Far less claustrophobic than Delhi and infinitely cleaner, I felt good about Calcutta and envisaged Nani going off to work in this very city, or a former incarnation of it, as a near-native girl of 26 - not far off my own age.
We were lucky enough thanks to Anirban, Ben's Indian photographer friend, to have been granted access by the Governor of Calcutta himself to his residence, Raj Bhavan, which was known as Government House in pre-independence days and after the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858 became the official residence of the Viceroy of India. This was pretty cool, since the general public cannot just wander round, however what came next was much better.
The Marble Palace is privately owned to this day by a Trust comprised of the descendants of the man who founded it in the 1800s and began the art collection that took my breath so completely away.
The clever man had been so forward thinking as to leave the property with a watertight document that not only prevented the authorities from breaking up the land when legislation came into force that meant many other palaces and large estates had to be split apart and the wealth scattered, but ensured that the property and all the art on the premises be kept in the family. The latter outcome was achieved simply by stating unequivocally that should any beneficiary make changes to the property, including selling any of the art, they relinquished all rights to it.
The Marble Palace was like nothing I have ever come across before, and this is from someone who grew up being dragged around - I mean thoroughly enjoying visiting - country houses and sites of significant architectural and/or historical importance. The public rooms and inner courtyard, which we were led to believe made up around 1/5 of the total palace, the rest being private rooms, were breathtakingly beautiful. But not in the conventional sense. Each room was stuffed full of different works of art, from floor to ceiling length gilded mirrors and classical statues, to exquisite vases and carved elephant tusks. The ceilings, walls and floors were art in themselves, with every colour & pattern of marble you can think of, multicolour inlaid door surrounds, murals and painted mouldings.
It was so overwhelming, I don't think I've ever seen so much beauty in one place. You could actually feel it. I could have sat down, closed my eyes and just let it wash over me.
After a lunch of 'heritage' cuisine, at Anirban's recommendation - I had sizzling fish with continental style veg - we went to the most extraordinary British cemetery, South Park Street. I've never seen anything like it. Populated in only 25 years, it was closed in 1790, and resembles far more the necropoli of ancient Greece than the Victorian cemeteries of London. Every tomb is larger than life size and many are topped with an Eastern obelisk; there are no angels or crosses here. Though I did see one anchor.
It was here that our ancestors, 2 young girl sisters, were buried in a plot in this Phantom of the Opera style setting. Happily, BACSA had ensured that a map of the cemetery and its plots was provided, so we were able to look the sisters up by name. It was pretty exciting figuring out where they must be buried, but when we arrived we were a touch disappointed! Surrounded by larger than life tombs and monuments, the graves of our 2 sisters had disappeared. All that was left was a sprawling banyan tree. Typical, just typical. So, I suggested to Mum that we mark the graves ourselves by spelling out the surname in small stones. This we did and it felt good.