Saturday, June 6, 2015

CALCUTTA v/s KOLKATA ... Revisiting A Yank's Memory !!

We all have that one (may be more, if you are lucky) big, fat, old family photo album which stores the best moments from our childhood. Often in family get together or at our leisure time, we keep revisiting them, reminiscing down the memory lane. It's also a very common practice amongst us to compare our present looks with that in the photo taken years ago ("Ohh, you had curly hair like Sachin!!", "My God, you were so thin then!!" etc. etc.) and the changes are sometimes very fascinating too.

Now, have you ever tried to imagine how our City looked like 70 years ago and what are the changes that took place in its prominent places? Be the answer is affirmative or negative, I, now present before you such 11 pair of photographs of Calcutta/Kolkata which were taken 70 years apart. So let's start our journey back and forth in time.

Many old photographs of Colonial Calcutta are available in the internet but probably the most famous of them are the series of 60 photographs taken by Mr. Clyde Waddell in 1945.

Clyde Waddell, an American, was the chief photographer for the Houston Press, an afternoon newspaper based in Houston, Texas, USA. At the time of World War II, he joined US Army and came to India-Burma area in November, 1943, as a part of the allied forces. Lord Louis Mountbatten was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in that area. Waddell served as his personal photographer and accompanied him throughout Southeast Asia till February, 1945. Later he was assigned as news photographer to Phoenix Magazine, a weekly sponsored by the joint US-British command. After the reoccupation of Singapore from Japanese Command by Allied forces in September, 1945, Waddell took a leave and came to Calcutta. He captured the life in the city in a series of 60 photographs which not only are some well documented images but also highlights the American impressions (casually referred as 'Yank') towards the city.

The South Asia section of Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania, acquired this photographic album from a book dealer, called 'A Yank's Memories of Calcutta' published by the Waddell himself

Several attested copies of these works are published from then on and available widely all over the internet. I have selected only 11 shots out of it covering the significant areas of Calcutta and tried to recapture it from the same angle/viewpoint in the line of Mr. Clyde Waddell.  

While recapturing these 11 shots, I have followed a route from East to West, through the city.

Checkpoint 1 : CALCUTTA JAIN TEMPLE, Badridas Temple Street

Temple of Sitalnath, the most significant temple in the Jain Temple Complex. 
Calcutta Jain Temple or the Parshwanath Temple, built by Rai Bahadoor Badridas Mookim in 1867 is located at Badridas Temple Street in the narrow lanes of Maniktala or can also be approached from Gouribari. The temple complex is divided into 4 temples. The one seen in the photograph is the primary one, belonging to Sitalnath, the 10th Jain Tirthankar. As the temple and its surrounding complex has'nt changed much in last 70 years except few renovations, it is probably the most glorious temple in the city.

Checkpoint 2 : NAKHODA MOSQUE, Chitpore

Nakhoda Mosque, view from Zacharia Street
First let me correct a mistake. In all other published works available in the internet including the original album by Waddell himself, this particular photograph is captioned as Nimtolla Mosque. But this is Nakhoda Mosque, situated at the Crossing of Rabindra Sarani(Chitpore) and Zacharia Street in Central Calcutta. Built in 1926, this is the largest mosque in Calcutta with a capacity of 10000. It can be seen that though the original structure remains the same including the Clock at the top of arch, the architecture of the adjacent building has changed a lot. The finely crafted verandahs are now gone and it's just a shadow of the bygone era.

Checkpoint 3 : HINDUSTHAN BUILDING, Chandni Chowk

Hindusthan Building, at the Crossing of Madan Street and C R Avenue
Hindusthan Building, a prominent landmark of Central Calcutta housing many office premises including the Eastern Zonal Office of LICI. Clearly the area has changed. Roads had been widened. The then building seen in the extreme left side, is now E-Mall, one stop destination for electronics. 


Dharmatollah Crossing
Dharmatollah, where Central meets South. The Metro Cinema Hall and Metropolitan Insurance Building can be seen in the upper right corner, though renovated. The present day click has been made from the top floor of the building, housing famous sweet shop K C Dass. The open ground seen in the right side of old photo is now bus terminus. Unfortunately that scene can not be captured due to large hoardings.

Checkpoint 5 : FIRPO'S, Lindsay Street

Grand Hotel-FIRPO'S
The picture taken by Waddell depicts an American Soldier checking out Gems, in front of FIRPO'S. The market housing FIRPO'S were devasted by a fire on 23rd April, 2002. Since then, the facade has changed. No sign of FIRPO'S today. The exterior is almost covered by the advertisement hoardings. The photo was taken from the Southern side of Grand Hotel pavement. The famous balcony was extended later on. But there is an interesting point to note. The book shop seen in the Waddell's photo in the left side is still there, as seen in the extreme left corner of the latest photo. The then shop owner was Radheshyam Tiwary who was present in the Waddell's picture. Now the shop is operated by his grandson who inspite of identifying his grandfather, neither agreed to reveal his name nor agreed to let me take his photo !!!  


New Market
Sir Stuart Hogg Market, devasted by the fire in 1985, had been partly rebuilt in the old line of architecture and named as New Market. One would not find much difference with the previous structure which is clear from these photographs. But the front premises on Lindsay Street has been modified since and converted to underground Simpark Mall with parking facility. American Military Trucks can be seen lined up in front of the market in the Waddell's click.

Checkpoint 7 : ATINDRA MANSION - S B MANSION, R N Mukherjee Road

Atindra Mansion - S B Mansion
In his album Waddell wrote "Native madman is allowed to roam the streets naked...How he escapes being run one of India's mysteries". It's unfortunate that highlighting India's poverty has been a practice amongst the foreigners since long. The building in the background was formerly called Atindra Mansion, housing the head office of Howrah Motor Co. Ltd. Later it was taken over by the State Bank of India, R N Mukherjee Road Branch and renamed as S B Mansion. Howrah Motor Co. Ltd. shifted its office to J D Park.


Calcutta Stock Exchange
The Calcutta Stock Exchange, at Lyons Range, BBD Bagh, is the oldest stock excchange of South Asia, incorporated in 1908. The Air-Conditioning Machines and  the Electronic Display of the Share Prices and Indices are the only additions in this 70 years. Ironically, the under construction part of Writers' Building seen in the right side of Waddell's photo is now under process of demolition, as a part of Writers' Building Renovation Project.


Strand Road - M G Road Crossing
These photographs are taken from the northern side of Strand Road. Horse drawn carriages were popular then. But the exterior of the corner plot clearly indicates that famous poem by Shri Shankha Ghosh "Mukh Dheke Jay Biggyapone" (Covered by the Advertisement) was equally applicable at that time !

Checkpoint 10 : MULLICK GHAT

Mullick Ghat
The shot was taken by Mr. Waddell from Howrah Bridge I assumed. Hence I followed his footprints. Photography from Howrah Bridge is actually prohibited. So it is the best shot that can be taken from the middle of the Howrah Bridge. Though I took the shot early morning at the time of ebb-tide, but the river has receded at least few metres in these 7 decades.

Checkpoint 11 : HOWRAH STATION

Howrah Station
Our last point has literally changed a lot. Though Bullock Carts are now-a-days replaced by modern goods carriages but you can still see many Hand Carts operating in the area. The hoarding of LICI along with the digital display board is absolutely out of place and obstructing the century old red brick structure. The northern part of the Station building had been renovated and a new floor was added long ago. Then there was only a single clock in the clock tower with Roman Numerals which was later replaced with modern day clocks on all three sides.

So here our illustrated journey comes to an end. I have a plan to recreate other photographs from the series in future. This post will be updated accordingly.

I must thank my long time buddies Abhijit Das & Souvik Kayal for accompanying me throughout this expedition in spite of their busy schedule. Specially I am indebted to Souvik, who has not only lent me his DSLR Camera but took many photos himself.

Special Thanks : 
1. Mr. O P Singh, Film Producer 
    - for letting us capture the Dharmatollah Crossing from his flat.

2. Owner of Camera Exchange, Esplanade 

    - for guiding us about the photo of FIRPO'S and sharing some anecdotes with us.

3. Mr. Debashis Gupta, UCO Bank Employees' Coop. Credit Society 

    - for permitting us to capture New Market from the rooftop of UCO Bank.

The photographs of Clyde Waddell were taken from the archive of Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania. All copyrights reserved by them.

You can check all 60 photographs here -


  1. Fantastic Work.. waiting for more from you..:)

  2. Sure.....keep checking on every Saturday...

  3. brilliant idea, equally well presented.

    1. Thank you....please visit on every Saturday to know something unknown !

  4. Great work Soham..keep it up..

    1. Thank you Mimidi......Please visit on every know something unknown !!

  5. Excellent compilation Soham..... missed this earlier

  6. A remarkable achievement, Soham! Very cool. The Waddell would be pleased!

    1. Waddell's lense tells a lot ... Sir, thank you for the read, please keep visiting

  7. I have an original book of these photos. How much do you think it's worth?

    1. I'm completely unaware of the fact that these photos got published !! Would you please share the details of the book? It's an important document no doubt.