For nearly forty years, I have had the pleasure of taking my foreign friends to various parts of the country, showing them around the richness of our cultural heritage. Kolkata always occupied a high place, given the fact that there were many buildings, colonial, art-deco etc, which had merged many architectural styles, Greek, Roman, Dutch, Danish, French, Armenian, English et al.
The last years of the left front regime saw many old buildings demolished and grotesque concrete monsters emerging, changing the Kolkata’s landscape forever. Apparently, the need for funds forced political parties to tweak the heritage rules to let promoters amok. The trend has only intensified with the present government, the Corporation and Municipalities showing scant respect towards maintaining Heritage structures intact.
Heritage structures, often occupied by govt. departments suffer the most, like a minor gang raped. Betel stains on the walls, urinals and wash rooms with obnoxious filth and stench, rickety stairs etc. I saw on the other side of Ganges a beautiful Dutch Heritage mansion converted as the Presidency Commissioner’s Bungalow! The bureaucracy somehow managed to extricate the building from the heritage list.
Bengalis are always fiercely passionate, be it about their countless famed freedom-fighters, , literary icons like Rabindra Nath Tagore or religious gurus like Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda or the many Nobel laureates with connection to the state. The community had just too many stalwarts in every field to be proud of, arrogant and possessive about, though the present generation may have drifted a lot and is dismembered from history.
Each old building tells a tale, leave a bit of history, to be relished by the future generations and one such old mansion was the Sarkee’s property, owned by Joyce Purdy and later after her demise, by her son David. It was a Regal structure, more like the State Bank of India’s Bungalow on Shakespere Sarani on the far end of the same lane that housed Purdy’s. Formerly called the Kenilworth and to avoid being misunderstood for another hotel in the same name on the other end of the same road, Purdy opted for a prefix ‘old,’ and the other ‘new.’
The old Kenilworth building was declared a heritage structure but had to yield to the insatiable hunger of the promoters thereafter, prompting a tweak in their heritage status and ball-hammers pounding the thick walls into rubble for the fear of court stays. I hear that a 35-storied concrete horn will rise on the bloodied heart of Kolkata, the Municipal Corporation making a kill, on and off records in the deal.
Save a few posts of lament on the social networks, Kolkatans seem to have forgotten all about this 1792 building and the need to preserve such historical legacies. One even quipped others to stop living in the past, consoling that the new 35 storied too will become a heritage building in the next 200 years!
RIP Purdy’s Inn aka Old Kenilworth! Pause dear Kolkatans and voice your dismay at the wanton destruction of history.
pic courtesy: The Telegraph