• Multilogue Collective

Kolkata. The City Lives In Her Legacy - The Old Owl's Tale.

While strolling in the streets of Kolkata, one can notice these ultra-modern buildings just popping out through their wonderfully ‘photoshopped’ hoardings. Alongside these reside many Victorian residences which are in a distorted condition, crying out loud about their inherent culture and the legacy of the upper middle-class Bengali babus of the 18th or 19th century.

Kolkata, a city in its decline, once a capital now dwells with global yet parochial outlook. The city lives in the history as much it lets it get rusted and molded with dust. Be it the unique landmarks, or the frescos and the tall columns of those old buildings. Be it the smell of dampness coming out of old dilapidated spaces or that faint Rabindra Sangeet being sung in one of that old radio sets. The city is still stuck in time. This time warp is what makes this city so lovely. There is a sense of living in a permanent nostalgia, giving you an audacity of belonging to a time you were not born into.But now?

Globalization has taken over!

Kolkata earned its fame as a port- city and was capital of British Indian Empire until 1911. It has seen quite a progressive period in 19th and early 20th century with its culture, education, music and literature. Then the problem of cluttered growth and migration started, the city certainly was not built to tackle an inflow of refugees of such magnitude.


A Kolkata Street ( Anish Chakroborty)

Modernity is seen as the period in which ordinary and middle-class houses were marked by a particular idea of space, ‘adda’ (colloquial hangout) gave rise to long porches and balcony, participate in ‘para’ (neighborhood) activity led to these box grilled windows , they introduced a mix of European and Bengali architectural characteristics and art decor.

While strolling in the streets of Kolkata, one can notice these ultra-modern buildings just popping out through their wonderfully ‘photoshopped’ hoardings. Alongside these reside many Victorian residences which are in a distorted condition, crying out loud about their inherent culture and the legacy of the upper middle-class Bengali babus of the 18th or 19th century.


Photography by Anish Chakroborty

Photography by Anish Chakroborty

In the absence of government incentives, family feuds, increase in population and unemployment, thousands of Kolkata houses with red-oxide floors and green-shuttered windows, with their spacious porches, intricate cornices, elaborate wrought-iron grills, and open terraces are being destroyed.

These houses gave Kolkata its unique charm and reflected the amazing architectural characteristics of the city, and now the owners prefer to let the heritage homes decay rather than spend their own money on upkeep, which is understandably an expensive task.

They are being burdened by the mad rush of multi-storey buildings and concrete chaos. The city is filled with anonymous high-rise buildings as a spaceship in the midst of narrow lanes, bustling bazaars of working-class people, for whom such changes in their neighbourhoods are beyond their understanding, and in the rush to make ends meet they still feel uncomfortable in these steel and glass high rises, having little time to worry about these ‘secondary problems’.

A lost image!


Image of the city is continuously changing for good? Or is it?

It was witnessed on Elgin Road (Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani) and Shakespeare Sarani. Hindustan Park and Sarat Bose Road. Lake Terrace and Old Ballygunge also found their old world charm giving way to the new.

Current globalization and this mall culture aspires to lifestyle revolution, which includes necessarily ‘widening of road', ‘construction of footpath on both the sides of road', and most importantly planned construction , but briefly all it does is ensures some permanent out of the context changes in the urban geographic which have little relation to the people, culture or the taste.

The rest remains the same.

Does heritage bother the present generation? LCD screens are giving them way more.


Photography by Anish Chakroborty

Architect Partha Ranjan Das suggests that buyers must be incentivized by the introduction of a transfer of development rights. In other words, he says, “While the buyers (of heritage properties) will not be able to make changes to these old houses, they can transfer the floor area ratio to other projects that they are developing in other localities.”

Present governing body TMC has come into power after 34 years of leftist government. Apparently, they are trying hard to get the city back into its glory. Considering Kolkata was the cultural hub of India, beautification of the city and display of public art is taken very seriously. But nothing seems to be working in a correct way.

Writer, musician Amit Chaudhuri who runs a campaign (www.cal-legacies.com) to save our memories and to cherish its grandeur when asked to give his comments, says “Destroying these buildings is to destroy one of the chief characteristics of this city’s history of modernity. Kolkata is a modern city and these houses are emblems of the city’s modernity… they are as important as the painting, literature, and music of Bengal.”

“Don’t forget to eat your lunch and make some trouble” - Banksy, Graffiti artist

So is heritage and retaining the image of the city important?

What do we do?

Do we give in to this venture of experimental modernism or we try and learn our way through its old tales and evolve out to be once a capital state?


Photography by Peter Velter

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