As the book worms bury themselves in the book shops aligned along Kolkata’s College Street, there is something contrasting and bustling for the garrulous; the Indian Coffee House. A dark and broad winding stairway adorned with stickers, weathered posters and electric wires on the adjacent walls make way to a huge hall of echoing voices and broken words. One cannot grasp the visual at one go. As you look around, you would see people engrossed in conversations, arguments, a few staring at you and the waiters wearing crisp white stand collars with fan like attachment to their phetas running helter-skelter.
As you make yourself comfortable on the quintessential ‘coffee house’ chairs, one of the hospitable waiters will run to you and then there is a wide variety of culinary delights you get to choose from. “You have to try their mutton cutlets and fried fish”, said my Bengali friend who took me there. Two cups of strong coffee go with the turf, you can’t miss it.
Until we waited for the coffee to arrive, I looked around. There were old friends catching up, regulars arguing and taking a pause only to take a few puffs of cigarette, women draped in quaint sarees heading to see the Durga Poojo pandals in the city, youngsters bunking lectures and gossiping and some sitting alone and observing. There was something for everyone regardless of age and interests.
As me and my friend chatted sipping on the refreshingly strong coffee and the cutlets and crispy fish served with sliced onions and mustard sauce, the noise around dissolved in its echo. That’s the charm of such places, you can avoid the sound when you want to and you can get lost in it when you are alone and observing.
Time flies while you are at the Coffee House and you keep ordering for more and wonder how the waiters keep a track of your order. You are distracted every now and then by people, noises, echoes and smells but you relish every moment of your time spent there.
This photo-essay is dedicated to Debjani and Swetaketu Ghosh, parents of my friend Lopa who took me to Kolkata to relive their nostalgia.