The Ever Transforming Fabric of the Bengali Essence

by Subir Ghosh, C Block

My first impression of C R Park, erstwhile “Bengali Colony” dates back to the early 70s. I remember getting down from DTC Bus number 5 from Gole Market (our earlier residence in Government quarters), at Kalkaji Bus Stand, opposite Deshbandhu College, and walking down a vast rocky terrain, to reach the under-construction house, which my father had given to one retired army officer, to construct, on a turnkey basis.  

I was practically in tears to imagine myself living in such a wild place, in the middle of a huge, thorny jungle, completely cut off from the  lively Gole Market, with Connaught Place, within walking distance and Kali Bari, which gave the remote identity of being a Bengali in a hitherto “Obangali”, or non-Bengali terrain. Kali Bari, was the epicenter of all things that the recently displaced “Probashi Bengalis” identified with – from Durga Puja and Kali Puja to theatre, to “Jatra”, the original street plays, which roamed from village to village with their “Goshthi” or groups in East Bengal; and the quintessential “Bengali addas” comprising of 20-30 Bengali gentlemen, pristinely attired in crisp white dhoti or pyjamas, and “Panjabi” or Bengali Kurta, in the evenings with endless, steaming cups of tea and “Shingara” or Samosa. The icing on the cake used to be the yearly unique events that felicitated Matinee Idols such as Uttam Kumar and the likes. These events were mostly hosted by New Delhi Kali Bari Association. 

 Soon, my professional life took me to Bombay/Mumbai, Madras/Chennai for about a decade and I lost touch with C R park, then called EPDP Colony, except for the mandatory, annual visits to meet the parents. It was then in the early 80s that I started to settle down in the colony and I felt for the first time, at home with the “Bangaliana essence” firmly entrenched in the culture by then, that fondly connected me back to my childhood roots in Kolkata. 

Our house was a plain and simple, single story one, with a wide verandah and a large, open backyard. I vividly remember being envious of seeing beautiful houses in I & J blocks with driveways & porches. During my annual summer vacation trips to “Mamar Bari” (maternal house) in Calcutta (a very common ritual for “Probashi” or relocated Bengalis in Delhi), I used to be escorted by my maternal Grandmother to visit her richer relatives. Among them, one had a house in Richie Road with a driveway and even a backyard for the army of household helpers and milking cows. Incidentally, we used to enter through the back door, while the entry through the driveway was for the richer guests, normally the car driven ones. While yet another house in Bhawanipur, South Kolkata, had a huge driveway or ,”garibaranda”, overlooking the then Purno cinema. The terrace of the porch was used by the children for playing “Kumirdanga”, a favorite game played in large open spaces.  

I loved these two architectural aspects, namely the driveway and porch which were visible in a few houses in C R Park albeit in the “richer” neighborhood(blocks) of C R Park. The plotted lands allotted to the applicants were based on their salary (mostly Government servants) There were several plot sizes –160, 233, 320 and a few 400 square yards. The plots in H, I & J were of 233,320 sq yard plots mostly and the houses built were large with large verandahs and driveways, if not porch. Many house owners of these large plots were very senior bureaucrats, government officials, defense heads and police chiefs. Such houses had large, beautiful gardens preceding sprawling bungalows at the back. The gardens proudly housed majestic mango, jackfruit, guava, moringa trees on one side and verdant and abundant hibiscus, jasmine, rose and marigold plants all around. Perhaps, a picturesque demonstration of nostalgia of their sprawling lands in East Bengal, now Bangladesh.  

Walking down the lanes of the colony in the evenings, one could hear the sweet sound of conch shells, echoing across the colony and the fragrance of incense sticks, wafting out of every house, during “Sandhya Arati”, a mandatory, evening invocation ritual. 

During the mid-eighties, few houses started getting sold, mostly due to financial distress and in a few cases due to relocation back to Calcutta, perhaps, then, a better place for retirement. The builder dimension began to creep in, and the individual houses were slowly turned into multi-storied structures. These structures, the now famous “4+ stilt” form the new skyline of the colony.  

Now, while I take my evening walks through the inner lanes, I must make an extra effort to locate individual houses and I sometimes hear a conch-shell blow. Sarees are becoming a more occasional dress for the fast-paced woman of today, who has to juggle multiple responsibilities, hence it’s not a convenient dress in the present-day scenario. Nor do I see excited, young boys going door to door to collect “chanda” or donations for various Pujas, as sponsorships have taken over the budgets of the Pujas, largely. However, one very common sight is people taking their pet dogs for a stroll.  

When CR Park earned its present name, people used to identify the colony as “Bangali Colony”, with a tinge of envy ringing in their voices, for the fact that Bengalis have their very own colony! The fact that CR Park is still considered a quiet, peaceful and non-political place to live in, still attracts hundreds every year to buy a builder floor and move in.

The fabric of the colony has turned cosmopolitan now, although the essence remains “Bangaliana”, at its heart!