The Telegraph
Thursday , November 8 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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imbing off a taxi at the Indian Airlines building on CR Avenue, I looked ruefully around thinking, “I am early to office by almost six hours, damn!” Not far from my workplace, a big group of people, cameras in hand, stood across the street and that was my starting point of the day.

From top:
1. Calcutta Photo Tours on a Sunday outing (Sreyoshi Dey)
2. The group walks down the bylanes of Tiretta Bazar (Sreyoshi Dey)
3. Bow Barracks (Manjit Singh Hoonjan)
4. The L. Madeira & Co. Undertakers on Bow Street (Manjit Singh Hoonjan)
5. A stop for gathiya (Sreyoshi Dey)

I looked around for a familiar face — a man with a scarf tied neatly over his hair and understandably the most talkative in the group. A welcoming smile and off went Manjit Singh Hoonjan handing out what looked like small square pictures to the small group of 13 (including me). My first thought? Must be an exciting treasure hunt. But it turned out to be even more interesting — an out-of-the-box business card for Calcutta Photo Tours.

“I love meeting new people, that’s what initially got me started with guided tours. Compounded with my love for photography, of course. It doesn’t take me much time to befriend people. Rather, I need more and more people around me, otherwise who would listen to my jabbering?” the friendly banter of the 39-year-old is enough to make you feel at home. No formal introduction, just your first name and off goes the shutter-happy group on a wild walk across the city!

Walking past the Police Hvose (Hare Street Police Station), as the section house still spells it old English-style, and through the Buddhist Temple Street, I stepped into Bow Barracks for the very first time. “The army barrack with its Eurasian history, the gradual decay, the ambience of the para, the rundown look and the whole sense of neglect... it is very indicative of the way the community was pushed

to a corner. That kind of reflects on me as a photographer also,” said Manjit, pointing to the community slate board which not just maintained scores during para matches but also acted as the Barracks’ notice board.

In between, came tips on how to shoot. “If you have DSLR or even point and shoots, come out of the auto mode. Explore!’ he urged. “Switch on the aperture and to give a special tweak, opt for cloudy effect in the white balance.”

The small Ajmeri bakery to the Parsee fire temple (Rustomjee Zoroastrian Church, 1839, on Parsee Church Street), the forgotten Jewish synagogues, Tiretta Bazar and the numerous narrow lanes, alleys and walkways — the photowalk was filled with twists and turns, and spicy punctuations like a stop for the Gujarati gathiya. A typical north Calcutta snack, with papaya chutney and a bite of chilli, it was all we needed to add spice to our stories.

Then Manjit suddenly stopped the group in front of L.Madeira & Co. undertakers and the photographer in him pointed out just what to frame — a man soulfully sitting in front of the downed shutters.

There are other routes Calcutta Photo Tours offers, like English Empire of Calcutta, Culture Kaleidoscope and Mesmerising Markets, plus special tours around Durga Puja and Hooghly’s Flower Fest.

As we walked into Banchharam near Tiretta Bazar for a quick bite — up and about since 7am is just not a journalist-friendly time! — what was interesting was how so many of us had walked down these familiar lanes but barely knew their hideouts. “The Hind Perfumes shop is where you get all old-world attar. Then there is this boudi here who makes brilliant chhatur kochuri. There is also a forgotten fire temple here... even I don’t know all these stories about my own city,” said fellow photowalker Anjita Roychaudhury, the press attache for the French Consulate, Calcutta.

For Keshav Kanoi, a recent graduate from Australia, photowalking was getting to know the city in a different light and a chance to practise his passion for photography. “I have grown up here, yes, but the tour was highly educational,” said the 23-year-old entrepreneur, accompanied by his uncle, aunt and cousin.

Walking up to the Armenian Church at around 11am, most of us were tired and sweaty. But that did not stop us from being awestruck at the beauty of the church or the stories behind the tombs.

Bidding adieu to some 12 new friends that I made that day, I added one more friend to the list — Calcutta! Yes, I had finally befriended the city that I thought I knew fairly well till Calcutta Photo Tours came knocking and showed me that frankly, it’s not just about rosogolla and mishti doi.

WALK THE TALK: The Calcutta chapter of one of the biggest Photowalking events throughout the world — Scott Kelby’s Fifth Annual Worldwide Photowalk took place on October 13. Kelby, the American photographer, designer and editor, created quite a ripple with his Worldwide Photowalk in 2008, which has since snowballed with each passing year. So while the whole world was walking the talk, 23 Calcuttans set out to put the city on the global map of Photowalking, spearheaded by Manjit Singh Hoonjan
(in white T-shirt). Some of the click-able spots included Bow Barracks, Lal Dighi, Old Chinatown, Raj Bhavan and St. John’s Church, rounded up over a filter coffee cuppa at Anand Restaurant on CR Avenue.

Sreyoshi Dey

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