It wasn’t a very long journalism internship I had enrolled for and my work was to write features on the obscure pieces of history scantly visited in the more than two centuries old city of Kolkata. Of all these, a very interesting memory still sits in my mind of having met one of the kindest and most interesting persons in my few months old internship career.
Amherst Street is a very old street in the northern corners of the city, laden with swanky huge old mansions of yore, built by the affluent Indians during the era of the Britishers. One such building is the mighty old semi-palatial house of Raja Ram Mohun Roy, now used as a hardly-noticed museum.
There was nothing much of interest inside owing to a sorry history of the premise. Before the property could be recovered by the state government and former culture enthusiasts, it had been the hub of illegal occupants who vandalized almost all of the precious artifacts and timepieces that made up the house.
As all old houses in Calcutta are familiar for, this one too had long winding corridors and very confusing inner alleyways. Entering one stretch on the hind side, I came across an elderly lady seated in a small room albeit very well decorated with hand crafted items, that seemed to be out of use.
She hadn’t happened to know my identity ,yet as soon as I entered the room, as easily as one strikes up a conversation with a granddaughter, she started talking to me. I had gone in to collect information about the museum, but of as little use as my guide came, my day was saved by meeting her. She seamlessly talked about the house museum and how it was linked to her childhood days when the house was still in use.
She told me of how there used to be a ‘mayurpankhi pheeton gari’ ,an elaborate and ornate boat shaped seater toy,that used to be present at the ‘garibaranda’,( the portico of the house underneath which cars would be garraged) that she would climb atop. How there used to be a pond behind the house for bathing and rituals. She pointed out a few buildings, I later took a look at to not recognize much which used to be erstwhile cow and horse sheds of the Roys’
Being a niece of the erstwhile President of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and related to Ram Mohun Roy as a great-granddaughter impacted her childhood in many ways. She had spent her childhood seeing her father and others petition to the government to save the grand mansion slowly falling into disuse. In her middling years, she had seen one wing of the house taken up by the science department of the Brahmo education society( one long founded by Ram Mohun Roy for the education of women back in his times).
At present, in her old days, she had founded a school for girls from financially compromised families providing them with free of cost teachers training courses, something unaffordable for them who came there to seek a means of independent support. She believed that was her way of staying true to the grand legacy and memory of the pioneering figure of the Bengal Renaissance who dedicated his life to the cause of uplifting women in the dark ages of the 18th and 19th century Bengal.
She was enthusiastic enough to take me down to her classes run by a group of retired teachers from the Brahmo education society- erstwhile principals and headmistresses. And the humility and friendliness of each and every one of them to a stranger girl walking in basically to hunt for stories was heart-warming.
I took pictures and notes about their classes and how it all operated. But unfortunately, the story never saw the light of the day having never got published. But this memory stays as one of the most cherished ones from my internship days. The school and the premises of that house continue to keep receiving little to no attention from the external world. I realized how in ageing cities like Kolkata only memory and love are the singular entities dusting off the cobwebs of time and penury.
Tribe Tomorrow Network