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, Kolkata-73 –is the official and permanent address of the 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.
A claustrophobic building that would almost seem at the twilight of her existence, the Indian Coffee House lives, rather thrives in an ambiance of its own, an atmosphere that it has enveloped itself in through the couple of centuries of its existence; and at the centre of it all ,lies the reason for its popularity, ‘adda’. ‘Adda’ is basically a debate of sorts that people have over food or over coffee, the only speciality being, it is much more evolved, heated and of course aggressive!
The history of Coffee House dates back to the 19th century when it was built as the ALBERT HALL, the ballroom of the delegates of the East India Company.Time flew and the historical landscape of India underwent massive changes. From a nation dominated by a western power, India rose up to claim its independence, needless to say, Calcutta leading the way. As more and more agitation grew, Delhi replaced Kolkata as the capital of British- ruled India. Lives were lost, innocents were slaughtered but the fire kept burning.In 1942, the Albert Hall turned into a coffee joint and in 1947, with the independence of the nation, this coffee joint came to be known as the “Coffee House”. Hence, stands the Coffee House today, the numerous chirps of people from different walks of life adding to the buzz of the Indian Coffee House.
The regular bursts of an evolution of art that witnessed both their awakening and maturity at this Coffee House have all faded away.It seems that now “Coffee Houser sei adda ta aj r nei “- quoting Manna Dey’s famous song.
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. 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 rupees 15 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 the 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 – noodles and fried rice, and the wooden chairs replaced by the plastic ones. 36 years of Nayak’s 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. Nayek recalls from 95 rupees salary to 12000 currently; the journey has been a long drawn one. Moreover, 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.
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 topics to be addressed and new ideas, ideas to be addressed and followed and new paths to be traversed. Change indeed is a rare phenomenon for Coffee House as ‘ Coffee House bodlabe na…cholche, cholbe ‘.