From the Jacket
The Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta discovers the old areas of Calcutta, where heritage houses and history fill every crowded lane and secret courtyard. Languishing in another time and place, at the end of narrow lanes and behind untidy shop-fronts, Calcutta’s rich heritage waits to be discovered.
The ‘Great Houses’ of Calcutta are an important but forgotten part of Calcutta’s architectural history. While much has been written and photographed on the British colonial architecture and lifestyle, very little has been done on the indigenous equivalent.
By focusing on Calcutta’s heritage mansions and palaces, the Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta makes an important contribution to the architectural history of both Calcutta and India.
About the Author
Australian born Joanne Taylor is a Sydney-based scholar, writer and photographer with a passion for Indian architecture and culture. She has written for numerous publications and studied Indian history at the University of Sydney. Joanne first visited India in 1971, which left an indelible impression on her. In the Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta, she achieves her aim of showing another side of the city of Calcutta; a city she feels leaves a lasting impact on al who embrace it.
The ‘Great Houses’ of Bengalis merchant princes have been largely forgotten and rarely photographed. Many of the interiors have remained the same for over 200 years. The ‘Great Families’ experienced enormous changes in fortune over the centuries, from great wealth and power during colonial times to dramatic economic and social upheaval after Independence. For the remaining occupants their ancestral homes are bittersweet symbols of family pride, impossible to restore, or sometimes even maintain.
By turning the lens to a neglected aspect of colonial Calcutta, Joanne Taylor captures the city’s Great Houses’ as they are today.
Looking at and photographic old houses has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. In addition to this is my ongoing love of India, beginning in 1971 with my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal by moonlight. This passion is due not only to my innate curiosity, but also the pleasure I feel when discovering an old mansion or a ruined palace. The mysteries that lie beyond a padlocked gate or an overgrown garden nourish my romantic tendencies. With photography I can record my discoveries, leading me to wonder further on the lives and histories of the families who manage to remain in such grand, evocative home and the treasures they contain.
Imagine my joy in discovering the old areas of North Calcutta, where heritage houses and history fill every crowded lane and secret courtyard. Languishing in another time and place, at the end of narrow lanes and behind untidy shop-fronts, Calcutta’s rich heritage waits to be discovered.
A book like this is in part the result of visiting Indian houses, but finding and photographing these buildings is not all that is necessary. Historical information is needed, not just from libraries, but also from the homeowners themselves. I needed to make contact with owners and seek their permission to photograph. However, everywhere I was made to feel welcome, which invariably led to wonderful encounters with friendly, hospitable people, who generously shared their family history and allowed me to photograph their homes.
By focusing on a neglected phase of colonial history this volume will show another side of Calcutta. While much has been written and photographed on the city’s British architecture and lifestyle, very little has been done by British or Indian writers on the indigenous equivalent.
By opening the doors to the homes of former rajahs and merchants we may imagine what life was like for a people who enjoyed British patronage and enormous wealth. Generations of colonial rule has resulted in an architectural style unique to Calcutta. I have endeavoured to highlight this hybrid architectural style of the ‘Great Houses’ and their condition today, striving to exist in a city that seems oblivious to their fate. They are an important thread in the tapestry of Calcutta’s history.
More practically, I have attempted to show a cross section of houses to exemplify the many and varied styles of architecture and the lifestyles that in some cases continue today. Armed with a list of addresses, I sought out various sites, often to find the house hand long since collapsed. At other times I was led by well-meaning citizens to buildings they felt I should be looking for, often well-trodden tourist sites, shopping markets and even classical dancing schools.
At times it seems Calcutta ‘found’ me, especially when my photo documenting seemed to take on obsessional proportions. Whatever happened I the process, it seems very fitting and worthwhile that my interests and passions would result in a book focusing on part of India’s important heritage, in particular the ‘Great Houses’ of Calcutta.
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