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Connecting to the world left behind

As you find your way through the motor spare parts shops, leather goods showrooms, hawkers, carts and the general cacophony of Kashmere Gate, a narrow staircase welcomes you to the very different world of the Bengali Club.

delhi Updated: Sep 01, 2011 12:38 IST
Sidhartha Roy

As you find your way through the motor spare parts shops, leather goods showrooms, hawkers, carts and the general cacophony of Kashmere Gate, a narrow staircase welcomes you to the very different world of the Bengali Club.

Established in 1925, the Bengali Club is the oldest surviving Bengali cultural organisation that is still going strong. Oblivious to the chaos below, visible from the covered verandah of this heritage structure, the members of the club indulge in a quiet game of cards even as others are busy in an excited discussion in the library next door.

“Our forefathers and even most of us grew up in the walled city but later moved elsewhere,” said Somprakash Mitra (66), a member. “We all congregate here each Saturday from places as far as Faridabad and Burari. This is like a second home to us,” he said.

The club boasts of perhaps the biggest library of Bengali books — 6,000 in all — in the Capital. “Though not many people read Bengali books now, the earlier generation craved for them,” he added.

Smaller clubs and libraries started by Bengalis were common earlier, says Kalyani Pakrashi (75), a retired teacher. “Bengali books were hard to find and had to be brought from Calcutta. We cherished each word in those books,” she said. “The younger generation, unfortunately, even struggles to read Bengali.”

Bengalis, who migrated to Delhi, with government jobs or even professionals, wanted their children to learn their mother tongue even as they were removed far away from their roots. That is why, schools that taught Bengali were established. Currently, there are eight such schools in Delhi.

The first such ‘community’ school was Bengali Boys, established in 1899 at Katra Mashru in Walled City. It now stands on Alipur Road. While this school catered to boys of Bengali families, the girls went to the Indraprastha School for Women.

The first Bengali school in New Delhi, built to accommodate the large number of children of the Bengali government employees, was the Raisina Bengali School, which later opened a branch in Chittaranjan Park.

Other schools where the children of Bengali babus studied were Union Academy and Lady Irwin School. In 1950s, more such schools like Vinay Nagar Bengali School, Bidhan Chandra School and Shyama Prasad School opened in newer government colonies like Sarojini Nagar, Moti Bagh and Lodhi Road.