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A mini Versailles

Caleidoscope
Béatrice Vivien de Saint-Ours. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Château de Maisons is a 17th century mansion erected on 330 hectares on the banks of the Seine in a Paris suburb close to the Versailles palace, of which it is a smaller version. Béatrice Vivien de Saint-Ours, who has written about such heritage structures, gave a talk in French (which was translated extempore during the lecture itself) at Oxford Bookstore in an event organised by Alliance Francaise du Bengale on Wednesday evening. People in Calcutta would have been struck by the mansard roof of this building, for it is similar to those of Writers’ Buildings, the Accountant General’s Office in Dalhousie Square, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation building on SN Banerjee Road and Park Mansion at the crossing of Park Street and Chowringhee.

Designed by François Mansart, this classic baroque structure was constructed between 1634-1646 (around the same time as Taj Mahal) by René de Longueil of the seignorial family of the same name with the fortune inherited by his wife, Madeleine Boulenc de Crévecœur, who died at childbirth. On a screen was projected an early picture of the Château de Maisons, and Béatrice said it changed completely in 1924. The dry moat around it, the stable on the left -hand side, and the garden on the right have disappeared. The building has large windows and the fenestration emphasises the symmetry of the elegant structure. It has only four large apartments and the top floor was meant for the king and queen whenever they came visiting.

Château de Maison as it was originally and (below) as it is now

The architect preferred sculpture to painting and there is a proliferation of plaster classical gods and goddesses and the king portrayed as a demigod, besides a host of putti on the walls and other exposed surfaces. All of this is mostly in bass relief. The portraits of the Longueil couple are inside medallions. The château has a courtyard, a staircase without support, grand reception halls on the upper floor and a hall of mirrors. Above the staircase is a dome. All the rooms are sumptuously appointed. The furniture though is remodelled in accordance with the inventory.

The ground floor has the bathroom with a marble bath. A stove was installed there in the 18th century. The symmetry of the structure is reflected in the layout of the grounds with a triumphal avenue leading to the building. No wonder it is a tourist destination now. But while it is true that the symmetry of Château de Maisons reminds one of Taj Mahal, there the similarity ends. Drawing parallels between the two structures beyond that, as Béatrice did, is quite far-fetched. The Taj is nonpareil. It was a pity that the mike acted up throughout the talk, which would have been more interesting if Béatrice Vivien de Saint-Ours had done some homework on the unique architecture of the city where she gave it.

Sister act

A single Facebook post led to a whole new ritual. When former journalist Mita Chakraborty suggested a Bonphota (a take-off on Bhaiphota) on her social networking wall, positive responses poured in from all quarters.

“All our rituals are male-centric. I simply spoke about this on Facebook and suggested a Bonphota,” said Chakraborty, at the first Bonphota celebrations at Swabhumi.

Ten women from Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee were invited to be part of this unique festival. “I have never seen such a festival. Personally, I have never differentiated between men and women. I am happy that such an initiative was taken,” said a sex worker from Sonagachhi.

A special mantra written for the occasion was recited when poet Arun Chakraborty (who wrote the song Lal paharir deshe ja) put the tilak (phota) on the women from Durbar. They all received gifts too. “This is a wonderful concept. Never before was a festival dedicated to women,” the poet said.

Child artists

It was a moment of pride for Class V students Sanskriti Rajwar and Suman Pandit when their artwork was displayed alongside that of contemporary artists at Galleria M recently.

The exhibition, Lyrical Reflections, was presented by Matrix International Centre of Excellence, in association with Save the Children. Two children from Save the Children were given an open canvas and crayons.

“I like painting. I usually draw what I see or images that come to my mind after reading,” said Sanskriti, a student of Sattar Memorial Hall.

Her classmate Suman added, “A platform like this helps us learn things better. We got many helpful tips from other artists.”

MP Moon Moon Sen and artist Chittravanu Mazumdar at an animal law training programme presented by CAPE Foundation and the Animal Welfare Board of India and Humane Society International/India at ICCR. The two-day event was aimed at enlightening activists about basic laws and legal procedures related to animal abuse. Picture by B. Halder

Contributed by Soumitra Das, Samabrita Sen and Showli Chakraborty