When Satyajit Ray wrote the Feluda novel, Gorosthane Shabdhan! (গোরস্থানে সাবধান) in 1977, the process of renaming streets and locations in Calcutta had already started. Of course, this reached a frenzied pace in recent years with the renaming of the city itself to Kolkata and the prime location of the novel, Park Street, to Mother Teresa Sarani. Nonetheless, in the story we find signs that change had already started. Dalhousie Square had become B.B.D. Bag in honour of the revolutionaries Binoy, Badal, and Dinesh. Topshe even had difficulty remembering that Ochterlony Monument had been renamed to Shaheed Minar! (Most people born in my generation have no clue who David Ochterlony was and what he did to deserve a monument).
I remember that my grandmother used to refer to places in Calcutta (or Kolkata, if you prefer) by their original names. She would always say Dalhousie Square, “Monument”, Theatre Road, Camac Street, Harrison Street, and Circular Road. Many of these names are still present in Gorosthane Shabdhan! but others are gone. During my lifetime, people started making a shift to the new official names, although there are pre-Independence names that are still common. For example, Chowringhee and Strand Road are still quite popular. In any case, I will not be surprised if Esplanade is also “Indianised” soon.
Please note my personal opinion: I do not intend to make a political statement, but I do strongly feel that we cannot and should not try to wish away our heritage (whether good or bad). And part of the reason I personally find Gorosthane Shabdhan! to be a fascinating novel is because I see Feluda and Tosphe inquisitively digging away at the colonial history of the city.
Of course, Satyajit Ray’s story was written before the internet became a common resource. Today, we have it easy: we can look up many of the clues in the story and even figure out that the main antique, the Perigal repeater is a watch. But Feluda had to dig up the clues the hard way, by doing field-work and consulting Sidhu Jyatha, who unfortunately didn’t know about this priceless type of watch. When I first read the Feluda stories, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to use the internet either. Now reading the story, I feel as nostalgic about Feluda himself as I do about discovering the old-world charm of Victorian Calcutta.
However, since there are many readers like me who are only vaguely familiar with Calcutta (as opposed to Kolkata), I thought it would be proper to take a short virtual walk through the city in Gorosthane Shabdhan! For additional reading on the history of the city, I highly recommend Calcutta: The Living City Volume I edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri and published by Oxford University Press when the city turned 400. Pick it up at College Street before our bureaucrats change the name to Mahabidyalay Janapath!
In the story, Feluda poured over a map of Calcutta and Howrah dated from 1932. However, much of the story deals with Victorian Calcutta, and names didn’t get changed en masse until after India’s Independence from Great Britain in 1947. I’ve painstakingly acquired two maps of the city, one from 1893 and one from 1924 which you may find useful. Please note the names of streets in these two maps. These names have changed over the course of the last sixty years.
Feluda also mentioned Bourne & Shepherd, the oldest photographic studio still in operation. The gang also looked at pictures of Calcutta taken from atop the Ochterlony Monument in 1880. I’ve been able to find some pictures from around that time that will help us walk down the proverbial “Memory Lane.”
Please note that I have collected many of these antique photographs and postcards through eBay. You can find gems yourself by searching for Calcutta (“Kolkata” won’t work here). The photos can be freely used since they are not subject to copyright. If you can help me find the names of the photographers, please let me know so that I can attribute properly. The text is, however, subject to copyright and cannot be used without permission of Feluda.net.