Huge Durga Puja Pandal of Santosh Mitra Square, 2007. Photo courtesy: Asim Gupta
Since there is not even a fortnight left for this year’s Durgapuja, my avid readers may think this blog post is about the Durga Puja of Santosh Mitra Square. Especially with the photograph of Durga Puja Pandal (alias pavilion) as the cover photograph of the post, such a thought is not unjustified.
However, this post is not about the Santosh Mitra Square’s Durgapuja. The photograph is just a tease. This post is about the gentleman in whose memorial this park was renamed from St. James Square. In fact, I came to know about him only in recent times after I discovered a plaque inside a narrow lane at Bowbazar. I was not sure about its connection to the Santosh Mitra Square, so I asked my heritage loving friends and experts about the origin of the name.
Surprisingly no one seemed to have a clue. One of my heritage experts came out with a weird explanation saying this park was named after veteran Bengali actor Santosh Dutta. He added that ‘Santosh Mitra is Santosh Dutta’s old name. He changed his name after becoming a famous actor. Just like Uttam Kumar”. I hope he was pulling my leg. However, we live in the era when many proud Bengalis think Bagha Jatin & Jatin Das are one and the same person. So anything is possible. I must mention here on giving keyword “Santosh Mitra Square” or “Santosh Mitra” in Google you will only get information about the Durga Puja.
As I mentioned earlier, I had no clue about who was Santosh Mitra until I landed one day inside a narrow lane at Bowbazar. I was looking for the house of an Indian revolutionary (about whom a separate blog post will come soon) when I landed accidentally inside the non-descriptive Haldhar Bardhan Lane. It was evening and I almost missed the waist-high plaque at the entrance. The light inside the lane was quite low. I bent down to read the content.
Photograph published on 2011 in Outlook Traveller Magazine
AN INTERESTING STORY FROM AN ENGLISHMAN
Sometimes you travel your country thoroughly but overlook what is in your backyard. I had never heard of the place named Hetampur until I met this English gentleman named Ashley on a train journey to Bishnupur in 2010. Ashley was fond of heritage structures of West Bengal. A few days back he had visited Shantiniketan. From his tour, Ashley had developed a fair idea of the place and its surrounding. Apart from the usual tourist spots in the University town he visited Surul Rajbari and its surrounding terracotta temples.
“You see, I had a well-informed driver accompanying me.” said Ashley “This guy named Sanat observed my interest in terracotta panels and guided me to similar temples in Supur and Illambazar. Then he mentioned about this place named Hetampur, where he said one can see terracotta plaque showcasing Queen Victoria and the court of arms of British East India Company on the walls of a temple.”
Back in 2010, I was not aware of any such temple. So I urged Ashley to continue with his narrative. Ashley said “Hetampur is around 41 km from Bolpur on the way to Suri. I was not sure whether my chap was actually talking sense. I took a chance and asked him to drive on. Close to Hetampur is the settlement of Dubrajpur which has a small hillock which is uncalled for in that landscape. For a tourist like me, the place was a relatively lesser know rural town of Birbhum district. The scenario was just like what I expected to see in rural India. Taking a detour from the main road we reached the temple in no time. Indeed my guy was not bluffing. Apart from a European female figurine which he claimed as that of Queen Victoria, there were several European figures and somewhat amateurship attempt to create the court of arms.”
“… And then the most entrancing thing happened” added Ashley with a chuckle after a small interval. Then he continued with his story. “Sanat drove on towards Dubrajpur. Just after a few minutes of driving, I noticed a tall brick structure on the left side of the road. On first glance, it looked like a mansion with fusion architecture. However, on reaching in front of it I realized it was a European styled gate made of red bricks studded with pillars. I could even see some figurines on the top. Finding such a structure inside a non-descriptive village was quite enthralling. Sanat took me inside the complex and all of a sudden I found myself in front of a huge palace, crudely painted in yellow. The mansion was in crumbling shape with a bad paint job coupled with numerous modification of extreme horrific taste. It was past its glory days but you could not ignore its colossal structure. You see I had done bit homework before coming to India, and to my knowledge, the only similar style historical building which existed in West Bengal was the famous Hazarduari Museum at Murshidabad. I had not read about this Palace in any guidebook. So I rolled my eyes in amazement and I asked myself whether I was daydreaming.”