A distance of 108 kilometres separates the Sunderbans from Behela, the oldest residential area of Kolkata today known more for being the home of BCCI chief and former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly. This bustling locality in south-west Kolkata was once considered to be part of the Sunderbans mangrove forest, inhabited by farmers, fishermen and honey-gatherers.
That was in the 12th century, when the Pala kings ruled Bengal and the river Ganges had a different course. It flowed through Kalighat — not far from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s residence — to reach Gangasagar, the confluence of the Ganga with the Bay of Bengal.
The once mighty river has now turned into a narrow sewer; it’s still called ‘Adiganga’, or original Ganga, though.
“'From the fifteenth century,” wrote the geographer RK Mukherjee in his book The Changing Face of Bengal: A Study in Riverine Economy, “man has carried on the work of reclamation here, fighting with the jungle, the tiger, the wild buffalo, the pig, and the crocodile, until at the present day nearly half of what was formerly an impenetrable forest has been converted into gardens of graceful palm and fields of waving rice.”
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