Calcutta is the place where the West first truly
encountered the East. Founded in the 1690s by east India company merchants
beside the Hoogly River, Calcutta grew into both India's capital during the Raj and
the second city of the British Empire. Named the City of Palace for its grand
neo-classical mansions, Calcutta was the city of Clive, Hastings, Macaulay and
Curzon. It was also home to extraordinary Bengalis such as Rabindranath
Tagore, the first Asian Noble laureate, and Satyajit Ray, among the geniuses of
Above all, Calcutta is a city of extremes, where exquisite
refinement rubs shoulders with carse commercialism and savage political
violence. Krishna Dutta explores these multiple paradoxes, giving personal
insight into Calcutta's unique history and modern identity as reflected in its
architecture, cinema and music.
City of Artists: Modern India's cultural capital;
home city of Tagore, ray and Jamini Roy; College Street and the annual book fair;
a city of learning and books.
City of Durga and Kali: Kumortuli's holy images
and the flamboyant annual Durga Puja; Kalighat Temple, and Kali, Calcutta's
divine and terrible protectress.
City of Palaces: Grand colonial monuments
and crumbling mansions of the Bengali babus; a mix of Palladin, Baroque,
Rococo, Gothic, Hindu and Islamic architecture.
Krishna Dutta was born and
brought up in Calcutta. She has translated Bengali literature and written several
books on Rabindranath Tagore.
From the Back of the Book
Other forms of nascent Bengali
nationalism were less genteel. As the balance of indo-British trade swung in
favour of imports to India over exports to Britain, Bengalis became increasingly
perturbed. In 1861 a small group of them launched a Society for the Promotion of
National Feeling, which advised Bengalis to speak and write Bengali not English,
to wear the dhoti rather than western clothes, to eat Bengali food, to take up
indigenous games and exercises such as yoga, and to depend on traditional
medicine such as the Ayurvedic system. An ardent Brahmo nationalist,
Nabagopal Mitra, started the Hindu Mela, an annual cultural-cum-political festival
promoting traditional village handicrafts to boost national pride. Although the aims
of the festival were initially somewhat confused-it once included a specially
commissioned "nationalist" painting "depicting the people of India in supplication
before the figure of Britannia"! The festival became a fixture in the calendar and
helped to prepare the way for the Swadeshi movement after 1900.
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