Letter from James Keir

2 D, Block 36,
Laguna City,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
11 Jan. 2014

Commodore Bibhu Mohanti,
1435 B Sector 6,
C D A Colony,
Bidanasi, Cuttack,
Odisha, INDIA

Dear Bibhu,
During the winter school holidays my father, William Ingram Keir, A.R.I.B.A., would take my brother, George, and I to the sea side in Digha or Puri which meant spending a few days in Calcutta. It was then that I saw the Lascar Memorial, the monument that he designed way back in 1920 to commemorate those Indian seamen that had given their lives on British ships in WW I. This brought into reality the large oil painting by Onslow Ford that hung in our living room in our Kalimpong home.

As years passed by, though I lived in England and eventually Hong Kong, I had opportunities to pass by Calcutta when I would take a look at this monument that once stood so majestically at Hastings by the Hoogly river, however I was dismayed to see it very much neglected, it had lost its shining dome, the walls were in disrepair and goats fed on plants enveloping the grounds. My passions were aroused and so wrote to the Statesman with newspaper cuttings of the inaugural in 1924. This prompting had Soma Basu, Staff Reporter of the Statesman, interview me on a visit and so wrote a full page article that appeared in the paper on 20 Nov. 2011. The report also highlighted the plight of the Lascars who deserved better. I took a drive to Hastings to show some friends my father's work and had to walk along some railway lines to get a glimpse of the Lascar Memorial as it was now in restricted area. Lo and behold, to my great amazement and pleasure it had been restored to its former glory.

It was because of Soma Basu's article that you contacted me saying it was you, when NOIC West Bengal based at Hastings, had undertaken the refurbishment and the history of doing so. Furthermore, you, the Navy and INTACH did me the honour to arrange my addressing the gathering at the base of the memorial and it's beautiful maintained garden surroundings , about my father's works. I am indebted to you for resurrecting the Lascar Memorial to its former glory as this edifice is part of our history and symbolises the role played by the Lascars that should be immortalized.

With kind regards,
James Keir

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