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The rebirth of Shaheed Minar

On the 10th day of August in 1969, the Ochterlony Monument was renamed Shaheed Minar in remembrance of the martyrs who lost their lives during the independence struggle. This white tower continues to stand tall in the city of Kolkata.
Shaheed Minar
Published on Aug 09, 2021 01:09 PM IST
ByThisDay.app

Changed on 9th August 1969

The wind was blowing through Little Aadya’s hair, for she had opened the car’s windows to breathe the air of the bustling city of Kolkata. Her mother would always tell her to sit down, but the city excited her like no other. The sound of the traffic or the humidity which stuck her clothes to her skin were all temporary troubles, Kolkata had its own charm.

Every time her family went to Park street, they would drive past a tall white tower, and without fail, Aadya would point at it. She would put her head out of the window and gasp as she looked up to see it, for the sight of white was endless and her neck was unable to perform its duty of showing her the tower’s full view. One day, Aadya’s mother swiftly turned the steering wheel looking at the longing in Aadya’s eyes for the white monument. Unlike their normal days, their destination had now changed.

Holding her tiny hands, Aadya’s mother walked her daughter to the maidaan surrounding this historic monument. The Sun hit the glistening white of the tower, creating a picturesque image that Aadya would go on to remember forever. This was the magic of the Shaheed Minar, standing tall like a lighthouse amidst a sea, noticeable from great distances.

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“Did you know, Shaheed Minar used to be previously known as the Ochterlony Monument?” Aadya shook her head but begged her mother to explain what this Ochterlony meant. Her mother had unknowingly opened Pandora's box, for now, Aadya’s curiosity had fully consumed her, leading her to ask a string of questions. “Okay Okay I will explain everything to you, you be quiet and listen carefully.” Aadya's ears were now arrested to her mother’s voice.

“To commemorate Major-General Sir David Ochterlony, commander of the British East India Company, remember I had told you about the Britishers? Well, this monument was erected in 1828 to commemorate his successful defence against the attack from the Marathas at Delhi and in the Gurkha War.” Aadya gave a puzzled look- “but then why is it now called Shaheed Minar?”

“Well, after our independence, many believed it should stand in memory of the brave men who gave their lives for our country. The United Front Government ultimately renamed this tower on well, look at the coincidence, it was renamed on this day in 1969! “

Aadya was quite fascinated by this fact and looked at the shimmering tower in awe. “Ah, this magnificent architecture,” thought her mother to herself. After living in Kolkata her whole life, not once had she stopped to notice its distinctive features, not once had she ever appreciated its beauty, for it was always there since the beginning, and its sight had become a part of her daily routine.

The Minar had an amalgamation of styles from all across the world- its foundation was Egyptian, its dome was Turkish and its column was Syrian. The tower stood at a grand height of 48 metres, giving a birds-eye view of the City of Joy. “How did something so extraordinary become ordinary”? thought her mother.

“Mumma Mumma I want to go right to its peak and touch the sky!” squealed Aadya, interrupting her mother’s pondering. “No dear, it's dangerous. After a man jumped off in 1997 from its lower balcony, it became very difficult to go on it. Also, it has more than 200 steps! You will get tired before we even hit 50!” Naturally, Aadya gave a sullen look to her mother, but her mother was always one step ahead of her and knew how to pacify her.

"Did you know Mark Twain, the famous author called it the "Cloud kissing Monument?” Aadya’s eyes had lit up once again. “Yes and the first gathering ever on this Maidaan was held by none other than the Great Rabindranath Tagore!”

Aadya was completely stunned by the names attached to this Minar, and couldn’t comprehend just how significant it is. The mother-daughter duo then went to a souvenir shop beside the tower. Aadya’s mother bought a mini replica of the Shaheed Minar for her living room, for she now pledged to remember her city’s once-forgotten history with pride. Every day during her morning’s cup of tea, her mother sits on a chair and reads her newspaper, and glances at the white model on a nearby table with a smile on her face.

This story was first published on ThisDay.app.

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