Bow Barracks: The Melting Pot of Kolkata

If you have ever been to Kolkata, I’m sure you would have been introduced to its favourite street treat – jhalmuri.

I kept hearing a lot about this delight from my Bong friends. I have seen them swearing by it when they debate about how jhalmuri is thousand times better than Mumbai’s bhelpuri.

But during my visit to Kolkata, I discovered why the city is in love with this snack – because the city of Kolkata in itself is like jhalmuri.

A handful of puffed rice, powdered spices, a dash of raw mustard oil (dearly called as kaacha shorsher tel), a splash of tamarind water and a generous squeeze of lime. Roughly that’s what goes inside a well-made bag of jhalmuri.

The muri-wallah mixes these ingredients deftly. The process is no less than a theatrical performance. However, every bite of this perfectly blended potion outperforms the muri-wallah’s skills. Every bite surprises you. Every bite introduces you to a new flavour. Even though the dish is mixed well, not a single ingredient loses its original distinct taste.

Kolkata is just like a cone of jhalmuri.

During the pre-independence era, many people from different cultures, different countries, and different ethnicities have come to this the-then capital of British India, and made it their home.

From World War I onwards, this land has seen cultures confluence and religions coexist. Indians, Anglo-Indians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Muslims; all stay happily together while the rest of the country, or even the world for that matter, struggles to learn the art of coexistence.

And a beautiful testimony to this theory is a quaint corner called Bow Barracks.

Streets of Bow Bazaar
I visited the Bow Barracks one early morning.

Take a stroll around the Bow Barracks, and you will discover for yourself how communities are defying intolerance and living in harmony.

img_20161006_063541
A hand-pulled rickshaw parked in the quadrangle of Bow Barracks.
img_20161006_062914
The most common phenomenon of Kolkata: men and women reading morning newspaper. Here, an Anglo-Indian man is enjoying his morning tea with fresh news.

Bow Barracks is a small, red-bricked residential area, built during the World War I for soldiers. Post wartime, some soldiers handed over the keys to the Anglo-Indians, while some decided to stay put with their families. Today their descendants call it their home.

Another old man reading news.
Another old man reading news. It’s cute how he’s made that little piece of balcony his cozy corner. Residents of Bow Barracks are happy with their lives irrespective of the space crunch they have to deal with every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you enter this tiny community of around 150 households, you will be greeted by a Roman Catholic grotto.

img_20161006_063115
A Roman Catholic Grotto right at the entrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the quadrangle, you will spot Anglo-Indian boys playing street hockey with their Parsi friends. Early in the morning, a cycle-wallah will be delivering loaves of bread baked in a Jewish bakery.

img_20161006_063707
Oven fresh stock from a nearby Jewish bakery.

A Chinese lady will be hurrying towards the Tirretti Market to set up her momo stall, while a Muslim old man will be busy selling marigolds to a Hindu on his way to the nearest temple.

Work is the only religion here. Muslim men selling flowers to Hindu devotees is a pure sight of harmony.
Work is the only religion here. Muslim men selling flowers to Hindu devotees is a pure sight of harmony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where there are people from different religions, there is a variety in places of worship too. An agyari, a Chinese temple, a mosque, a mandir, a catholic grotto, a Jewish church; all of these live in peace at a few metres distance from each other.

img_20161006_065402
I must say, early morning reading is a ritual here. A caretaker of a Chinese temple chose to cover his face with a book when we pointed our cameras at him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We must understand that this assimilation is not something that has happened for a day or two under patriotic drives that scream slogans like ‘unity in diversity’ or ‘hum sab ek hain’. This convergence is decades old, and has now become a part of Kolkata’s life, without losing its soul.

img_20161006_063453
I assume these old post boxes are hardly in use today. Akash pointed out that there were three boxes. Can you see the traces of an uprooted box on the top? I hope they won’t take these two off!

This cultural concoction lives in harmony. The people here respect each other, and literally live the saying ‘unity in diversity’.

img_20161006_063135

Over these many years, various cultures from Bow Barracks have finely blended with this city, but their flavours are still fresh and distinct… just like a spicy serving of jhalmuri.

Share This:

2 thoughts on “Bow Barracks: The Melting Pot of Kolkata”

  1. It’s funny how oblivious I have been to so many things even though I grew up amidst the heart and soul of the same city. A tourist’s outlook is sometimes very useful to see your city in a new light. Loved reading your piece.

    Regards
    Sayantani

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *