A family that’s entwined with Kolkata’s history
The property was built in the middle of 18th century by Nabakrishna Deb, who was once a secretary to the British general Robert Clive.Updated: Sep 09, 2019 00:08 IST
The narrow road has been covered with so much bitumen since the time of the British Raj that a visitor climbs down a few steps to reach the forecourt of Shovabazar Rajbaari, a grand old palace that is home to the royal family of Shovabazar, which once owned almost all of north Kolkata.
The property was built in the middle of 18th century by Nabakrishna Deb, who was once a secretary to the British general Robert Clive.
Hailed as the erstwhile owners of Govindopur and Sutanuti — two villages (along with the third, Kolikata) that formed the modern city of Calcutta -- their sprawling property doesn’t attract any municipal taxes till date.
“We are exempted from paying any municipal taxes. Our forefathers used to collect rent for the British from the entire Calcutta, and in return, they kept a part of the earnings,” said Soumit Narayan Deb, the ninth-generation scion the Deb family.
As a friendly gesture from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, which took control of the lion’s share of the Deb family’s properties after Independence, the current owner of this large swathe of real estate gets a token gratitude amount of Rs 1.35 per year. The rate, established in 1947, was revised once.
“It comes in a cheque and has always been encashed. But I must say that we enjoy an excellent relationship with the Kolkata corporation, and we see this token gratitude only in its historical perspective,” said Soumit Deb.
While most of the its members are engaged in business or private jobs, the family still owns one of Kolkata’s best fish markets that is a big part of the city’s busiest commercial area, Hathibagan.
The history of Kolkata is intertwined with the history of this family and its properties. Even one of India’s biggest football clubs, Mohun Bagan, shares its lineage with the royal Debs.
“Radhakanta Deb’s father Gopi Mohan had a garden where British officers loved to come for picnicS. Over the years, it was known as Radha Mohon’s Bagan, or Mohun Bagan,” Soumit Deb said.
The palace also hosts arguably the oldest Durga Puja celebration in Kolkata. And the unwritten rule in the City of Joy is that the deity of the Deb family, which also has its roots in Tripura and Assam’s Silchar, will be immersed before the others.
The palace gate has two lions roaring at the outside world - a symbol of the pride and might of this royal family of Kolkata. With the passage of time in the democracy, much of their might has withered away. Like many common citizens, they too, have to worry about water-logging in the house, and the massive maintenance costs to keep this symbol of Bengali pride in good health.
A KMC official maintained, “The Shovabazar palace is an integral part of our history. It deserves the waiver of taxes and a token gratitude as it is also one of the major cradles for Bengal Renaissance.”
Sujata Mukherjee, a professor with Rabindra Bharati University, feels that there is a dire need for not just restoring such precious and historic buildings but also include them in the city’s tourist map.
“We know that such old properties are often mired in legal battles or quarrel between different owners. The administration needs to first form a committee of experts to identify such heritage properties and then make a road map for their revamp.”