Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Observe A Minaret’s Silence

S Is For Shahid Minar

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON

The Shahid Minar (martyrs’ monument) in Calcutta, India, used to be known as the Ochterlony Monument. I was born in Calcutta - which is now called Kolkata - and because my parents grew up and were educated in British India, they always referred to it as the Ochterlony Monument. It is almost 50 metres high and commemorates the military success of Sir David Ochterlony during a campaign in neighbouring Nepal in the early nineteenth century.

An amateur historian once told me that Ochterlony was well known for taking his family and his retinue for elephant rides near the Strand, but I cannot confirm this story. Maybe there is an Indian history/ trivia scholar out there who can do so.

During my childhood, the Ochterlony Monument literally loomed over me every weekend. My parents were members of the Dalhousie Athletic Club and played tennis on the immaculately maintained grass courts of the club. Too young to play alongside the adults, I used to keep myself busy with the other kids as the Monument stood like a silent sentinel nearby.

I took this shot last year, as I walked shoulder-to-shoulder through the holiday shoppers in the Chowringhee throng. On reflection, I find it curious that it is the only photograph I have ever taken of the Monument – and it was really a snap decision (unintentional pun) because I noticed the late-afternoon sun was creating a memorable sight. You’ll see some light flare in the bottom right-hand quadrant of the frame – but that’s reality for you.

I’m told the Monument is a meld of many styles, a blend of Turkish, Syrian and Egyptian architecture. I was lucky with my timing of this shot. Like I said, I just happened to be walking past, about 400 metres away to the east. I opted for the full extent of my 125mm lens for this shot and took it at 1/500th of a second, F16 and ISO 200. I shot only one frame because I was in a hurry. If I'd noticed the orange Batman-like flare on the bottom right, I would have taken a couple more.

But I'd just like to emphasise what a lucky shot this was. The sun was in just the right spot, giving me almost a grey-brown mosaic pattern across the texture of the image. And because the sky was hazy, as it invariably is over the Hooghly river in mid-October, it created a beautiful monochrome for me.

The story of David Ochterlony doesn't end there. Because of his influence in determining relations between Britain and Nepal, Ochterlony was honoured with the coveted Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Interestingly, although he was considered part of the Indian army, he was a British general who was - believe it or not - born in Boston, Massachusetts. I guess there wouldn’t be many Boston natives who are commemorated in India, let alone commemorated in such grand style.


Mike said...

It looks like a giant lookout tower rather than a monument. Interesting write-up.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Mike,

I guess I should have climbed the steps to the top (impossible as it is not open to the public any longer) and taken photographs from up there.



Cowgirl said...

Luck, schmuck! It's a beautiful shot! Nice story too. Thanks for comments on blog, am trying to blog a bit more about stuff that matters to me in this blogspace although I still get a case of the "controvosy wobbles" at times.. Be more than happy to be added to your list. Feeling v. sorry for self currently as at 43 have just been diagnosed with Chickenpox.... can I just say, they really suck.

mrsnesbitt said...

Awesome David, and so relevant to your life. Isn't it starnge how ABC Wednesday allows us to share these moments in time?


david mcmahon said...

Hi Cowgirl,

Thank you, ma'am. Like I said on your blog, you have some many shades and hues to your writing.

Will add you to my blogroll in the next hour or so.

Chicken pox? Oh, no, I hope you recover soon. A pox on ilness, I say!!

Keep smiling


david mcmahon said...

Hi Denise,

Thank you for those kind words.

That, I guess, is why I'd love to see your brilliant ABC Wednesday concept keep going, reverting to A after we've complete X, Y and Z.



Digital Flower Pictures said...

Great story and thanks again for the camera info. I don't mind the lens flare I actually like them when they aren't too big.

Melissa said...

Great photo David. What I love about your blog is your stories to go along with your photos. Wonderful story as well.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Melissa,

Thank you for that wonderful compliment.

I can't believe it's a year since I took that shot. The time has really flown.



david mcmahon said...

Hi Chris,

Flares are back in fashion? Oh, sorry, I thought flowered shirts and paisley ties would be back on the cover of GQ as well!!!

Thanks mate, for your comment. Appreciate it.



Aline de Chevigny said...

Ooo pretty Happy WW


kml said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us! Great photo!

lime said...

what a lot of fascinating little facts about that particular structure!

holly said...

wow. very informative!

i noticed something. this picture stood out even more after reading the description, because it gave the scene relevance. (i know, i'm a friggin' genious, i'll shut up now. or soon. :)) what i am getting at is this was, for me, a lesson in presentation.

dot said...

Nice picture and interesting history. Makes me want to see it in person but of course I never will.
I'm going to try using Mr. Linky for Sky Watch Friday this week. If all goes well then I'll delete the blogroll on my blog. I'm telling you because you always post early on Thurs. I usually post after 10pm here on Thursday.

gs said...

hello david,
i am in kolkata today and will be passing by the octorloney monument this is still referred to by the locals by the original name.thanks for the history and the lovely picture.

Lee said...

Lovely shot, David. The picture reminds me that, although prayer is done in solitude, God listens so we are not alone.

Thank you for the view into your childhood. I think you were blessed to grow up there.


qofd said...

Gorgeous photo as always David. Would that we could all have such interesting and varied experiences as you!

BlessingHill said...

Beautiful picture!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Beautiful shot, even with the blotch. Like you said, reality. Enjoyed the history, both personal and public.

Peter M said...

Dave, one day i will got there it is on my list, my dad was there many years ago as a soldier, I have some amazing photos (originals) of India, dating back to the 30's. Soon they will be on ebay (copies. if you are interested in seeing some let me know