Summer Vacation: Maidan – the lungs of Kolkata – III

Dominique Lapierre calls it ‘The City of Joy’. For us it is ‘The City of Dreams’ or ‘The City of Hopes’. Calcutta or Kolkata is a city of many moods and many memories that symbolizes India. Kolkata was the birthplace of modern Indian literary, artistic and scholastic thought and have a special appreciation for art and literature. It has long been known for its literary, artistic, revolutionary heritage as well it’s love for sports.

Every city in the world has a central place of attraction, apart from the various other places of interest such as Monuments, Museums, forts, historical buildings etc. etc.. If you are travelling to Delhi, you would definitely like to visit India Gate, so as Marine Drive in Mumbai or Marina beach in Chennai. Today, I will take you to one such place in Kolkata which you may have crossed several times during your visit to the city but never stepped down to see the place and enjoy due to either time constraints or not even aware of what it actually offers. I am sure you will be amazed to see this vast expanse of open space in the middle of the city. It was raining heavily on Jun 15, 2013 in Kolkata and I decided to walk and revisit some of places of my interest in the “City of Hope”.

Moidan

Maidan

The Kolkata Maidan is a huge expanse of land measuring five square kilometers in the middle of Kolkata. After British East India Company won the decisive battle of Palashi, they commenced construction of the new Fort William in 1758 in the center of the village Gobindapur, one of the three villages of the then Calcutta. The fort was completed in 1773. The whole village of Gobindapur was flattened and the area was developed as parade ground for the forces as well as to give the new fort’s cannons a clear line of fire. The inhabitants of the village were compensated and provided with land in Taltala, Kumartuli and Shovabazar. Maidan is still a property of the Indian Army and hosts the Eastern zone high command of the Indian Army in Fort William.

Tank

Plinthed Tank – Captured from the enemy soldiers during 1971 war

Maidan is home to numerous play grounds, including the famous cricketing venue Eden Gardens, several football stadia, Kolkata Race Course. World’s oldest hockey tournament, Beighton Cup was instituted in 1895, and is usually held on the Mohun Bagan ground in the Maidan. Kolkata’s story will be incomplete without mentioning Bengal’s football and our passion about it. We are crazy about football.

It is the nerve center of Indian football. City has three big football clubs; Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. There are various small clubs like Aryans, George Telegraph, Kalighat, Wari, Aryans, Rajasthan, Eastern Railways (BNR), Port Trust, Tollygunge Agragami, just to name a few. All these clubs have a huge contribution towards Indian football for a long time, including grooming budding talents. A closer look in this area and you will find many tiny greenish bungalows (club houses) belonging to various sports clubs with numerous patches for playing.

Clubs at Moidan

Clubs at Maidan

When we are talking about Bengal’s football and there is no mention of the biggest rivalry on the earth! Is this possible? The rivalry of Mohun Bagan vs. East Bengal is much much bigger than Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Inter Millan vs. AC Millan or Manchester United vs. Arsenal to a Bengali. Both the clubs represent a specific class of Bengali people, Mohun Bagan represents people existing in the western part of Bengal (Ghati) while East Bengal is supported by people hailing from the eastern part of Bengal (Bati), now Bangladesh. It was a derby match between Ghati & Bati, it’s a fight to prove superiority over others.

The National Club of India

The National Club of India

On ‘D’ day, streets of West Bengal suburbs and villages would be empty and stores would drop shutters hours before the match started.  Which side scored that illusive goal would determine the price of Ilish and Chingri maachh i.e. Prawn for next several days. For me, a die-hard Mohun Bagan supporter, we just had one wish to our God(s) since morning – “give us just one goal and we don’t want anything from you”. When their God(s) were more powerful than ours, dinner was not even served at home…believe me, it’s true. It happened several times at our home and I am sure it might have also happened to my friends on the opposite side when we won the derby. Even the best of friends didn’t meet or talk to each other for few days and there are many stories, cinemas based on this rivalry. 

I was a regular to see Calcutta league matches at Mohun Bagan ground. It was just like visiting a temple for me. I can still remember the voice of Ajay Basu “Mohun Bagan maatth theke Ajay Basu bolchhi” (Ajay Basu speaking from Mohun Bagan football ground) in All India Radio, when Television was there only to few people in any colony. Even today that one line uttered in a resonant voice evokes a lot of happy memories of excitement.  

Mohun Bagan Ground (Eden Garden side)

Mohun Bagan Ground (Eden Garden side)

Mohun Bagan Ground

Mohun Bagan Ground

By the time, we had already seen the God of Football to play & won the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 and it was a sheer joy for all of us. The city was divided into two parts for the first time, Brazil & Argentina. You ask any kid and you will be surprised to hear all the names of soccer stars of various Nations. We were also eagerly waiting for the annual Jawarlal Nehru Gold Cup tournament and slowly we started feeling where do we exactly stand in world football.

Football had already started loosing its’ ground even in Bengal after the heroics of eleven Indians performing a new magic at Lord’s in 1983.

Some unforgettable moments

Some unforgettable moments

People used to watch cricket and Eden Gardens was always jam-packed even for 5 days test cricket (capacity of more than 1 lakh) or even in a Ranji Match, but Calcutta was still a football crazy city. When a teenager decided to switch to cricket in late eighties after breaking his knee while playing football, it was all but almost over. One incident suddenly transformed a leisurely game of rich and elitist people into a obsession of sports loving people of Calcutta and the world of Calcutta football was never quite the same again. I still have a dream to just hear the news that India qualifies for the World Cup, before retiring.

Indian cricket began its long journey with a two day match on the Maidan in January 1804 between old Etonians employed by the East India Company. But no other sportsperson left such a huge impact in the field of Cricket in Kolkata. We became a fan of his magical left hand during our college days. By the time, he went to Australia in 1991, we knew that it’s the start of 3S (Sachin, Sourav and Sanjay) and a golden age of Indian Cricket. He became the icon of the city and we love him so much. Today, the prince of Kolkata is the role model for many city youngstars, as well as in the country.  

Cricket session

Cricket session

Eden Gardens

Eden Gardens

Eden Garden is the oldest cricket ground in India and is also considered one of the finest in the world. It was created in 1840 and named after the sister of Lord Auckland, the former governer general. The idea was to make a Biblical – style garden of Eden in India.

Eden Gardens Park

Eden Gardens Park

Eden Gardens Lawn

Eden Gardens Lawn

The garden dotted with beautiful trees and shrubs is intersected by winding paths, and there is a large artificial lake. Adjoining the lake is the Pagoda which was brought to Kolkata from Burma after the British defeated the Burmese in the war of 1884. It was built in 1852 at a cost of Rs.1500/- by Mong Hue, the chief architect with the help of ten carpenters. It was then established in Prome, a city in Burma by Ms. Mannikin, a Burmese lady. Built of exquisite Burmese segoon, the pagoda housed an idol of Gandhasa, whose forehead was studded with several precious jewels. When I visited last, it was under renovation and entry was not allowed. 

Eden Gardens Lawn

Eden Gardens Lawn

The Pagoda and the water body

The Pagoda and the water body

This park is very popular to all and a wonderful place for heaving a sigh of relief in a dull and sultry afternoon and enjoying a tryst with nature. The park opens  at 12 noon.

Earlier dring winter, several fairs such as Calcutta Book Fair, Lexpo, Handloom Expo were organized, which now have been shifted to a separate place. It was a wonderful walk for me in a rain filled day since morning, visiting some of the places where I used to spend my time while growing up and just thought to bring it to you. 

Do we visit any city or place just to see the known subjects only or we do visit the city or place to know & feel it’s pulse as well.  Maidan is the pulse of Kolkata. You may not visit the city only to see these places but you can keep some of your time free if you are planning to visit the city. Apart from the above, there are several statues, some Architecture marvels are situated in & around Maidan…just hope you will also love the next post as well.

…To be continued

22 Comments

  • Nandan Jha says:

    The lush green photos are a treat to eyes, Amitava. I didn’t know that Maidan (or should it be Moidan) is actually that big. Patna has a similar setup (though at a much smaller scale) called , ‘Gandhi Maidan’. My father was in Patna for few years and on my visits, a long walk in ‘Gandhi Maidan’ was therapeutic. I have been to India Gate few times in recent past and I do not remember a soulful walk, or a ‘discovery walk’ feeling.

    Should I link all the three posts together ?

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Hi Nandan…yes it’s really very very big…I started walking from Babughat (the ferry ghat) at 10:15 a.m. and when I finished my walk by 6:30 p.m. at College Street, I must have walked nearly 25-30 KM on that day. From Babughat to High Court to Maidan (you can call it Moidan as well) to numerous playgrounds to Mohun Bagan Club to Eden Gardens…I should stop here…please hold your breath till the next post…it will also be a treat for your eyes…I promise

    I love to roam around all these places whenever I was there. There were so many memories. Once we were waiting for the counter to open for the big match’s ticket. It’s raining cats and dogs and there was a crowd problem. Suddenly we saw a large force of Mounted Police coming to us and we run towards Eden Gardens. My favourite seat was always behind the Goalpost (as shown in the picture) and saw many many matches from that gallery. Those were the days of Subrata Bhattacharya, Shishir Ghosh, Satyajeet Chatterjee and in the last few years before leaving for Delhi…the black panther ‘Cheema’…all rules were broken only for him in Mohun Bagan Club after 100 years…I can just go on and on…still very much in love with football and whenever I have time, use to play with my son.

    Yes please, actually I couldn’t do it on my own. Give a heading as you think appropriate. This is actually going to be a different kind of post altogether…

  • Ashok Sharma says:

    Such a green Kolkata! I had never imagined .Cities and towns in our country are known most of the time for their unruly traffic, huge crowd, untidiness.This beautiful Kolkata is a feast to eye,worth visiting.Great photographs dipped in nature.

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Thank you Sir for your continous encouragement.

    Kolkata has its’ own perennial problems, including all those things which you have just mentioned above…unruly traffic, huge crowd, untidiness, traffic jam. Still there are many such beautiful places around, which you have just saw…and believe me, these are just a few of them.

    To know any city, one needs to understand the people of the city, mix with them, go deep into its’ culture and overall spends sometime…no city just can’t be judged in few hours or days…and Kolkata is one such city…one needs to spend sometime there.

    I hope you will also like the next posts as well.

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Amitava,

    The links to other parts (placed at the beginning of the article) are missing. You may like to place them for easy navigation of the reader.

    Now; it is a marvellous (and nostalgic) rendering of ‘Aamar Bangla’. The series, drawn from your own daily experiences about Cal, comes out in a cosy, endearing manner.

    Lakshmikantpur (shouldn’t it be called Lokkhikantopur ?) was a known station for me on Sealdah line, on my regular journeys to Baruipur.

    Mela gatherings – today’s version of ghettoised presentation of cultural offerings in places like Swabhumi (or Dilli Haat, nearer home); I feel that they are extension of today’s culture of ‘get it on a click/ ready to serve)’ . This can never replace the real experience.

    Details about Fort Williams and Maidan area are enchanting.

    Agree with you on football loosing its charm to a game which GB Shaw famously described as “a game where 11 fools play and 11,000 fools watch” . Will refrain from debating further on (though wish that football makes a comeback).

    Looking forward to next posts in the series.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Auro…

      I actually missed to put these in a series…and Nandan will have to stitch them together…my mistake…I requested him to put an appropriate heading/table and I think ‘Amar Bangla’ will be fantastic idea.

      You are spot on about ‘Lokkhikantopur’….heard this after a long time…whenever we were in Sealdah (S) station…’Eta ki Lokkhi local’ and we had to nod our head numerous times from our window seat…’still remember ‘Phatas’…the only thing to fall back when we were thirsty…Lokkhikantopur is an hours’ journey from Baruipur…I spent my 17 years over there. Were you staying or working in Baruipur?

      Dilli Haat / Swabhumi are almost similar…though we frequently visit Dilli Haat, we visited Swabhumi once few years back and saw ‘Bhumi’ and just a round around the place while returning from China Town after having dinner at Beizing…have you tried it…very nice place, if not visited yet. Yeah, these places won’t be able to replace the real experience…

      I am on the same page with you, ‘Auro’…just have a dream and I always pray for Indian football’s comeback.

      Thank you for encouraging.

  • Stone says:

    What a mesmerizing post for an ex-football (still cant call it soccer) fanatic.

    My favorite from those days were Bikash Panji, Prasanta Banerjee(what a left footer he had) and of course Cheema Okeri. Once I bunked school to watch PSV Eindhoven Vs India XI game, I was more thrilled to see to Bikash Panji than Koeman brothers then :-), even though we lost that game 0-8 :-)

    I dont remember much about Mexico-86 other than Linekars record and the hand of God goal, that image of Maradona and Shilton is frozen in my mind.
    My craziest phase was Italia 90, Superhuman Klinsmann was my favorite in those days. :-)

  • Thank you Sandip…but why an ex-football fanatic…

    The combination of Krishanu Dey and Bikash Panji are still a folklore in Indian football and it’s a love hate relationship, just because they used to play for East Bengal…we used to love them…but want they should not do well in a derby…Prasanta Banerjee is one of the great in those days…I love Shishir Ghosh very much and he was just like Paolo Rossi or Schilachhi in Indian Football.

    Those two teams PVS Eindhoven and Bochum did the final damage to Indian football…I still remember those matches…’86 was Maradona World Cup…and after that incident, the God of Football had decided to compensate the incident with his skills and I can still see those moves and the Goal and the celebration…he is still my God and not even a Messi can replace him from that place till I close my eyes….

    We all should pray for Indian Football’s comeback…

    Thank you Sandip and don’t be ex…

  • venkatt says:

    The post is a real tribute to the sporting legacies of Kolkata-its football and Cricket. Thanks for bringing the rarely seen vistas of the surrounds of Eden Gardens. The rains add a whole new colour to the pictures.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Venkat.

      Sports has no language and I knew it before that sports loving Ghumakkars will definitely love this post.

      It was also a priviledge for me to see ‘Black deer’ I.M.Vijayan from your neighbouring state to play for Mohun Bagan in late ’80s and ’90s.

  • Saurabh Gupta says:

    Green… Green…… Green……….. refreshed the mind……. I always like to go jungle & hills only for the natural beauty….. the pictures are showing the beauty and it is increased with your words.

    Definitely this series is going to be one of the best series on Ghumakkar and it is also encouraging me to write something on my native place.

    Kolkata is always known for sports lover specially for football & cricket. The people are emotional for the sports but football is loosing its ground as government is also not supporting.

    Thanks a lot Amitva Ji for showing us the beauty of Bengal……….. Eagerly waiting for the next post.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      When I went to Amritsar by car and I find similarity between these two states…as well as a part of U.P. and Bihar while driving home on NH-2…it was the same feeling while going to our factory in Warora, Chandrapura (Maharashtra) or Aurangabad…so this also means India is a very beautiful country…and we must explore all these places of India…be it urban cities, small towns, hills as well as to promote rural tourism…

      If you all love the series, I will really be happy…will definitely look forward to read your side of the story.

      We can just wish that AIFF spends some money for the development of Indian football or even if BCCI decides to promote other sports…may be it is day dreaming…but, there must be a beginning…all is not lost yet…there are many many people in India, who wants this to happen…hope someone is listening

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Nice to see this vibrant city through your eyes , Amitava Ji. My perception of this city of joy was that of totally crowded city though I had heard the name of maidan . Is this the same that is BBD BAGH? or somewhat different?

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Prof.
      Yes, it is a crowded city…you can see men, men and men only in some areas…like in Mumbai…but it is a vibrant city…don’t make any perception about any place or even anything…everyone has their own rights to judge things from different angles or from their point of views…what seems good or attractive to me may not attract someone at all, isn’t it?

      No…it is not.

      B.B.D. Bagh stands for three young Indian independence activists – Benoy, Badal and Dinesh, who on 8 December 1930 shot dead the Inspector General of Prisons, N.S. Simpson, in the balconies of Writers’ building of the then Dalhousie square, the square had been named after Lord Dalhousie, who was Governor General of India from 1847 to 1856. The square was built around a huge Tank ‘Lal Dighi’.

      The Writer’s Building, secretariat of West Bengal government, along with many famous buildings housing important businesses and banks are situated around the square; such as General Post Office of Kolkata, Telephone Bhawan, RBI, St. John’s Church. Maidan is within one KM distance from this place.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Amitava,

    Great account of Kolkata! Yes, it seems India including Kolkata turns beautiful in the rains.

    I do admit I was not a great fan of Kolkata. During my visits earlier it would bring me down. My first visit was during the pre CNG days of Delhi – maybe 1988. Newspapers would say Delhi is the most polluted city in India. And then I went to Kolkata. It seemed the city was covered in this swirling mist of black soot. I was gasping for air. It was better in my next trip during the rains when the pollution was washed off.

    However, I enjoyed my last two trips – both incidentally during rains. The maidan part you described was lush; walking on the Park Street; eating at Mocambo; going to China Town; with water bodies around. And then Salt Lake City seemed like Gurgaon or the suburbs of Bangalore, though roads were in sorry state.

    But then like Delhi, Kolkata has so much history that it will take months to discover everything. Its old world charm, the trams, Victorian era architecture. Mother Teresa.

    So this can be a huge series on Kolkata which will be a treat to everyone here.

    We are all aware of how sports crazy people are in Kolkata. It is every cricketers dream to once play at Eden Gardens.

    The post is dunked in your nostalgia. Nice photos too!

    • Thank you Nirdesh.

      It really looks beautiful like most parts of the country in rainy season.
      The city has also changed a lot in the last decade and it’s still changing. One will have mixed feelings of the city, infrastructure-wise…during my recent trip I have seen many low floor buses…though the old rickety buses, including mini buses still ply on the city road.

      There were numerous flyovers built to decongest the city road…and believe me, roads seem to be much wider than before and the condition is also good. I have had the opportunity to drive in & around the city in a bike, as well as car – so you will have to believe me about the present condition…I was driving from Howrah Shibpur to Central Kolkata, on our way to China Town and then towards Salt Lake during pick office hours, as well as at night…not even find a pothole and there was no traffic jam.

      We must not compare any city with Delhi, the capital of our country, as there is no problem with the funds and all machinaries functions in a well coordinated manner – but even in a city like Delhi, C.P. is still waiting for the make-over even after two years of Common Wealth Games, which was supposed to be over at least an year before the Games i.e. 2009….so as few stadiums. But, things are not as easy at the state level.

      True, the city has more than 300 years of history…it just can’t be possible to cover in few days. The whole objective of this particular post was for those sports loving friends in Ghumakkars only. It feeling nice that all of you like this post and pictures too…

  • Bidisha says:

    Hi Amitava

    Even for a person like me hailing from West Bengal (though not from Kolkata straight) the overflow of information was overwhelming. Nice post. Very informative and enlightening especially for a hard core Bangalee like me :). Tracking the rest of the posts as well. Nice pics too. We loved them.

    • Thank you Bidisha.
      For a long time, I am quite used to listen from many person what all there to see in Kolkata. The first thing I heard from them it is very dirty, very crowded and except a few like Victoria, Indian Museum and a few others – there is practically nothing to see.

      I just thought to bring some of these places just to spread awareness through this forum.

      Thank you for liking this post.

  • Vipin says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful experiential tale, dada! You beautifully brought out the character of not only this beautiful city, but also it’s people and it’s spirit (or rather sports & the madness for the game that we have always been hearing about)…:)…one can only write this post with such flavour when one is totally immersed into it…& you seem to be an immersed one…what a wonderful walk this was! Enjoyed it thoroughly…:)

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