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Antique glory

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A wide corridor runs along three sides of the first floor of the palace; (Right) Pradip Ghosh with his wife and son

It’s one of Calcutta’s landmarks. The Pathuriaghata Palace, built on seven bighas (2.8 acres) is home to one of the city’s oldest and most illustrious families. But the palace — for the post office it’s 47, Pathuriaghata Street —looks deserted as I step through the doors that lead to the thakurdalan by a flight of stairs. The only sign of life are two cats that don’t stop sunning themselves as you gaze at the 86 rooms on three sides.

Pathuriaghata Palace is home to Pradip Ghosh who lives here with his wife, his two-and-half year old son and two dogs (the cats aren’t his). Pradip is a descendent of Babu Khelat Ghosh, who built this sprawling nine-pillared house in the middle of the 19th century. Khelat Ghosh moved away from the original house nearby, built 300 years ago by his grandfather Ramlochan Ghosh, a clerk working under Warren Hastings.

The Ghoshs live on the first floor, so you take a worn marble flight of stairs up. The stairs have wood panelling on both sides and a portrait of Khelat Ghosh on the landing seems to keep an eye on visitors.

The palace is dotted with striking
antiques like this marble statue of a child and (above) a bronze statue,
which is over 150 years old

A broad corridor runs around the entire first floor. Ceramic blue and white elephants, imported during the Raj and used originally as flowerpot stands, line the corridor. Photographs all along the corridor capture the family during its days of glory. There are sepia-toned 100-year-old photographs and even a recent one of Mother Teresa, who visited the house in 1996.

The Ghoshs have the run of the house and use about 22 rooms regularly. The others are cleaned but unlived in. Inevitably, looking after the house is very expensive, so trusts have been formed to fund its maintenance. Says Pradip: “The house would’ve been impossible to maintain without the trusts that look after the upkeep of the house and also fund the many festivals and events held here.”

The thakurdalan comes alive during Durga Puja; (Below) One of the finest pieces in the dining hall is a gigantic Belgian cut-glass chandelier

How do you look after a home that’s at once historic and unmanageably huge? The Ghoshs are conscious of their inheritance and have preserved its antique feel. A staff of 22 looks after the house and Ghosh’s office.

The most extraordinary room — a historian’s delight — is the huge dining hall. A gigantic Belgian cut-glass chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Marble and bronze statues lie all around. Everything, I am informed by Pradip, is over 200 years old.

This was once a nach ghar, in which the Umrao Jaans of that era held audiences enthralled. All around there are priceless ivory statuettes like the Ganesh with birds perching on his throne or the breathtaking mayurpankhi nao (peacock boat) with an entire crew in action.

This Thomasson Chronometre grandfather clock was imported from London in 1819

“Sadly,” says Pradip, “the stories behind these objects have been lost with the passing away of the people associated with them.”

The past looks down on the family and its visitors in the longish sitting room. On the walls are mostly a mix of portraits and photographs of the ancestors and a stone bust of Khelat Ghosh himself on an intricately carved wooden table.

A striking piece is a majestic porcelain lion in a vivid combination of black and gold. At two corners are two big, old-fashioned standing clocks, which would definitely attract the attention of horologists and antique collectors.

The room with the most lived-in feel is probably Ghosh’s slightly modernised study-cum-office (there’s even a child’s study chair on one side). There are glass and wood cabinets filled with ceramic showpieces, on one wall. A sofa set sits in the middle with a desk with several chairs at another end. Ghosh — who is in the real estate business and has large land holdings — works here.

The most striking piece in the study is the Thomasson Chronometre grandfather clock that made the treacherous journey from London to Calcutta back in 1819. Another clock in dark wood with gold-plated designs made the same difficult journey by sailing ship somewhere between 1830 and 1832.

A priceless ivory statuette
of a mayurpankhi nao

Next I’m ushered into the thakurghar or worship room. An elaborate puja regime to the resident Narayan shalgramshila is still followed. In the anteroom there’re oil paintings of the gods that are between150-200 years old.

A passage leads to the andarmahal, formerly the women’s quarters where the master bedroom is located. There are no extra frills here, just a huge wooden four-poster bed and a massive chandelier overhead.

Downstairs, there is one last room to visit. The bare room has photographs of the musical greats who’ve participated in the All Bengal Music Conference, started by Manmath Ghosh in 1953 in the old house. The annual soiree was shifted here in 2002. Every Indian classical music maestro from Begum Akhtar and Bismillah Khan to Ravi Shankar has played here.

Does the past come alive in Pathuriaghata palace? The answer is yes and as you come back onto the street outside, it’s almost like stepping from one era to another.        

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