbling today. The mansions deteriorate as newer generation struggle to keep up with maintenance cost. Families have moved to different cities, and countries for reasons known and unknown. Many of these Mansions looks like haunted houses. The Government seems to have no interest in saving these historical and precious heritage buildings, supposed to be protected for the future generations, by intelligently using them for revenue and employment generation for its people. But is a silent spectator. Serious thought and proactive steps must be taken to save these remarkable architectures from destruction and save them from the onslaught of greedy real-estate players. Its better to be late than never, but too late is as bad as being never!
Looks like very soon these historical communities will disappear, making room for giant malls, vanishing forever, to be seen only in Satyajit Ray’s movies and books, as a proof of existing once upon a time.