1943: The participation of Japan in the Second World War and its advancement into South East Asia had created an atmosphere of fear and threat in Calcutta. The Japanese Air Force had repeatedly bombed the city spreading a sense of panic among Calcuttans. Several affluent families of the city had moved out to places like Madhupur and Deoghar for safety.
The air base at Barrackpore was situated at a substantial distance from the city creating an impediment to provide emergency cover against the Japanese air strike. Therefore, the British decided to create a temporary air base at Ellenborough Ground (near Calcutta Race Course) to facilitate the take off and landing of fighter aircrafts. The neighbouring Red Road was used as a parking bay for these aircrafts.
Gobindapur was one of the three villages, which were merged to form the city of Calcutta, the other two being Kalikata and Sutanuti. Many eminent families of Calcutta like the Ghosals, Tagores, Seths and Bysacks had their garden houses in Gobindapur. While Kalikata and Sutanuti lost their identity as the city grew, Gobindapur was demolished to make room for the construction of the new Fort William and Red Road.
Red Road was constructed during the early 1720s. The road was originally paved with shurkhi (red laterite soil) leading to the naming of the road as Red Road. The road was constructed to facilitate the commute of Britishers to their garden houses situated in Alipore and the suburban areas.
The present Red Road was constructed when Fort William was under construction during 1757-80. Originally, there were no trees on either side of the road as we see it today. It was Lord Dalhousie who took the initiative to beautify the area by planting trees and erecting statues of several eminent British Generals on both the sides of Red Road.
During 1970, these statues were brought down and replaced with those of eminent Indians. Some of these statues were later re-erected in the Barrackpore Park and can still be found there. The government of West Bengal renamed Red Road as Indira Gandhi Sarani in October 1985.
Every year on 26th January, Red Road turns into a fortress as the nation celebrates its Republic Day. The Republic Day parade held at the Red Road is a spectacle that leaves its beholders in awe. And during the Id-ul-Fitr, several thousand followers of Islam gather on Red Road to offer their prayers to the almighty.
As hundreds of vehicles breeze past us everyday, we can’t help thinking that this is the wide stretch of molten bitumen and tar that stand tall in the city memoirs as one of the most decorated and prestigious roads of Kolkata.
(WITH INPUTS FROM RENOWNED HISTORIAN P. T. NAIR)