Calcutta III: Ram Mohan and Armenian Ghat

Next, we had some disappointments. I was interested in visiting the Armenian Ghat. Armenians had been coming to India for over a thousand years. Of what I knew, they had mostly been coming to work as soldiers under Indian states in the earlier years. Since the Mogul era and subsequently, they came in actively as merchants, just like they had been doing so in West Asia for a much longer period. I learnt that Calcutta had a strong Armenian presence in business & commerce in that era. But I had not been able to learn more regarding the Armenians the city. We overshot the Armenian Ghat turn by 100 meters and given the traffic rules, were forced to board the Howrah Bridge. It meant losing half an hour to return to the same spot, and lost our way. We returned a week later to visit the Ghat. As one looks from the Ghat into the breezy river, Howrah Station stares at you from the opposite bank. The Armenian Ghat was built and donated by a group of wealthy Armenian merchants. Unfortunately, the huge building looks all set to crumble down. We saw a few men wrapped in gamchha (thin cotton towel, generally dyed in red, popular in Bengal and Bihar), bathing in the revered waters of the river. We decided to leave after we realized that all eyes were set on us, as if we were aliens from mars.

Our search for the Armenian Church proved futile. We found the Armenian Street -- a (very) narrow road, guarded from air and sunlight, by the seamlessly connected buildings on either side. But the church was not there. Change in names, of roads and buildings can prove to be very inconvenient. We were actually pretty close, as I would learn later.

But the day was made, when we succeeded in locating Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s house. The influential lord of his times had it seems, many houses in Calcutta. This was the principal one though. We assumed that finding the house on Ram Mohan Roy Sarani (street) would be easy. The street had been renamed recently. The street name was alien to our cabbie. Once there, he recalled it with its earlier name. I had expected to see a wall or two surviving from the original building, after seeing a dated photograph of the dilapidated edifice. To our utter surprise, this seemed like a new mansion. Fortunately for the generations to whom this heritage belongs, a charity-based trust in the Raja’s name acquired the building from its illegal occupants who had stripped the building down to its last wooden window-frame. The building structure is original, but everything else is replica. It was heartening to see a bunch of academics driving the entire project with devotion. They spent a good deal of time educating us on the Raja’s life. There is a museum dedicated to the Raja and is still being populated with fresh acquisitions, mostly from private collections.

The Raja’s activities in the city were broadly from this building, which has a large tank (now a deadly marsh) in the backyard. The college, which I believe was instituted by the Raja, stands behind the tank.


michael said...

There is the armenian church on the narrow armenian street plz go again ask the local shop keepers it cannot be missed.If you contact the vestry officer he will give you more details.he is avbl from 10am-5pm Mon-Fri.
Michael Stephan

Rahul said...

thanks. will do that on my next visit to the city.