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A curious building
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(Top) Surana House; (middle) one of the entrances; (below) the windows with awnings. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

Surana House at 3/1 Mangoe Lane on the pavement opposite Currency Building is the most curious building in Dalhousie Square. Till a few years ago, it looked lousy, shabby and unkempt, bent double with age and years of neglect.

So many footsteps had fallen on the two steep staircases leading to its first floor from Mangoe Lane and Mission Row Extension that the steps had no edges at all, making it risky to climb them.

It is not known if heightened awareness of heritage instigated the landlord to whitewash the building or not, but after the facelift the architectural features of the house have become more prominent. Even its name has become more visible. The steps, too, have been repaired.

Surana House is actually two buildings adjoining each other. One of them is tall and can be seen from the crossing of Bentinck Street and Mission Row. Its adjunct is a low-rise — ground plus one — with an L-shaped facade with a row of windows that are close to each other. Above each window is an awning carved out of wood, all of them surprisingly well kept. The ground floor houses apart from offices and eateries, a bar that was once famous for its “chingrir cutlet”.

The floor above is occupied mainly by shops that sell motor parts. These shops encircle the courtyard in the middle.

Abhay Singh Surana, 72, who is the landlord, says earlier, when he used to get the house whitewashed he had noticed the inscription which said it was built in 1901. Surana says his family came to Calcutta from Churu in Rajasthan 130 years ago. His air-conditioned office is equipped with PCs and several deities.

Surana says originally the building on 105 cottas was a low rise. The area behind it was crammed with hutments with tiled roofs. Mostly Chinese cobblers and Anglo-Indians lived there. Massage parlours operated here. Most of the tenants in this house used to be Anglo-Indians, who left after 1945-46. People used to walk down this area either to Laldighi or to Eden Gardens in the opposite direction. The building known as 4 Mangoe Lane came up behind it in the 1960s.

The second floor was added to the building in the 1940s. The remaining two came up in 1955.

During World War II, some floors of the house were requisitioned by the government. In 1942, when the Japanese bombed the city, a bomb fell on a garage behind it. Cars like Pontiac and Ford used to be assembled there.

When Mission Row Extension was widened betterment tax was levied. “The motor spare parts business began here in 1958-59. Ninety per cent dealers opened shop here,” says Surana.

The building has dark corridors that connect the low rise to the four-storeyed section. The terraces of both sections have been turned into upcountry villages by the people who live there. They have actually built huts there that would not look out of place in their villages. The menfolk work in the offices that abound in this area, while the women keep home fires burning.

The fourth-floor terrace commands a majestic view of Dalhousie Square with Laldighi in its midst. Even in its present derelict state Currency Building looks magnificent.

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