The White Tower’s Brown Crown
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For over 184 years, the Shaheed Minar has dazzled the residents of Kolkata, with its gleaming white paint and imposing height (165 feet, or 223 steps). The magnificent building, one of the oldest in the city, offers a bird's eye view of the Esplanade bus terminus, the Maidan, and the Victoria Memorial as well as other landmarks such as the Vidyasagar Setu, the Eden Gardens, and the Howrah Bridge. Its vast premises was where Rabindranath Tagore organised the first political meeting — in 1931 — to protest the killing of a youth by the British.
Built in 1828, in memory of Major-General David Ochterlony to commemorate the victory of the East India Company's armed forces in Nepal, the Shaheed Minar was a major tourist site till 1997, when a visitor jumped off its balcony, after which restrictions were put in place, such as seeking permission from the police to go to the top of the monument.
Now, the authorities are relaxing the rules, and throwing open the monument to the public. But before they can do that by the slated deadline of October, they are giving the monument a Rs 1-crore makeover. Since April, the Public Works Department and Bengal Tourism have been attempting to "restore Shaheed Minar's glory". In the process, they have discovered a hidden gem: a brown, metallic dome tucked behind the white paint of the monument. PWD executive engineer (city division) Kanakendu Sinha, who has been overseeing the renovation, recalls how, after a difficult climb up the dark stairway, he reached the top of Shaheed Minar and found that the dome wasn't exactly white. "Beneath the layer of white paint was a beige coat. We removed it to see what was inside and many layers of colours later, we found a weathered metallic, riveted structure," he says. When the team began washing the dome with chemicals, it acquired a bluish tinge, leading many to suspect that this was another attempt by Trinamool in its blue "makeover" of the city. But once the washing process was over, the original colour of the dome was revealed: brown. Thus, the all-white Shaheed Minar will no longer be all-white.
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