Ambassador & Roli Books celebrate the publication of Calcutta Then, Kolkata Now

H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India and Roli Books celebrate the publication of Calcutta Then, Kolkata Now by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, Pramod Kapoor, Indrajit Hazra, Anshika Varma.

New Delhi, 1 November 2018

The Ambassador of France to India, H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, and Roli Books were pleased to celebrate the publication of Calcutta Then, Kolkata Now, by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, Pramod Kapoor, Indrajit Hazra, and Anshika Varma. The book, which comes in the year marking the 40th anniversary of the publishers, was formally unveiled at a reception at the Residence of France on Thursday, 1st November 2018.

The evening, hosted by Ambassador Ziegler and Roli Books, started with a video of rare images from the book accompanied by music composed by Soumyajit Das and Sourendra Mullick.

Speaking of the work, Pramod Kapoor, founder-publisher of Roli Books and photo editor of Calcutta Then, Kolkata Now, said, “I have an umbilical connection to the city. I was born in Jorasanko and have very fond memories of the time spent there. I visited Calcutta many times since my birth, but it wasn’t until late last year when I was researching for this book that I realized how inerasable those memories are.”

On this occasion, Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler remarked, “For long an opening to the outside world, the port city of Calcutta retains remarkable traces of the ancient co-existing with the modern. The authors and photo editors have given us an outstanding work documenting the past and the contemporary, where image is not only illustrative but constitutes historical archive material. It is an honour for me to celebrate Roli Books’ publication of Calcutta Then, Kolkata Now and glean the insights of its creators on this singular city.”

About the book

Calcutta Then: Calcutta is where it all began. The city symbolized India’s transformation from medievalism to modernity. The British created the framework. The prophets and pioneers who operated within it were Indian. Raja Rammohan Roy linked past and present. After him came the poets, patriots and politicians. They made banian, boxwallah, bhadralok and biplab – trader, company executive, gentleman and revolutionary – the four props of the new metropolitan culture that inspired Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s memorable comment, ‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.’
Much water has flown down the Hooghly since then. But the lifestyle that evolved in the city is still the hallmark of success throughout the country. Calcutta was modern India’s first capital, from 1772 to 1931. Announcing the shift to Delhi during his visit to Calcutta, King George V declared, ‘Calcutta must always remain the premier city of India. Its population, its importance as a commercial centre and great emporium of trade, its splendid historical traditions, all continue to invest Calcutta with a unique character which should preserve to it a pre-eminent position.’

Kolkata Now: Love it, endure it, call it what you will, Kolkata is Life as ‘kháos’ as no other city is. Once a bubble, holding out the rest of Bengal – and, indeed, India – it is today a city that contains a multitude of cities: Kolkata, Calcutta, Kalkatta…. Its cosmopolitanism and liberal values are clichés because they are true, even as they stand witness to its past insurrections and present anomalies as much as to its genius to enjoy life – through pujo, mishti, Culture (always with a capital ‘C’), neighbourhood addas, fajlami (innocent naughtiness), football and fish. For visitors and those who once left the city, it can be a walk through time, a ride on a tram, or a constant return to the scene of old happy crimes on Park Street, in its colonial-style clubs, or its sprawling mansions that exist cheek-by-jowl with malls and multiplexes. For the Kolkatan, Kolkata Now keeps its own beat and time, where everyday struggles and quibbles unerringly give way to the ability to live Life – both peripatetic and sedentary, bustling and empty, noisy and gone-quiet, Technicolor and Noir – in the 21st-century mahanagar as it moves, always pretending to succumb, to the future.

Address of H.E. Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India

Dear friends and lovers of Calcutta,

It’s an immense pleasure to welcome you all tonight at the Residence of France for this beautiful evening dedicated to all Calcutta lovers as we celebrate the publication of Calcutta Then, Kolkata Now.

I am definitely a Calcutta lover. And my being so might not be a surprise, for I am very French!

For French people Calcutta still sounds like an invitation to travel between the East and the West. This port city has long been our first introduction to India. In fact, in 1860 Le Comptoir d’Escompte, (one of the banks that went on to become today’s BNP Paribas) had chosen Calcutta to open its first branch in India. The city was famous as the emporium of India.

A few kilometers away, on the banks of the Hooghly, lies a town bearing traces of India and France’s conflation: Chandannagar. It is a striking confluence of cultures, which we hope to help reinvigorate.

Calcutta is also Bengal and Bengalis: a place and a people of great culture who have long cultivated strong links with our country. Rabindranath Tagore and his long relation with Romain Rolland obviously comes to mind among a host of Bengal’s poets and writers. So does Satyajit Ray, who probably still is the most popular Indian filmmaker in France and one of the heroes of the Nouvelle Vague. Dominique Lapierre’s City of Joy, is a book that every French person would have read.

The muse of so many writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, musicians and anyone with a creative or cultural bent, Calcutta is definitely the most Parisian of any Indian city; or is it Paris that has something of Calcutta?

Thank you and congratulations Mr Pramod Kapoor and Roli Books, for reconnecting us to Calcutta.

My deepest commendation to writers Sunanda K. Datta-Ray and Indrajit Hazra and artist-curator Anshika Varma for placing the city in its varied contexts, and for their outstanding historical and iconographic work, where image is not only illustrative but constitutes a material of historical archive. I must say that your work, which carries the substance of the expert, yet remains accessible to the layperson, is truly amazing.

Your beautifully produced book invites all of us to take another journey into the Calcutta of the past and the Kolkata of the present, and shows that our deep attachment for and obsession with Calcutta continue unabated.

About the Authors

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s first essay on Calcutta appeared in the Observer magazine, London, in October 1970. He was editor of the Statesman, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and editorin-residence at the East-West Centre, Honolulu, before moving to Singapore, where he spent more than a decade in journalistic research and academic positions. His books include Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium, Bihar Shows the Way, and Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India.

Indrajit Hazra is a writer and journalist. He is the author of the novels The Burnt Forehead of Max Saul (2000), The Garden of Earthly Delights (2003), and The Bioscope Man (2008), the last two set in the Kolkata of different eras. His Grand Delusions: A Short Biography of Kolkata was published in 2013. He was co-author of the Roli Indian edition of The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies (2014). He writes the fortnightly column, ‘Red Herring’, in the Economic Times, and the weekly column, ‘Indi Pop’, in the Bengali daily Ei Samay. He lives in New Delhi.

About the Photo Editors

Born in the Jorasanko area, north Calcutta, and brought up in Banaras, Pramod Kapoor is the founder and publisher of Roli Books. A sepia aficionado, he has over the course of his illustrious career conceived and produced award-winning books that have proven to be game changers in the publishing world. Be it the hit ‘Then & Now’ series and the seminal Made for Maharajas, or the internationally acclaimed New Delhi: The Making of a Capital. His first book as an author, Gandhi: An Illustrated Biography, is published in several international editions. In 2016, he was conferred with the prestigious Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour), the highest civil award in France, for his contribution towards producing books that have changed the landscape of Indian publishing.

Anshika Varma is an artist, editor and curator for lens-based media. Working in multi-media, her practice questions our sense of identity in an ever-changing world. She has curated for Contemporary Arts Week (2014), Obscura Photo (2016), Ffotogallery, Cardiff (2017), Angkor Photo Festival (2017), Goa Photo (2017) and Photo Kathmandu (2018). Her personal photographic works have been exhibited in India, Europe and the USA. She has also worked on book projects documenting social and cultural landscapes of the country.

Last modified on 13/11/2018

top of the page