Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
When I was a little kid growing up in Calcutta, my parents used to take me to The Strand and I remember seeing piles of crushed rock beside the broad roadway. On three sides, the broad expanse of greenery stretched as far as the eye could see; the border on the fourth side was the mighty Hooghly River.
This public-access parkland was called the Maidan, or grassland – and it was as long and as broad as the central business district of most modern cities. Here, there was a racecourse, a polo ground, a parade ground, more cricket pitches than the city’s enthusiasts could ever need – and still plenty of room to spare. If you ran around the perimeter once, you’d never have to exercise again, probably for the rest of your life.
While I played "I’m the king of the castle" beside a rockpile not far from Prinsep Ghat, named after James Prinsep) I asked my Dad why there were several piles along the side of the road. He replied that the authorities were planning to build a second bridge across the river, to ease the traffic congestion across the Howrah bridge.
When we drove home through Hastings (named after Warren Hastings, a former clerk of the East India Company who became the first Governor-General of India) my father informed me that the bridge would probably be sited here.
Work on the toll bridge, christened Vidyasagar Setu, began after I graduated from university, but my father died almost a decade before it finally opened in 1992. The city-side approach to the sweeping bridge, almost half a kilometre long, was exactly where he had pointed out the spot as we drove.
Two years ago, I found myself in Calcutta on a brief, completely unexpected stay. A friend of mine picked me up early one morning to drive me around so I could photograph all the special places in the city that held so many cherished memories for me.
At Hastings, I asked him to pull over so I could take these shots. There is a lot of significance in the way I framed the first two photograph of the bridge cables – because the graceful building in the foreground is Prinsep Ghat.
In the last photograph (below) the unusual silhouette in the foreground is a banyan tree. The banyan, an incredible shady tree, is designated as the national tree of India and it is easily recognisable because of the vertically descending prop roots, which are clearly visible in my shot.
When I got back to the car, my childhood friend grinned and said: ``You know there are unimpeded views of the bridge further up.’’
Yes, I knew. But I simply had to photograph the bridge from the spot that meant so much to me.