Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Snapshot
  • Kolkata will be remembered for its iconic architectural monuments and not for poor ‘copies’ of global landmarks.

    Building original structures and installations is the way forward.

    Is Banerjee listening?

Soon after coming to power in Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee promised to turn Kolkata into London. She kept her promise: by having a poor and even comical replica of the iconic Big Ben of London erected in the northeastern fringe of this city.

Banerjee’s dream of having a replica of the London Eye on the banks of the Hooghly is nowhere near to coming true. After repeated announcements by the state government, it is now learnt that the project has been shelved. However, and perhaps drawing inspiration from Banerjee’s dashed dream, an optician in the northern fringe of Kolkata has imaginatively named his store ‘London Eye’.

But it is not just the replica of the ‘Big Ben’ that stands testimony to Banerjee’s fond hopes of transforming her state capital into London. A garishly-painted miniature of the Walton Bridge on the Thames that is lit up hideously every evening has been erected over a ditch near Kolkata’s ‘Big Ben’.

The Chief Minister’s penchant for creating replicas and aspiring to transform parts of her state into major attractions, near and far, was on display earlier this week when she visited Digha, a dirty seaside destination frequented by budget travellers.

Banerjee had, in one of her previous visits to Digha — Bengal’s most-frequented beach — chanced upon a temple dedicated to Bhagwan Jagannath.

She immediately decided to convert it into a replica of Puri’s famous Jagannath Mandir.

Earlier this week, Banerjee unveiled her plans and, for good measure, said that the murtis of Bhagwan Jagannath and his siblings would be of the same size as those in the Puri mandir. But that was not all: she said a road skirting the sea-face would be constructed like the famous Marine Drive of Mumbai. And went on to boast that Digha would soon become another Goa.

“If people can go to Goa, why not Digha?” she said, adding that people need not travel to Puri since they can have a darshan of Bhagwan Jagannath in Digha itself.

However, it is in the sprawling New Town Eco Park that Banerjee’s craving for copies finds full expression.

One corner of this 584 acre park, the biggest in the country, is dedicated to the ‘seven wonders of the world’. A brainchild of Banerjee, this part of the park has small copies of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, the Great Wall of China, Rome’s  Colosseum, the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), Petra in Jordan, the monolithic Moai statues of Eastern Island and India’s own Taj Mahal.

While inaugurating this corner of the park a few years ago, Banerjee proclaimed that people of Bengal and neighbouring states would not have to travel to China, Egypt, Brazil, Rome and other places to see the wonders there. All that they have to do is travel to the eastern extension of Kolkata to see them.

Eco-Park also has a replica of the Eiffel Tower of Paris. And a miniature of Singapore’s famous water-sprouting Merlion sits on a lane divider on a highway leading out of Kolkata. That was after Banerjee visited Singapore in August 2014 and, impressed with its attractions and advances, promised to turn Kolkata into Singapore.

Civic and urban bodies all over the state have taken many leaves out of Banerjee’s book and erected replicas of famous structures from around the world. Most of them are poor copies and attract only sneers and jibes.

Banerjee’s craving for copies has been attracting a lot of criticism.

“Why create copies, that too poor ones? Instead, something new should be created. Kolkata has a rich architectural heritage and that should be built upon. Original structures and installations that showcase creativity and ingenuity of architects, designers and artistes should be created in Kolkata,” said Saradindu Ghosh, an architect.

Urban heritage expert and conservationist Samir Pal says that no one will remember Kolkata for the miniature Big Ben or the gaudy copies of Giza’s pyramids. “Kolkata will be remembered for its iconic Howrah Bridge, its Victoria Memorial and other such structures. Hence, new and original structures should be created. There is no dearth of creative talent in Bengal,” he said.

Is Banerjee listening? Or will Bengal continue to build structures that that rest of the world built in the past?

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