In 1905 when George Curzon, Viceroy of India, announced the partition of Bengal along religious lines, Calcutta newspapers in Hindi and Bengali published editorials against the move, and demanded complete independence. The non-violent Swadeshi movement and the belief by nationalists that non-violence was not giving fruitful results led to the development of underground revolutionary organisations in Kolkata and across the nation.
While the organisations are long gone, dilapidated buildings that once housed them continue to exist in Kolkata. Here are five such buildings, that have not been given their due recognition by either the city or the state government.
The Anushilan Samiti was formed in 1902 by Pramathanath Mitra, a barrister and a proponent of Indian nationalism. While on the surface, the Anushilan Samiti functioned as a social club for fitness, it operated as an underground society for anti-British revolutionaries. Along with Mitra, Aurobindo Ghosh and his brother Barindra Kumar Ghosh were instrumental in helping the Anushilan Samiti to grow and spread throughout Bengal.
The Samiti later opened a branch in Dhaka led by Pulin Behari Das that worked to spread its work in Assam and the region that is now Bangladesh. Today, the building where the Anushilan Samiti operated from in Kolkata still stands at 48 Bidhan Sarani, but there is no plaque or signage to indicate the role this address played in the freedom movement.
In 1906, Barindra Kumar Ghosh, Bhupendranath Dutt, Abinash Chandra Battacharya and other revolutionary leaders in Bengal launched a weekly magazine to promote the work of the Anushilan Samiti. Several revolutionaries who wrote for Jugantar were arrested for their writings. In his book, ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’, that was published as ‘Nirbasiter Atmakatha’ in 1921, Upendra Nath Banerjee writes: “I became mighty curious about those precious souls who were able to bring about a Revolution in India and who were, so to speak, the living images of the future Freedom of India,” adding that Jugantar had a reputation for being a “den of revolutionaries.”
The magazine later went on to give its name ‘Jugantar’ to one of the many revolutionary groups active during that time. This group was first headquartered at 27 Kanai Dhar Lane and then later moved to 41 Champatola First Lane in Kolkata. Today, neither of the buildings have any signage or indication that a magazine instrumental in the Swadeshi movement was published from these addresses.
Several members of the Anushilan Samiti and the Jugantar group received training overseas in creating basic arms and opened a local factory in Kolkata where they began producing weapons. In 1908, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki attempted to kill local magistrate Douglas Kingsford, which led to the legal proceedings known as ‘Emperor vs Aurobindo Ghosh and others’ or more commonly as the Alipore Bomb Case, where several members of the Anushilan Samiti were arrested before trial on grounds of waging war against the British government.
Today, the Arya Samaj is better known as an institution that allows religious and social ceremonies within its premises. However, a lesser-known part of its history in Kolkata is its association with freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, who, according to his descendants, was an Arya Samaj follower like his grandfather. After killing John P Saunders, a British police officer in 1928, Singh escaped to Kolkata, where he took refuge for several days in the Arya Samaj building in the city. A plaque on the main entrance here describes how Singh created bombs and weapons while hiding inside, with the assistance of Barindra Nath Ghosh and Jatindra Nath Das.
Singh’s second visit to the Arya Samaj was a result of an invitation by Seth Chhaju Ram, a follower of the Arya Samaj and a philanthropist from Punjab who was based in Kolkata.
According to the plaque outside the Arya Samaj, Singh’s second visit to Kolkata was in preparation for the 1929 bombing of the Legislative Assembly that he carried out along with Batukeshwar Dutt.
Favourite Cabin & Paramount
In the congested bylanes of College Street packed with makeshift bookstalls, unless one walks with single-minded devotion in search of the eatery, it is easy to miss Favourite Cabin. The 101-year-old establishment started as an eatery for tea and toast in 1918 by two brothers, Nutan Chandra Barua and Gaur Chandra Barua and little has changed in its interiors since. Few know that Favourite Cabin was a regular meeting place for Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bengali poet Premendra Mitra, Bengali author Shibram Chakroborty and other literary icons in Bengal’s history who started the Kallol movement (1923-1935).
Paramount, a sherbet shop in the College Street area, is a Kolkata institution in existence since 1918 and was set up by Nihar Ranjan Majumder, a member of Barishal branch (now in Bangladesh) of the Anushilan Samiti. “My grandfather was a freedom fighter and he came to Calcutta from Barishal and set up this sherbet shop,” said Partha Pratim Majumder. Paramount was originally called ‘Paradise’ and the name was changed by Majumder’s grandfather in 1937. The sherbet shop has a room in its interiors that continues to exist today, where revolutionaries would sit and “plan”, Majumder told indianexpress.com.
The shop’s most famous drink, the ‘Daab Sherbet’ (coconut sherbet) has its own place in the revolutionary history of pre-independence India.
According to the Majumder family, it was created by scientist Prafulla Chandra Ray for Paramount. “My grandfather told us that this was Prafulla Chandra Ray’s recipe. The students (in the nearby colleges) didn’t have much money and P.C. Ray used to say that coconut water and flesh of the coconut would keep stomachs full,” said Majumder. Today, the sherbet costs Rs 70, but when revolutionaries gathered here, it would cost four annas.
Raja Subodh Mullick’s house
In Wellington Square in Kolkata, a large mansion belonging to Raja Subodh Mullick now lies in ruins. Despite being declared a heritage building in 1998, the property has been mired in legal challenges for years, with Calcutta University having plans to demolish and replace it. Raja Subodh Mullick was a philanthropist and a revolutionary who financed the Bengal National College, which later merged with the Bengal Institute to form Jadavpur University. He also helped provide funds for the National Council for Education, an organisation that developed as a part of the Swadeshi movement to promote learning in science and technology for Indians.
Mullick’s house in Kolkata became a meeting place for revolutionaries and was frequently visited by proponents for India’s independence like Rabindranath Tagore, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Chittaranjan Das. After the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy, along with other members of the Anushilan Samiti, Mullick was deported to the Andamans for his nationalist activities against the British.