Kolkata is known for its rich history. It was once a financial and commercial hub, a strategic port and the erstwhile capital of British India. On my first encounter with the city, I was expectedly taken by its living heritage and legacy as a cultural and creative hub with a widespread influence on art, cinema, music and food. What I hadn’t expected was its typographic treasure.
A living and breathing testament to its past, the main markets and the central neighbourhoods are filled with old building and shop signages which not only serve as a great art history lesson but also tell the story of the city. Amongst the typographic styles one can easily see are the Art Nouveau-inspired lettering and signage, which is probably from the early 1900s when the city witnessed the peak of commerce and influence under the Raj. The crumbling Art Nouveau signs live side by side with the beautifully expressive Bengali script of the local shop signs, along with the Art Deco and even mid-century styles on movie theatres, which were once the throbbing pulse of this cinema-obsessed city.
All of this exists together with hand-painted signs and more modern, cheap solutions, with some chaotic results. But all of it together is a thing of beauty and an absolute pleasure to discover and relish as you explore the city. The best way, as always, is to find a central starting spot and then just walk the neighbourhoods.
My only regret is that I’ve barely scratched the surface as I’ve only visited the city twice, and even in that time we’ve lost some type treasures (Chaplin Theatre). It feels like only a matter of time before gentrification changes the landscape of these neighbourhoods and markets forever. Plan a trip as quickly as you can, I know that I am.