Ah, Calcutta! Yes, we mean Calcutta and not Kolkata. Just the mention of the old name of the city fills you with nostalgia. Once the seat of the British Empire for 221 years, their impression on the city is evident – right from its Anglophilic culture, to the classic colonial architecture. But that was then and this is now. Kolkata, the modern metropolis, doesn’t have time to deal with relics of the past. The biggest clues to the onward march of time lies in the city’s constantly-changing skyline. Calcutta was a city of bungalows and beautiful manors, whereas Kolkata’s ushered in the age of the high-rise building.

Calcutta Houses, a photography project on Instagram, hopes to archive the city’s remaining colonial structures and heritage homes and preserve them against the ravages of time. The project is run by three friends – Manish Golder, Sidhartha Hajra and Sayan Dutta – and was inspired by Calcutta Architectural Legacies, an initiative which campaigns to conserve Kolkata’s delisted heritage properties. The platform chosen for their efforts is Instagram. In an interview with Scroll.in, Golder explained that they chose Instagram because of the “availability of the technology of the phone camera which is non-invasive, discreet, powerful, instant, records location and other archival attributes easily. Also, Instagram as a platform allows you to focus on visuals and retains the immediacy.”

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While many buildings deserve a spot on the heritage list, that honour mostly belongs to those buildings officially commissioned by the British. What remains of Old Calcutta’s architecture is languishing in neglect. Many of these old buildings are caught in disputes and unoccupied, leaving the Kolkata Municipal Corporation with little choice but to demolish those structures, which have become dilapidated and a threat to the people living nearby. And while many initiatives endeavour to protect them, it’s a losing battle.

Calcutta Houses knows this and is doing what it can to archive these buildings so that future generations can see what the city was like once upon a time. In the same interview with Scroll.in, Dutta says, “Using the medium of photography and illustrations, we look to capture the spirit of ‘many in body, one in mind’, of building a community in which every citizen of the city can share their personal Calcutta house story. Each house has its unique style of windows, pillars, flooring, stairways, furniture and balconies. Many of these Calcutta houses are different from one another, but they all come together in a very homogeneous form to help breed the city’s culture – as clusters or paras, as we know them in Bengali. That is what is fascinating and unique about Calcutta’s architecture.”

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In time, all our cities will be taken over by modern architecture – concrete blocks and glass towers that are built to blend in with the city’s landscape and not stand out. So, take a walk down memory lane with this wonderful photography project and lose yourself in Calcutta’s by-lanes as you make your way from one beautiful old building to the next.

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Cover Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.com

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