UNDER THE BANYAN TREE: The Forgotten Story of Barrackpore Park
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In 1948 the Government of India at New Delhi handed over a large piece of property, measuring about three hundred acres and situated north of Calcutta, on the banks of the river Hooghly, to the State Government. In time the State Government handed it over to the West Bengal Police. The property included an imposing mansion built in the classical style with an elegant colonnaded portico, smaller bungalows scattered around as well as a large garden, styled like an English park with an enormous banyan tree on the southern side of the mansion. A raised walk along the river’s embankment made for a pretty stroll down the river. The huge mansion was refitted hurriedly into a makeshift Police Hospital and slowly fell into disuse, while in time the park was scarred by ugly, modern buildings and the gardens began to grow weedy and derelict.
Such was the fate of Government House, Barrackpore, conceived and begun by Lord Wellesley in 1801 and completed by the Marquess of Hastings in 1823. This was the weekend country retreat of the Governors General and later the viceroys from the start of the 19th century. The ris of Simla pushed it into obscurity but as private papers including letters, journals and reminiscences show, this was a vibrant weekend retreat for British administrators till the last years of British rule; thereafter it was slowly forgotten.
This book documents the history of Government House and Barrackpore Park along with a photographic series of its present day restoration. It is hoped that such a documentation will validate the efforts of all those who in the past and the present have felt the beauty of old buildings as a justifiable and valuable part of world heritage. For historians, architects, conservationists and anyone who understands the need to look back in order to move forward, the following pages provide a compulsive read.
Monabi Mitra is an Associate Professor of English at Scottish Church College, Calcutta. She studied in Loreto House, Presidency College, Calcutta and Jadavpur Univeristy. She is also a writer and translator. Her works includeThe Fakir- a translation of Sunil Gangopadhyay’sMoner Manush(Harper Perennial 2010) and a collection of Ashapurna Debi’s short stories entitledThe Matchbox(Rupa & Co., 2004). In 2009 she began writing crime novels, using the genre of the’police procedural’, which was subsequently published by Penguin India in a three-novel series entitledFIR, The Dead Don’t ConfessandThe Final Report, starring DSP Bikram Chatterjee and his dedicated team of Crime Branch officers. She takes a keen interest in heritage and its conservation.
Soumen Mitra is an Indian Police Service officer currently posted as the Additional Director General of Police (Training), West Bengal. He combines his official duties with a keen appreciation for heritage and restoration. An alumnus of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta, Presidency College, Calcutta and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, his previous book is entitledIn Search of an Identity: The History of Football in Colonial Calcutta.