Set in a slight thoroughfare between Hare Street and Bowbazar Police Station, off Central Avenue, the Bow Street Flats, are prevalently called as the Bow Barracks in Central Kolkata. The neighbourhood encompasses the Bow Street, the Pikhana Street and seven blocks of three storied buildings, which have matured with age but still stand robust and strong. There are no inscribed proofs to verify the area’s divulging antiquity.
Today, the Bow Barracks are home to about 450 innate and biracial folks and a great part of these are Anglo-Indians. Some of the families have been living here for the former five decades. The place lives up to the characterization of a multi-ethnic community.
The domain, spread over 3-odd bighas, today voices the wears of time. Now abridged to a bitty edifice, the buildings consist of single, double as well as triple bedroom flats. Very expatriate in form, the Bow Barracks are comparable to the Jorashako group of buildings in this regard – the blend of brick red and green.
Fort William (1706) and the Writer’s Building (1777) also bear a similar red front. The vicinity already houses a Buddhist Dharmankur and a Parsi Dharamshala. By means of culture and heritage, the Bow Barracks are one trinket of a settlement.
The sorts of the ambience at the Bow Barracks are mesmerizing. Three-storey high buildings coated in red are attractively juxtaposed with the green colour of the windows and doors. A brilliant play with the complementary colours of the colour wheel we must say! Such a contrast makes both stand out and amaze you with their disparity. On a rainy day, this monsoon, imagine walking between the grey sky and the grey street, heading towards rows of red buildings on both sides. Yes – we call it awe-inspiring.
The architecture of the Barracks is uncluttered, and speaks of concision. The cornices are decorative, the arches elegant and the shutters recurrent. The architecture, quite surprisingly, seems to be repetitive on the whole, yet freckled in details.
A grotto was built in 1967, in the way between the sixth and seventh blocks, for the inhabitants to come together and pray – another remarkableness of this interconnected community. The initial idea was to integrate people by religion. The grotto, however, accomplished much more than that, and unified all and sundry.
The green fenestrations of the flats are another remarkable – read iconic – feature of the Bow Barracks. In those days, stock fenestration had amassed fame in and around the neighbourhood. This had an impression on some of the houses at the Bow Barracks too. Till date, most of these fenestrations retain their antiquity – except a few, which required instantaneous attention.
Home interiors in the Bow Barracks are pretty simple and basic. Since the people dwelling in the Barracks are not from affluent backgrounds, they believe in simple but beautiful homes, with a special touch of their culture embedded beautifully in them.
It is during the Christmas and New Year week that the actual glory of the Barracks comes to the fore, with much pomp and fervour. Each home is beautifully decorated with tinsels and stars, and each street springs to life with activity and celebration. The colour scheme of the Barracks gets highlighted all the more with all the lighting.
It is indispensable to understand that at some places, the form, colour, patterns and texture of the built form is not all that matters. Architecture is not only about this. The magic lies elsewhere.
For some places, what matters is the merry cry of a child calling out to his friends for a match, as he leaps over a puddle, watched by familiar eyes standing on green balconies.
For some places it lies in the homecoming of a man, who has long chased the joys of life, and finally seeks it in his own roots.
For some, it is to be found on starry nights when hundreds dance merrily to the tunes of happiness, and countdown their way to the birth of a messiah. The magic lies there.
In the Bow Barracks.
– Sakshi Singh