REMEMBERING D.L.ROY                                                           Up

Emon deshti kothao khunjey paabe nako tumi/Shokol desher shera shey je amaar janmobhoomi…

Breathes there a bangali with soul so dead who has not felt strange stirrings deep within the heart and mind every time the strains of  Dhano dhannye pushpe bhora are heard? Gives Saare jahan se achha a run for one’s money!!

The creator of this uplifting, inspiring work was Dwijendralal Roy and West Bengal celebrated 150 years of the birth of D.L.Roy on 19 July 2012. A number of events were organized to mark the occasion. A cultural function was organised at Rabindra Sadan by the government of West Bengal. A seminar and another cultural programme was organised by the information and cultural affairs department at Rabindra Bhavan in Krishnagar.

The poet-playwright-musician remains uppermost in every Bengali's heart and mind for the 500 odd songs that crafted a genre - Dwijendrageeti - led by 'Banga aamar janani aamar' and 'Dhana dhanye'. This is perhaps what earned for him the sobriquet of 'Kabi Deshatma.' At the initiative of a group of artists who call themselves Dimension 4, about 75 Kolkatans started a 'prabhat pheri' with these very songs. From Triangular Park they wound their way down Rashbehari Avenue and by the time they came to a halt on Southern Avenue, their number had gone up to 150. There the mayor unveiled a fiberglass casting of D L Roy created by Dimension 4 and supported by KMC which has donated the land facing the Tollygunge Thana.

To keep alive the memory of the great poet plans for an attractive a new convention centre cum cultural complex, named the Dhana Dhanye Cultural Complex, at Alipore, were announced by the Chief Minister of the state. This cultural complex, to be commercially used for social and cultural programmes, will be of international standards and second after Science City.  A 3-acre plot has been identified beside the South 24-Parganas district magistrate’s bungalow. An auditorium on the lines of Science City will be set up in it. There will also be proper parking lots. The government is chalking out a detailed plan on the auditorium’s seating capacity and its architectural design.


The graceful Italian architecture of the Currency Building, on Old Courthouse Street, which was constructed in 1833 and was home to the currency department after 1868, hides a sorry tale of neglect. Built in the Italianate style with Venetian windows and ornate cast iron gates, porte-cochere and railings, this beautiful but derelict lady was originally the Agra Bank and then the Office of Issue and Exchange of Government Paper Currency. It later housed the Reserve Bank of India until 1937. Slated for demolition (and even partly destroyed), it has been saved from destruction and is now the subject of a long and very slow road to recovery under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India.

After its partial destruction by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), which wanted to put up a high-rise in the middle of Dalhousie Square, and thanks to sustained pressure from other government agencies, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and citizen bodies, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was officially put in charge of the 150-year-old building in the Italian Renaissance style in 2003. But ASI was given possession of it only in 2005.

First the mountains of debris behind the giant wrought iron gate facing Telephone Bhavan were cleared, and the façade was repaired up to the first floor. The top floors and the terrace of the massive building had become infested with a forest of weeds. These parasites, once visible from all the roads that encircle it, have been removed. Scaffolding was put up inside and outside the structure.

This year, rooms in the eastern (RN Mookerjee Road side) and western wings (facing Laldighi) have been repaired, and the transformation is remarkable. The gigantic arches, partially-demolished, are whole once again, and look even more dramatic in contrast with portions yet untouched.

Bimal Bandopadhyay, the Superintending Archaeologist of Calcutta circle, says Currency Building is top priority for ASI and there is a proposal to repair the damaged staircase this year. Over the next three years, the ground floor facing Laldighi, rooms and corridor will be repaired along with the upper storeys and the exterior. It has not yet been decided how Currency Building will be used after its restoration is complete.

Now the work on the side of Mango Lane is in progress.

To mark the remarkable facelift that was long overdue and to continue the crusade to save other neglected relics of the Raj, a seminar was organized by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in November 2010. The setting for the seminar was the grand but decaying Currency Building. Speakers and audience sat inside a large hall flanked by arched passages on either side; natural light was streaming in through a gaping hole where there was once a central dome.

Yet another spectacular event was organized in December 2011 right inside the precincts of the Currency Building to commemorate the progress of the renovation work. In cooperation with the Norwegian Embassy, the Norwegian Art Group “Verdensteatret” presented their Art installation / Performance / Concert where modern technology met Kolkata’s old heritage.

The performance, enigmatically called And the Question Marks Started to Sing,  can be described as an art-machine played by musicians, performers and robots.  The Norwegian Embassy and Verdensteatret were proud that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) opened the Currency Building for this art project.

SOME ARE REBORN GREAT!                                                           Up

Located right in the middle of the city's business district, The Great Eastern Hotel was probably the most prominent buildings of its time. This 165 year old hotel has a fascinating story of its own. Established at a time when Calcutta was probably the most important city in India and bullock carts and horse drawn carriages were the only vehicles on the streets to today when cars and buses pass this building which, before being closed for renovation in 2005 was the longest continuously operating hotel in Asia. Covering a space of five acres this majestic hotel was established during the British Raj when an Englishman, David Wilson decided to enter the hotel business. Thus was established the Great Eastern Hotel in 1840,then known as the Auckland Hotel, named after the Governor General of that time, Lord Auckland. Locally known as the Wilson Hotel this building started out with a hundred rooms and a department store on the ground floor.

The Old

To know what the hotel must have been like when it was established can be found in Rudyard Kipling's short story "City of Dreadful Night". According to him the Great Eastern hotel hummed with life throughout its hundred rooms. The doors slammed merrily and people from all walks of life frequented this fancy building. The hotel was crowded with Englishmen and sitting down at the dinner table one could hear the clatter of many a knife and fork. All other hotels of the city were patrolled by Indian policeman but this hotel alone was patrolled by a British policeman which according to the author was an indication of the people who frequented this place. Rudyard Kipling also mentions that he could not imagine coming to the city and staying anywhere else. So grand was this hotel in the nineteenth century.

The New

Besides Rudyard Kipling, this hotel has housed many famous guests such as Russian leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin. It has also been visited by the likes of Mark Twain, Dave Brubeck, cricketer Frank Worell and even Queen Elizabeth the second and possibly even Ho Chi Minh.It was a favourite for the many Japanese and Koreans who visited it and began to be known also as the 'Japani hotel'. It also had notable board members such as the president of the Indian National Congress, W.C Bonnerjee. Even its kitchens controlled by the Baruahs of Chittagong were something that was talked about.

A View of the Interiors

This hotel was also called Jewel of The East as it was the first hotel in the country that was illuminated by electric lights. This hotel was extremely famous for it's New Year parties held exclusively in rooms 208-211.It is also said that when people passed the bakery of the hotel they could would get the smell of baking and vanilla.

The decline of the hotel started in the 1970's with the bickering of partners lead to a financial crisis. When it seemed like the hotel was going to be closed, the management was taken over by the Government of West Bengal under Siddharta Shankar Ray. The Government however failed to bring about any change and the hotel finally went under the hammer and was bought for 52 crore by The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group in 2005.After spending 260 crore on restoration the hotel was finally opened on the 19th of November as The Lalit Great Eastern, with our very own chief minister Mamata Banerjee present at the reopening ceremony and marking the occasion in her unique way - by executing a painting at the inaugural function. The new hotel has 244 rooms and suites, a bakery, spa and swimming pool and even though it has been modernized, it still retains its Victorian charm and promises to be just as majestic as it was. Pieces of original furniture and other paraphernalia that belonged to the heritage property have been retained in the new one. All 195 room and other facilities are likely to be opened by December.

Kolkatans and non-Kolkatans alike are ecstatic about this new achievement. While Ankit Agarwal, event manager at Paartyckles, believes that the hotel has restored Calcutta's heritage, Harsh Mishra, computer engineer, currently pursuing MBA at Xavier's Institute Of Management Bhubaneswar, says, "The idea is very appealing. It's similar to the Radisson hotel in Connaught Place Delhi. The architecture has been maintained well and being a heritage site just adds to the charm." Even people far away from this field, like English teacher Ajita Sircar say that, "I greatly appreciate this step taken to revive Kolkata's heritage. If this was done more often, we could bring back old Calcutta's glory."

For Kolkata, the reopening of the iconic hotel is a moment the city has awaited for a very long time for the crumbling heritage of India can only be rescued if more such projects are carried out. The closing of The Great Eastern Hotel was the end of an era, and the reopening may well be the beginning of one.

Prakriti Chopra
(with inputs from Himadri Agarwal)