This is the story of an abandoned workshop in a remote corner of the city.
By Siva Gopal Ojha
Life is never short of wonders. Otherwise who knew, after all, that a treasure trove existed under my very nose – adjacent to the building, which is my present place of work? It was a cold winter afternoon with a steady flow of north westerly wind blowing across the Hooghly River to the campus and beyond. The chill made me come out from my dungeon hole in the office to the plentiful sun outside. It was cozy in the sun as never before for the last few days of January, after which, the dual attack of temperature and humidity would prey on us till November.
Having taken up a job here as late as last September, I am new to the organization. My colleague, who is a long timer, asked me to follow him to a nearby place. It would be rewarding, he promised. I followed him meekly through a meandering alley of serpentine walkways for a couple of minutes before we found ourselves staring at a fairly tall structure with the words – “Central Electrical Workshop” – written at the top. The words had almost faded with a letter or two missing between them. A couple of trees, much younger than the building, stood as sentinels in front of the main gate. A man came out of the gate with a bunch of keys in hand. Probably he wanted to lock up the place for the night, but on seeing us, decided against it for the time being.
With a broad grin on his face, my colleague pointed towards the big shed and felt elated when he detected praise and awe in my eyes. We entered the workshop wondering how come such a collection of machinery could remain lifeless, for God knows how many years, almost at the very heart of the metropolis. A few huge glass bulbs of mercury arc rectifiers were strewn at one place. Solid copper conductors were bundled and dumped in the middle of the pathway. A number of large motor generator sets were still in place, covered with thick cobwebs and dust, waiting for the caressing human touch to make them alive again.
I touched their long uncared for bodies with my humble hands. They felt dead cold. If time permitted traversing backwards, I would love to be a connoisseur of their charm, grandeur and poise at their zenith, humming the music of electromagnetic concussion, converting alternating to direct current, that fed hundreds of chirping mouths of smaller machines participating in an orchestra. Those were the days of industrial awakening, contagious, as the concepts touched the eastern shores from faraway Europe. The machines were all of European origin, traversing in steamships across high seas, before landing on the river bank, a short distance away from where they are stationed now.
A plaque on the wall read – built by Jessop, 1906- which sent shivers down my memory lane as I thought of those days when Bengal faced division. Amidst the tumultuous prevailing din of the time, the deft hands of the visionary created such beautiful workshops. A grand father clock, with a blank look, hovered on the wall. A couple of overhead electric cranes looked askance through their fused lamps. I realized in a moment, that I was in a graveyard, trying to compose a suitable epitaph for the beauties, long dead and frozen in time.