Thursday, March 29, 2007

Go Fish!

Observe. The fisherman pants from the land of eternal sunshine, Goa. OK, so that was cornily put and those are pink pants (magenta!) which go around your butt and you draw the ends of the string together to put it all in one piece. Devilishly comfortable. Though the family hates it. I love the fisherman look.

Perfect for a nice lazy Sunday brunch, na?

(O, and yes, that;s my messy room, complete with 6 foot narcissistic mirror, loads of books and photo frames and painted mango crates with clothes inside.)

Fab Lighting

I'm a self-confessed Fabindia Freak. I've checked out all the Bombay outlets within habitational areas (cross the Mulund and Malad stores off the list, please!) and the super-sized dukaan in Delhi GK, and also the one at Connaught Place there. And, on my recent Calcutta trip, the newly opened Fabindia at Gariahat.

And I looooove the paper lanterns. Adore them, Lust after them. Stand for minutes there, twirling them and handling them, till the attendants look alarmed/ greedy. And I love seeing them in people's homes. :)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Remake of the Decade!

Flury's on Park Street was always a city landmark for the fashionable and the tasteful and the jetset. Only thing, it used to be a tattered part of history-landmark, and more of a place where you would go to remember the 'good ole days' of Flury's gone by. The waiters were terribly slow and hard of hearing, the paint was peeling off, but the mergingues-with-cream was still one-of-a-kind, as was Flury's itself. But again - it was a visit merely for the sake of a nod to history.

So, imagine my utter surprise when I set foot inside the all-new Flury's, the other day. The old world charm is still there, but the paint is spic-and-span, the waiters are amazingly crisp and know their fare well, the food is as good as ever, and there is an air of newfound prosperity. No more, the old visit at the end of which you left feeling sad...

Flury's was spankin' new! ... and shining...!

So, on my first visit there with Premankur the other day, I ordered old favourites Viennese coffee (they don't make it like this anywhere else, oustide Vienna, trust me!) and their trademark chocolate boat. The meringues are off the menu though, but these two were more than enough to make me not feel sooo sad! :)

And while I took some nice snaps of the chandeliers overhead and the interesting mosaic tiling on the wall panels, I also noticed their Easter Bunny is out - time for some de-lish Easter eggs too! :)

Premankur and I took these snaps because we are - quite simply - "vain morons". It's a private joke! :) But we look damn great at Flury's! :)

While the new Flury's has a new tagline also - Five Generations of Fine Confection - this is upheld in their new centre: T3, or The Tea Table, across the street from it. This is where they've shifted all the old furniture - and even the old waiters. As my uncle said, T3 is where the old-timer customers of Flury's go - to go back to the old days when they snapped at the waiters and whiled away centu

New/ Old Market

More than 130 years since the Stuart Hogg Market was set up in 1874, it's rebuilding time again here. The bricks (of which the circular set up is just one take) are lined up to construct a new underground shopping complex - below the original gothic structure on Linday Street.

Welcome to New Market, as all Calcuttans call it. The then shairman of the Calcutta Corporation, Sir Stuart Hogg, may have inaugurated the market as a Whites-only preserve, but modern-day Calcuttans (very few Whites left here now!) have no hesitation in adopting it as their own. New Market now occupies the whole of Lindsay Street, stretching from Chowringhee Avenue out front, to Free School Street which flanks it. It is, in essence, a great big jamboree that sells and buys anything and everything, and one of Calcutta Traffic Police's worst nightmares!

Notable joints at New Market, which have been around for eons: Strawberry for childrens clothes, and yes, my mum was a regular there at one point of time; Nahoum's Confectionary, which makes the yummiest Easter fare and cinnamon bread; Badshah, which is one of the buzzwords for Calcutta-style rolls, Globe Cinema, which has been around for decades and is still as seedy as ever; and New Empire cinema, which has renovated itself to include a Domino's Pizza and a Barista outlet on the ground floor. Sadly enough, that other old movie hall in the vicinity, Lighthouse, which used to be one of the few good halls to screen English movies, could not follow New Empire's modernisation suit and is closed down now. :(

O, and yes, they built that awful montrosity called Sreeram Arcade with its fake Greek statue and Corinthian pillars right opposite New Empire. In a way, it was one of the first 'malls' in Calcutta - and in that respect, a trendsetter. We used to frequent the softy ice cream shop on the ground floor, when we were there at New Empire for a movie during the college years. :)

School's Out....!

Back on Free School Street, the gramophone record-sellers used to be quite the men to look out for, at one point of time. There used to be lines and lines of stalls selling the very oldest and the very rarest LPs here, and they never used to be shy of customers. But, as Premankur plans to write about in a forthcoming story, many of them have switched to selling CDs these days, and so, while there may be a Woodstock LP on the lower shelf, pride of place on the shelf at eye-level is occupied by a CD of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna!

But at least, some other elements of Free School Street remain untouched - the second hand book stores are still there, and so are the shops famous for musical instruments - guitar and piano makers. These guys will have it custom-built for you, if you so desire. :)

The Armenian College is a piece of Free School Street history. It's been here since 1884, and while the institute may no longer be the top draw for higher education in the city, it occupies a very important place in the city and the neighbourhood's heritage. :)

Now, when I took this snap, I had no idea of the role this shop has played in my family history. I took the snap as a joke - lofty sounding Saville Row, sitting next to humble Pritam Traders on seedy Free School Street: perhaps, the proprietors had been in London on the original street...?
Aaa, but then I came back home, and started trying on some old coats of my dad, which no longer fitted him, with the intention of spririting them away for myself, and that's when mum tells me that most of these old suits were tailored for my dad's wedding at... (you guessed it!) Saville Row on Free School Street, which used to be (apparently) quite the fashionable shop during the 1970s and 80s!

Took this one, just cuz I thought it was pretty. I'd wanted cane blinds for my place sometime back, but didn't know where to get them in Bombay. It's something we Bongs call 'cheek' - the kind that we roll down and roll up with ropes. And, here, walking down Free School Street, I see a whole variety of them. Wonder if they do export orders?

These colourful things are called 'khoi bags'. They're party accessories for li'l kids' birthday parties, and yes, I used to have them when I was chhottu. It's usually one large cartoon/coloured/ decorated paper bag, stuffed with 'khoi' and sweets and li'l toys and whistles, and hung up from the ceiling. The birthday boy (that's me) takes a long stick and punches the bag from below, so that it punctures, raining down all the worthless khoi with all the goodies (sweets, toys, etc) and all the kids start hunting for the best of them. Sort of needle in the haystack game. Was actually a lot of fun! :)

And that's the church on Free School Street, right next to the Fire Department HQ. I forget what the name is, but I do think it's grand. *sigh*

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Calcutta Honky Tonk

Central Calcutta's Seedy District: Sudder Street and Free School Street. Up there is Sudder Street, which has surprisingly lofty origins, snaking in as it does from behind the National Museum on Chowringhee Avenue, but then it degenerates, through a multitude of twists and turns, into this raggedly place teeming with cheap hotels, motels, brothels and foreign exchange shops. Perfect for hippie/ poor firangs.

Free School Street down there is now called Mirza Ghalib Street. This has got to be one of the city's most diverse roads ever - from posh restaurants to alleged Chinese mafia dens, churches to mosques, government buildings to old gramophone record stores, second hand book sellers to brothels. Welcome to the Hotch Potch! :)

The most memorable landmark here? That's easy - the Fire Brigade HQ, all in a peculiar shade of lime yellow, with its dozen or so giant red fire trucks assembled below. A six-year old's fantasy come true. (Well, apart from the brothels and the mafia dens, I mean!)

We Hit Chowringhee...

Like Bombay, Calcutta has its fair share of movie halls with attitude and heritage that the current crop of multiplxes simply cannot replicate. A case in point is the Metro cinema hall at Esplanade. Housed in this breathtakingly gorgeous old-world building, the theatre is all about... elegance. Elegance, despite the terrible congestion of Chowringhee Avenue outside! :)

And a short walk away from Metro, you have the stately Grand Hotel - or the Oberoi Grand. Maybe not as old as the Great Eastern, the Grand nevertheless has reams of character and history. Don't let all the teeming crowds around the hotel fool you into thinking it's not first-rate!

And under the pillared portico of the Grand, you will find hawkers and five-star shops selling practically everything under the sun. An amazing Chinese food joint also, which we used to frequent during college days... and countless magazine stalls selling Filmfare and Cineblitz...

Metro to the Esplanade

The stretch of Esplanade, where the Grand Hotel stands, leading in from dalhousie and Central Avenue, is just full of really old landmark shops, like Cuthbertson's on top. Of course, right next to Cuthbertsons is the much-recent Kanpur Leather Stores, and Premankur accused me of bias in that I didn't include it in my frame here! :)

Easiest way to get there? Hop on the metro, and get off at the Esplanade stop.

Once you come out of the subterranean station and spy the Shaheed Minar (Tower of Martyrs), previously the Ochterlony Monument, standing tall to your right, against the green expanse of the Maidan, you know you've come to the right place!

For the record, Esplanade is a major 'rallying point ' (pun intended) for the city's political parties. It's like, every time a party wants to annoucne a protest or whatever, theyt all descend on Esplanade and the Maidan and declare a rally or a bandh or whatever. With the result, traffic in central Calcutta comes to a standstill. Botheration!

Great Eastern Heritage

The 167-year old Great Eastern Hotel, at the corner of Esplanade and Dalhousie has been the toast of the town long before the Oberois and the Tajs came about. This where the Queen of England stayed, for God's sake! :) But the place has been degenerating since the 1970s and the state government has woken up to this fact, finally - the hotel has now been privatised, ahead of its renovation, and the new owners say, they shall soon restore the Great Eastern to her former preeminent status! The facade of the building, of which you can see a part up there, will be kept largely the same, and there is also construction activity at the rear, down there, to build a new swimming pool and car park.

Come back in three years' time to the Great Eastern, Your Majesty! :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Odd One Out!

The LIC Building at B.B.D. Bagh up there. And I don't know which gate I'm posing in front of, down there. No, it's not the LIC building. :)

No Mean Reds Here...

The Royal Insurance Building stands right opposite the General Post Office. Not very sure if it still houses the insurance company, but yes, whoever the current tenants are, they must pay a hefty price for maintaining the building n the great shape it's in! :) With its red and grey brick-and-stone work, the building is a charming foil to the GPO's pristine white.


I'm completely in love with Bombay's General Post Office, so I really didn't expect to be so awed by Calcutta's GPO. The dome is amazingly white, and now that I think of it, I do recall drives past the illuminated GPO at night, and I remember looking out of the car window and ogling the dome...

Built in 1864, this one easily outranks the Bombay GPO, and was apparently built on the site of Calcutta's original Fort William. There were some bricks laid out on the road next to the building, and I thought they would make an interesting snap, so SNAP! :)

And yes, pillars on the three sides - scream out to be clicked, too. :) Very Greek, methinks.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Punch Stronger Than Caffeine Here

No,this is not the famous College Street Coffee House, but another one, just as famous. The Central Avenue Coffee House has recently been renovated and thrown its doors open for the public. Tue to form, it still has horrible decor (chrome tables and chairs) and a vast, airy hall - but then, people never went to the Coffee House for decor anyway - you always have a Barista or a Cafe Coffee Day for that! The Coffee Houses of Calcutta (Kerala too, for that matter), were set up by the Indian Coffee Board in the 1940s but were closed down by the British as they were seen to be a focal point of political activity. That's when the sacked workers took over and reopened the chain! And since then, Calcutta's Coffee Houses have come to represent independent and even revolutionary student/ citizen thinking - and of course, the more harmless adda.
Settled for a cold coffee at the newly reopened branch. :)

Grand Old Dames

Stock Exchange Building: The Calcutta Stock Exchange was one of Asia's oldest exchanges, but has sadly fallen into much disrepair these days. Low volumes and suspect liquidity are just some of the problems here, and I remember there was talk in the pink papers recently about how the market regulators, Securitie and Exchange Board of India, might recommend the closure of regional exchanges like this one. Aaa, but the old building is still gorgeous. :)

HSBC Building:
A stone's throw away from the General Post Office, and it's one of Premankur's favourite old ladies here at Dalhousie. :) Personally, I think the HSBC building at Fort, Bombay, is grander, though.

Income Tax Office: That doorway is amazing! And yes, with the close of the financial year ahead, tax payment does make me see red these days! :)

It's A Zoo Out There...

Just some crazily fantastic artistic work on B.B.D. Bagh. :) The gate down there is awesomely huge - you have to see it to believe it! And there are seven carved elephant windows like the one on top on the ground floor of the concerned building.