From Calcutta to Kolkata: Different names, similar problems

Kolkata: Observing that problems that plagued Kolkata (then Calcutta) during British rule have persisted, two West Bengal archivists Friday cited as example the decision to shift the state secretariat - albeit temporarily.

"The circle has been completed in one aspect... the Writers` Building was made the office of the Bengal secretariat because it was felt that different offices at different places made things difficult for the public... so to make it more convenient, all the administrative departments were brought under a single building. Till the 1700s, there wasn`t a single building... it was all scattered, and now what happened again is that it has been decentralised," Bidisha Chakraborty, archivist at the state archives, said here.

The state secretariate is being shifted out of the iconic Writer`s Building, Oct 1. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced last month that the secretariat will temporarily operate out of the HRBC Building in Howrah district, to facilitate renovation work at an estimated Rs.200 crore on the 236-year-old Writers` Building.

Designed by Thomas Lyon, the Writers` Building was built between 1776 and 1780 to house junior officers or `writers` of the East India Company.

Speaking at the launch of their book "Calcutta in the Nineteenth Century: An Archival Exploration" at the Oxford Bookstore here, archivists Chakraborty and Sarmistha De highlighted the "affinity" of the British to the city, evidenced by the construction of landmark edifices like the Victoria Memorial.

Aimed at making it the nerve centre of their growing empire in the country and the "London of the East", transforming the then Calcutta according to a western outlook was their goal.

"The sprawling Maidan that you see today was their concept for open spaces... it was a western concept, and one of the examples to build a westernised city," said De.

However, issues like traffic and infectious diseases were an irritant during the Raj, which have continued today, De said.

The book offers insights into more such interesting nuggets of Kolkata`s history.

Calcutta had served as the capital of the British empire in India until 1911, when it was shifted to Delhi.


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