KOLKATA: Unknown to most, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson decided to go ghost hunting among the old Raj-era buildings of Dalhousie Square (now BBD Bag) during his visit to Kolkata on January 19. Accompanying him were Sir Dominic Asquith, British high commissioner to India, Bruce Bucknell, British deputy high commissioner to Kolkata and heritage activist Anthony Khatchaturian, apart from a security detail comprising personnel from the Metropolitan Police Service, London and Kolkata Police.
The UK foreign minister may have got the idea of going around the city’s central business district after meeting Khatchaturian, a former London police officer, who organises ghost walks and heritage tours in Kolka ta now. Johnson was driven down straight from Eco Park in New Town to GPO after 10.30 pm. The Kolkata Police confirmed that they made necessary arrangements for the visit.
“We were waiting near the GPO when the British foreign secretary arrived around 11 pm. He left his vehicle there and said that he wished to go around on foot. I sho wed him the brass strips on the steps that were laid by Lord Curzon to mark the south-east bastion of the old Fort William and the plaque that says as much. We then went close to the site of the Black Hole and he saw the Curzon cannons half-buried in the ground to mark the spot,” Khatchaturian said. Johnson took a good look at Writers’ Buildings from across the street and listened to its history. He seemed quite excited when told that the statues on top were actually sculpted at Lambeth in London and then shipped to Kolkata.
“He was similarly excited on hearing the history of St Andrew’s Church and of Warren Hastings and Maharaja Nandakumar. Edmunde Burke, who later went on the prosecute Warren Hastings, was the founder of the Conservative Party to which Boris Johnson belongs. He also had a glimpse of Brabourne Road and pointed out how the layout was so similar to London’s Trafalgar Square. All this while, he was taking notes.
We then walked towards Currency Building. We spoke on how efforts are on to restore the structure. When the dome came up for discussion, I said that the blueprint of the building could be traced to the India Office of the British Library in London. It would be of great help if the blueprint was sent to Kolkata as a goodwill gesture. Johnson asked his staff to take notes and also jotted it down himself,” Khatchaturian added. The group then walked across the old Telegraph Office and there was discussion on how British experts could help in restoring Raj-era buildings.
They may also help in the ongoing restoration of Writers’ Buildings. Johnson was also thrilled on seeing a tram close-up. The walk finally came to an end around midnight near the GPO and Johnson left after learning about Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh of Darbhanga, Bidhan Chandra Roy and Benoy , Badal, Dinesh, whose statues he saw along the way .