The Big Ben of Kolkata

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The India observer, TIO, NJ: KOLKATA, India –When an air passenger drives drown the chaotic and traffic jammed Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue in this crowded metropolis of eastern India there springs a surprise at a junction. One wonders whether it is a landmark in London!

They are surprised as in this city there exists a replica of the Big Ben of London. The famous clock tower’s replica adorns the way to the Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport at Lake Town, one of the residential areas in the north eastern part of the city.

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After chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee came to power ousting the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government after 34 years in 2011 she promised to turn the city into London. That certainly did not happen but the legendary clock tower was built.    

An Anglo Swiss company was given the contract to build the 135-feet tower on an unused plot of land at the junction of the highway which is popularly known as VIP Road here. The cost was Rs 1.36 crore (Rs 13.6 million) and the gigantic clock tower was completed within four years after she envisioned it and christened by Banerjee as “Kolkata Time Zone”.

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The work was executed by the South Dumdum Muncipality and falls within the Assembly constituency of Sujit Basu, a member of the West Bengal Assembly belonging to the ruling Trinamool Congress and minister for fire and emergency services.

Basu said, “There was an unused plot at the intersection of Lake Town and VIP Road which we wanted to beautify. The plot was very small and something vertical had to be build. We thought of a tower and since our beloved leader spoke about turning Kolkata into London we hit upon the idea of building a replica of the Big Ben, which is one of the most popular tourist places in London.”

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  The plot in fact used to be infamous for traffic jams as the unused plot used to create problems for drivers to veer their vehicles around the intersection.

Ajoy Guha, a resident of Lake Town said, “This tower had lessened the traffic problem and being a resident of this locality I feel proud as people throng here during festivals to see it. As such, it has also been a boom for the roadside fast food stalls.” 

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Shambu Saha who owns a food stall near the tower concurred saying: “Many people come and my sales of mutton and chicken rolls have increased. They stop by to see this tower and also enjoy having a roll and my tea.”

 While the Big Ben of London is 96 metres high, this one is only 30 metres and with 24 metres of concrete piling at the base. It is one floor short of the London Big Ben and has 10 floors. However, like the original this replica also has four gigantic clock dials on the tower. All the clocks face on all four directions. But while the Big Ben clock dials have diameters of 7 metres, the replica’s is of 3.6 metres.

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Basu said, “I completed the construction within 10 months and it was inaugurated by remote control by our chief minister.”

Many Calcuttans as they call themselves feel proud about this structure. Pankaj Basotia, a chartered accountant hailing from Rajasthan in north India but a city resident said, “Many of my relations and friends who visit the city and pass by are amused. They have never been to London but feel happy to see something which replicates in India.”

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However, some are critical. Sekhar Roy, a painter felt, “Copying something is sheer waste of money. A clock tower with an Indian design would have been far better. The clock on the building at Esplanade the heart of the city could have been renovated as it is also an attraction.”

During the Durga Puja festival, the main one of Bengalis in West Bengal, millions of villagers who descend on this former capital of the British make it a point to visit the “Big Ben of Kolkata”. Calcutta which was founded by the British was the capital of India till 1911 when the East India Company founded its empire here after the British captured it. In 1911 the British shifted the capital to present New Delhi.

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As such, people all over India have nostalgia about the British in this city and traditional Indians still consider this city as the premier city though it had declined over decades but now again witnessing resurgence in terms of growth in real estate. 

The place has now become a “slice of London in Kolkata”.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Arup Chanda

Arup Chanda is an investigative journalist based in India with 37 years of experience having worked in leading English dailies, television channels, international wire agencies, and news portals. His areas of specialization are politics, terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and human rights violations. He has worked all over India and covered events in South Asia. He has traveled all over the USA under the prestigious International Visitors’ Programme, in Europe and South Asia.

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