ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE

Cooch Behar in north Bengal has an Italian Renaissance palace so beautiful it will blow your mind

But tucked away in India’s northeast, it sees almost no tourism.

The Rani of Cooch Naheen in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a queen in British India so Anglicised and taken with European culture that her skin – in the best traditions of magic realism – “was going white in blotches”. “I am the hapless victim of my cross-cultural connections,” the Rani says, justifying her Vitiligo. “My skin is the outward expression of the internationalism of my spirit”.

Cooch Nahin – literally “nothing” in the Urdu of the novel’s tragic narrator-cum-protagonist Saleem Sinai – is a pun on an actual princely state in British India, Cooch Behar. And while Rushdie was obviously being critical of the tendency of Indian princes to imitate the British, one needs to actually go to Cooch Behar to see the limits to which Indian royals did actually ape Europeans during the Raj.

The main dome of the palace
The main dome of the palace

The royal palace of Cooch Behar, now a part of West Bengal, is the most beautiful sore thumb there is. A massive palace built in the classical style of the Italian Renaissance – bang in the middle of a small Bengali town. With its ribbed dome and Corinthian pilasters spanning multiple storeys, the building is in fact clearly inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The resemblance is even starker on the inside, with windows streaming in sunlight placed in a row below the dome’s cornice.

The facade of the palace
The facade of the palace

Not only is the palace beautiful, it has also housed extraordinary beauty. Maharani Gayatri Devi was born in the palace in 1919 and later married into the princely state of Jaipur. Devi – known as one of the world’s most beautiful women during her time – entered politics as part of the Swarajya Party of C Rajagopalachari. Rumour has it that as late as 1999, the Trinamool Congress asked her to come back to Cooch Behar and contest as its candidate – but she didn’t respond.

In spite of this beauty and history, the Cooch Behar palace is little visited. In fact, Cooch Behar’s most popular tourist spot isn’t even the palace, it is another royal monument: the Madan Mohan Temple.

The Madan Mohan temple
The Madan Mohan temple

It is unusual for Bengali temples to have a dome and the structure houses Madan Mohan, Krishna in his sensual form – literally meaning the one who has enchanted the god of love. The name derives from Kamdev, the Hindu god of love, also known as Madan, whom Krishna is supposed to have won over.

Next door to the temple, the city hosts the annual Rashmela fair to commemorate Krishna’s victory and attracts people from all over. As a little paean to the syncretic Koch Rajbanshi local culture, the centrepiece of the fair, the 20-feet tall Rashchakra is, by royal tradition, built by a Muslim family of artisans.

Artisans making the image of Madan Mohan with the milkmaids of Braj
Artisans making the image of Madan Mohan with the milkmaids of Braj
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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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