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Access to history

Nisith Ranjan Ray’s birth centenary was celebrated on the evening of November 9, quite fittingly at the palatial Laha Bari on Bidhan Sarani. Ray was one of those worthies who helped spread awareness about the city’s built heritage at a time when some landmarks like the Senate Hall of Calcutta University were being demolished.

Ray along with prominent citizens like Satyajit Ray, Radharaman Mitra and Sukumar Sen had prevented the Town Hall from being demolished, and it was he who had set up the organisation, Society for Preservation, Calcutta, which is still active in this field.

Ray was born in 1910 in Mymensinh district, and spent a good part of his life teaching history in various colleges and Calcutta University as well. He joined Victoria Memorial Hall as its curator and secretary and during his 10-year term he made its invaluable collection of art, artefacts and documents more accessible to the common man, although at present an iron screen has been erected around it once again.

He had also collected the valuable Hyde Papers from the Bar Library. Although of late, historian Pradip Sinha was almost through with his work of editing them, the papers never saw light of day. We have only the present authorities of Victoria Memorial Hall to thank for this remiss.

Ray himself had brought out new editions of valuable publications, and as director of the Institute of Historical Studies he worked on the Dictionary of National Biography till his death. Many of these, such as Cotton’s invaluable book on Calcutta, are out of print.

On Tuesday, a slim volume in the memory of Ray titled Anusmriti, Shatabarshe Nisith Ranjan Ray, was released. It contains many photographs of the scholar and tributes to Ray by historian Binoy Choudhury, Dilip Kumar Biswas, Radhaprasad Gupta and his students and those close to him as well.

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