Sunday, November 28, 2004
A note on somebody else's blog got me thinking about my own college hang-outs today. For those still not in the know, I graduated with an Economics degree under my belt, from the yuppie-land called St Xaviers College in Calcutta (I refuse to acknowledge Kolkata, other than in strictly official correspondence), situated bang in the heart of the city's ultra-fashionable stretch of tarmac called Park Street.
Everybody's college has the ubiquitous canteen which gathers the maximum attendance than anywhere else in the campus, and mine is no different, and if we wanted some solitude far from the madding crowd, there were the back-stairs neatly cornered behind the science library, or the sheds of green benches that were to your left as you stepped in from the back gate. The staircase was the repository of gossip, close to the storehouse of old and yellowed books that had a delightful musty flavour emanating from them, and it required you to bunch closer together whenever some nonsensical and irreverent professor/ student happened to come traipsing down from above. (Damn them, bless them.)
The sheds of green benches were far from any interfering passers-by, and attracted a wide variety of solitarists (is that even a word?) - couples, groups of class-bunkers, gossip-mongers, bands rehearsing on electric-red guitars, weed-smoking hippies, fat aunties with tiffin-cases for the children of the school that stood across the field, dreamers with their books, and dreamers without their books.
There was 'Delights', the busy dosa place across the street of the back entrance, churning out South Indian style lassi that always found a patron, and over-expensive fried vadas that always elicited a belch from you after you had one. The coke here was always Rs 2 more than from the pan-wallah next door, but this was 'Delights', and so with that warped logic in mind, you succumbed to that extortion.
About ten minutes away, on chic Rawdon Street, with its baked confectionary and ice cream stores, was a lone Cafe Coffee Day, that had a jukebox, bright colours, and good-looking waiters. Cafe Coffee Pai was closer home, in Hungerford Street, and was cosier, with wood panels and friendly waiters who asked you how your classes were coming along, and the hot chocolate there was divine. No jukebox here, but I loved the mix of rock/pop/country/classics they played on the speakers, sometimes broken with the twist of Indian classical or world music, sometimes welcomed by the treat of having a book-reading session. Somebody mutters something about Bongs and their addas and I feel a warm glow in my three-fourth Bong heart. (One-eighth is Burmese, and another one-eighth is Anglo-Indian) They served free chocolate cookies, sprinkled with brown sugar, and crispy, oily onion fries with a homemade carotene concoction of tomato sauce. Why on earth would I want to go elsewhere? (Even if it had a jukebox)
Barista was looked down upon by my group. It stood, in solitary splendour, bang on snooty Park Street, with all its jewellery and suitings showrooms, hundred year-old corporate offices, nightclubs and restaurants that embodied the Sixties' swinging Calcutta of the novellas, and the side-lanes and alleys that now crawled with pimps and hookers. There was Peter Cat, where the sinfully mouth-watering Chello Kebab was invented - and Mocambo's down Free School Street, the Mecca of Continental food, with a prawn cocktail unrivalled this side of heaven. Yes, Barista had its parcheesi set and its chess set, and some long-haired moron who played the guitar, but the moron on the green benches played his instrument so much better, and the games on Free School Street (chess and otherwise) was much more inspiring. Why on earth would I want to visit Barista?
Sip a hot chocolate at Coffee Pai, and stroll down Free School Street, ignore the pimps, and bargain for the rarest and cheapest books in India from the sidewalk pashas who are any Bengali book-lover's dream come true. And, yes, on occassion, return to college for some Economics.
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