Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos

Mother Teresa Sarani

Park Street was recently christened Mother Teresa Sarani (Sarani is Bangla for road).

Park Street geographically runs from Mullick Bazar to Chowringhee Road, two parts of the city diametrically apart, geographically and economically too. My early memories of Park Street are strangely rather impersonal, dropping Dad at office with Ma and traveling through the thoroughfare, the innocence of youth making me stick my nose to the window of the taxi. A childhood spent mostly in the relative quiet and absence of hustle of bustle made my two-year stay in Kolkata memorable, and my tryst with The Street an influence that would stay undying for the rest of my life.

Bangalore has its Brigade Road, Delhi has its shopping-malls, Bombay has its pubs and the ubiquitous Juhu beach, and Kolkata has Park Street. It’s like the place to be. Kolkata’s prime dining and enjoyment district in the city for the last century, this street has seen changes, a lot of revolution, some bloodshed, and in spite of all that, has managed, quite amazingly to retain the charm and uniqueness which enthralled generations before us. As my friend, Saunak has stated very beautifully in his blog:

Deja-vu. That’s what the Street stands for … to the teeming millions in the city. Whenever there is a talk about the Street getting renamed, there is an inevitable twang in the hearts of those millions, spread all over the globe, like the sudden news of a childhood sweetheart getting married.

Park Street is a lovely place to be, and ensconced in the warm interiors of Peter Cat as the rains pound on the pavement as booksellers rush to stow their stores away into safer shelters has been, for a long time, my idea of a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s a different matter that this has not happened for a long time now, but well, who doesn’t like to indulge in a little nostalgia.

Park Street abounds in pubs and coffee-shops, and the most famous of these coffee shops is indubitably Flurys’. In a city where people love to wallow in the grey shades of ancientness, Flurys’ is not just a restaurant – it is an institution. Pretty much in the centre of Park Street, next to Music World, this place has the most delectable collection of pastries I have seen, and some absolutely wonderful coffee. The place was recently renovated, and there is an endless dispute between the oldies and the newbies as to whether the change is for the better. The argument, last I heard, continues. Flurys’ was established as a primarily English food joint, and over the years, Indian influences and spices have lent a distinctly unique flavor to the dishes. Especially sumptuous are the All-day-breakfast menus, waffles, and the mouth-watering chocolate brownie. Talking of food, Park Street reminds me of the India Hobby Centre, which used to and still sells the local Rollick Ice-cream. Probably one of the few places where you can get a decently-shareable ice-cream sundae for less than a hundred bucks, this was THE craze when we were in school, as Baskin and Robbins’ with the questionable thirty-one flavors were just about making inroads into the market.

As you walk along the road, it’s easy to miss arguably the best and probably also the smallest pub in Kolkata, Someplace Else. Cramped it is, but it has never played crappy music in the several times I have gone there, and a trip to Kolkata would be well and truly incomplete without a pilgrimage to this pub. It is simply amazing to sip on Long Island Iced Tea (the way it should be), sit back and relax, as Amyt Datta plays the blues like never before. Classy yet under-stated, restrained yet phenomenal, the man has an amazing way with the guitar, and has come to be, at least for me, eternally associated with Someplace Else. A small mention about the food: It is advisable to try the Chili Chicken Triangles, samosa-like things with chili chicken stuffing, awfully delectable.

A mention of Someplace Else would warrant a short note about Tantra, a discotheque, also within the premises of the Park Hotel, a five-star hotel which looks like a three-star; Tantra was one of the first dance-clubs, or discos to open in Kolkata, as it was still shrugging off the last dregs of Bengali Renaissance. Fashionably popular with the yuppie and wannabe crowd, it attracts particularly large crowds on weekends; my rather primitive dancing techniques have forced me to avoid this place at all costs.

Over the last few years or so, the Oxford Bookstore has become a place of enduring interest for me and a lot of my friends. Arguably, this store was established prior to the one in Churchgate, Mumbai; and this one is more spacious and homey. And of course, they have the quintessential cha-bar, overlooking the pavement of The Park, where you can sip a lightly flavored tea, flip the pages of Lonely Planet India, as you watch humanity trundle by. Come out of the bookstore, and the lingering aroma of the roll is bound to hit you like a bolt of lightning. A quick snack, no other place in India makes the roll like the roadside stalls in Kolkata. Period. The hygiene may leave a lot to be desired for the whiny-kind; but Hot Kati Rolls next to The Park, and Kusum’s further ahead are two places which are amongst the better joints in Kolkata. Advice: Try the double-mutton egg roll, it may look greasy; but it is a nicely fulfilling lunch.

Move up the street to the junction and you will find Music World across the street. This is one of the few places in the country which, at one point of time, used to boast of a collection for connoisseurs. Over the years, standards and tastes have undergone slow deterioration, and though the collection is not exactly what you would want; it still retains the charm and the nonchalance; and what better than walking around looking at the glossy CD covers, memories of adolescence as you take the CD off the rack, take a quick look at the back cover, and place it back on the rack with an innocent half-smile. This place seems to stand for a whole lot of memories, meetings with blind-dates, catching up with old flames, leisurely strolls up and down the street, always to end at the same street-corner. Right next to Music World along the lane is Peter Cat, famous for the Sizzlers and the absolutely wonderful Chelo Kebabs. Advice: On advice from a long-suffering individual similar to me, I tried the kebab platter the last time I was in Peter Cat, and it was yummy. Will add it to my not-to-miss list.

An eye-sore on the street is the newly-opened Barista. Call me an oldie, but I find the creamy tones of the coffee pub and the innocuous one-liners on its walls distinctly against the spirit of the place and what it symbolizes. But well, everyone has his secret peeves, and my pet-peeve is Barista. Even CCD (Café Coffee Day) right next to Peter Cat is a better place to sip a hot latte because of the laid back attitude. And of course, as if it wasn't enough, this place charges an exorbitant fifty bucks for a lousy cup of cappuccino.

Look across the street from Barista, and you would see a few other restaurants each vying for your attention. Moulin Rouge, with a tinge of the original French flavor, desperately trying to hold on to tradition, and failing miserably in the process; Oasis, with lousy service, but surprisingly good food; and of course, Bar-B-Q with a delectable Chinese spread, are all inviting places. But nothing beats the charm of passing off the afternoon, relaxing in the uncomfortable sofas of Olypub, sipping on cold beer, nibbling on your last bits of the wholesome beef steak; as you hear distant murmurs of excited loud-voiced conversation from the floor below. Olypub is a place steeped in history for all youngsters, they, like me always have a silly, interesting or a pleasing experience associated with the place.

Small footnote: A mention of Park Street is incomplete without due credit to the fat pimp who roams around Karnani Mansion; looking for ignorant horny strangers to proposition. Roam around aimlessly around Olypub for a few seconds, and you are bound to see this man – any time of the day, and the well-rehearsed conversation would ensue:

Fat man: Do you want something Saheb?
You (in this case, me): No.
Fat man (still persistent): I have college girls. Authentic.
You (adamant): No. I said I am not interested.
Fat man (persistent like hell): You want young, saheb? School-girls?
You (disgusted by now): No, I said no…

You finally realize its better to walk away, and do so...

That’s Park Street, my friends, in a nutshell, a place which, for a lot of Bengalis and people from Kolkata, symbolizes the essence of Kolkata. Unfortunately, for a lot of other people, Kolkata is painted with a decidedly ignorant brush; mostly equating poverty, homelessness and utter chaos with the city. The last time I was in the city, I was pleased to note that those are things of the past; and it pleased me to see the city changing with leaps and bounds. Most importantly, it shows that people are making conscious efforts to change mindsets, and needless to say, it does seem like its truly working…

1 Responses to “Mother Teresa Sarani”

  1. # Blogger EQUINOX

    lovely post!! I almost feel like I took a trip there!  

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