MARBLE PALACE

THINK OF ANY MAJOR CITY and its most famous land mark will spring to mind: Big Ben in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Coliseum in Rome, the Golden Gate in San Francisco, and so on. Calcutta evokes thoughts of the Victoria Memorial and, maybe, the Howrah Bridge.

Yet, Calcutta contains something far more remarkable: The Marble Palace. It was built in 1835 in a European neoclassical style to the plans of an architect from Italy for a prosperous Bengali merchant Raja Ragendra Mullick Bahadur. Set in extensive gardens filled with marble statues mostly imported from Europe, the palace alone is remarkable to look at.

However, step inside and a treasure house awaits you. Mullick and his descendants are avid collectors of artworks. Mullick, who had the house constructed, never visited Europe but employed agents to buy precious works of art for him. The collection of paintings in the Marble Palace make it the first ever art gallery in India. Treasures amongst the large numbers of canvases include paintings by Rubens, Murillo, Reynolds, and Ravi Varma.

Rooms on the palace are filled with antique furniture, marble and other statuary, valuable ancient Chinese porcelain, and much else.

The elaborate wooden ceilings differ in design from room to room. Looking downwards, the floors are made of marble of varying colour arranged in patterns typically found in Italian renaissance buildings. They were created by Indian workers using Italian marble and designed by Italian artists.

There is a large open coutyard in the middle of the palace. One end is occupied by a covered stage-like podium, where Hindu ceremonies are performed for the Mullick family, many of whom still live in the palace. The courtyard is filled with interesting bird calls because at one end of it, facing the podium, there are several large cages each containg a large parrot.

There is a small zoo or menagerie on one side of the gardens. Apparently, it is one of the oldest zoos in India. When we visited it, we saw various types of deer and some waterfowl.

If you do no other sight seeing in Calcutta, the Marble Palace, but not the Victoria Memorial, is a ‘must’.

Note: photography is forbidden in the palace but a small book in Bengali is available for 100 Rupees and it contains a few photos.

Overload

“Incredible India” is a tourist promotion slogan. And, it is totally justifiable.

The truck in my picture is not unique. We saw many similarly loaded trucks on a short journey through northern Karnataka, and on many other road trips.

India is not simply incredible because of sights such as overloaded trucks, the wealth of colour, bustle, fantastic food, and the Taj Mahal. It is incredible because of its unending variety and generally very friendly people. Rich in history, the country has a very vibrant present.

Please note that I write this not as a promoter of tourism, but as a lover of a great country that survives despite itself.

Do they speak Welsh?

MARS

One of the many patients, whom I treated while I was studying dentisty at University College London, was a highly intelligent senior civil servant. There was much work that needed doing in his mouth, so he visited my clinic frequently and we got to know each other reasonably well. At least, that is what I began to think.

 One morning, he arrived for his appointment and sat in my dental chair. After exchanging pleasantries, he said:

“You know those Martians, who have landed in Wales?”

“Mmmm,” I replied.

“Well, I’ve heard that they communicate without exchanging words.”

“Telepathy?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s it”

I turned away from him, ready to wash my hands, when he continued:

“Well, I was wondering whether when they are in Wales they communicate in English or Welsh.”

Feeling a smile coming on, I turned my back to him, and began washing my hands for long enough for my urge to laugh to wear off.

As the saying goes, it takes all sorts…