Vignettes of a Heritage City : Story of the First Photo Framing Shop in Guwahati
Indramohan who was an artist himself realized that it will be the end of his vocation, if he did not search for avenues that can give money and also help sustain his passion.
By Avinibesh Sharma
It was 1918 and the Great War was nearing its end. Pan Bazaar was then a quiet locality, not a bustling commercial place as it is today. However, it was dotted with shops of all varieties and among them, Sheikh Brother’s, Money Making Pharmacy Hazi Sheikh Shah Alam and Jamatullah’s departmental store were the prominent ones (Jamatulla's which later became Ghulam Rahman & Sons, was located where the Unique Books and Silver Sports currently stands). In that year, in a corner just opposite to Jamatullah’s store, an eighteen year old enterprising youth started a framing shop. The name of the young man was Indramohan Chakraborty. His family migrated to Assam from Dhaka in the aftermath of the Yandaboo Treaty in 1826 and settled in Silpukhuri. Indramohan named his shop - ‘Chitralaya', which roughly translates as : "The abode of pictures".
The Chakravartys of Silpukhuri c. 1920s. The newly wed couple - Indramohan and his wife Labanya Prabha Devi is seen on the left.
Photo Courtesy : Raja Chakravarty.
In the latter half of the 19th century and in the early decades of the twentieth, the elite of Guwahati handed over painting assignments (which mainly consisted of portraits but also landscape, architectural and poster paintings) to artists in Calcutta. Due to the lack of framing shops in the town, they were framed in the Imperial capital itself and transported back in cargo vessels; being unloaded in Uzan Bazaar Ghat. Consequently, the local artists suffered and they had to struggle to make their ends meet. Indramohan who was an artist himself (known for his landscape paintings, he also the designed the backdrop for plays staged at Hari Sabha and Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir) realized that it will be the end of his vocation, if he did not search for avenues that can give money and also help sustain his passion. It was this determination that led to the founding of ‘Chitralaya’, the first photo framing shop in Guwahati and perhaps in the entire Northeast. Initially housed in an Assam-type building the shop later occupied a portion of the two storied Mohsin House which was erected in the year 1961.
The father-son duo Indramohan & Gopal Chakravarty
Photo Courtesy : Raja Chakravarty.
The raw materials for the framing were brought from erstwhile Calcutta. Although, heavy and destructible, mostly wooden frames were used for all kinds of framing. Soon, there was a demand for poster painting, banner printing and signboards. The demand for signboards surged after the city beautification drive was inaugurated in the 1920s by the Deputy Commissioner of undivided Kamrup district, AHW Benting. The signboards were installed to add beauty to this administrative town and comfort to the road users. As per the suggestion of a British gentleman, Indramohan and his younger brother Biswanath started making signboards and orders soon came from far-off places. The signboards consisted of wooden boards which were coloured in yellow with the names of places and roads in black.
Gopal Chakravarty, son of Indramohan inherited the creative genes of his father and from a very early age helped the latter in preparing banners and posters. Both father and son were sports enthusiasts and theatre lovers. Their shop used to serve as a place of ‘adda’ for some famous intellectuals, theatre artists, and football players. Gopal Chakravarty’s eldest son Pradip Chakravarty recalls the visits of the eccentric genius, Mahendranath Deka Phukan who used to come wearing a ‘Japi’ and carried along a broom at the back of his bicycle - using it to clean the streets. Then there was Premoda Sarma of Uzan Bazaar who earned the epithet – ‘Iron Man of Assam’ due to his superior physical strength. Raja Chakravarty, the younger brother of Pradip Chakrabarty has fond memories of Premoda Sarma. He said, “Premoda da was our inspiration. We used to listen to his stories attentively and were awestruck at his erudition. He used to swim across a swollen Brahmaputra during heavy monsoon and we even saw him devour a whole Hilsa fish at once!” Bishnu Prasad Rabha visited the shop when he was underground and meetings of the revolutionary IPTA were held outside.
When the Nehru Stadium was being constructed, a wrestling match was held in the Judge’s field between Dara Singh and Emile Caza (better known as King Kong). Radha Govinda Barua asked Indramohan to prepare posters for the occasion. Accordingly, Indramohan painted and framed the posters of Dara Singh and sent them for distribution in various parts of the town.
The shop was a meeting point for some famous football players like G. Banerjee, Animesh Ganguly, Telimeran Ao, Sarat Das, Pilik Choudhury, Mewalal and the likes. They played for the nearby clubs like The Maharana Club and the Town Club and assembled at the Chitralaya in the evening hours to discuss on various topics, leaving aside their rivalry during the day. Chitralaya used to sell tickets of Bordoloi Trophy which had the aforesaid clubs and various others as participants.
Now managed by the brothers, Pradip and Raja Chakravarty, the shop will complete hundred years next year. Old customers continue to avail their services as they have never compromised on quality. Encouraged by the heritage conscious and sociable Chakravarty brothers, the shop still serves as a place of ‘adda’ for old customers like the octogenarian Nalini Kanta Barman. Barman visits the shop regularly and reminisces the Pan Bazaar of the bygone days, the Cotton College of yore and luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Tarun Ram Phookan who gave lectures at the now extinct Jubilee Garden (it was demolished in the 1950s to pave way for the water supply plant). Recalling the visit of Qaid-e-Azam, he said -"Tuberculosis had by then emaciated Jinnah's body. But he stood erect on the podium that day. He lifted his right hand, showed his palm to the listeners and then closed his fist to utter - ''Nara-e-Takbeer! Pakistan Zindabad!! There was a thunderous roar of 'Allah Hu Akbar' when he sat down."
Chitralaya occupies an important place in Guwahati’s heritage; standing in all its glory as a witness to the transformation of Guwahati from a sleepy little town to a thriving metropolis.
Keeping alive a legacy - Pradip and Raja Chakravarty