When it comes to ancient buildings and intricate architectural ethos, the city of Kolkata stands no competition. These skyscraper tall buildings are characteristic of their Venetian windows, spacious balconies, cast iron rods, roomy terraces, red oxide floors etc. Huddled in the dingiest alleys of the city, these structures are often painted eye-strikingly red or green, that give even the laziest pedestrian a sight to brood over. In a city that once thrived on literature, theatre, film and music; these Victorian style houses provide a snapshot of the Kolkata we know of the past.
But such establishments are in danger of being eroded by the wave of gentrification. To developers, these buildings serve no other purpose other than being a part of Kolkata's heritage. They are badly looked after and are left in a state of utter destruction during the monsoon seasons. Banyan trees secure their roots and lock their branches around these buildings as they grow. Promoters therefore, see no other option than to do away with them. To them, these buildings are obstacles, obstructing Kolkata's path to modernisation.
The majestic Old Kenilworth Hotel, the city's 2nd oldest hotel, was bulldozed last year and was met with a lot of public outcry for going against city heritage. According to the head of the project management at Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the hotel did not have any particular worth anymore. The officials received permission to degrade the hotel but they didn’t realise how much the public would offend to this.
Similar reports flooded the internet; each a different story on how Kolkata residents were very attached to their century old houses. The citizens of Kolkata have all expressed their dissent on the destruction of old buildings as a piece of an older generation paving way for a new one. This decade-long unending battle has always been covered by the media, in hopes of bringing the matter to mainstream light.
Author Amit Chaudhuri has been a strong advocate to save Kolkata’s old houses from destruction and made a campaign for it in 2016. He tried to make sure the buildings made by the middle-class Bengalis and above remained intact, and garnered support from the locals to make sure it happened. His was the first of its kind to ensure the renovation and revival of neo-Gothic buildings that boast of Victorian influences.
As someone who was born in this city, I find solace in the buildings that I come across. As much as I want my city to modernise, I still want Kolkata to be the city that I knew – old men hunched over brewing hot coffee while mournfully shaking their heads over the dubious future of our country, middle aged wives exchanging mundane conversations about their pot-bellied husbands and rising vegetable costs over wrought iron rods, the flap of clothes on a clothesline, and the sound Rabindra Sangeet songs on the radio on rainy evenings.
Hopefully the buildings that adorn the City of Joy don't join the lost cities of Atlantis and stay there for generations to follow.