Mumbai-based artist Samir Mondal remembers the day 40 years ago when he first set his eyes on the Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta, as the city was then called. The young man who grew up in a village in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district could not believe it was man-made.
“I could hardly blink. I had not seen anything like that; it was just so massive and beautiful,” the watercolour painter says, recalling his first impressions of the 236-year-old Greco-Roman structure, which is set for a major restoration drive. “It was a different Kolkata then,” says Mondal, who made a watercolour sketch of his favourite Kolkata structure after all these years for Lounge. “One could see the iconic Red Building from across the pond, known as Lal Dighi, on Dalhousie Square, now one of the most cluttered parts of the city.”
For Mondal, who had come to the city to study at the Government College of Art & Craft, Calcutta, the idea of a building had been his family’s mud-hut and the single-storeyed school he went to. Kolkata structures filled him with awe as he, like other beginner artists, began sketching the cityscape. Writers’ Buildings used to be part of his series on Shelters, inspired by his own search for a shelter after he vacated his hostel at the Arts college in the mid-1970s Mondal says. “It is a shelter to not just all those thousands of people who work there, but also their stories; the story of Kolkata’s journey, India’s colonial past, and so much more.”