Citizen’s Historian, Heritage & People of Chandernagore Project
I am a student of second year BA History Hons at Presidency University and was surprised when this summer I came across on post on facebook looking for Citizen’s Historians. In my junior school days I quite detested the idea of being born at a suburban town, Chandernagore, where you have to depend on the nearest metropolitan city Kolkata for every luxury of life. In those days, I boasted of being here was the extra fun and enjoyment we had during Jagadhatri Puja; the few extra days of holidays and of course our extended mood of festivity when during the five days of puja the entire town came together to organise such a spectacular show. I had heard that Chandernagore was a French colony, but was hardly anything to arouse my interest. Strand and Joraghat was only only a place for hanging out and umpteenth number of adda sessions. But my perspective changed when in eighth standard I was selected to represent my school in a quiz contest being organized to mark the 60th year of Independence of Chandernagore and all the questions in it was focused on one topic ‘Chandernagore’ or do I call it Chandannagar. Yes! That’s the first time , after being kind of forced to read about my town, I came to know that it has got different names and different legends associated with each. I stood second in that quiz contest. Our team came second in that quiz contest, losing the first in a tie breaker round, and it was only after getting a deeper view of the past of MY town Chandernagore that I finally discovered what a treasure trove it is.
So when I saw the post, I immediately jumped at the opportunity of working on the project, ‘Heritage and People of Chandernagore’. It was here as part of the team, I was able to come in direct interaction with history of Chandernagore and I came to know the cultural interaction which took place among the natives and the colonial masters. Previously my knowledge about the French colony was restricted only to ‘Ville Blanche’ or the city of the whites. But after our oral history documentation of about sixty houses of Chandernagore dating back to the French era, I came across how ‘Ville Noire’ or the city of the blacks had equally injected in it bits of French culture. The documentation of building history and family history of Chandernagore has uncovered a lot from the past. To me it was seeing Chandernagore in a new light.
The best part I liked about this project was that we were not just collecting history for ourselves to write or publish papers in journals, we were collecting, collating and now publishing on the web so more students like me can be aware of their heritage. My most interesting experience was curating the questions for the Quiz Competition on the theme of “How much do you know about Chandernagore?” held at IDC along with Udit da, Udit Sarkar, the Project Architect.
Since Udit da was in Calcutta and me here we did quite a lot of it on the phone, then at the last minute on the day of the Quiz we couldnt get the printouts since the electricity went out in the cyber cafe and I left my phone at home so Udit da was pacing up and down the verandah at IdC almost thinking I wont show up. We went to each and every school to invite them to come and participate and it was wonderful to have the best representation from Chandernagores best schools namely Sri Aurobindo Vidyamandir Chandernagore , Kanailal Vidyamandir, Kanailal Vidyamandir French, Krishna Bhabini Nari Siksha Mandir and a general team.
We Citizen’s historians curated and conducted the Quiz at IdC while Aishwarya Maam and the other judges including the then French Consul General Fabrice Etienne sat in the back benches and observed.
But I firmly believe that there’s a lot more to unveil of MY town Chandernagore and now I take pride of being a part of it, I call it my own.