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White & Black: Journey to the centre of Imperial Calcutta

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:Soumitra Das is a Calcutta-based journalist who writes extensively about visual arts and heritage issues. He has contributed a long essay to the critically acclaimed book on Tramjatra organised by a Melbourne-based university. He is the author of A Jaywalker’s Guide to Calcutta, on the streets of the city. THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Christopher Taylor is an English photographer based in France. His photographs are marked by sheer poetry. He has held several exhibitions in Europe and China. Sponsor Olaf Van Cleef is an adviser to Cartier on ‘high jewellery’ and is himself a qualified designer of gardens. He has written the Foreword to this book.

: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-andmortar 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: Journey to the centre of Imperial Calcutta 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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