Kolkata is a beautiful city with a colourful culture and a warmth to match. The fact that it was the first capital city under the British rule adds to the city’s charm, due in great measure to the colonial buildings that functions as bustling offices to this day. A heritage walk across the older neighbourhoods of this city will take you to some of the most beautiful mansions and buildings, some of the best hotels in Kolkata, and some imposing structures, but one of these stands out as a salient symbol of the city’s resilience and ability to showcase its history along with progress. This is the Writer’s Building in Lal Dighi, BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square).
History of the Writer’s Building
Designed in 1777 by Thomas Lyon, the building initially served as housing quarters of the accommodate junior scribers or ‘writers’ of the East India Company. At this time the building had not yet acquired its current Greco-Roman architectural design or its elegant style. It was by the turn of the century that the Fort William College took over the building and turned it into an institute to train writers in Oriental languages. Through the larger part of the century the building underwent several renovations. It served as living accommodation, a warehouse, a shopfront, and as the offices of the Government College of Engineering and the East India Railway Company. In Ashley Eden, the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, decided to move in most of the British offices into the building. This was nearly a couple of decades after the British Crown assumed complete control over India. By the turn of the century, the building came under renovation again and this time it received its iconic Greco-Roman facade with exposed red brick look and with a sprawling portico in the centre. The statues of Greek gods and goddesses were also added at this time.
The Benoy-Badal-Dinesh incident
The Writer’s Building was the setting for one of the greatest incidents of revolutionary protests by the freedom fighters of Bengal. In the late 1920s, Colonel N G Simpson, the Inspector General of Calcutta Police, had gained notoriety for his abuse of Indian freedom fighters who had been imprisoned and for his inhuman attitude towards Indians in general. On 8 December 1930, three brave Bengali young men, Benoy Basu, Badal Gupta, and Dinesh Gupta entered the Writers’ Building with loaded revolvers and shot Col. Simpson. They then took up a brave stand against the entire police force in what is known as the “Corridor Battle” and died martyrs for India’s cause. The entire Dalhousie square has been renamed Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh (BBD Bagh) in their honour. BBD Bagh is one of the busiest districts in Kolkata and is home to numerous offices and corporate conference venues near Kolkata.
Since freedom, the Writer’s Building has functioned as the seat of West Bengal state government, serving as the office of the Chief Minister and various other ministers. In October 2013 these offices were moved temporarily as the building went under renovation. This work, however, has been stalled and is yet to be completed.