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.