Raj in a Shoe Box
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In 1912, Calcutta was fussing over itself in preparation for a historic royal visit. Landmark buildings like the General Post Office, Royal Insurance building, the now demolished "new" Bengal Club, a shop called H.Hobbs & Co at 4 Esplanade East were all lit up. After all, King George V and Queen Mary were visiting the city after attending Delhi Durbar, and the dressing up was a tribute to the then Emperor and Empress of India.
Exactly a century later, 178 glass plate negatives dating back to 1912-1914 that reflect upon those times in Calcutta have recently been found at Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), Edinburgh. The fragile negatives give a fair idea about the preparations for the royal visit, as also of life in Calcutta. While one photograph shows a street market at what was possibly Babu ghat, another shows a horse-drawn coach, besides a few bright night shots of well-lit buildings. One photograph, in fact, is of a building decorated with bulbs, which form the words: "Long Live the King Emperor".
The negatives in their original 5x8 inch plate boxes were found in a size 9 Peter Lord shoe box, hidden away in the negatives store at RCAHMS. Wrapped in sheets of The Statesman, dating back to 1914, these delicate negatives are intact. They are now kept in protective storage. "It's fantastic that a small shoe box contained such a treasure trove of photographic imagery, but in some ways it's not unusual. Our experience has shown us that some of the most interesting discoveries can be made in unlikely places," said Claire Sorensen, RCAHMS Architectural Historian, in an email interview.
Apart from Sorensen, John Falconer, Curator of Photographs at The British Library, has also been working on the set of photographs. An RCAHMS official said that Falconer has identified a few locations and remarked on the high quality and beauty of the images.
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