Meet “The Messbari Project” Team

The Messbari Project interns (from left) Barshana Basu, Dipanwita Paul and Anmol Grover

Three brilliant early career researchers with complimentary skill-sets will work on Heritage Walk Calcutta’s The Messbari Project. Here is all that you need to know about them.

Barshana completed her graduation in History from Jadavpur University and is currently pursuing her Masters in History from the same. Her areas of interest include the sociopolitical and cultural history of Kolkata in the colonial and post-colonial period, its built spaces, and migrant communities. She also harbours a strong penchant for Gender Studies. She’s a Citizen Historian with the 1947 Partition Archive. If not buried under a pile of books, she’s most likely to be found loitering around the labyrinthine alleyways of Kolkata, clicking pictures of odd edifices.

Dipanwita is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Jadavpur University. She has undergone training in the ethics of ethnographic practice and conducted some ethnographic interviews as a part of her course at JU, which she brings to this project. She is a queer feminist activist, working closely with the survivors of gender, sexual, sexuality and class-based violence. She is a member of a student-driven forum fighting against sexual harassment in educational institutions and workplaces around the world. She is a freelance content writer, likes to dabble in poetry and singing from time to time and hopes to topple patriarchy very soon.

After her stint as an intern during her B.Arch studies, Anmol resolved to steer clear of commercial architecture and chose to couple her interest in history with her passion for built heritage to pursue an MSc in Sustainable Building Conservation from Cardiff University, UK. As a fresh graduate, she plans to initially involve herself in projects aiming to create heritage awareness as she believes that that is something India still lacks. She hopes to build her way up towards starting a Conservation based firm of her own and also looks forward to teaching the subject at architecture schools across India.​

Join us to wish them all the very best for the valuable work they will be undertaking in recording old boarding houses in Kolkata  in the next two months.

Introducing the Messbari Project

The Messbaris, or traditional boarding houses, in Kolkata are in a state of rapid decay. In Calcutta’s cultural and economic heyday in the early and mid-20th century, the messbaris provided much-needed affordable accommodation in the city for young bachelors, many of whom would go on to become famous in the fields of literature, academics, or sciences. The vibrant “Mess-culture” became central to a number of Bengali novels and inspired Bengali movies. While many of the old boarding houses still survive, they are often at-risk structures that face demolition, which makes recording them imperative.

Kitchen of an old Messbari in North Kolkata
(Photo: Satyaki Seal)

While working on our first Sutanuti Diaries episode on Kolkata’s old messbaris (see below), we realized that no tangible record of the location and history of the boarding houses exist. The objective of the current project is to create just that as a first step to stir public awareness about the boarding houses and hopefully generate interest in conserving them. The Messbari Project is also an attempt to question the narrow Bangali-oriented definition of boarding houses and extends it to look at similar institutions used by other communities in the city. 

The Messbari Project is supervised and funded by Heritage Walk Calcutta. We welcome additional governmental and non-governmental support for the long-term functioning of the project. The project will be kicked off by three young Heritage Walk Calcutta interns Barshana Basu, Anmol Grover, and Dipanwita Paul from January 1. 

The Pilot Episode of Heritage Walk Calcutta webseries Sutanuti Diaries focused on some old Messbaris in Kolkata.