Bengal’s Grande Dame

Lady Ranu Mookerjee’s decrepit old mansion gets a new lease of life as a heritage fashion and lifestyle destination

Published: 01st July 2018 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th June 2018 06:26 PM   |  A+A-

Hues of dark brown, red// look striking against the stained glass skylight/The restored RNM Galleria 1901

For many, many years, the Ho Chi Minh Sarani residence of pioneering industrialist Sir Rajendranath Mukherjee in Kolkata was lying in a shambles. For the uninitiated, he is the luminary who founded the construction company Martin & Burn. A visionary in the field of construction and engineering, Sir Mukherjee was appointed a Companion of the Order of the British Empire and went on to become the sheriff of Kolkata in 1911. In the same year, he was knighted with the KCIE.

History records him as one of the most prominent figures in the making of modern Bengal. His company, apart from undertaking several prestigious projects, was also the one that built the grand Victoria Memorial and the serene Belur Math. In tune with his spectacular taste and vision, which evolved while he mingled and worked with the British, his own mansion was built to showcase the richness of European art and architecture. Exquisite stained glass windows and skylights, winding wooden staircases with elaborately carved woodwork, large rooms with high ceilings and extravagant chandeliers, everything inside the house reflected the superior living standards of its residents.

This was the house where his son, Sir Biren Mookerjee (founder of IISCO and Burnpur), and daughter-in-law, Lady Ranu Mookerjee (founder of the Academy of Fine Arts), entertained the who’s who of Bengal and India, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore. But what was once a mansion filled with history and culture that reveled in the glory years of Bengal, fell into disuse and disrepair once Lady Ranu Mookerjee passed away. The descendants moved abroad to work and stay, and the house was basically left to fend for itself. By the 2000s, the once beautiful home stood as a decrepit relic of its rich past.

Not anymore. After acquiring the building property in 2006, Aditya Poddar of Wellside Group has painstakingly restored the mansion brick by brick. The building, now called RNM Galleria 1901 (the year that it was originally built in) is in spanking shape once again and is Kolkata’s first heritage lifestyle space for the public to come to revel in the beauty from the pages of the past. 

The Galleria that was unveiled in April on World Heritage Day already houses a large studio of Kalyan Jewellers and a barber shop by Truefitt & Hill (a shop Sir R N Mukherjee used to visit often while in London). The space will soon have a patisserie and boulangerie called Café 1901 and a dynamic performance space called the Calcutta Heritage and Art Club. There will be designated spaces for fashion retail to make it a well-rounded experiential hub. The front lawns serve as an open-air theatre where guests can enjoy cultural programmes on the RNM Manch. 

Poddar singled out this 120-year-old mansion for conservation as it was a true representative of Indo-British Calcutta and because there is a dire need to restore such heritage buildings. “The restoration not only entailed recreating the beauty of this building that contained the very soul of colonial Calcutta but also making it a sustainable property that would thrive due to its interactional character. We will encourage art and culture performances here.

The public, who value history, culture, and aesthetics, will enjoy taking a walk through because we have retained the original British-India influence in architectural grandeur, even while adding the modern element through services. There will be little notes and placards put up in every corner to tell visitors about the history of the family and the building they stand in,” says Poddar, who noticed while working in Singapore how the old buildings were carefully conserved.

“It is the mix of the old and the new that gives every place its character. Kolkata’s old buildings have fabulous architecture. They must be taken care of.”Hues of dark brown, red look striking against the stained glass skylight and the doors and windows. The lights and chandeliers have been designed to fit into the vintage aura. It’s an old world Galleria but equipped with enough contemporary trappings to attract the global traveller to explore, absorb and enjoy the very essence of Renaissance and colonial West Bengal.

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  • Swarna kamal Chandra

    A high rise building was developing inside the premises. WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Really messing the heritage site of our beloved industrialist.
    3 months ago reply
  • Abja Adhikari

    This is really an incredible initiative! Would love to be a part of the wonderful work that this foundation is doing. Kudos to the team!????????
    6 months ago reply
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