Brit by birth, Brahmo at work: Historian preserves Roy's legacy

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Dec 12, 2013 01:40 IST

Every year, the death anniversary of the founder of modern India - Raja Rammohun Roy - goes mostly unnoticed in India, but for over 40 years, a Briton passionate about his life and work has been assiduously preserving and perpetuating his legacy in a special event in Bristol, where he died on September 27, 1833.

Over the years, Carla Contractor, 78, a local historian and educationist, has been central to several landmarks and events related to Roy's legacy in Bristol, where his body lies interred in a unique tomb in the Arnos Vale Cemetery. She is also the first port of call for many researchers.

Carla's passion and respect for Roy has seen her doggedly oppose several Bristolians who were opposed to installing Roy's life-size statue in a prime location in the city centre in 1997, the 50th year of India's independence.

Originally from Liverpool, Carla has a strong Indian connection: after obtaining teaching qualifications in London, she went to Mumbai in 1959 to teach history and other subjects at the Cathedral School and later at the Sophia College.

In 1965, she married Phiroze Contractor, a Parsi whose family built several landmarks in Mumbai, including the Taj Hotel. They moved to Bristol in 1971 with two sons, and since then Carla has been closely involved with Roy's tomb and his legacy in the town.

Carla told HT: "I became interested in the Raja when I lectured in history in India, and when I discovered his tomb in Bristol on our return to the city it was in such poor shape that I determined to repair it if at all possible".

A trustee of the Arnos Vale Cemetery, Carla has been central to the repair and restoration of Roy's tomb, which was built in 1843 by Dwarkanath Tagore, a close associate of Roy. Some repair was undertaken in 1883, according to records.

In 2008, she oversaw the first major restoration work with £50,000 donated by Aditya Poddar, a Singapore-based businessman with roots in Kolkata.

Over years of work related to Roy, she has closely interacted with the Indian high commission, the Bristol City Council and other agencies and individuals in India and Britain.

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