The day started real early, even though it was a Sunday the work at home was no less. It started with a heritage walk at around 7.30 in the morning followed by other engagements and finally it came to Jane’s Walk. By now I was really tired but I somehow convinced myself to push on for the day as I knew it would be something really different.
The walk on this evening the 8th of May 2016 was in memory of Jane Jacobs. Before we go any further it’s important to get some details about her and why was this walk dedicated to her. Jane Jacobs (1916 – 2006) was a very famous Canadian / American journalist but apart from this, she was an activist. Throughout her life, she fought for the life of a neighbourhood. She believed in the essence of every neighbourhood and its own uniqueness that it holds on its own along with its people.
The walk started on time with a brief introduction from Iftekar Ahsan from Calcutta Walks. The crowd got to know why this walk was being done. Usually, during the walk, I stay at the back often trying to understand the pulse of the crowd and on this particular evening I could feel the excitement in each of the participants. Everyone was expecting something different. Honestly for me I have been to several walks in this part of the town and I was expecting something more than what I had already experienced.
This walk was everything to do with the city of Calcutta or Kolkata, personally, for me, I prefer to call it Calcutta as it has its own nostalgic value. Calcutta similar to its Canadian counterpart is considerably a new urban city when you compare with historic cities like Varanasi, Agra, Allahabad etc. even though its considerably new it has its own colonial past and this is unparalleled to any other city in India.
Similar to the walk were planning to take another group of walkers were scheduled to take the similar Janes Walk in Canada at Toronto. The two cities have similarities when we talk about urban lifestyle. Both Calcutta and Toronto were cities of arrival. Calcutta started getting its share of immigrants in 1800s whereas Toronto had its share in the 1900s. Both of these cities saw its own share of immigrants who slowly settled and called this place its home.
Our first unscheduled stop was in front of about a century old library, even though it was small in size but its presence as a part of the heritage of the city is worth every brick that it’s made of. Unfortunately as with most of these old institutions, this place remains locked for most time of the day and very few has ever seen it operating. This calls to the question to all heritage lovers playing an active role in the restoration of these heritage sites.
Next stop we head towards Bow Barracks, but before we enter we stopped in front of the Buddha Dharmankur Sabha. Calcutta at one point in history was at the forefront of Buddhist revival in the country, this was mainly due to the fact that Calcutta was the capital city of British India and this was the most well-connected city at one point.
Moving towards the famous Anglo-Indian town of Bow Barracks. This was actually a garrison built by the British to house the allied soldiers during World War 1, later the quarters were given to the local Anglo-Indians to settle. It took me back to my childhood when I was told many stories about this place by my grandmother. My great grandfather was in the Calcutta Police and during the British Raj this place was the hot bed of activities. Now, of course, this is a different Bow Barracks but the close-knit community feeling still remains.
Ironically this Bow Barracks is the same place where my grandmother was brought after she passed away to be embalmed at L. Madeira & Co. one of the only two private places in Kolkata where embalming are done. This time, when I walk passed the gate I could see the photograph of Mr. Madeira hung on the wall, another irony I guess.
Walking past Weston Street we stop for a cup of tea when it’s Calcutta the tea is obviously served in an earthen tea cup. These types of tea cups are exclusive to this part of the country and I have had many friends coming from other cities marvelling at the recycle properties of these cups.
Taking the right to Metcalfe Street we stop in front of the Zoroastrian Fire Temple better known as D B Mehta’s Zoroastrian Anjuman Atash Adaran. I feel no shame to admit that this was for the very first time that I had seen this fire temple. Decorated with fish Rangoli at the entrance which they consider as a symbol of good luck this temple was a place of peace, there was hardly anyone inside the only noise was our footsteps going around the different rooms.
I was even lucky to see a Parsi gentleman performing “Padyab-kusti” which is the ritual ablution followed by the ritual untying and retying of the Kusti (Sacred cord worn around the waist by Zoroastrians).
Just bang opposite to the Parsi Fire Temple is the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Jamatkhana. I was aware of the huge philanthropic work done by Aga Khan Foundation but never knew they had a heritage assembly point in this city. While entry is restricted we were lucky to find Mr. and Mrs. Sherif who are followers of the Aga Khan doctrine and were very kind enough to give us in impromptu brief about the work of the foundation and the basic concept of the sect.
Now we were taking the lanes and by lanes towards Tiretti Bazar the old Chinatown of the city. If you happen to be here in the morning hours you will be up for a treat with some authentic Chinese Breakfast. Unfortunately, it was late evening and we had other plans for the day.
There are quite a few Chinese Temples around this vicinity and the one nearest is Sea Ip Church. This is the place where for the first time I saw Chinese Newspaper which has been printed in my city of Calcutta. Yes, you have heard it right, Calcutta is perhaps the only city in this country with a Chinese Language newspaper. On the first floor, the century old temple has some fine example of Chinese porcelain works and of course the intricate wood carvings.
I knew that the board game Mahjong was very popular amongst the Chinese but never knew that there was a club in my city where players from the Chinese community come and play them in the evening. And since it was Sunday we could hear the clattering of Mahjong tiles. Without wasting any time I head straight to the first floor. It was a small room with around four Mahjong tables, however, there were only four players thus only one Mahjong table was used. The patrons of the club were quite helpful and let me photograph them playing the game and even paused their game for us to look around.
By now the whole group had walked a lot and it was time for us to connect to our Canadian counterpart via video chat. What a better place to do this than the Sabirs Hotel at Chandni Chowk. As we enjoyed the famous Chicken Rizalla we got connected to our Canadian counterpart at Toronto going through a similar Janes Walk through the neighbourhood discovering its own unique heritage.
The day ended but the memories will I guess linger forever, I would like to thank Iftekar Ahsan for leading the group to a fantastic evening and to Preeti Roychoudhury for inviting me to this walk.