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House of Henry Louis Derozio Sister Nivedita's School
Imperial House - Captivating Calcutta
1148    Dibyendu Banerjee    16/03/2019   

Located in the Chowringhee area, on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, near the crossing of Lenin Sarani, the massive building of Imperial House is not at all reputed like the other glamourous, graceful and majestic building located on the same stretch, down from the corner of Park Street in the south to the junction of Lenin Sarani in the north.

Subsequent to the construction of the new Fort William in 1758, the British started to extend the city of Calcutta toward the south of the new fort, as the locals were settled in the north. Consequently, the European inhabitants gradually started to leave the Tank Square-Lalbazar area for the newly developed area around the Maidan. However, during the early days of the seventeenth century, that area was a tiger-infested wasteland. In fact, Chowringhee was a hamlet even in 1717, surrounded by waterlogged paddy-fields and bamboo-groves, dotted with isolated huts of fishermen, woodcutters and the cultivators.

Gradually, Chowringhee started to flourish. Huge bungalows, Hotels, Entertainment centres and houses were built all along the eastern end of the present Chowringhee Road, while the area along the western edge of the road was a huge open area called the Maidan, which was intentionally kept open and development-free due to security of the fort. Chowringhee Road, subsequently renamed Jawaharlal Nehru Road, was the first road in Calcutta, where pavements were built in 1858 to facilitate the erection of the gas lamps.

Old picture of the Imperial House, by the side of Metro Cinema Hall
Old picture of the Imperial House, by the side of Metro Cinema Hall

Some of the grand buildings along the road, which still remain, are - the Indian Museum, Government College of Art and Crafts, the Asiatic Society, the Oberoi Grand Hotel (started as Royal Hotel and was rechristened Oberoi Grand in January 1911, when a wild fire claimed the old Royal Hotel), the Metropolitan Building (which was once Whiteaway & Laidlaw, where British army officers stationed in Singapore on short furlough would shop for a decent lifestyle), the Bible Society, Bishop’s House, Army & Navy Stores (renamed Kanak Building) and the Chowringhee Mansions (now housing several offices).

Among those attractive structures, the huge building of the Imperial House seems to be totally out of place, like a beggar in tattered clothes in a group of elegant persons. However, it had a golden past. It represented one of the old land-marks of Calcutta. Opposite to the hotel there used to be a very dirty and unsightly tank, quite different from all the other tanks in Chowringhee, which was eventually filled up, and the greater part of the ground thus reclaimed has been occupied by the Calcutta Tramways Co and a small portion to the extreme west forms part of Lady Curzon’s Garden.

The Shaw Brothers
The Shaw Brothers

Once upon a time, during the Second World War, the new imposing building of the Imperial House was the address of the Bristol Hotel. The Shaw Brothers, with its middle class atmosphere, was situated just behind it, in a dingy lane, now popularly known as Metro Goly. However, during those days, the Shaw Brothers was widely known as Chota Bristol, for its positional proximity of the well attended Bristol Hotel. Subsequently, it became the Anarkali Hotel, which is a part of its glorious past.

Today, due to negligence and lack of maintenance, the age-old building has become shabby and battered and is counting its day. However, till today the dilapidated Imperial House is the address of many establishments. A part of the ground floor is occupied by a garment shop and another shop, named J Biswas & Co, deals with arms and ammunitions.

The Shaw Brothers
House of Henry Louis Derozio Sister Nivedita's School
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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