First engineer

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 28.08.11
(Picture by Sayantan Ghosh)

Nilmani Mitra, the first qualified Bengali engineer, who constructed some magnificent mansions in Calcutta, was born on January 1 in 1828 at Barada village in Diamond Harbour at the home of his maternal uncle, and lived in Calcutta in what is an alley named after him behind RG Kar hospital. His fibreglass bust created by Naba Pal from Kumartuli was unveiled in Nilmani Row at Tallah on August 25, a day after his 116th death anniversary.

Nilmani joined London Missionary School in Bhowanipore and later went to Duff College. He was brilliant but couldn’t land a job because his handwriting was bad. He was trained as an engineer at Roorkee College.

Nilmani was a descendant of Rudreshwar Mitra, the elder brother of Kashishwar Mitra, who had built the eponymous ghat. The family, originally residents of Gobindapur, was ousted to make way for the second Fort William. Rudreshwar’s family settled down at Jelepara in Bhabanipur. It became impoverished and Nilmani was brought up in his maternal uncle’s house.

He had redesigned the chariot of Mahesh and constructed such remarkable buildings as Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, Emerald Bower, Nandalal-Pashupatinath Basu’s house in Bagbazar, and Kirtichandra Mitra’s Mohan Bagan Villa and Mahendralal Sarkar’s Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Bowbazar. The last two buildings have disappeared.

The programme was organised by Sutanuti Boimela Committee and Subirchandra Mitra, a descendant of Nilmani. Sutanuti Boimela Committee has republished a tiny book on the almost-forgotten Nilmani, titled Sarbapratham Bangali Engineer Nilmani Mitra, written by Jnanendramohan Das and originally published in the journal Prabasi in 1332 BS.

These little-known facts and a lot more were revealed in local historian Debasish Bose’s lucid speech at the event on the Tallah and Paikpara areas.

(Illustration by Debasish Deb)

Food corner

A woman wanted to have an ice-cream while waiting for the Metro. With no sign inside stations forbidding one from eating — and commuters regularly eating “tiffins” inside moving trains — the woman bought a double-scoop cone thoughtlessly. She was about to flash her smart card, when she was stopped by a guard who told her curtly that food was not allowed inside a train. She was banished to a corner where other errant commuters were finishing their ice-creams, jhal muri or guavas in record time. The woman tried to gobble down her ice-cream, but her train came and went. She felt that the rule was fine, but it should have been written somewhere.

(Contributed by Soumitra Das and Anamika Sanyal)