'Coffee House adda' no more
Coffee House er shei adda ta aaj ar nei, aaj ar nei
Kothae hariye gelo shonali bikel gulo shei, aaj ar nei
(The lively chats at Coffee House have faded away,
Where did we lose the golden, vibrant evenings; they too have disappeared)
The famous 'Coffee House' classic sung long ago by prominent Bengali singer Manna Dey that is dedicated to the 'adda' culture at the coffee house truly justifies the present atmosphere of Kolkata's heritage house – the Indian Coffee House.
Today, Coffee House, which is almost at the twilight of its vibrancy, weeps for the bygone era and the great minds. While some of them are now resting in peace, others are experiencing the travails of growing older with the passage of time. The vintage house – where every wall, brick and every corner echoed the charismatic words of Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray eons ago and saw the magical guitar strummed by D'Souza, today comprises only their imprints.
A visit to the present day Coffee House would probably offer you a glimpse of a mere heterogeneous population of common men and CCTV cameras keeping every customer 'under surveillance'. This gesture has irked Kolkata's civil society who has thereafter staged protests in front of the heritage Coffee House.
According to many customers, such a move, instead of making any sense, made them feel different and uncomfortable. The plan has been initiated for security reasons. However, many questioned the threat to the Coffee House. The iconic Coffee House – which witnessed the who's who like Nikhilesh, journalists like Moidul, poets like Amol, and various other politicians, converging and detaching themselves entirely from the world – has now been installed with CCTV cameras to keep an eye on you.
Heated discourses, unorganised yet spirited prolonged musical evenings, the origin of ideas by the aspiring figures and the 'very bong connection' with coffee house, all attributed to giving a new soul to the heritage building.
Moreover, the intellectual hub rose as the house of an almost national repute with regular visits of scholars, editors and writers like Ritwik Ghatak, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, who were some of the then noted patrons of Bengal.
Reminiscing his days of the Coffee House, Arya Bandyopadhyay, a photographer by profession says, "I would visit Coffee House every Saturday with my friends during my college days. With moments full of fun and humour, we would engage ourselves in long-hours of informal discussions on fascism, existentialism, communism, Dadaism, surrealism without a single worry in the world. Works of Kafka, Satre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Kamu, Picasso, Dali, Bunuel, etc. were also part of our discussions. Now, Saturdays pass by, but we do not get to see the brighter part of the weekend at the heritage building. All my friends are settled now and are busy with their personal and professional lives. Also, Coffee House has witnessed so many changes. Wooden chairs have been replaced by plastic chairs, our favourite waiters are no longer a part of the organisation, chowmein and fish finger have been added to the menu. Even the walls have been decorated with paintings and portraits of Rabindranath Tagore. Also and for obvious reasons, the prices of each food item has increased. Today, when I visit the house, I can smell the nostalgia – I could feel the laughter thriving all around. However, it feels good to learn that the younger generation, who has replaced our generation today, is involved in the hourly chats. Although, not so 'hourly' as ours… (Smiles)"
Standing firm and still even today, taking forward Bengal's pride, Coffee House, formerly Albert Hall was found during the period of the British Raj in 1876. Kolkata's very own Coffee House at Central Kolkata's College Street was the heart of intellectual conversations among the intelligentsia including poets, authors, writers, artists, literati and many others belonging to the arts and culture fraternity. Eminent personalities like Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen and the like have all had some brainstorming discussions at least once at this very place.
Recounting the golden 'coffee house tales', Subhra Chakraborty, a resident of Jadavpur in Kolkata says, "Times spent at the house with my college friends clubbed with hourly chats were superlative. My favourites were pakoda and mutton kobiraji. Today, the definition of Coffee House adda has slightly changed. Now, the mobile culture has dug in its roots in a big way. Technology seems more important than the lively conversations as people visiting coffee house look more interested in selfies, whatsapp, facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. The ambience now exudes an artificial look".
A secretary of Indian Coffee House Co-Operative Society also shared the same views, "The place used to have a different glamour - an all new different flavour of its own solely because of the big names. Today, the crowd has entirely changed. Coffee House does not get a glimpse of such noble personalities anymore. Long-hour informal 'adda' was the routine task during their time. They have now been replaced by different types of people including foreigners. Now, it is almost in the downturn of its existence, which might have given shape to an artificial scenario to the house to some extent. However, allowing that would create more congestion at the restaurant,"
With the passage of time, Coffee House will make its transition. However, the heritage building symbolises the eternal pride of the city of joy. Echoing names of the notable figures is something that Coffee House will certainly take forward. Kolkata's love for its Coffee House can never fizzle out – just like its true love for Durga Puja.