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Surya Sen Street – As defiant as its namesake Masterda!

5 April, 2021 11:31:59
Surya Sen Street – As defiant as its namesake Masterda!

Master da! A name that evokes one of the most daring revolutionary act in British India and highlights anytime the might of the Bengali freedom fighters. So, when a street in Kolkata is named after Masterda of Chittagong Armoury Raid, one wonders, there must be something special about it. Surya Sen Street of Kolkata is one if the oldest roads that Kolkata had ever seen, in the neighbourhood of Baithakkhana. This approximately 950-meter road starts at the crossing of Calcutta University and Medical College and Hospital and runs all the way down to Jagat Talkies cinema hall, ending at Sealdah.

Previously, Surya Sen Street was called Mirzapore Stree, but not much is known about the story behind its former name. In December 1955, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation brought forth the proposal to rename it. An entry in the Calcutta Municipal Gazette of October 1956, mentions that the new name was sanctioned in September 1956.

In his book ‘Calcutta: Old and New,’ H.E.A Cotton writes about the origins of Baithakkhana in 19th century Calcutta and how Job Charnock made this area a permanent settlement for East India Company. In his words: ‘People would sit around and smoke a meditative hookah under the shade of a spreading peepul tree, which stood at the junction of what is now Bow Bazar Street and Lower Circular Road. The spot went by the name of Boytaconnah (boitak-khana) or resting place, and for years it continued to be a favourite rendezvous spot.’ A. Upjohn’s map of Calcutta published in 1794 shows a part of what is now Sealdah Railway Station, a short distance from modern-day Surya Sen Street.

The street also harbours Kolkata’s famous ‘boipara’, the book market, for which the official address is College Street, but many book sellers who may have missed out on leasing space in the prime stretch of College Street, are found here. And there stands in the midst of them all the century old Favourite Cabin, one of the last remaining cabin restaurants of Kolkata still in operation. Set up in 1918 as an eatery for tea and toast by two brothers, Nutan Chandra Barua and Gaur Chandra Barua, this establishment is still run by the founders’ descendants with little having changed in the menu or the layout since it was first opened. Only the prices on the menu have slightly increased.

Favourite Cabin was once frequented by revolutionaries as well as literary icons like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bengali writer Premendra Mitra and author Shibram Chakraborty. Even today a framed photograph of Nazrul Islam hangs over what was once his regular table, along with a black-and-white image of Rabindranath Tagore. The establishment was a frequent meeting place for revolutionaries, many of whom were students in the nearby colleges and universities, where they would gather to plot against the British government. The owners of the establishment would alert the revolutionaries if they spotted British police out on the hunt for them.

In his book ‘Calcutta: Old and New,’ H.E.A Cotton writes about the origins of Baithakkhana in 19th century Calcutta and how Job Charnock made this area a permanent settlement for East India Company. In his words: ‘People would sit around and smoke a meditative hookah under the shade of a spreading peepul tree, which stood at the junction of what is now Bow Bazar Street and Lower Circular Road.

Previously, Surya Sen Street was called Mirzapore Stree, but not much is known about the story behind its former name. In December 1955, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation brought forth the proposal to rename it. An entry in the Calcutta Municipal Gazette of October 1956, mentions that the new name was sanctioned in September 1956.

A well known institution on Surya Sen Street is the 142-year-old City College School founded by the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. Over the years, the institution developed other branches across north Calcutta and expanded its curriculum. The street had once harboured Sri Gouranga Press, one of the Kolkata’s most prominent Bengali printing and publishing houses, that operated from its office at 71/1 Mirzapur Street. That business doesn’t exist anymore but the iconic street does. 

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