Amitabha Gupta


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


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.”

A section of Rajbari grounds at Ambika Kalna
A section of Rajbari grounds at Ambika Kalna

The debate continues till date. Which is the ultimate temple town of Bengal – Bishnupur or Ambika Kalna? Bishnupur is indeed more popular among tourists as it has connecting trains providing the luxury of travelling in AC Chair car and many standard accommodation facilities. Sadly till date, for travelling to Ambika Kalna by train you have mostly unreserved local trains. There is one Intercity express with AC Chair car facility but in reaches it the afternoon and is not ideal for day tour. Lodging facilities are just two or three at the most. Till date, the best way to reach Ambika Kalna is by road. The journey takes about 2.5 to 3 hours and you can cover the city easily in a day trip.

Ambika Kalna showcases all major temple structure of Bengal of Temple
Ambika Kalna showcases all major temple structure of Bengal School of Temples

Bishnupur is way ahead that any temple town when it comes to variety in terracotta art. However, if you consider the variety of temple structures, Ambika Kalna is way ahead. You name a style in Bengal temple structure and this town in the Burdwan district has it to showcase. Also if you are strictly talking about temples with terracotta panels, Bishnupur has only four such temples. Rests of the temples at Bishnupur are made of laterite stones. Whereas in Ambika Kalna the number of “terracotta temples” are more than double than that of Bishnupur.

One of the country home of a landlord which resulted in a writer's fancy
One of the country home of a landlord which resulted in a writer’s fancy

Eminent sports journalist Moti Nandy was also an eminent Bengali novelist who was popular among readers of all ages. His most famous fictional character was the swimmer “Kony” on which even a national award winning film was made.

Yet Moti Nandy did not write any sequel to Kony. Instead, he made of series of novels on another female character named Kalabati. She hailed from a family of ex-zamindars of a settlement named Atghara. Nearby was Bakdighi where another family of ex-zamindar resided. The stories of Kalabati were based on the characters of these two villages. In the first story, Kalabati participates in disguise in an all boys cricket match between the two settlements and wins the match for her team. This was long before the film “Dil Bole Hadippa” featuring Rani Mukherjee starred was released and one wonders if the film was inspired by the story.

The character of Prosenjit in the film "Praktan" was role modeled to a considerable extent on Ritwick Ghosh of "Calcutta Walks"
The character of Prosenjit in the film “Praktan” was role modeled to a considerable extent on Ritwick Ghosh of “Calcutta Walks”

There was widespread talk in different communities of Kolkata before and after the release of the movie “Praktan”. The superstar of contemporary Bengali cinema, Prosenjit was again acting in a movie with another celebrated heroine of Bengali cinema – Rituparna Sengupta. They were last seen together in a movie 14 years ago. Being a huge successful pair on the silver screen, fans were thrilled with the prospect of viewing the star pair together again. The duo of Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee fulfilled the wish of the fans.

This post is not about the film. This is about the real-life character on whom Prosenjit’s  role in the film was based to a considerable extent.

A Travel Destination is boosted by its Social Media Presence
A Travel Destination is boosted by its Social Media Presence

I have always maintained this opinion that whenever you are looking for a travel destination which has all amenities that your heart desire, be careful that you are actually running from one crowd to another. The more facility a place provides, chances are you will get more crowds there.

However, the latest craze in the tourism sector in India is visiting off-beat destinations rather than the popular one. There were always a few takers preferring unknown hamlets, but in recent times, the numbers have increased. What more interesting is apart from backpackers and couples, tourists with all family members are opting for such places. There was a time when information of lesser known travel destinations used to spread mainly through word of mouth. Families rarely opted to such destinations because they had no clear idea about the amenities available at  these places. After all, word of mouth from one or two travelers could not paint a clear cut picture of these destinations.

In recent times, the same old school of the word of mouth is playing a big role in promoting offbeat destinations in India. Today word of mouth literally does not mean only “words” only. It means lots of other things. That is where social media is playing a big role.

Sunrise at Bakkhali with Low tide
Sunrise at Bakkhali with low tide

For anyone at Kolkata, who wish to have a secluded yet economic weekend beach holiday, Bakkhali is an obvious choice. The beach is located at one of the 50 odd island clusters of Sunderban area – famous for its mangrove trees and the Royal Bengal Tiger. Although there are enough mangrove trees at Bakkhali, thankfully there are no tigers roaming around.

On a lazy afternoon, one can just sit at leisure at Bakkhali beach sipping tea from earthen pots enjoying the breeze whilst the low waves caress the feet. The sea at Bakkhali is not ideal for swimming as there are no large waves here. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that many tourists do not visit this place often. However, the accommodation facilities are very cheap. You usually get a decent accommodation at a very reasonable price without any prior booking.

One can also take an extended morning walk through the long stretch of sand to the town of Frazerganj. A cycle rickshaw van ride through the rural landscape takes you to the Frazerganj fishing harbour. Add to it a visit to Henry’s Island – the latest holiday spot at Bakkhali developed by the fisheries department jointly with the ministry of tourism.

Youngest family member of Ghosh family , Salkia
Youngest family member of Ghosh family at Salkia taking a look at the proceedings

After my blog post  “Durga Puja of “Bonedi Families” at  Kolkata”  became immensely popular among viewers, many have asked me to start writing blog posts on such bonedi families of West Bengal outside Kolkata. Members of many such families have also e-mailed me their details and asked me to visit their places.

Since no one is sponsoring my travel for writing such blog posts, I decided to start with Howrah. Howrah is nearer to Kolkata than many other districts. At Howrah, many age-old Durga Puja gets celebrated in the residence of many bonedi families. In this blog-post, I will start with describing Pujas of few such families residing at Shibpur, Andul, Salkia and Panchla. This list will increase with the passing of time.

A local resident taking a bath at one of the many waterfalls at Tamhini Ghat
A local resident taking a bath at one of the many waterfalls at Tamhini Ghat

With the monsoon at its top in India, wouldn’t it be nice if one could take a short drive to a pathway studded with lush green hillocks and gurgling waterfalls?  One would stop the car occasionally and wade into one of the huge mass of water. The more adventurous ones would climb up the rocky and muddy ridges and get soaked in the natural shower.

Unfortunately, you cannot think of such a frivolity sitting at Kolkata. The nearest waterfall from the city is at a distance of no less than around 250 km at Ghatshila and unless you go to North Bengal region you can forget about hillocks.

However, such a drive is not impossible if you visit the city of Pune in eastern India.  During the monsoon, a drive to a place called Tamhini Ghat is one of the most popular ways for the residents of Pune to relax and enjoy the rainy season. Granted the Mulshi road which leads to Tamhini is infested with numerous potholes and often you encounter over enthusiastic and slight off balanced city animals near some waterfalls. However, during monsoon, the surroundings looks so inspiring that you overlook such “little” hindrances. 🙂

Three years ago when I visited Pune to take my Monsoon trip to Amboli and Ganapatipule, my friends suggested me this drive. After having a rain-soaked outing, I was definitely interested in more. Also shooting waterfalls in slow shutter mode with my camera was an added interest.

Familiar Scenario during Rains at Kolkata
Familiar Scenario during Rains at Kolkata

The Late nineties saw some serious changes in the present Capital of West Bengal.  To start with its name changed from Calcutta to Kolkata. Cell phones came into existence and the distant future of paging devices looked bleak. Maintaining a cell phone was very costly, there were charges for incoming too. People talking in mobile in public were stared upon by the masses with jealousy and awe.

The idea of having personal computers for residential use was considered as a luxury. The only internet connection was available from Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited. There was only one scheme which will look crazy in today’s scenario – 500 hours @ Rs 10,000 per year. It was to be a one-time payment. Incidentally, our family was among the first lot of subscribers opting for this crazy scheme in 1997 after my brother brought home a personal computer from Singapore when he came from home to take a break from his first overseas job.

With the arrival of the internet, I got introduced to email. Although I was working with computers in my office, there was no facility of email there. A software named Trumpet Winsock developed by the unsung developer Peter Tattam was used to get connected to the internet. First it was the Shell account with a black creepy screen where the white typed letters appeared in a halting fashion.  Vsnl provided us with an email id. We later dumped it and upgraded to Hotmail with its graphic interface.

I did not use Hotmail for long. Initially, the account had a lot of security loophole. After having my email hacked for several times, I switched over to Yahoo.