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Owl pair hoot for finance hub

- Symbol of wealth sets foot before investorS

Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, may be a rare visitor to industrially barren Bengal but her vahan (carrier) has landed.

A pair of larger-than-life owls have been grabbing eyeballs in Rajarhat-New Town lately, standing tall at the entrance to the “financial hub” that the Mamata Banerjee government hopes investors will make a beeline for some day.

The two sculpted 8.5ft tall figurines made of fibre-reinforced plastic have been installed on the main arterial road in Rajarhat, opposite the sprawling Eco Park. An adjacent lane leads to the financial hub.

The owls had to fight off competition from Lord Ganesha’s mount, a rat, to become Mamata’s mascots of fortune. Ganesha is regarded as the “god of beginnings” and worshipped at the start of rituals and ceremonies.

“I had considered the rat because it is Ganesha’s carrier. The owl’s height made it my first choice. A rat would not have been as quickly visible as an owl in a sitting stance,” said architect Partha Ranjan Das, former principal consultant of Hidco.

Artist Durjoy Sen sculpted the pair of owls after Hidco approved the design by Das. The thickness of the figurines varies between 4mm and 10mm at different sections. The fibre-reinforced plastic exterior has been spray-painted to give it the look of brass.

In Hindu mythology, an owl is considered the harbinger of wealth because of its association with the goddess Lakshmi. Many people consider the sighting of an owl on the terrace at night auspicious. Some religious texts say that Lakshmi chose the owl as her carrier because it feeds on rats and other pests that destroy agriculture.

Lord Ganesha failed to make the cut for other reasons. “We wanted something that symbolises wealth but we didn’t choose Ganesha because that would have made it specific to a religion. We wanted something more secular. An owl is the carrier of a goddess, but it is also a bird,” said Debashis Sen, chairman and managing director of the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation.

Hidco and the New Town Kolkata Development Authority installed the pair of owls just over a fortnight ago.

The charging bull sculpture outside the stock exchange in New York is an iconic figure. In India, the New Delhi office of the RBI has a Yaksha-Yakshini pair by Ramkinkar Beij installed outside.

Calcutta doesn’t have many artworks and installations that are synonymous with a location or a structure. The mural of Mother Teresa outside Kalighat Metro Railway station and the dinosaur outside the gates of Science City are two that might immediately come to mind. The visibility of the dinosaur from the main road has, of course, declined in recent years because of construction activity in the vicinity.

The owls face no such threat as of now. “In a few years from now, the pair of owls could become the faces of the financial hub and its surrounding areas,” architect Das said.

The idea of a financial hub in Rajarhat-New Town was proposed during the last lap of Left rule in Bengal. Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced the decision to set up a hub for finance and banking organisations in October 2010. Mamata laid the foundation of the financial hub in March 2012.

A little over 15 acres in that zone have been taken so far. Eight companies — two state government corporations, five nationalised banks and a government-owned insurance company — have bought plots but none has started operations yet.

More than half of the Finance Centre with 80,000 sq ft of ready space is vacant.

On Wednesday, National Insurance will lay the foundation of a building at its site.