Heritage can mean different things to different people. SheThePeople.TV’s Women Writers Fest’s Kolkata edition had a panel discussion on “Heritage Chronicles”. The speakers were Supriya Newar, Sangeeta Bapuli and Kamalika Bose and Vibha Mitra  moderated the session. The panel discussed how heritage can mean tangible and intangible things both. Vibha Mitra pointed out that the city was not only about the potholes and the traffic, but it is also about the myriad identities that are embedded in the fabric of Kolkata.

What does heritage mean to you?

Sangeeta Bapuli said heritage to her meant language, culture and people, she spoke about her inter-religious marriage with a Bengali. She also spoke about her Sindhi roots and her two sons who represent the two identities she associates herself.

The mini-bus is what reminds Supriya Newar, author of Kalkatta Chronicles, of Kolkata’s heritage.  “It is the only city which has a transport vehicle on which local art is displayed,” she said. She believes heritage is not the reverential items such as the pashmina shawl which is worn with care and then kept wrapped in naphthalene balls. “Heritage is something which is handed down to us. They are not necessarily buildings, but a practice, a character or a quirk which has passed its expiry date. We continue to embed it in our lives, and preserve, inculcate and practice it in our daily lives”, she added.

Heritage is something which is handed down to us. They are not necessarily buildings, but a practice, a character or a quirk which has passed its expiry date.

Built Heritage

Kamalika Bose, who is a conservation architect, believes that built heritage is the most accessible to create awareness. She believes the collective inheritance of neighbourhoods we live in, the communities we are born into is what defines heritage. She is also the author of the book People Called Kolkata.

Cities are part of our collective heritage.”Cities will outlive us,” Bose emphasises as she talks about the Dalhousie square and South Kolkata which are rapidly changing. As a conservation architect, she feels that “we are continually realigning ourselves into new directions as a move towards the future. We need to enhance our collective consciousness through our heritage”, Bose stated.

Influence of heritage

Supriya Newar’s novel, “Kalkatta Chronicles” has a striking title. Supriya discusses  how the word Kalkatta has a very hybrid character.

The title she claims is unabashedly borrowed from mercantile Calcutta, British Calcutta, its many practices, professions and the way it deals with its people and the story of the different communities who have settled in the city over centuries. She asks, “The only narrative that we hear about Marwari community is about how they make money and is restricted to men. I find it appalling. What were the women doing?”

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Newar talks about the phenomenon of load-shedding and how the terminology is only in Kolkata while the rest of the country uses the word, ‘power cut’. “Our lives behaved around these moments and how one grew up in that atmosphere”, she says.

Kamalika’s novel, People Called Kolkata presents the fifty facets of Kolkata.  “Kolkata absorbs everyone. It does not alienate anyone”, she says. The anthology has 55 stories by different people. “They are historians, bloggers and academicians, who have a different lens. The anthologies are interview-based stories and are not fictive”. They represent salient features of Kolkata.

Kolkata absorbs everyone. It does not alienate anyone.

She freely expresses her love for Kolkata by calling it the “resilient city”, which has resisted two waves of partition, wars, and violence. Its spirit exists in its survival through the ages of tradition and art.

Sangeeta talks about her journey of being a Kolkatawali. She recalls her grandparents migrating from Sindh in Pakistan to Bengal, moving from their big Havelis and buggies to a small accommodation in Bada Bazaar. She recollects her grandmother calling Kolkata as “khara Kolkata” (Bad Kolkata).

As she was one of the English-speaking kids, who mixed around with Bengalis, her fondest memory is of Bengalis is not covering their tiffins, not wearing scarves on cold days. “Their fathers paid strict attention to their studies but my father could barely remember the grade I studied in,” she says.

She fell in love with the city and embraced it fully. She talks about why during her college days, she switched to dressing up in salwar kameez and sarees, rather than her short skirts. She spoke about how she got attached to the union room where the student parties would gather for Adda. She gradually became a part of  the chai sessions. And over time she recognised them as being humble and intellectual.

She feels this contrast most in her sons. “Karan is the one who got the Bengali genes as he knows everything about everything, while Arjun is the money-minded one.”

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Saumya Rastogi is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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