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Socio-Political Imaginings of the Kolkata Maidan
  • Shreyasi Pal
Shreyasi Pal
BMS School of Architecture

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The legacy of colonial spatial hegemony in Kolkata is investigated here with focus on the idea of public space particularly, the open maidan, defined by predominantly colonial buildings. This former centrepiece of British spatial expression of authority and pomp is appropriated by diverse uses but the edges can be read as a built record of the city’s tryst with colonial rule for 200 years. Evolving from a strictly Palladian palette to a more accommodating Imperial Indo-Saracenic, the continuity of colonial vocabulary is only rarely broken by modern buildings. Parallel situations in other British colonies e.g. the padang in Singapore, have undergone considerable redefinition and re-articulation, often consciously undermining the erstwhile hegemonic position. The paper would trace the ambivalent image of the maidan over the years, to uncover, albeit partially, the patterns to which the colonial, post-colonial and even the neo-liberal State limits itself in imagining this heterogeneous space.
The evolving socio-political imagination of the maidan and in that the cityscape would be traced on the basis of how media has captured it at critical historical junctures, the samples varying across time and across media. Maidan as a backdrop of riots, rallies and atrocious human sufferings in the wake of the Partition of India would be captured from newspaper clippings and narratives. Post-independence nation coming to terms with modernization and subsequent characterization of the maidan as a site for civic unrest, a first of a kind public space for sports clubs, picnics, fairs- an embodiment of personal freedom- the urban other- would be understood from stills from Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy and the Calcutta Trilogy. The attempt here would be to look for broader patterns of postcolonial urbanism by specific focus on evolving socio-political re-imaginings of colonial urban public spaces.