Staircases with the graphic art walls full of posters and slogans, hefty wooden doors that have passed the test of time and a smoke trapped rendezvous of gala cacophony give way to the brew of nostalgia- 15, Bankim Chatterjee Street, Kol-73, the official and permanent address of Indian Coffee House. The long wooden windows bearing the testimony of British architecture ensnares a chunk of the streets of this post colonial city, and like a nostalgic breeze is a sure shot reminder of the juxtaposition of old and the new; heritage and modernity that this city jubilantly sojourns with; and so does the Indian Coffee House.
The ‘’Highbrow” intellectualism of the bygone past, the bohemian rhapsodies of the 80’s, the nostalgia about Naxals who wove a Promethean dream to fire Bengal with revolutionary idealism, and the regular bursts of evolution of art that witnessed both their awakening and maturity at this Coffee House; have all faded away. Yet the essence is not dormant. Now, the summer afternoon chores of ‘hatey tana rickshaw’ mingles with the zest of inquisitive Presidencians and Calcutta University students in quest of books, knowledge and maybe life! Year after year students arrive, pay their homage to the Adda culture at the Coffee House and retreat to the world of reality-of men, money and business. Yet Coffee House is standing still, like a bespectacled spectator to the Kolkata panorama and as a symbol of ‘Calcutta’ heritage amidst change.
Bijoy Kumar Nayek, the current secretary of the Coffee House feels that in comparison to the Bourgeois coffee parlours, this pro-communist adda-stop offers coffee at 15rs per cup-still a hit for college goers and for those who have had ever dived into the nostalgic romanticism of Kolkata and promises to stay there forever.
Forever is a winning term for Coffee House –the ‘cholche cholbe’ syndrome that is even much favourite of the bong clan. The menu has a stamp of the forever flu too, chicken sandwiches, Kobiraji, Coffee; with only restrained changes like the Chinese dishes -Chowmein and Fried Rice added to the menu and wooden chairs replaced by the plastic ones. Bijoy Kumar Nayek’s grey streaks bear the testimony of time and experience gathered from the joie-de-vivre of Coffee House, a place he calls Home and a unit he feels like family. 36 years of his continual courtship with this heritage has gifted Nayek an ability to decipher the ‘then’ Kolkata from ‘this’ Coffee House. The ‘then’ Coffee House, a chunk of Kolkata was represented mainly by the middle aged and the intelligentsia and scented by the autonomy of Bangla culture.
Now, Nayek feels, the ‘non bangali’ culture threatens to loom large over the monopolized Bongism of Coffee House. Non Bengalis gather here too, and the multicultural crowd adds to the glamour of this bong heritage. However, mannerisms have changed. Apart from the middle aged ones, teen aged boys and girls gather and quite uninhibited smoke oblivious or rather un-acknowledging the ‘No Smoking’ board hanging prominently at the centre of the Coffee House. “Bangalira Shoney Na. Ora Paaltabey Na. (Bongs don’t listen and they will never change)-connotes Nayek.
After all Coffee house has an unstated, implicit tryst with adda culture and smoking! Nayek recalls “Sohorta Dekhtey dekhtey bodley gelo’ (the city has changed a lot), 19 paisa coffee 15 taka holo (19 paisa coffee has become 15 Rs). High rising buildings and glamorous malls have shown their capitalist dominance throwing competition to the British Heritage Remnants. The Kolkata of the meeting, michil, naxals have given way to Bourgeois culture and American ways of easy life!
Nayek recalls from 95 rupees salary to 12, 000 currently; the journey has been a long drawn one. And what’s more, all total of 75 staffs working unanimously for Coffee House makes it what it is; serving a crowd of almost 2000 every day! Such is the crowd pulling USP of Coffee House, which Nayek blatantly confirms; that the slender hanging fans have helped them to accommodate large lovers of Coffee House, as AC’s would mean more comfort, price hike of coffees and less accommodation to the ‘adda loving bongs’ who prefer being glued to their Coffee House tables over coffee, adda and smoke. It is only during Pujas when the city and its life-the people remain engaged in Pandal hopping; that Coffee House can be captured in a slightly offbeat mode with less crowd, less voices immersed in exciting debates and in totality: less life.
S.K Naseeruddin, another staff of Coffee House confirms that the State Government has a passive role to the highs and lows of Coffee House and irrespective of the fact that workers unify without having an union they are united by fellowship bonds and like the Presidency University, at a stone throw distance from the Coffee House, the latter is autonomous too!
Unaware of the paradigm shift, the topic of discussions over brewing hot coffee and a haze of smoke remains to be all the same-political, social and cultural much accentuated by the ambience of the place and by the assembled teachers, journalists, intellectuals and students at large. Adda has played an important role in Bong life-literatures, theatres, cinema and art all streaming from the meandering body of Kolkata adda. And Kolkata adda has still it’s perennial destination : Coffee House. Surrounding the Coffee House lies the academic hub of Bengal-by lanes of College street and the Boi Para, Presidency University, University of Calcutta, Hindu School and Hare School-the Kolutola Bose lane all bearing the heritage stamp of ‘Shei Shomoi’-the golden era of Kolkata, rather Calcutta.
As dusk descends upon the college street boi para, and the large wooden windows permit the breezy monsoon winds, the hustle bustle of Coffee House remains conspicuously fragrant with the ‘forever flu’. New groups arrive and join discussions and a new plume of dusky, thick smoke reinstates newer topic to be addressed and new ideas, ideals to be followed, new paths to be traversed. Change indeed is a rare phenomenon for Coffee House and at Coffee House as Nayek clarifies; “Coffee House bodlabey na”.
By Adrita Dey Ghatak
Image Source: Ritaban Kirtania
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