One of the earliest memories I have of Calcutta is of my aunt coming back from her classes at Scottish Church College. It must have been from her that I first heard the word Esplanade. For a nine year old, it meant little except for the ease with which my aunt and others seemed also to refer to the place as ‘Splanade’, to rhyme with lemonade.
It was much later that I found out that the Brits had named the stretch next to the Calcutta Maidan the Esplanade because that was where they took the air of an evening during the long Calcutta summers. If you were rich you went to Simla to escape the heat; if you weren’t you walked on the Esplanade.This was despite there being no water body as such next to the Esplanade. The other possible reason for the name could be the fact that it provided a large stretch of open ground across which they could fire their cannons to their heart’s content at natives and the pesky French.
The same French who had given them the word in fact! The French got the word from the Italian splanata or flattened ground. All the way to the bus conductors of today’s Calcutta who hang from the doors of their vehicles and thump the metal sides, calling passengers who want to go to ‘Splanade’.
If you get a chance to go to Calcutta, do try and make it to the Esplanade, there is a real sense of history there and apart from the crowds and some parts of the skyline, little seems to have changed since the British were there.
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