Agra town, India

Friday, 3 December 2010

Spectres of a lost city

Kolkata's look is a rough smash of ancient and modern; one part faded memory, another part building site - see every large metropolis here. The architecture certainly reflects the wealth of religious and social diversity in residence.

Character-devoid white concrete multi-story boxes mix it up with richly rainbow hued mosque; pedestal's flourished with marble and stone iced gems. From the dregs of the night emerges the prayer cry of an imam; singular voice moves through the early quiet gathering with it the bright elements of the new day. Tiled shrines to the Hindu deities appropriate street corners, bedecked with garlands of celebratory orange and yellow marigolds to honour Ram and Sita, phallic stone to symbolize the creator, nurturer and destroyer Shiva.

Look down another packed thoroughfare and glimpse a catholic spire. For the presence of these as well as the numerous green areas and broken down mansion-houses, you can look to the British connection. As capital once-over to the British Imperialists, flaky remains of their tenure are strewn all around the central areas - in particular closely clustered around BBD Bagh.

The expanse of parkland wedged tight to the river Hooghly’s eastern bank - the vast Maidan is a Raj leftover complete with numerous gents club for everything. So too are the rotting exoskeletons of ex-administrative and governmental buildings wrecked and semi-abandoned.

60 years of decay has visibly tamed the lion's roar; wild bush sprouts unchecked from the fluted pastel pink balconies and rows of previously elegant windowpanes are cut through with potholes. The grimy fascia of recent additions tacked hastily to the grand foyers denigrates the tired buildings a few yards further into the abyss. The best areas to catch a glimpse of vintage Raj are top end Park St, near Park St cemetery, Royd St, Elliot St and the imperial sounding Old Court St.

Old habits die hard and though the tangle of streets and alleys have long since shed their imperial tinged appendage, the ghosts linger on. Ask a resident where BBD Bagh is and you may well be shown the way to Dalhousie Square.

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