Tag Archives: Kolkata

Chandernagore: Down Revolutionary Road

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A trading town older than Calcutta, the erstwhile French enclave by the banks of the Hooghly was a sanctuary for merchants, philanthropists, littérateurs and revolutionaries, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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Without much fanfare, the Grand Trunk Road abruptly brought us to a halt in front of the Liberty Gate of Chandernagore. Built in 1937 to mark the fall of Bastille during the French revolution, the motto ‘Liberte Egalite Fraternite’ emblazoned on it seemed incongruous amidst a medley of billboards in Bengali and posters for circuses and magic shows. A traffic policeman tried in vain to make some order out of the snarl of rickshaws, pedestrians and vehicular traffic. It was a far cry from a few centuries ago when British soldiers had to seek permission to enter what was once French territory!

Much before Calcutta was carved out of Sutanati, Kalikata and Gobindapur and Fort William was established in 1698, Chandernagore too was created out of three villages – Borokishanpur, Khalisani and Goldalpara. It emerged as the main center of European commerce in Bengal and became a key trade centre. Boats docked here for rice, wax, saltpeter, indigo, jute, rope, sugar, even slaves, as the town became home to seths, zamindars, Muslim and Armenian traders, besides men of enterprise – Louis Bonnaud, the first European to commercially cultivate indigo in India, Dinanath Chandra who ran the first European tincture factory in the area, Batakrishna Ghosh, the first Bengali owner of a cloth mill, and Indrakumar Chattopadhyay, first publisher of a map on Bengal.

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We entered through the Liberty Gate and scoured around for a map or some kind of guide on Chandannagore, which led us by sheer chance to Kumar & Company. On learning of our interest in the historic town, the shop owner Kalyan Chakravarty dropped everything mid-transaction, barked an order to an assistant to take over and quite graciously agreed to come along to guide us around the key sights. Passionate about conserving the heritage of his little town, Kalyan da was also involved with the local chapter of INTACH.

“At one time, Lakshmiganj Market used to be India’s largest rice mart and Chandannagore was hailed as the Granary of the East. Back then, the area was called Farasdanga (Land of the French). Urdi Bazaar is actually named after the vardi or khaki uniform of soldiers who stayed here during colonial times,” he explained. In 1730, Joseph Francois Dupleix was made governor of Chandarnagore while Indranarayan Chowdhury was appointed by the French Compagnie as Diwan. Chowdhury built the temple of Sri Nandadulal and a rest house and later received a gold medal for his philanthropy from Louis XV, the King of France.

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Kalyan da pointed out the marks of cannon fire on the exterior walls of the squat Nandadulal shrine during the sack of 1757. The temple is believed to have a secret chamber where Chowdhury stashed his wealth! We strode into St Joseph’s Convent, built in 1861, to the little chapel and stood at the historic door through which the British had marched into Chandernagore. Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson of the British army pounded Chandernagore and razed the French fortification of Fort d’Orleans to the ground.

The horseshoe shaped town was divided into the French Villé Blanche (White Quarter) and a native Villé Noire (Black Quarter) that lay inland. Located midstream between Murshidabad and Calcutta, Chandernagore was easily the most celebrated ghat on the 2500km stretch of the Ganga and the only part of Bengal outside British control. At its peak, the city’s population was over a lakh while Calcutta was at best a poorer country cousin. However, with the French loss, Chandernagore’s bustling trade was eclipsed by the emergence of British Calcutta.

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The town still has a wealth of beautiful colonial mansions. Kanhai Seth’er Bari, home to the Nandys, was a lovely edifice with the gatepost marked by ornamental urns. Further down the road Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir was a fusion of native and colonial styles where Corinthian columns shared space alongside ornate Hindu motifs. Built in 1860 by Sri Harihar Sett, it was donated to the people of Chandernagore as a theatre hall and library.

Past Hospital Mod (turn) was Nundy Bari, home of a rich Zamindar that now served as the Ruplal Nundy Memorial Cancer Research Centre. His great grandson Shashank Shekhar Nandy explained that the historic building was locally called Gala-Kuthi from the time it was a Portuguese warehouse of gala (shellac). In its heyday, it played host to eminent people of the time like Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray and Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar.

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After a quick stop at the Sacred Heart Church we reached the town’s crowning glory – The Strand. Reminiscent of Pondicherry’s Promenade, the 1km long 7m wide paved avenue was lined by historic buildings. The northern end was once marked by the 1878 built Hotel de Paris (now Sub-divisional court) and Thai Shola hotel built in 1887 (presently Chandernagore College).

On the south end was Underground House (Patal Bari), its lowest level jutting into the river. Originally a rest house of the French navy, it later hosted social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, who even integrated Patal Bari into his stories.

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Also lining the Strand were Rabindra Bhavan, the Gendarmerie (police station), an 1845 Clocktower dedicated to Joseph Daumain S’Pourcain and Dupleix Palace. A former naval godown and residence of Governor Francois Dupleix, it was converted into Institut de Chandernagor, an Indo-French Cultural Centre housing one of the oldest museums in the region.

Its stunning collection included French exhibits like cannons used in the Anglo-French war, 18th century furniture, rare paintings, Shola craft of Bengal and memorabilia related to Dupleix and Tagore. We walked to Joraghat or Chandni, a decorated pavilion at the ferry point with a plaque dedicated to ‘Dourgachorone Roquitte’. Courtier of the French Government, Durgacharan Rakshit was the first Indian to be conferred with the Chevalier de legion d’Honour in 1896.

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From here, the river appeared to curve like a crescent moon (chandra) after which the town was presumably named. Some contend Chandannagar derives from the trade in chandan (sandalwood) or Chandi’r nagar after its presiding deity Boraichandi. Yet Kalyan da exhorted “The town is not as famous for its river or the French as for its revolutionaries!”

The French enclave was the perfect refuge for freedom fighters escaping the clutches of the British Empire. Rashbehari Bose, founder of Azad Hind Fauj, revolutionary leader Kanailal Dutta and social reformer Sri Harihar Seth were all based here. A bust of Bose stood outside Chandernagore College. In 1910 Sri Aurobindo followed an adesa (divine command) and sailed from Calcutta to Chandernagore where he stayed in the house of Motilal Roy for 39 days before heading south to Pondicherry. Roy later established the Prabartak Sangha and launched a fiery Bengali literary magazine in 1915.

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“But of what use is a Bengali tale that does not end on a sweet note,” exhorted Kalyan da, as he brought us to Surjya Kumar Modak. Local lore has that in 1818 a zamindar asked the town’s leading confectioner to create a unique sweet for the new bridegroom. He came up with the jolbhora, literally ‘filled with water’ – a sandesh with a filling of rosewater syrup!

His creation (besides the motichur sandesh, aam sandesh and khirpully sandesh) became a sensation and attracted patrons ranging from Rabindranath Tagore to Sri Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Jansangh. We bit into a variant, the chocolate jolbhora as its gooey center dribbled down our chins. Sure it was no éclair as Chandernagore was no Pondicherry; yet the town’s mix of French and Bengali flavours held a tantalizing charm that was entirely unique.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Chandernagore lies 37km north of Kolkata, upstream on the Hooghly.

What to See
Liberty Gate, St Joseph’s Convent, Sri Nandadulal Temple, Chandernagore College, Sub Divisional Court, Sacred Heart Church, The Strand, Chandni, Patal Bari, Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir, Nundy Bari, Rabindra Bhavan, Gendarmerie (police station), Clocktower, Dupleix Palace & Museum

Where to Eat
Hotel de Chandannagar, Barabazar, GT Road Ph 9051489311 www.hotelde.in
Surjya Kumar Modak, Barasat, GT Road Ph 9831178348 www.jalbharasurjyamodak.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 7 Dec 2018 in Indulge, the weekend supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

‘Delhi is two enemies forced into friendship’: Dibakar Banerjee interview

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY in conversation with filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee, who talks about travel, films and his relationship with the cities he has shot in – Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai

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From Titli to Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky… why are so many of your films set in Delhi?Apart from the fact that I grew up in Delhi and know it well, what fascinates me is that it’s the city where the faultlines of India are exposed most. Where absolute feudalism conflicts with absolute consumerism. They are two completely incompatible ideas belonging to two different periods of the planet’s history coexisting cheek by jowl. The compromises they make with each other and the conflicts that erupt are fascinating to watch in Delhi. Patriarchy and consumerism, feudalism and consumerism… it’s most apparent in Delhi.

Having grown up in a DDA flat, you also wanted to represent the Delhi that you know, not what Mumbai feels about Delhi…
Yeah. Now it’s done enough. Because till a decade ago, when Khosla Ka Ghosla was released, everybody associated Delhi with India Gate or Qutub Minar or such historical staples. Outside of Garam Hawa and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, nobody had gotten into the belly of Delhi. There might be some films that I’m missing, but nobody got into the actual bloodstream of Delhi. But since I was from Delhi, I was not even conscious of [the stereotypes]. And Kanu (Behl; director—Titli) is also from Delhi though he’s about eight years younger, but from roughly the same background. Extremely middle-class. Neither upper nor lower, but absolutely, firmly in the middle of the middle class…

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Places seem to influence you and your films quite significantly. What kind of memories do you have of Delhi?
I have no nostalgia for Delhi and I have nothing I hold onto. I only go to Delhi because my parents are there. I am not a very nostalgic person. After Khosla Ka Ghosla, I made Oye Lucky… which was in Delhi. But LSD could have been in any small town in north India where Hindi was spoken and Bollywood was understood. Shanghai was solely set in Mumbai, Bombay Talkies was also set here. Visually, Shanghai came from just outside of the room where I’m sitting right now, in Parel, Mumbai.

You can see Shanghai right from where I am in my 20th floor apartment. Bombay Talkies was not only Mumbai… it was shot in a chawl within walking distance from my office in Lalbaug. And Detective Byomkesh Bakshy was treated as a fictitious world of old Calcutta that I visualised in my head as I read those books. So I’ve moved on… I go back to Delhi if a story goes to Delhi. I really don’t have any nostalgia for it anymore.

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Detective Byomkesh Bakshy draws a lot from the Kolkata that you read about in Satyajit Ray’s Feluda and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh series in your adolescent years. How did you recreate old Calcutta?
We did everything we could. Trams rides, heritage walks, going through a lot of historical records and black and white photographs, meeting different kinds of people to researching street sounds–from sounds of the industry to hawker’s cries. A very handy manual was Radha Prasad Gupta’s Kolkatar Feriwalar Dak (O Raster Awaz) on the calls of bazaar sellers, which we used to create a soundscape for Calcutta in the ’40s.

What was it like going to Calcutta? Was the city different from how you imagined it to be?
It kept evolving. The thing is, you start from the flash of a memory which is childhood. Then you go from there and start building on the soundscapes. As you start building on the soundscapes, your memory becomes less constructive and your thinking of the scenes becomes more constructive. My memories of these kind of stories was: “It was a dark alley and the last ‘red turban’—a code word for thieves—had walked his tired round around the corner, and now there was just the gas lamp in the fog of Calcutta that was witness to this macabre event I am about to recount…” That’s how all these pulp stories started. Where the headlights of a car were compared to the eyes of a hungry predator in the jungle… You start from the memory and take off from there.

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If cities were characters, what would Delhi be?
Delhi is not any one thing. It is two enemies forced into friendship.

And Mumbai?
Mumbai, I think, is an accident of commerce. If you read the history of the city, it languished as a commercial centre for 100 years. A death zone of malaria and pestilence… nothing happened. It’s only after Surat had its downfall that Bombay came up, mainly through trade. First, ship-building, then cotton. So it’s an accident of commerce. Of course, that doesn’t demean Mumbai in any way.

Across the world, these kind of societies are usually independent—Hong Kong, Mumbai, New York—they are entities to themselves and often they can be quite different from the rest of the nationalistic identity that they belong to. They haven’t come up because of the so-called nation state they belong to, but have come up because of some other reasons, which are totally different. And usually they are extremely cosmopolitan and mixed in terms of their population. So a number of conflicting cultures exist together for commerce.

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That would also hold true for Kolkata, especially in the 1940s when there were American GIs stationed there, Chinese natives, a war going on…
It was, it was. It was a trade centre but what had happened was that Calcutta had a slightly different history. It was the first cultural centre that the British colonials founded. And as a result the influence on the development of the city was quite cultural. It was informed by the late 18th century British belief system – a hodge-podge of puritanism, egalitarianism, rational ideals, enlightenment, everything kind of rolled together into one strange kind of a character. And you can see it in the Bengali bhadralok.

It’s almost dying, the quintessential Bengali bhadralok would be in his late 80s today, the average middle-class bhadralok – anybody from Amartya Sen to my father—would belong to that. Amartya Sen is an intellectual because he’s an academic but the fact is that it is a continuation of a tradition from Jeremy Bentham, David Hair, Derozio, Thackeray, 19th century novelists to Tagore, the upheaval of the ’30s and ’40s and there it stops…

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When did you start travelling? What has changed since then?
I started backpacking in the early ’90s. From the Jaisalmer and Goa that I have seen, we have a world of difference today. The slightly repulsive part of the Indian travel scene has come about in the last 5-6 years, where we’re seeing the bad Indian traveler who’ll come from the cities to a beach and not take off his trousers and sit cross-legged on the waves in his trunks. Or in a baniyan under a waterfall. It’s fairly elitist for us to say this. But from a tourism point of view, it will drive away the tourism dollars. It will drive away the Indian tourists who want to go there and peace out. I am finding less and less places in India to be peaceful. And the few peaceful places that I go to in India, I swear to god I will not reveal to anybody (laughs)! And I’m not alone. People who are looking for peace have now stopped recommending.

What your favourite places to travel? What other places in India inspire you, besides the places you’ve shot or lived in…
I won’t. I won’t tell you because then everyone will start coming there. (‘Think of what we face as travel writers every day.’). I can tell you what’s slightly going wrong with travel right now. What’s happening is that the world over, people are moving towards boutique hotels and homestays and because of the sudden rise in the Indian traveller, the boutique places and homestays are in danger. They tell you to step into a different environment and experience that, whereas the typical Indian traveler wants to take his TV, his match, his housie, his whatever-it-is and transform the land he’s travelled to into the land he has just left. A few resolute people are still holding on and they are not giving into popular culture.

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But everybody is not so lucky. Places like Goa are exhausted, ravaged and raped. Six years ago about 500 chartered planes landed in Goa. Last year there were less than 100. And it has happened because of political meddling and lack of awareness of what a western traveller wants. India, as a tropical hot paradise, is often a joke compared to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bali and Indonesia. We earn a fraction of their tourist dollars. Secondly, it’s become much more convenient for an Indian wanting to get out of the noise, trash and crowd of Indian travel destinations, to travel to Sri Lanka or Maldives. A person will think twice: should I pay the airfare for Goa or Bentota? Same paise mein foreign chale jate hain. Then when you land there, you realise it’s so much like Goa or Kerala, except a lot cleaner, people are more chilled out and it’s simpler to be there.

What kind of a traveler are you today?
Now we have kids so we go any place where the kids can be happy. Our ideal place is to go to a homestay where we can cook ourselves or we tell the cook what to make. We are at our happiest over there. Eating simple food and enjoying new places has become the most peaceful way of relaxing. And of course, lot of walking. If you’re not walking then you’re not on a holiday.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unedited version of the article that appeared on 13 November, 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/delhi-is-two-enemies-forced-into-a-friendship/

Real Steel: Jamshedpur’s unknown war history

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From steel rails, armaments to a tank called Tatanagar, Jamshedpur played a small but crucial role in the two World Wars. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY uncover the war history of India’s first steel city 

40th BG's B-29 bomber 42-6310 Hump Happy Jr takes off from Chakulia

Jamshedpur is renowned as India’s Steel City, but few know of its significant contributions to the world. Decades ago this pretty little town with tree-lined avenues was a war zone, when fumes emanating from its chimneys mingled with smokescreens, factory hooters merged with air raid sirens and anti-aircraft fire lit up the skies. While the world celebrates the centenary of World War I and the end of World War II, Jamshedpur’s history lies forgotten.

It was a lecture by philosopher Thomas Carlyle in Manchester that inspired JN Tata to establish India’s first steel plant. Motivated by Carlyle’s words “The nation which gains control of iron soon acquires the control of gold”; Tata roped in top American geologists and engineers to give shape to his vision. In 1907, the Tata Iron and Steel Company or TISCO (now Tata Steel) was established. The first ingot rolled out on Feb 16, 1912, ushering in an era of industrial revolution and the eight-hour work schedule in India. However, it took a global event to give the town its name…

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When the First World War broke out in 1914, much of India’s steel output was diverted to construct steel rails for transporting troops and supplies. Nearly 1,500 miles of rail and 300,000 tonnes of steel produced in Jamshedpur were used in military campaigns across Mesopotamia, Egypt, Salonica and East Africa. After the war, a British parliamentary report affirmed, “It would have been impossible to carry on the campaign without the iron and steel of India, which has been the foundation of railway and water transport, as well as the telegraphic and telephonic equipment employed in the country.”

In 1919, Viceroy of India Lord Chelmsford visited the Tata Steel plant and praised the company for producing steel that had saved the Mesopotamian campaign. As a fitting tribute, Lord Chelmsford christened the steel city Jamshedpur in memory of its founder Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata and renamed Kalimati railway station as Tatanagar.

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Tata Steel helped shape another iconic landmark – Calcutta’s Howrah Bridge. Of the 26,500 tonnes of steel used to construct the cantilever bridge, 23,000 tonnes of heavy tensile steel came from Jamshedpur. During WWII, as Japan entered the China-Burma-India theatre of war, the British feared the steel plant was a high value target that might be bombed. ‘Yellow signals’ wired from Calcutta warned of impending Japanese air raids. Several bomb shelters were set up across the city while anti-aircraft guns were placed at Jojobera.

Tata Steel came up with ingenious ways to protect itself. Steel ropes were tied to gas balloons and released to prevent Japanese fighter planes from diving down to bomb the factory. As camouflage, tar boilers were set up 40 ft apart within the steel factory to create smokescreens. Bartholomew D’Costa, an enterprising Anglo-Indian contractor was entrusted this task while apprentices were paid an extra allowance of Rs.15 per month for round-the-clock supervision.

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Since there were no proper hotels in Jamshedpur to lodge Allied troops, Bartholomew’s son John was asked to hastily build one! Using bricks from his kiln and cutlery bought from Lord’s, a Calcutta hotel that was closing down, he set up The Boulevard Hotel in December 1940. Interestingly, British airmen paid 14 annas per head a day and managed their own mess while the Americans paid one rupee 16 annas a day for room and board. Taking us on a tour of hallways lined with sepia prints of wartime Calcutta, John’s son Ronald D’Costa chuckled, “There were regular drunken brawls between American and British troops. The chairs and tables that survived the fights have been used in the hotel and the attached Brubeck Bakery.” The exposed bricks bore the initials DC (D’Costa)!

But Jamshedpur’s best was yet to come. During WWII, when United Kingdom could not meet the demand for Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Commonwealth countries began developing their own armoured cars. India developed a series of Wheeled Armoured Carrier, Indian Pattern or ACV-IP better known as the ‘Tatanagar’. The vehicles used Ford truck chassis imported from Canada and armour-plated hulls constructed by Tata Steel. Between 1940 and 1944, 4,655 units were built at the Railway workshop with a special plant set up for Armour, Hull, Axle and Tyre tracks. Tata Engineering & Locomotive Company or TELCO (now Tata Motors) completed the last order in 1945 when it took over the railway workshop.

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Ironically, the first vehicle to roll out of Tata Motors was not a truck, but a tank! The multi-role Tatanagar was widely used for reconnaissance, ferrying personnel, mounting anti-aircraft weapons and as a Forward Observation Officer’s vehicle. Weighing 2,626 kg with 14mm armour, it could seat 3-4 people and touch speeds of 80 km/hr. Impenetrable by ordinary bullets, its hull saved many lives and won the admiration of soldiers. It was used by various Indian Infantry Divisions across Syria 1941, North Africa 1941-42, Malaya Command 1941 and Italy 1943-45 and also saw action in the 1950 Korean War, aiding the 18th British Infantry Division, 8th Australian Infantry Division and Royal New Zealand Artillery.

For nearly half a century its legacy lay forgotten until two Tatanagars were found in the Indian Army scrap yard. By cannibalizing the parts of one to help build the other, the Tata Motors team from Engineering Research Centre and General Transport managed to get one to working condition. It even featured in the Carnival parade from Jubilee Park to Gopal Maidan and local Republic Day celebrations in 2014. When we visited Tata Motors, it was thrilling to see the original 95HP Ford V-8 Petrol Engine rev to life.

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Jamshedpur’s war history was not restricted to the ground. Not too far from the city, a slew of airfields once bellowed with bombers taking off for the first overland bombings of Japan. We drove down the Jamshedpur-Kolkata highway to the closest airstrip at Dhalbhumgarh, an ancillary field for more strategic ones nearby. Driving a mile off NH-33 past neat rows of sal trees we turned left onto a wide unmarked highway. Oddly, clumps of vegetation shot through the tarmac like obstacles in a gaming video. Only after driving a few hundred meters on this ramrod straight superhighway did we realize that we were on an old airstrip! Hidden by overgrowth were the ruins of an abandoned air terminal.

Built around 1942 to conduct raids against advancing Japanese armies in Burma and aid transport operations in China, many such airfields were clustered around India’s eastern frontier, with easy access to the port at Calcutta. Since Japanese control of the China Sea cut off seaborne supplies, pilots had to fly 500 km from India to China over the world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalayas. With its harsh terrain, misty peaks and sudden weather changes, ‘The Hump’ as it was called, was the world’s most dangerous overland air route.

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An excerpt from the poem Flight of No Return, by Sunny Young captures the perils.
“Crumpled engines, wings and tail… help pave the Hump’s Aluminum Trail…
A dog tag here, a jacket there, a picture worn by love and care…
A parachute unopened lay, no time to jump, no time to pray…
In this far, forgotten place, of jungles, mountains, rocks and space…”

Targetting enemy transportation in Burma, sorties bombed bridges, locomotives, railroad yards and other targets to delay movement of supplies to Japanese troops. In Nov 1943 Operation Matterhorn was launched for overland operations against the Japanese homeland. But the airfields were not big enough for the new American bomber, B-29 Superfortress. Four air bases in India would be upgraded as launch pads for the B-29’s four staging posts in China’s Sichuan province to bomb Japan.

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By December, special Air force teams arrived as thousands of Indians toiled to improve Kharagpur, Chakulia, Piardoba and Dudhkundi airfields with 7500 ft long runways and 10-inch thick concrete. On April 2, 1944 the first B-29 bombers touched down in Chakulia. It took a month to fly over the South Atlantic Transport route from Kansas via Florida, the Caribbean, Natal in Brazil, the South Atlantic Ocean to West Africa, re-assembling at Marrakesh, flying through Algeria and Egypt to Karachi before crossing India to reach this eastern nook!

The first combat mission took off from Chakulia on June 5, 1944 with squadrons of the 40th Bombardment Group attacking the Makasan railroad yards at Bangkok. At the time, the 2261-mile round trip was the longest bombing mission during the war. Often black paint was applied to the aircraft’s underside to reduce reflection from Japanese searchlights while flying low-level night missions. Planes emblazoned with strange names like Gallopin’ Goose, Calamity Sue, Postville Express and Old Bitch U Airy Bess sitting on runways in this rural hinterland would have been quite a sight.

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Bombers struck aircraft plants in Burma, Yawata steel factory in Japan, besides transportation centers and naval installations in Thailand, China, Indonesia and Formosa. Fired by these successes, the B-29 squadrons moved to more strategic locations in the Central Pacific – like Tinian in the Mariana Islands from where Enola Gay and Bockscar dropped the bombs Fat Man and Little Boy over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war.

Post-war, there was huge demand for construction and hence road rollers. On April 22,1948 amid shouts of Vande Mataram and Jai Hind, India’s first swadeshi road roller ‘City of Delhi’ rolled out of Jamshedpur, followed by others named after India’s big cities – Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Jubbulpore and Patna. It wasn’t until 1954 that the first Tata truck was produced in collaboration with Daimler Benz. As for the airfields, some were modified for commercial use while most others lay abandoned. We saw cattle roaming on runways that once roared with fighter planes! Traces of these historic airfields and taxiways are best comprehended when viewed from the air, much like the Nazca lines of Peru…

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FACT FILE

Getting there:
Jamshedpur is 130km from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand and 283km from Kolkata. Drive 60km from Jamshedpur on the Kolkata highway NH-33 to the WWII airstrip at Dhalbhumgarh. From there Chakulia airbase is 21km away and Kharagpur about 80km further via SH-5. Local trains from Tatanagar to Howrah ply on the route.

Where to Stay:
The ideal base is the rural tourism site Rusika Sangeko at Amadubi, 9km from Dhalbhumgarh railway station, run by Kalamandir of Jamshedpur.
Ph 0657-2320109 Email kalamandir.jsr@gmail.com
http://www.kala-mandir.org/web/village-tourism/amadubi.php

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 19 May 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/real-steel-jamshedpur-s-little-known-war-history

Chandernagore: Town of the Crescent Moon

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ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY explore an erstwhile French enclave and trading town older than Calcutta, renowned for its revolutionaries, littérateurs, philanthropists and sweets

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The Grand Trunk Road strode up to the Liberty gate of Chandernagore with the impetuousness of a conqueror, bludgeoning its way through the smattering of shops. In the clamour of cycles and rickshaws and pedestrians holding bright umbrellas, it was hard to imagine that a few centuries ago British soldiers had to request permission from the French to enter the town. With no love lost between the two adversaries, it wasn’t surprising that the Brits eventually razed the Fort d’Orleans and much of the French outpost in 1757 as Chandernagore’s trading dreams were eclipsed by the emergence of British Calcutta.

The République Française motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité adorning the 1937 gate beckoned us with the promise of all things French, yet Chandernagore was no Pondicherry. There were bold imprints of Bengali culture that had edged the French influence to the background. Amid the cluster of modern tenements, colonial mansions stood out like fairside attractions.

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Kanhai Seth’er Bari, home to the Nandys, was a lovely edifice with ornamental urns marking the gatepost. Further down the road Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir was a fusion of native and colonial styles where Corinthian columns co-existed alongside ornate Hindu motifs. Built in 1860 by Sri Harihar Sett it was donated to the people of Chandernagore as a theatre hall and library.

A brief chat with locals at a chai shop led us on our heritage trail past Hospital more (turn) to Nundy-bari, home of a rich Zamindar that now served the Ruplal Nundy Memorial Cancer Research Centre. His great grandson Shashank Shekhar Nandy was kind enough to share more about the historic building. Locally known as Gala-Kuthi from the time it was a Portuguese warehouse of gala (shellac), it went on to host dignitaries like Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar and Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray.

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Long before Calcutta was carved out of the villages of Sutanati, Kalikata and Gobindapur and the establishment of Fort William in 1698, Chandernagore 37km upstream on the Hooghly was a key trade centre. Boats docked here for rice, wax, saltpeter, indigo, jute, even slaves, as the town became home to seths, zamindars, Muslim traders, Armenians and enterprising men – Louis Bonnaud, the first European to commercially cultivate indigo in India, Batakrishna Ghosh, first Bengali founder of a cloth mill, Dinanath Chandra who ran the first European tincture factory in the area and Indrakumar Chattopadhyay, first publisher of a wall map on Bengal.

Prominent among the local businessmen was Indranarayan Chowdhury, appointed by the French Compagnie as Diwan in 1730. He received a gold medal from Louis XV, the King of France and constructed a rest house and the temple of Sri Nandadulal in 1740. We gazed at the squat shrine, its walls shorn of the rich carvings so typical of terracotta temples in Bengal. The exterior bore marks of cannon fire as Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson of the British army pounded Chandernagore in March 1757.

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We were led by Kalyan Chakravarty, a passionate gentleman so proud of his town’s heritage he had abandoned his shop Kumar & Co mid-transaction to guide us around the key sights. “Called Granary of the East, the Lakshmiganj Market was once India’s largest rice mart. Urdi bajar was named after the vardi or khaki uniform of soldiers who stayed here during colonial times.

In those days this area was known as Farasdanga (land of the French)” he explained. Like Clive and Watson we strode into St Joseph’s Convent, built in 1861, to the little chapel and stood at the 1720 door through which the British generals had marched into Chandernagore. A brief stop at the Sacred Heart Church and we reached the town’s pièce de résistance – The Strand.

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Reminiscent of Pondy’s Promenade, the 1km long 7m wide paved avenue was lined by historic buildings with the horseshoe shaped town divided into the French Villé Blanche (White Quarter) and a native Villé Noire (Black Quarter) that lay inland. Midstream between Murshidabad and Calcutta, Chandernagore overlooked the river and not the sea, but was easily the most decorated ghat on the 2500km stretch of the Ganga. At its peak, on the northern end of the avenue stood the 1878 built Hotel de Paris (now Sub-divisional court) and Thai Shola hotel built in 1887 (presently Chandannagar college).

On the south end was Patal Bari (Underground House), its lowest level jutting into the river. Originally a rest house of the French navy, it later hosted social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, who even integrated Patal Bari into his stories. Also lining the Strand were Rabindra Bhavan, the Gendarmerie (police station), an 1845 Clocktower dedicated to Joseph Daumain S’Pourcain and Dupleix Palace.

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A former naval godown and residence of Governor Francois Dupleix, it was converted into Institut de Chandernagor, an Indo-French Cultural Centre housing one of the oldest museums in the region. Its stunning collection included French exhibits like cannons used in the Anglo-French war, 18th century furniture, rare paintings, Shola craft of Bengal and memorabilia related to Dupleix and Tagore.

We walked to Joraghat or Chandni, a decorated pavilion at the ferry point with a plaque dedicated to Dourgachorone Roquitte. Courtier of the French Government, Durgacharan Rakshit was the first Indian to be conferred with the Chevalier de legion d’Honour in 1896. From here, the scenic curve of the river was clearly visible, curved like a crescent moon (chandra) after which the town was named. Some contend Chandannagar derives from the trade in chandan (sandalwood) or Chandi’r nagar after its presiding deity Boraichandi. Yet Kalyan da exhorted “The town is not famous for the Ganga or the French, but for revolutionaries!”

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The French enclave was a natural sanctuary for freedom fighters escaping the British Empire. Rashbehari Bose, founder of Azad Hind Fauj, revolutionary leader Kanailal Dutta and social reformer Sri Harihar Seth were based here. In 1910 Sri Aurobindo followed an adesa or divine command and sailed from Calcutta to Chandernagore where he stayed in the house of Motilal Roy before heading to Pondicherry after a 39-day stopover. Roy went on to establish the Prabartak Sangha and launched an incendiary Bengali literary magazine in 1915.

We turned to head back, but Kalyan da paused and whispered ‘You are yet to meet Chandernagore’s most famous ambassador’, his gaze fixed on the confectionery shop Surjya Kumar Modak. Legend has it that nearly a century ago the local zamindar asked Shri Modak to craft a unique sweet for the new bridegroom and he came up with the jolbhora – a sandesh with a delicious rosewater filling that doesn’t dry up for days!

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His creation (besides the Motichur sandesh) became a rage as even the most austere gentlemen from Tagore to Jansangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee found it irresistible. Today, it was also available in chocolate flavour with a gooey filling. We wound our way back to Calcutta along GT Road with the taste of Jolbhora still on our tongue… And Chandernagore seemed like a whiff of French perfume escaping from old love letters in an unlocked casket.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 20 July 2013 in the last edition of Times Crest.