Bidhan Sarani Where History Stands In Silent Rows
An American essayist, William Hazlitt had once remarked, “One of the most pleasant things in the world is to go on a journey. But, in order to catch the pulse of any city, you have to walk down its streets and alleys.”
Truly, if you want to feel the soul of any place, you have to explore that place on foot and interact with the locals. And this is exactly what we did. This month we went on a tour of Bidhan Sarani - one of the most popular thoroughfares of north Calcutta.
But long before this thoroughfare came to be renamed as Bidhan Sarani, it was known as Cornwallis Street named after Charles Cornwallis, second Earl and first Marquess Cornwallis. Charles Cornwallis was born in London on December 31, 1738 and was educated at Eton and the Military Academy of Turin.
Cornwallis had an illustrious career in the military and won several laurels for his bravery and expertise in combat. He was instrumental in many a victory of the British over their enemies. He was made the Governor-General of Fort William in Bengal and Commander-in-Chief from 1780 to 1783 and again in 1805. In 1786 he was appointed as the Governor-General of India and Commander-in-Chief. Cornwallis will be remembered not only for his memorable victory over Tipu Sultan, but for his relentless efforts to promote the welfare of the natives. He died at Ghazipur on October 5, 1805 at the age of 67.
The Corporation at its meeting held on Friday, May 3, 1963, resolved to rename Cornwallis Street as Bidhan Sarani to commemorate the contributions of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. The resolution was implemented with effect from Thursday, May 9, 1963 as mentioned in page 12 of the Calcutta Municipal Gazette published on May 11, 1963.
A descendant of Maharaja Pratapaditya of bygone Bengal, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy was born on July 1, 1962. Quite apart from his unrivalled distinction as a physician and especially as a diagnostician, he was the Mayor of Calcutta from April 15, 1931 to April 28, 1933 and the Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University from March 13, 1942 to March 12, 1944. He also served as the Chief Minister of West Bengal from January 23, 1948 to July 1, 1962. West Bengal ranked as the foremost industrial state during the days of Dr. B. C. Roy who established steel plants and other industries. He died on July 1, 1962.
Often referred to as the Park Street of the north, Bidhan Sarani is in the thick of things from start to finish. About a hundred metres northward from College Street and Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing brings us to Bidhan Sarani. As we start walking northward, on the right at 24, Bidhan Sarani stands the Pasteur Laboratories. The building it now occupies was once the home of Raja Kristo Dass Laha.
A few blocks away from this juncture, we find Bidhan Sarani's two very prominent landmarks Thanthania Kalibari (situated at Rajendra Deb Road and Bidhan Sarani crossing) and Laha Bari (situated at Bechu Chatterjee Street and Bidhan Sarani crossing). Thanthania Kalibari is frequented by hundreds of devotees each day. The number goes up significantly on Saturdays. The majority of the people who go past the temple pause for a split second to pay their homage to Maa Kali. Laha Bari is home to the Lahas (or Laws) - famous zaminders of north Calcutta.
A couple of hundred metres from here bring us to Sadharan Brahmo Samaj established by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. This is a classy structure with Doric columns on the exterior.
As we walk past the Bidhan Sarani and Vivekanada Road crossing, we reach the most popular landmark of this south north thoroughfare - Swami Vivekanada's Ancestral Home and Cultural Centre, an awe-inspiring structure aptly befitting the great philosopher and reformer.
Once we reach Bidhan Sarani and Hedua crossing, we are greeted with a charming little structure more popularly known as the Christ Church. Bang opposite this church is Azad Hind Baag home to Hedua Swimming Club.
It might interest you to know, that Bidhan Sarani is home to four academic institutions Vidyasagar College, Bethune College, Khudiram Bose Central College and Scottish Church Collegiate School.
Bidhan Sarani is also quite an entertainment hub with as many as five theatres - Star Theatre, Minerva Theatre, Bina Cinema Hall, Mitra Cinema Hall and Darpana Cinema Hall. Star and Minerva are of course the more popular addresses among movie-goers in north Calcutta.
And when entertainment is here, can food be far behind?
Bidhan Sarani boasts of some of the big names that attract the food connoisseurs of the City of Joy. Chacha's Hotel situated opposite to Swami Vivekananda's home is a major crowd puller. Their kabiraji, cutlets, fish fry and rolls can romance your taste buds to orgasmic levels.
But when popularity is the yardstick, can Kapila Ashram be ignored?
Tucked away under a balcony within the vicinity of Vidyasagar College, this sherbet joint is an institution in itself. For the past century, this blink-and-miss counter has been producing the magical concoction which makes hundreds queue up for a glass full every day. We too had our share of the malai sherbet.
The sidewalks throughout the entire stretch of Bidhan Sarani is dotted with stores selling pretty much everything from machinery, clothes, grocery to telebhaja, phuchka and other knick-knacks.
An interesting feature about Bidhan Sarani is its myriad old residential houses. Most of these houses now lie in dilapidated state due to years of neglect. But the few which have been maintained look charming enough to bedazzle us.
After dark, this place takes on a whole new look. The hustle and bustle of Bidhan Sarani exudes a wave of energy that is immensely infectious. It is here where the exuberance and spirit of north Calcutta truly comes alive.
Our trail of Bidhan Sarani comes to an end when we reach Shyambazar five point crossing. As we board the tram on our journey back home, we feel happy about the time well spent while exploring the iconic Bidhan Sarani.