How USSR continues to live in several of its old haunts in Kolkata..

Anuradha Sengupta writes an article from the City of Joy:

A recent thread on my Facebook timeline generated much mirth about the irony of the location of the American consulate in Kolkata. As the post mentions, Harrington Street was changed to Ho Chi Minh Sarani. As a result, all official communication from the American Consulate, including the Consul’s personal calling card, carries the name of one of American imperialism’s vanquishers.

Kolkata — where, once upon a time, if you threw a stone in middle-class paaras (neighbourhoods) you were likely to hit a kid named Gogol, or Stalin, or Lenin — has had an enduring affair with Soviet Russia. Traces of Soviet era still linger in the city. Many an adda at roadside chai shacks still centres around the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose and his possible exile in the erstwhile USSR after World War II. And people still address each other as ‘comrades’. In the old potter area of Kumartuli, you will find artisans crafting statues of Russian leaders, and strewn around the city are plaques in their honour and streets named after them. The best reminder lies beneath its crowded roads — the Soviet-designed Metro line. Kolkata was the first Indian city to get rapid-transit (metro) lines, way back in 1971, for which Soviet specialists (and engineers from the erstwhile East Germany) prepared a master plan

For a flashback to Soviet Russia days, head to Gorky Sadan. In a busy part of south Kolkata, in the pale light of fluorescent tubelights, a group of children are bent intently over chessboards, plotting and analysing complex positions and strategies worthy of Garry Kasparov. Their parents (mostly mothers) wait outside with tiffin boxes of snacks. This is the Alekhine Chess Club, named after the former world champion Alexander Alekhine and established under the then Soviet Consulate General in 1976. The club’s international masters include Sankar Roy, Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury, Arghyadip Das, Nisha Mohta and Samak Palit. “Chess is very popular in Kolkata; it is considered to be a vehicle for mental improvement,” says Gautam Ghosh, programme officer of Gorky Sadan, otherwise known as the Russian Cultural Centre of Kolkata. A statue of Maxim Gorky, adorned with rajnigandha flowers, greets you in the foyer. An exhibition hall displays photographs of Siberian landscapes shot by Russian artists. “Capitalism and other Americanisms may be taking over other cities, but many in Kolkata (and India) are still attracted to the ideologies of Soviet Russia,” says Ghosh, who also runs the Eisenstein Cine Club, a venue favoured by Satyajit Ray for previews of his films.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: