This winter of 2018 saw me roaming around the streets and the bylanes of a small little town in Bengal- Chandannagar- an Erstwhile French town that is lost in the pages of history books now. Not many know that Pondicherry is not the only French town in India. This lesser-known Chandanangar which has somehow managed to stand the test of time still manages to hold its last few colonial feel.
The city today sees the Strand and few French reverie architecture marvel who are telling tales of the bygone era. But those are for commoners rather for the tourist. Even before I reached here, thanks to social media I came to know about this vibrant lady – Neline Mondal, a Belgian descent who is married to one of the most prominent families in Chandannager and not to mention that she is a local heritage enthusiast in the city now. Promptly we connected and with no hesitation, I was given the permission to visit her home in Chandannagar (in spite of her not being there at that point in time).
Neline made sure that her husband knows about my visit and there I was on a bright sunny morning all set to see this 300-year-old mansion. As I entered this mansion it was nothing less than time travel. The Mondal’s of Gondolpara Chandernagore had settled here even before the French. While in conversation with Ujjal Mondal (Neline’s husband) it was revealed that they migrated to Bengal eons of years back all the way from Central Asia. The dilapidated house which is kinda tatters today was built by a French architect. It saw more than 85+ rooms once upon a time. The Mandol mansion took more than 10 years to complete. Even if the plaster and colours may have gone dull but each room today holds stories of the bygone era.
Earlier known as Chine bari, (as there as there was Chinese settlement around) the wall art in Neline’s her bedroom that dates back centuries ago is similar to the paintings of the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. The house during its glorious days saw people like Lord Clive (Commander-in-Chief of British India) come and pay a visit to their prayer celebration and not to forget Anthony Firingi (Bengali language folk poet of Portuguese origin) visiting them to be a part of the poetry evening at the Mondal Jalshaghar.
The house sees innumerable artifacts like huge Belgium Mirror (brought all the way from Belgium via the water route), some 100 odd-year-old scotch bottles, old photo frames of Neline and Ujjal and not to miss the 100-year-old bed that still adorns her bedroom and the list goes endless.
The house might lack the luster and glow of modern-day palatial bungalows but it’s nothing less than a piece of history. This Zamindar family of Chandannagar has seen its hay and glory days in full bloom once, but not to forget that it’s Neline effort that has still kept the history of this house alive.