A Towering Personality

In this, the erstwhile City of Palaces, one such edifice, truly singular, stands out not only because of its pedigree, shape, and skyline, but because of its title: Tagore Castle.

Spotting the Styles in the city is an ever-popular feature for enthusiasts, and in this case, the material is especially intriguing. The conventions of the characteristic Calcuttan palace/bari/rajbari are well-known. Neo-classic ideas, wholly transformed by Bengal, usually with a courtyard, and plenty of columns, wherever they can be applied. Corinthian variations being the preferred capital style, with Tuscan sufficing for secondary pillars. (Ionic is best left to educational or ecclesiastical edifices, and Doric for heavy-duty jobs, such as the Mint).

From its very first impression, Tagore Castle cuts quite a figure, and it defies categorization. Its high-rise profile displays several Gothic touches, but that’s about the extent of it. Such accents were more plentiful in the Castle’s heyday, with an effect that was more Gothick (that is, Gothic-ish) than the real thing. Still, Dutch gables, brackets straight out of Fatehpur Sikri, and fortress-like frostings make this one-of-a-kind pile a superb example of the Calcuttan Composite style (a branding that will have to do for now…).Today it appears a sort of patch-job, with the main mass serving as host to a plethora of hangers-on.

It was not always so, of course. In the post-Company Raj, when Calcutta became a pukka capital, and thus, the place to be, major building schemes ensued, and the old-money families were quick to join in.

The House of Tagore has many branches and mansions, and this one, near the family hearth of Jorasanko, was built in the 1860s by (Maharaja Sir) Jotindro Mohan Tagore, land-owner and distinguished public figure. His heir, (Maharaja Sir) Prodyot Kumar Tagore, carried on the grand tradition. As an indicator of his station in the city’s upper society, his address is listed in a 1937 directory simply as: ‘Tagore Castle, Calcutta’. Also noted, his recreations: music, photography, and motoring. His own son, also resident there, merits mention as ‘heir-apparent of Tagore Raj’.

More analysis, facts, and history could follow, but it’s high time for a walkabout. Dramatic appeal instantly takes over. Like many of the places I’m revisiting, the intervals since the last perusal can vary widely. Happily, the basic makeup of the Castle really hasn’t changed in many a year. This is a neighbourhood of rich heritage sites, many on a small scale, but the Castle happens to be a towering testimony to the power of the zamindar class, who plainly made their statements via town houses of grandeur. The street at hand, named after Pathuriaghat on the Hooghly, used to be the only one paved hereabouts, with ballast stone from ships that called at said ghat.

 

Across the way, atop a more conventional palace – of the Mullick family I think – a statue of a muse bearing a cornucopia keeps watch over the higher elevations of the Castle. And way up there, the stucco work is quite fine, with the look of sandstone. It is holding up well, though occult brickwork is showing more than it used to.

For a private residence to provide the public service of a clock tower to its neighbours is a benevolent gesture, and the Castle’s tower provided at least two separate mechanisms (the third face, now bricked-up, seems only a louvered vent), and though fine templates of Roman numerals remain, the clockworks are long vanished.

The entrance is arched and relatively modest. As if imported from an old aquarium, the turquoise gloom surrounds, then dissipates, and the art of the interior stands revealed. A soulful and stylish staircase is the only route to choose. Ascending, the scene takes on the more folksy feel of a faded boarding house.

A cheery schoolgirl gallops down the stairs with a ‘Yup, I live here!’ confidence. Indeed, my understanding has been, somewhere around here, a girls’ school occupies the few nooks not subdivided into flats.

Further up, it’s obviously residential, and I tread respectfully. Gaining a roof of sorts, a genuine original turret stands, with a bit of Castle Dangerous verve. It sensibly houses a water tank, proving that even tertiary bits of heritage can be repurposed and still admired for their artistry.

Sensing my wide-eyed delight with the surroundings, a lady emerges from an add-on dwelling, quite natty and comfy, and engages me in a pleasant chat. She can well understand my appreciation of ‘the old buildings’, and is pleased to enhance my visit with an invitation to view a fine prospect from the adjacent terrace. There is the Barabazar matrix before me. To the southwest, Howrah Bridge, preparing for sundown. To the left and upwards, the romantic tower’s west face – weather-beaten, but with integrity intact – its mood more wistful than melancholy. A relic of true heritage, worthy of the name Tagore.

Stay curious, have fun, and be sure to come when Calcutta calls!

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