Fort William was constructed by the British from 1696 to 1706 with permission from Emperor Aurangzeb. The old fort was damaged during the Siege of Calcutta. A new one was rebuilt (1757-81) near the restored building. The old one became the customs house from 1766 and a post office post-independence and the newer one went to the Indian army. Nishi Pulugurtha roamed the grounds near the fort or the Maidan with a camera & recapped a post covid world as it was in December, 2020.
It is a strange time that we are living in. And it seems to be getting even stranger with every passing day. It has become difficult to concentrate, to work, to deal with things as news keeps coming in. Suffering and death all around, the very sound of the ambulance last evening shook me as I was dealing with the loss of two dear friends. Both gone too early, both to the virus that seems to be wrecking lives in these times. Staying at home is not an option for all, staying safe and doing things that would keep each safe is difficult for many. The bizarreness of the world we live in haunts and troubles.
As each of us struggle trying to hold on, my mind goes back to a walk one winter morning, towards the end of 2020 (I have been looking through older photographs these days, trying to hold on). One morning last December, I decided to go out for a long walk. Not in my neighbourhood, but a little further away. The city has a few places that one could be in the morning — places that are very familiar and have a charm of their own. Winters in Kolkata are crisp and pleasant. In the heart of the city is what is called the Maidan, a huge expanse of green. It is called Gorer Mathh in Bengali which translates into fort’s grounds. These are the grounds of the Fort William which is just across. The Kolkata General Post Office (GPO) is located near the site of the old Fort William.
The Maidan is an iconic Kolkata location, one gets to see it in films, songs and photographs. The tram trundles along the grounds. It is one of the most scenic tram routes in the city. I have travelled past it myriads of times just to enjoy the ride along so much of green in the heart of the city. However, I do not recall walking there at all.
Well, there I was finally, that December morning. As I walked along one end of the Maidan, with the Chowringhee skyline clearly visible and the tramline running past, the scenes that I saw felt nice. There was the lone milk man on his work routine. No rest for him.
Quite a number of branches were lying around, most of them dry. They create strange shapes here and there. As I walked down from the northern side to the southern and back again, feeling the breeze, sitting down on a broken branch for a while, it sure felt nice being out in the open.
There seemed to be a sense of calm with the sheep out for grazing with the men herding them, the sound of a few jingling bells, the men catching up on some conversation – all in a day’s work.
In another part of the Maidan, a few young people were at a game of football. A couple of cricket matches were on somewhere else, as the tall buildings look over the green.
A few horses were grazing in another part of the open ground, before being yoked to the carriages that are used for joyrides.
Three men in orange were out on a mission it seemed as they walked real fast cutting across the vast expanse, through the shade towards the road lining the tram tracks.
On some other parts of the Maidan, one could see people resting. On a concrete platform someone was enjoying a siesta. A jhaalmuri vendor with his spicy, savoury snacks and the tea seller walking around looking for customers provided a respite from languor and more activity as life moved on.
Nishi Pulugurtha’s works include a monograph Derozio, travel essays Out in the Open, edited volume of travel essays Across and Beyond, and The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.