Any city historian can speak at length on how the heritage of the past dwells symbiotically in Kolkata, along with modernism. The people of Kolkata enjoy the luxury of living in a land so immersed in history; people here, if given a chance, can relive the past any time they wish to. Writers’ building, Metropolitan Building, Indian Museum, Old Mint on Strand road, Sovabazar Rajbari – the list is never ending.
Although they are the epitome of architecture standing on strong foundations and exemplifying artistic excellence, with the passage of time their former glory has been replaced with a worn-out, rugged look. Several initiatives by the government, to renovate these heritage buildings in the city, aim at breathing a new lease of life into the dying heritage. Conservation of these structures is equivalent to preserving history. Not only in Kolkata but all over Bengal there are old structures of importance. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation, with the recommendation of the Heritage Conservation Committee, has chalked out a comprehensive list of all the buildings in need of renovation. The list is given here.
The mint or currency building which started its operations in 1824 and continued till 1971 is an important heritage site on Strand road resembling the Temple of Minerva, Athens. Renovation works are going on to restore this Old Silver Mint House, as it was called by the British.
Metropolitan Building, built in 1905 in Baroque style, stands tall at the intersection of Chowringhee Road and S.N. Banerjee Road. This building housed Asia’s biggest departmental store, the Whiteway, Laidlaw & Co, while the rest of the building had flats and offices, commonly referred to as the Victoria Chambers. Post Independence Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. assumed ownership and hence the name. The feel of the old departmental store still lingers in the ground floor area, which now houses the Central Cottage Industries Corporation Limited and also a private merchandise store. The building, which was renovated in the recent past, boasts of a refreshing new look while retaining the earlier grandeur.
2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the Indian Museum, for which the building is getting a much needed makeover. The renovation is in progress, and is scheduled to be completed before the bicentenary celebrations.
Writers’ Building, a 236 year old heritage structure which also serves as the West Bengal Secretariat, will also get a makeover soon. The renovation project, a brainchild of the Chief Minister of Bengal, is aimed at maintaining the heritage value of the grand structure. Build in Greco-Roman style, the building got this name as it originally served as the office for writers of the East India Company.
According to Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra, “All statutory bodies relevant to the heritage issue will be consulted and their inputs taken." He also emphasized that Writers’ Building will be made as environmental-friendly as possible. According to him, the building, which is already vulnerable to fire hazards, faces other problems such due to unplanned alterations to the original structure.
Sovabazar Rajbari, founded by Raja Nabakrishna Deb of the Sovabazar royal family was a regular haunt of the likes of Lord Robert Clive, Governor General Warren Hastings, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda and many other renowned personalities at one point of time. It is a major attraction during the Durga Puja and turns into a haven for adda where the history blends in with the festive spirit.
Sister Nivedita's 115-year-old house at 16A Bosepara Lane in Bagbazar lies in shambles now. Years of neglect has turned this place of historic importance into a graveyard. It took an initiative from the Chief Minister of West Bengal to impress upon the Union Ministry of Culture to sanction funds for the resurrection of this heritage site.
History coexists with the future in Kolkata. If one looks around, many untold stories from the past will unfurl themselves before our eyes. All they need is preservation.
With the ongoing initiatives by the government as well as the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, we can safely conclude that Kolkata’s heritage is in safe hands.