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White & Black: Journey to the Centre of Imperial Calcutta

Soumitra Das (Author)
Synopsis Globalisation has made a dramatic if belated foray into Calcutta, once considered the Second City of the Raj and India's cultural capital. The most visible of its impacts has been a rapid change in the city's skyline. The outlines of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Howrah bridge and the Ochterlony monument (today's Sahid Minar) that once ruled Calcutta's horizon, have been fast overshadowed by the jagged contours of high-rise and mid-rise buildings and towers masses of aesthetically-dead concrete. By contrast, the city's built heritage inherited from pre-Independence times may be in the last stages of ruination but the buildings bear traces of the glamour that once won Calcutta the sobriquet of City of Palaces. Although often conceived by European architects, without the skill and fine workmanship of local artisans they would never have turned into brick-and-mortar realities. Regal and awe-inspiring in their youth, the old buildings have had their grace enhanced by age. Dalhousie Square at the centre of the British Empire's proudest city is one of the last redoubts of imperialistic architecture, its hauteur mellowed down to quiet dignity. White & Black does not see Dalhousie Square, or BBD Bag as it has been rechristened, and its architectural heritage through the haze of nostalgia. It takes a clear-eyed view of the changing face of Calcutta's power centre from the tumultuous days of its establishment to our sad times. Dusty and disfigured, Dalhousie Square has acquired the dignity of all those who refuse to be written off. It is this spirit that Christopher Taylor celebrates in his superb black-and-white frames, and Soumitra Das captures in his sweeping narrative. White & Black guides us through Dalhousie Square, that is the quintessence of Calcutta today.
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About the author

Soumitra Das

Soumitra Das is a journalist born and based in Calcutta who began his career with The Statesman and its now with The Telegraph. He is deeply involved with the visual arts and heritage issues and writes regularly on these topics. He has a popular column titled ‘Flashback’ on Calcutta’s history and the city's rapidly changing face. In October 2007, he brought out a book on the streets of Calcutta entitled A Jaywalker's Guide to Calcutta which became a bestseller. He has contributed to the Tramjatra book on Calcutta trams published by an Australian university. Christopher Taylor is an English photographer based in France with the vision of a poet. His black-and-white photographs have an elegiac quality that sensitively capture the misty, grey climes of Iceland, the rarely noticed details of China's bleak and dreary urbanscape, and the grand colonial buildings of Calcutta that had seen better days. A zoologist by training, this self-taught photographer mostly uses a cumbersome studio camera or else an ancient Rolliflex even in the busiest streets. Yet human beings are rarely sighted in his works. So, his photographs never fail to surprise. He has held critically-acclaimed exhibitions in Paris, Arles, London, Beijing, Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta Olaf Van Cleef, scion of the Van Cleef dynasty, has been a counselor in high-range jewellery at Cartier since 1982. An accomplished artist in his own right, Olaf, who lives in Paris, has held several exhibitions in India. He has published a travelogue entitled From Darjeeling to Pondicherry and is also a designer of gardens. Above all, he is an indefatiguable lover of Calcutta, a city he has been visiting since 1990.

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Bibliographic information

Title White & Black: Journey to the Centre of Imperial Calcutta
Author Soumitra Das
Format Hardcover
Date published: 05.09.2009
Edition Ist ed.
Language: English
isbn 9788189738433
length 228p., Figures; Plates; 30cm.