I don’t always get nostalgic about Calcutta, but when I do, it’s always about Park Street. In a way, Park Street has always been the focus point of my life in this city. I was born not too far from this road, lived for the first eight years around the nearby Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, studied till the age of sixteen in Loreto House, which is at a short distance on Middleton Row, and have breathed in life around here.
Having studied in Loreto House one can imagine the goings and comings of each day. My mother taught in the same school so I never needed the school bus. I depended on her. If she had to stay back late, so did I. Whenever the report card was handed over to her twice in a year, and if my grades were good, she’d take me to Peter Cat. It was here I relished my favourite platter of Chelo Kebabs. The mere thought makes me salivate. The hot plate filled with a mound of rice, a dollop of butter, kebebs, skewered tomatoes and bell peppers, burnished chicken tikkas, and to win my heart twice over, a fried egg. Delish.
Every year during Christmas and New Year’s, Park Street is resplendent in shimmering lights, colourful banners, revellers and a ring in the air that oozed of joy and bonhomie.
In the evenings, the restaurants that probably were operational since the British era, lit up their neon boards – Magnolia, Trinca’s, Moulin Rouge – I wish my parents had taken me here at least once. They fascinated me to no end. But one place we frequented ever so often was Peiping (former name of Beijing), a Chinese restaurant where the service was super slow, so slow that the appetite kept building up between courses, but it was flavourful. The entire family sitting at the round glass-topped tables in dim lighting, tucking into sweet corn chicken soup, chilli chicken dry, sweet and sour prawns (these were heavenly) and noodles and fried rice. I was not an experimental young girl, but my brother kept trying new dishes, and now thankfully, my motto is to try ‘everything’!
My ‘frenemy’ S used to stay in a society bang on Park Street, and I would often drop by her place. Right below her apartment was one of the many kathi roll stalls. I cannot explain my intense and passionate love for kathi rolls, Calcutta style. Here in Delhi, the rolls are nimble and wrapped in roomali roti. I love roomali roti, but it does not do justice to the boisterous stuffing of a true Mughlai kathi roll. You need the paratha made of refined flour or maida, with a fried egg lining it and wrapped around a line of marinated skewered chicken with a spritz of lemon and fried onions. Heaven. Armed with a coke, any meal and the hunger in-between meals were pretty much well taken care of.
Another magnificent shop on Park Street is Oxford Bookstore, established in 1919. I can’t say if my love for books stemmed from this place, but it certainly helped propel it. I remember tagging along with friends after examinations to kill time at the bookstore, while our parents (teachers all) would have to wait till the end of the day. I remember how I fell in love with the complete collection of Arthur Conan Doyle, and how my father ended up gifting me the very same copy at the end of my academic year. True treasure for me.
And if I could end this post on a sweet note, I must mention Flurys, a confectionary store founded in 1927 that reinvented itself right before my eyes. We would often purchase their Almond Cheesecake, though the name seems like a misnomer. It wasn’t like the cheesecakes we find today, but this just as delicious and perfect to celebrate any occasion.
Calcutta and I have always had a rather strained relationship, but Park Street is the place where we suddenly turn into old friends.