Recently I came across a very interesting article titled, ‘A Spell in Hindustan’ written by one Philip Crossland. A journalist who started his career as an editorial assistant with the ‘Statesman’ in 1938 in Calcutta and was later transferred to Delhi.
Where, during the Second World War, he joined the Indian Army but not for long. Soon he resumed his career in journalism, once again with the Statesman by becoming a resident editor to begin with, then deputy editor and finally the general manager.
What is fascinating about this article is the manner, in which, he describes the ‘Coffee House’ of Calcutta. ‘Coffee House’ we all know are located, in various important cities of India and have been the nerve centres of various thought domains. Largely visited by the local intelligentsia.
Calcutta Coffee House was no different and I haven’t forgotten the old saying … ‘What Bengal thinks today India thinks tomorrow.’
Coffee House was one of the great institutions of Calcutta of those times located in Chittaranjan Avenue. And since, it was just across the road from the Statesman’s office, it was a popular rendezvous for the members of the staff. It was divided into two sections that were generally known as, the ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords.’
In the ‘House of commons’ your coffee was brought to you with the milk already in it. And you merely had to add sugar. Whereas, in the ‘House of Lords’ milk, sugar and coffee were served on a tray in their separate receptacles. And of course, the customer paid for the refinement.
In the house of commons there was a general pandemonium that was but obvious. Whereas, the upper house of lords was generally quiet, still and sedate for the self-styled superior intellectuals. A table near the door was invariably occupied by the Chief Secretary, to Government of West Bengal. Quite immersed in solving the hard to tame ‘Statesman’s crossword.’ Which is unthinkable in present times. So, India, indeed, has changed, as Chief Secretaries, now need to solve their crossword puzzles at home and not in office, overtly. And will certainly become the talk of the town if they attempted to do it in a coffee house.
In the centre of the room was a galaxy of talent from an advertising agency. One of their members was the would be … Satyajit Ray. Yet to find fame as a film maker. But, a quarter away through the production of ‘Pather Panchali.’ Others seen there included, Dilip Mukherjee and Chidananda Das Gupta.
And another regular was a gentleman who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Russian dictator and was consequentially known as ‘Stalin.’
I read somewhere in Google. The Coffee House of Kolkata is now three hundred years old.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE
(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)
ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY
(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)
AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)
REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD
(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)
TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN
(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha
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