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.