Chandernnagore, a small town in the western bank of Ganges, a French colony with illustrious history, heritage and culture Chandernnagore earlier was also called by the name Farash Danga; in Bengali which means a place were the Farashi’s or the French lived. But the history of Chandernnagore does not only start from the French period but dates long back to the sixth century. Like Bengalis in India French in Europe are similar races both culturally and historically very rich so it was always very interesting to us to see the connect between the two. It is also fascinating that French in India had always tried to capture small pockets to carry on their trade. Like Pondicherry in south India and Chandernnagore in West Bengal. This always fascinated me. It was through a friend that I got to know about the program called by the name Heritage and people of Chandernagor. It was from this friend that I learnt that they were looking for volunteers to conduct their programs. I enquired about it and they, Udit our project head and Manvi who were already involved with the program let me know about the scheduled activities that would take place during the program and what we were expected to do. As I was available at that point of time I became interested and approached them. Promptly Udit and others up in Delhi let me know that I was a part of the volunteer team. It was an excellent experience working at site with Udit, Manvi, Mukulika, Paromita, Somwrita, Titas and others. The job was so interesting that we would not feel tiered even after travelling fifty Kilometers from Calcutta in the heat of May and June. We would go from house to house, institution to institution gathering and looking for information about the culture, heritage and the history of the place. This part was quite challenging as very little information was available and very less work has been done in this area. We here were not only looking for the colonial past but also how the locals lived and amalgamated with the French and vis-a-vis.
We were also interested about how Indian nationalist like Rishi Aurobindo, Barin Ghosh used it as a shelter and refuge. How they made Prabartak Sangha a centre of Indian nationalism. Doing this we came to know about the Basa festival which now has disappeared from the face of Chandernagore. This was quite interesting to me. We herd numerous stories from various people all very different from one another regarding one particular matter which was regarding the plebiscite when the French left, how they lost and decided to go.
Another thing which appeared fascinating to me was that while we were marking old building we went to a quite old house roughly about 300 or 350 years old which I do not exactly remember now but was a quite large house with a pond at the rear side. We were very warmly welcomed by the owners of the place. But what was important was that while talking he told us that in the past they have been traders of chilies and were cultivators of oysters in their Back yard pond. This one thing cultivation of oysters in back yard pond in rural Bengal that too three hundred years back was not very common or usual. I and Udit had a long discussion about this why oysters in rural Bengal, we could not reach a definite conclusion, neither did the owner nor other people could throw much light into the fact. It might be because of the French influence and demand both for culinary and ornamental purposes these people started cultivating oysters.There were lot of people who could tell a lot about their past and history of the place, there were particularly many who were totally blank and had no clue about what we were talking.
The community involvement programs were a great fun, the painting competition, Lego workshop were great fun too. It was especially interesting to see that the little ones at par with their older counter parts. There was this boy in the painting competition in the junior level who after getting the concept drew the entire thing in fifteen minutes and the rest of the time in painting and detailing the picture. The painting was close enough to a real photograph of the Institute de Chandernnagore which was his topic of drawing. The Lego workshop, the community mapping program, the Franco bangle cook-off, the Heritage walk, the comic book workshop, the photography workshop with Sanjit Choudhury went very well and far beyond expectation.
The photography workshop for me personally was a learning experience, where I got to learn about the nooks and crannies of heritage photography. It was overwhelming to see that the children got the message of heritage-culture-and conservation correctly.
It was really unfortunate for me that I could not be present for the final day. It was a great pleasure working with the entire team of Aishwarya Tipnis Architects, Udit, Ashim, Aishwarya maam, the volunteers Paromita, Manvi, Somwrita and all others whose names I am forgetting at the moment. This is the time when the website is going to be unleashed and the heritage, history culture of Chandernnagore will find a place in the web and all the hard work put in by the team will be Successful. I wish ATA, the team, and all its partners all the very best for this and all future endeavors.