Flavour of Calcutta

10 WALKS IN CALCUTTA: HarperCollins Publishers India (P) Ltd., 7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 95.

CONSERVATION, A PRIMER FOR INDIA: Both by Prosenjit Dasgupta;Rs. 80.

COMMON FOREST TREES: Prosenjit Dasgupta and N. N. Chatterjee; Both published by Jyotsna Dasgupta, Flat 62, 206/1, N.S.C. Bose Road, Calcutta-700047. Rs. 100.

UNLIKE OTHER cities Calcutta cannot boast of a ``hoary antiquity''. Yet this chance-created and chance-directed city, founded by Job Charnock, has a history of its own. The book under review not surprisingly has added colour and flavour that makes Calcutta so different from others. It was the second important city of the British Empire. Its growth and development as a flourishing trading and business centre from the 17th century under the British regime has been told by many scholars.

But what makes the first book, a low-priced 182-page volume different? The author has turned this into a ``walks'' book. He says this idea struck him when he came across a booklet on ``walks'' in Aachen in Germany and it was bolstered further when he went for photo-records in 1988 before the tercentenary celebrations of the city were launched by the ruling Left Front Government.

Let us look into ``Walk 1'' which covers a distance of about two kilometres and virtually the old Lal Dighi (Red Lake) area or what became popular as the Dalhousie Square. A leisurely walk through this important business district will help one get a glimpse of the city's colonial history and background. What was once the Governor's House is now the Raj Bhavan, an imposing structure. It was originally built between 1797 and 1803 A.D. to the design of Capt. Charles Wyatt on the lines of the Keddleston Hall in Derbyshire. It has six gates, two each to the east and west, and one each to the south and north. The magnificence of the Governor's House was to impress upon the subject nation the power and might of the British rulers.

According to the author, the vast land, in which the Governor's mansion was built, actually belonged to one Mohammed Reza Khan, a Nawab of Chitpur. St. John's church, the Treasury Building, the General Post office (and the Postal Museum), the Commercial Library and what was known earlier, the Clive Street and the Writers Building are all located in the Dalhousie Square area.

``Walk 2'' takes one through the famous Esplanade area via the Ochterlony monument (now Shaheed Minar). During the early part of the colonial days, the so-called White settlement gave the city glamour and reputation for its affluent classes. The Town Hall, Metcalfe Hall and the Great Eastern Hotel came up during this period. The British saw to it that the commercial character of the business centres was well protected to safeguard the city's distinction as a flourishing trading and commercial centre of the Empire.

``Walk 3'' takes one to ``a pilgrimage of sorts'' as the colonial rulers had encouraged Armenians, Portuguese, Chinese and traders from other parts of world to set up their shops in Calcutta. Armenians had established themselves very successfully in trade.

In the introduction, the author has briefly outlined how the city ``became a melting pot''. ``The feel of a city, be it London, Paris or Calcutta is as much in the wide avenues, the architecture of the private and public buildings, as in the people who breathe life into it,'' says the author. At the peak of its prosperity and development Calcutta amply demonstrated it. The British rulers and the native Bhadralok class gave the city a certain commercial and intellectual quality. Readers who complete the ``Ten Walks'' in Calcutta with the help of this volume might even experience the ``feel'' of this unique city. The author's interests in wildlife conservation and photography show him as one with varied interests in life. His travels in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have helped him understand the problems of conservation. In the Indian context, conservation has acquired a new sense of urgency owing to fast-depleting natural resources. Conservation and development are the two sides of the same coin. The book on conservation will serve as a primer for India, but the author could have developed the ``basic concepts'' for constructive purposes by calling attention on the various aspects of the subject.

Likewise the booklet on common forest trees, first published in mimeographed form, will attract the attention of serious readers. Grasses are as important for the well-being of the forest areas as oxygen is to man. Trees are, as the author says, the basic ingredients of a forest area. A cursory glance of this book is a must for all. The sketches on various leaves shown in the book reveal the essence of conservation.

On common forest trees, more data should be published dealing with the characteristics and identifications of ``leaf types''. The names of common forest trees should be categorised according to the status of forests. This calls for compilation of data from different states. In any case, the author deserves to be congratulated for his efforts in bringing out the books on conservation and common forest trees.