Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar

103 Comments

Growing up in Calcutta, one of the primary loci of my life was the neighbourhood sweet shop, Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar (Mahaprabhu’s Cornucopia of Sweets). Lunch or dinner was always terminated by one of its products and whenever a guest came, that was the place I had to go to buy the chomchom and the chanar jilipi. My favourite Mahaprabhu sweet used to be the extremely saccharine gujiya (25 paise a piece) from which I graduated to what I called Mahaprabhu’s Ek takar mishti (the one rupee sweet) , the jewel in their crown whose quality was distinguished by virtue of it being priced at Re 1 whereas everything else was 50 paise or below.

As time went by, the prices went up, the size of the sweets went down and the people at the front counter became less generous in giving out extra rubber bands. But virtually everything else stayed the same: the peeling plaster on the walls, the slightly broken statue of Laxmi and Ganesh, the rickety sink on which was perched a plastic jug that contained potable water, the huge vats of rosogolla and pantooya floating about in a sea of syrup, the flies buzzing about, the bare-torsoed/baniyaned assistants with their exposed pot bellies and abundant nostril-and-cochlear hair taking your order, handing out change and packing the sweets

Till now.

In a city that I struggle to recognize each time I come back, I find that one of the last bastions of timelessness, Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar has fallen to the winds of India shining. The complex of run-down one storey buildings, of which Mahaprabhu was one, had been torn down and replaced by a spanking new multi-storied commercial complex: the first floor of which is dominated by Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar.

But this is that old store in name only.

With shining glass panels as walls, marbelled roof and full climate control, it is barely recognizable not only in terms of its looks but also with respect to the sweets it sells and their pricing. Gone are the traditional Bangali delicacies, gone are the middle-class affordable prices. Gone are the tubs of lard that manned the gates of sweet heaven in their various stages of undress. And the flaking paint and the cracked water jug.

Instead there are North Indian sweets (as distinguished from Bangali ones) with a wild assortment of food colors, which I was told is “all natural” each one costing a small fortune. Smart uniforms are the norm, the people handling sweets could well have been call center employees with none of their physiques showing any trace of extensive sampling of merchandise. The flies are gone, a huge statue of Krishna Lalla dominates the store and the old proprietor, who was once “one with the people” sits in a quasi-cubicle, CEO-like. The old Mahaprabhu used to open its shutters at the crack of dawn and sell jilipi-singara (Bengali jalebis and samosas) but evidently that is too downmarket for them now because of which Mahaprabhu opens not earlier than 8.

Remarkably impressed by the new-look Calcutta, of which the new incarnation of Mahaprabhu is but a manifestation, I could not however help but feel more than a bit of nostalgia-driven sadness. And something more.

A sense of disassociation. The feeling of having become a stranger in my own para. (locality). I do not recognize faces on the street anymore. Where girls in shapeless salwar kameezes walked to Bhartanatyam/painting school now stride shapely ladies in red skirts and black stockings as they make their way into the airhostess training institute next to Mahaprabhu. Where was once parked venerable mini-tanks otherwise known as Ambassadors and mobile rust-buckets otherwise known as the Premier Padmini now stand a Honda City or an Accent. The cobbler who repaired the straps of hawai chappals for a few rupees is gone. So too is the weighing machine in front of Mahaprabhu with the blue/red lights that spat out, with equal randomness, your weight and your fortune.

Yes, Calcutta has changed.

And it has changed, without me in it.

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103 thoughts on “Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar

  1. Pingback: DesiPundit » Archives » Memories

  2. Ei to Arnabda …. eta ki thik korle …. on a saturday afternoon ….as the skies threaten to open up I have started craving singara, alur chop and jilipis ….. I think Calcutta has some of the best offering for junk food ….I wouldn’t even call it junk … let’s say snack … from Rolls to chops

    On your main topic, even I agree with you that Calcutta is losing some of it’s old charm … many establisments have fallen prey to the “Indian boom” ….. Apparently the new “rich” are usually migrants from other states who come in to work in Calcutta …. so these establishments are now coming up to cater to that demand …. even some Bengali sweet shops like “Mouchak” have become expensive as well ….. Indians with increasing disposable income are actually more likely to go to swank shops than the “parar mistir dokan” ……

  3. By the way … no offence meant to people from outside Bengal coming in and living in Cal …. you guys are more than welcome … I was merely making an observation ….

  4. I understand where this comes from – I haven’t been away from Bombay to have seen it transform suddenly, but I remember enough of it from my childhood days to know how much things have changed.

    I can also understand the nostalgia, but a lot of the change has happened for the better. A lot of the little outlets are getting to be very health and sanitation-conscious. Paanipuri waalaas that sell bottled water paani puris served with a gloved hand.

    I guess you’re not complaining, and you still brought a smile to my face 🙂

  5. Arnab…nice article.
    Change…isnt that the only thing that doesnt change.
    Just like Europe and a few places in the Americas have turned the full circle and realized the value of “chaos”, “sense of place” and “human scale”, I can bet India will realize that too.

    Just wait while we run the full circle.

  6. Hello,

    Khub bhalo laglo eta pore. Also, feeling terribly sad. I guess you’ll understand exactly why, and how.

    Thank you. For this post. Is wonderful.

  7. And that thing you said about Calcutta changing without you… it’s just as disconcerting when the city changes around you, and you feel left behind.

  8. Beautiful. If it is any consolation, the disconnect and the sadness are no less intense when the places and people you revisit after a long time have not changed much and you have.

  9. Awww…..lovely post. Atleast something I can vaguely relate to even if its about Kolkatta. But then a good serving of nostalgia with a side dish of sepia tinted images always makes me go awww….

  10. awwwwwwww! i think i like your nostalgic posts better than your humourous posts [not that those are bad or anything, they’re hysterical] but this post was just so sweet and sad.

  11. excellent post, GB. I have my share of memories of 30 years. Of chhobi selun near GopalNagar Mor (we used to live in Alipur) and Satyanarayan Mistanna Bhandar (near Kalighat).

    Change is constant. But it has made me wonder a lot many times: why India Shining has to be invoke a certain kind of imagination always. Why Mahaprabhu Mishtanna Bhandar will not figure in its full regalia (well, without the flaking paint and cochlear hair, but with enhanced quality) in the country-wide (well, almost) economic growth. It is a question worth thinking about, and it is essentially a question about globalization, and entrepreneurship.

    Mani Shankar Mukhopadhyay (Shankar) has written a lot about the missing Bengali food products in international markets. I see Thai and East Asian products are slowly making their way on Walmart shelves (with a small chit inside noodles packets requesting consumers to save Thailand’s turtles by contributing to their Turtle Conservation Fund).

    I am going home (in July) after a long two years, and will experience that change first hand.

  12. Although a Madrasi, I grew up in Durgapur and I am remember very fondly many a sweet shop like that in Benachatti town market or in the horsho market. My favorite, Jal Moodi/Mosala Moodi and Mishti Dhoi (hhhmm…lip smacking good), well maybe a sondesh.

    I haven’t been to kolkatta in a long time, but I can only imagine the changes wrought by globalization. What has India become?!

  13. Oh man! You really got me sentimental this time. This is not your story alone.

    It’s the same with a lot of us.

    The kachha-house that was the unofficial samosa-chutney and chai joint outside our school campus has now solidified into a concreted ‘restaurant’.

    Squeaky aging wooden benches have been replaced with ‘Neelkamal’ furniture.

    The place is not cramped and dark anymore but spacious and well lit like the thousand other eateries in downtown.

    All memories of drinking copious chutney which was free while finishing off the two samosas and drinking tea fast enough to get burns on palate and tongue are now just that – memories – fading so fast, you shudder if it was really that way or you just made it up in your mind.

    No more rolling udhaar, cajoling teachers for treats, celebrating samosa-jalebi-mirchi pakoda birthday parties… no more drinking water from glasses that were rarely washed well, no more leaking roofs that heightened the pleasure of relishing hot samosa and chai with friends on days of torrential downpour.

    One of the few remaining places that offered ‘sukoon and swaad’, it’s now something I can only reminisce and lament the loss of.

    Wonderful post bro… you saddened me on a Sunday morning…well begun is half done……. 🙂

  14. @GB

    Do you feel disassociated and sad because they have changed or is it because you were not a part of it? Is it fair to expect that places like MMB should remain the same when we have moved on in life?

    Let’s face it, as an expatriate Calcuttan we have changed. Our reference points, expectations and values have changed too. Just that when we come down to finding our past, we find that they have moved on too and then we feel bad. That’s not fair.

    Now I am not passing a judgement on the changes that happened to middle class Calcutta, not to mention the name. May be they needed to change. May be the Honda Citys and the air hostess academies are more important in Calcutta’s scheme of things. For them Calcutta is an immediate reality that needs to be relevant here and now. Not as a reference to us.

    I have a feeling that you are sad not because the Calcutta you knew has changed. But because Calcutta has changed without you. It’s just like when you learn for the first time that there are some secrets, even between the best of friends.

    Change is inevitable. It is a must to stay relevant. And the downside is that it does not believe in taking everyone with it. That’s why the sweets at MMB are North Indian delicacies. It’s a choice that the owners have made.

    Let me end my point with a anecdote. In the South Calcutta locality I grew up in, there used to be the local bajaar which more or less served all the needs. Baba always shopped from there. Now doing the bajaar every day is an act that every Bengali enjoys, but old age has made the act of carrying back the groceries an ordeal that Baba could well avoid.

    So the last time I was in Cal, I learnt that Baba had discovered this small supermarket run by a non-Bengali which has a service which is still a novelty in most Calcutta bajaars: home delivery without charging a premium. Baba had changed his bajaar habits. In this case, change was good.

  15. @GB

    Beautifully & evocatively written post; a lot of us left our homes (or hometowns) with the fond hope that when we come back- the home would be there waiting for us as we left it. In fact, it was because of this hope that we could venture out in the first place…so naturally we feel let down when we don’t recognize the place (or people) we knew so well.

    GB, one of the things I like about your writing is your ability to narrate without any value judgement.

  16. They have to upgrade otherwise they will die. Remember what happened to our own tea industry. As people switched over to soft drinks and coffee, tea industry is now gasping for breath. The Cadburys, Nestles and Hersheys are a smart lot. So far they have not been able to grow at the expense of Indian sweets but who knows what will happen in the future?

    Here are Cadbury Dairy Milk’s ads. It is now positioning itself as the sweet thing of choice for anything special. However I will still hate to welcome guests with Dairy Milk!

  17. disapppointed man…
    saw mahaprabhu in title and thought this was gonna be something abt prabhuji… (naybe with a promotion)

    neways… good post… but then this is the normal process of change… and its not something that started with our generation…

  18. Yeah, that’s great. MMB has changed for the better. And I sort of agree with rahul ghosh. You’re unhappy you haven’t been there to see calcutta(KOLKATA, you know!) grow and change. Natural emotion by the way.

  19. Shree Shree Durga Mistanna Bhandar was always run by a cohort of sweaty, oily, banian-clad men overseen by the thin, spick and span owner. He had served my father-in-law as Montu. For my husband and therefore me, he is Montuda. For my daughter, he is Montu-jethu.
    He is so supremely confident of his loyal clientele, locals and nostalgia ridden NRIs, that the shop interior is bound to please you with its olde worlde charm (read peeling plaster and et al).
    But I am having great hopes pinned on his younger son. This HANDSOME and pleasant young man is the para darling, dresses nattily and has a perfect memory for all our preferences.
    He may be the one to turn this temple to soot and grime into gleaming glass and chromium— but as long as he is there, I am willing to eat hygienically prepared sweets.

  20. I used to go there a lot when I was a kid living in Ballygunge (followed by a visit to Modern Books up the road towards Gariahat). It was exactly the way GB described it. GB, do you remember when they had labor trouble some time in the late 80s/early 90s & closed down? The employees opened a street outlet & were selling their stuff from there. I was speaking to my parents today & telling them about your post, & they agreed on all counts. At least, this is one institution that has changed with the times & making money.

  21. I hope what Aditya says is not true. If panipuri walas actually use bottled water, the whole foundation of the concept of street food will start shaking. I personally believe the nail grime contributes to 50% of the flavour.
    As about nostalgia, at the giddy age of 19, I have suffered hard. Within six months of my joining college, the octogenarian tetul achar (tamarind pickle…i think) seller who used to set shop near the college gate disappeared, having either expired or moved to a more tamarind loving college. Change never hurt more.

  22. @ad libber

    I agree with you! It is the sweat from the brow of the paav bhaaji (et al) vendor that gives it the taste we can’t get at home!

    That said, I know enough people who have had a round of typhoid or some such after having street-side paani puri, so I’m not sure if I really am complaining.

  23. Dear Gb,
    Guess this is true of every big and medium city in India.
    This is indeed a pan-india phenomenon.
    If Me sitting almost at the southern end of India could identify with your identity crisis,This is surely the case for the rest of India.
    Good Post

  24. True, what is the fun in travelling to Hyderabad if you cannot drink Irani chai near Char Minar, what is the fun in travelling to Bangalore if you cannot eat Idli-Vada in Brahmin Cafe, what is the fun in travelling to Banaras if you cannot drink Pehalwan ki Lassi.

    GB, I can understand your pain.

  25. saccharine gujiya (25 paise a piece)

    I am old enough remember when for 25 you would get a scoop of those gujiyas ! I loved them too.

    Are most of the old Mishtanna Bhandars being transformed (or Haldiram-ed, as I like to say) in this manner ? Last time I was there (> 2years) – there were still many around.

    Lovely, nostalgic post !

  26. Nice post Arnab.
    Calcutta has, I am sure, changed much (I left the city myself more than a decade ago) and surely so have most of us (NRBs). We live through the continuum of our own changing lives wheras the city’s changes (possibly, at slower rate than in our lives) strike us at discrete time jumps. Reverse roles, and your haluikar may similarly express surprising ‘sudden’ changes in “barely-recognizable” you…

  27. Dover Lane was always an indelible part of my life..
    it houses my mama’r bari..
    my bengali tuition which i attended from my 9th to 12th..
    yeah.. i too was dam disappointed on seeing the spanking new Mohaprobhu 4 months back when i went to kol 😦
    well.. now i just hope n hope n hope even more that nothin happens to Campari..
    that wud break mah heart into smithereens!!!

  28. Ja bolecho Arnab !!!!I have grown up watching places like Mahaprabhu and Mouchak in front of my eyes .Never had i thought the day i left my own “PARA” that everything will change so drastically .Now when i go back to Kolkata i am almost treated as a stranger in a place where i have spend the best part of my life . If this is the Reincarnation of our own Kolkata then be it .Kolkata is moving on and we “The Bengalis” are accepting our destiny and moving on with it .But somehow in the road behind we have left things which might never get back .Your article is mind blowing karon eto dure boshe we can still get to feel the place where our heart and soul lies .Great work !!!!!!

  29. @ Dibyo: KOLKATA has MIGRANTS from other states? Really? I alwaya assumed that it was the other way round and the only out-of-staters who worked there went mainly on “punishment postings”. You mean it’s voluntary? Wow!

  30. Hi GB, did u read this in indiafm.com ?

    Mithun Chakraborty is known for his professional attitude and kind nature. He has decided to let go of a major amount of his fee when he came to know that his forthcoming film Raakh had gone over-budget.

    He is currently working in Hansal Mehta’s forthcoming film Raakh. Mithun confirmed that he did forgo a part of his fees but did not wish to disclose the amount.

    Mithun believes that the producers need to spend money on publicity of the film and expected a good release. Besides him, Raakh stars Sohail Khan, Amrita Arora and Isha Koppikar. Raakh will be all set to release in August.

  31. Hi GB,
    Great post…I can connect to with your disconnect and sadness…all the ‘hangouts’ of my school /college life have been metamorphosed into remote elements in today’s gigantic malls…last month i went to my fav fast food joint with my old friends…the floor which was dark (but clean) has shinning tiles now, the creaking fan has been replaced with the AC, the chairs and tables are new, the waiters all dressed and less inquisitive of my habit of eating with the left hand…The limited menu of those days has now become a laminated 5 page booklet…while having food we realized that even the cook had changed ! But half way through the meal, the owner came up to our table with a pleasant smile and asked whether we were having a get together or something and talked about the ruckus we used to make in his joint in those old days…the fact that he remembered us and the friendly order he gave to the waiter to ‘treat us like royalty’ made our day!

  32. I agree with Rahul Ghosh. When one has made a choice to go away from the home town in search of greener pastuers we cannot expect the home town to be left behind frozen in time.

  33. Sometimes I do not know how to react to this kind of ‘nostalgia’. Perhaps I do not understand what the nostalgia is all about.

    A stinky, shabby and ugly place has changed and continuing to change for the better. And we should be happy for it.

    I am sure that none of us would want our Kolkata to remain a place full of filth and populated with ‘sweaty, oily, banian-clad men’ walking through swarm of flies and mosquitoes bred on dump of road-side garbage.
    I don’t think anybody intended to use the word ‘nostalgia’. I think people who did not witness the change when it, wished they had actually seen the transormation.

    I am happy that Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar is on the path of prosperity.

  34. wat a pity! get over it dude.. n luk around…there are 10 BMWs in mumbai/blore for every honda city u saw in kolkata…without drowning in unwarranted nostalgia.. accept the fact that calcutta is finally making progress… and be happy about it. well if u believe that this ain’t wat u wud call ‘progress’…think again… more peoples’ lives have changed for the better than for worse.. and if u think it is coming at a price… well, who said anything good is free?

  35. What you have expressed so beautifully (in an understated way) is the tragedy of all expatriates.

    Perhaps, it will be nice to know that some people – apart from your relatives and friends left behind – do remember you the way you were. Every time I go to the local barber shop, the barber asks me the same questions about you – where are you now, what are you doing, when are you going to come back – and talks about how small you were when you first visited the barber for a hair cut.

    For most people, living abroad is a liberating and a traumatic experience at the same time. One of my expatriate friends describes his dilemma as: “My soul can not tolerate America and my body can not tolerate India. What do I do?” This man, whenever he comes to Kolkata, roams about College Street to have a feel of his college days at Presidency and laments that he can not recognize College Street any more. The shops that used to sell rare books of all types, now sell only preparation manuals for competitive exams.

    He goes back to US with Saradiya Anandamela and spends time reading childrens’ stories in Bengali, perhaps trying to relive his lost childhood. You leave a part of you behind and spend the rest of your life looking for your lost self.

    Those with a less sensitive mind possibly live a happier life, living only in the present.

    Baba

  36. What? No chanaar jilipi in a Calcutta sweets store?? That sounds really crazy…

    I personally don’t find changes in the cities in India very distressing. Whenever I have been back to delhi I have seen some parts of the city changed and to tell you frankly, I kind of like how fast things are moving.

    However, what really distresses me is the change in the mindset of the kids. There is such a big generation gap that has come about in such a few years. My own cousins are so different from me and my brother and it makes me very sad to see them so Americanised. Some of the attitudes, styles of dressing, talking, music(hip-hop, Rap) activities that we had a very healthy disregard for or actively used to mock while growing up are becoming ways of life in colleges and schools. To a large extent our own media and even our Hindi movies( Mr. Karan Johar) are responsible.

    It is not just in the external sense that kids have changed, their much of their attitudes such as that towards money and family is also very different from our kanjoos ways. I guess this is inevitable but it saddens me nonetheless. I feel that me and my friends were very grounded while many middle class kids today are much more Americanized. I guess this is inevitable, and in this so-called “globalised” world these changes are probably for the better.

    However, I am sure that in one respect kids today are losing out. When I was growing up, a huge amount of my time ( and almost entire days during summer holidays) would go in quality, independent, unsupervised play. This included climbing tress and picking shehtoot with friends during the season to playing cricket, football, pitthu, ghodi, hide and seek, badminton etc. or playing matches with far off localities, and later cycling miles away from home. No one placed any restrictions on our freedom of movement or time, there were no responsibilities and going back home to eat was a chore that I would finish and run out again. Many times we would even run out and meet after eating dinners and roam around etc. This cycle was repeated with my brother but not with my cousins.

    I feel kids today are not getting this, they play video games, their time for play is circumscribed, everyone is worried about their safety and they were not allowed to go too far from home, and a lot of play is structured play i.e. summer cricket camps etc. I think this model is crazy and leads to losing out a lot of the rich experiences which help you learn and grow…..

    Anyway, I was debating whether I should write this much, I know it dosen’t help anyone….but you set me off on a nostalgia induced trip, I wanted to share all this with you guys…whenever I go back home, this is the one thing I feel is different and it makes me feel as if I belong to an entirely different era……..

  37. @ Alok Ray
    No wonder that when Hemmingway lived in Paris, he wrote most evocatively of Minnesota and the Red Indians.

  38. I lived in Howrah till my graduation and from post grads onwrads, I have been marked as the Bong from the ‘other side of the river’ (thanks to my Kolkata friends)… Howrah has not changed much, actually I would love if it did not stick so much to it’s lathe-machine/lohaa kaataa culture, but at the same time, I would be sad if the certain simplicity of this place is gone.. if I miss the alomost- ritualistic afternoon ghugni( a bong chickpeacurry, eaten as a snack and not as a main course as in the north)served by the greying ‘ghugniwala’ on never-asked name, served on shaalpaata quadrangles, scooped and eaten with another quadrangle…..your writing made me very nostalgic.

  39. Actually there are 2 parallel issues: tradition and development.

    Stingy stores should improve their services and decorum. This is something we should appreciate and be happy about instead of being nostalgic of the ugly wretched appearance that had become almost synonymous to Calcutta.

    However, sweet-shops in Kolkata should keep Bengali delicacies and should also market them well. It is bit difficult to believe that ‘chhanar jilipi’ is not available in sweet-shops. Maybe it was only for that particular day.

    Bengali sweets are the only part of Bengali cuisine that has quite an universal appeal.
    In Bangalore, for instance, most of the South Indian weddings keep Bengali sweets nowadays. In office parties too, Bengali syrup-based sweets are almost as common as Paneer Butter Masala.
    Once I went to ‘New Delhi Sweets'[the one in Majestic ] and was hesitant to buy some Bengali syrup-based sweet doubting its freshness. The shopkeeper insisted me to buy it saying that it was ‘Bengali’. This proves the fame and reputation of our sweets.

  40. @Ashok Shankar

    “KOLKATA has MIGRANTS from other states? Really? I alwaya assumed that it was the other way round and the only out-of-staters who worked there went mainly on “punishment postings”. You mean it’s voluntary? Wow!”

    Well, I understand it’s difficult to believe, but Kolkata has HUGE migrant population. I think it’s actually equal to the native population (counting Marwaris as natives). My dad used to do contract work for the municipal corporation and he told me that according to a study more than 90% of the labor stuff were migrant labor. Plus I think most taxi drivers are migrants as well. Don’t know the proportion in the white collar industry though.

    Kolkata has more diversity than people tend to give credit for. I read in an interview, where Anjan Dutt said that it was a trend from 1960s that Bengaliness became the prime cultural imprint in the city. Before that it was more diverse. If we look at movies made during that time (like Mahanagar or Seemabaddha) you could see the diversity in composition of office stuff. We had Anglo-Indians, South Indians, Gujrati and Marwari businessmen. Off late the diversity has been played down a lot and overriden by a Bengali monolith, which I find sad. I think we should enjoy the diversity that exists in the city and proud of it.

  41. it saddens me that the calcutta i grew up in is no more!

    i also wrote a post on that in my blog “where have all the flowers gone”. do check it out if you can…

  42. Arnab Da…
    Bapok likhacho! I can almost feel the loss of those good old days gone by. When I visit my home town(Jamshedpur), believe me the same emotions fill the mind & soul. I don’t possess such eloquent writing skills as you do however reading your posts are like expressing my very own thoughts and feelings. Your sense of nostalgia & comedy are as good as it can get.
    Keep writing and delighting us.

  43. Great post, this one! While I haven’t been brought up in Calcutta, I have visited the city (and others in West Bengal) as an annual ritual all through childhood, and the sweet shops (exactly as you describe them) are one of those things I identify my town in West Bengal and also Kolkata with.

  44. Arnab,

    Why do you do this? This nostalgia dripping write up had sent me on my own trip to my past and spoilt the evenings work. On second thoughts thanks a lot that you make me touch my roots. Roots which can only be touched upon in the mind as the world I knew has changed.

    As part of the bludgeoing real estate industry , I feel happy with the growth in Kolkata, Howrah, Asansol, Durgapur , Siliguri,etc. But what if you get down in Shaktigarh at 8 in the morning and get only Chocolate Pastry in the place of the ‘Langcha’? You do feel let down, don’t you? As Dr Ray so aptly puts it, this pull in opposite directions is inevitable and we have to live with it.

    @ Sonar bangla,

    I too grew up in Durgapur. You may be shocked to see the new mall infested city centre today. The ‘ Subhas Sweets’ in Benachity is still there but the shopping zone is shifting to the new fangled city centre.

    I guess ‘ Old Order Changeth Yielding Place To The New …………’

  45. Oh how I miss them….

    Kabiraji, Moghlai Parota, Kosha Mangsho (Golbari), Egg roll, Chilly chicken & chowmein (chinese dishes outside Kolkata/ India are no good), Chicken Rezala, Chanachur, Telebhaja, Chicken Cutlet, Mochar Chop, Shingara, (Koraishuti r/ hing er) Kochuri & Tarkari, Phuchka, Mishti Doi, Rosogolla, Sandesh, Pantua, Rabri, Jilipi

    Oh oh oh, when shall I return ‘home’…

  46. @Ashok Shankar : There is a significant number of migrants in Calcutta(volutarily or not).
    When I got my first job, we got posted in Madras and that I thought was more of a “punishment posting” for most people. However I did end up liking Madras a lot. How much a person likes a city depends largely on the person and his/her perceptions as well. Living in a city is like any other relationship ….both parties have to be involved ….

  47. come and live in an india for more than one month .. deal with the traffic, beggars, corruption and the total disregard for human dignity (lathi charges, child labour, rickshaw pullers) you will pray that the pace of change gets faster…

    im sorry for my cynicism but as an indian living in my home city im a little tired of “the namesake”/”brick lane”/”buddha of surburbia” expat story of disconnect and adjustment..

    if you think dealing with an alien culture while losing your own is hard.. spare a thought for us back home who are battling to change centuries old systems of inequity.

    having ranted.. it was a lovely post and im sure it resonates with a lot of people.

    welcome the age of fat free sandesh.

  48. Sensational post and as some of the people above have written, a very sad one. I love mishti a lot. Sometimes they have given me as much pleasure as sex and drugs. The morning jilipi singara bit was excruciatingly painful. My own Mahaprabhu was VIP sweets at Ultadanga, and although I am a firm North Calcutta fan, I would have to admit that Mouchak khirer chop or Bancharam pantua couldn’t be matched.

    But your post is an illustration of how uncomfortable we are with changes, especially as we grow older. As an example, I consider Wills Navy cut to be a far superior cigarette than Marlboro Reds or something as low as Hayward’s 5000 better than Budweiser. In fact most US beers suck big time. I would also be shocked and surprised to see the street corner pan shop selling loose cigarettes and the sight of the burning rope which people used to light up being replaced by a gas station like tobacco outlet. The pity is the latter don’t sell loose cigarettes.

    To assuage the pain, I am off now to get a 24 oz thick chocolate milkshake.

  49. Oh no! Is this the thakurpukur joint? What do you mean they open only at 8? What do people do after pulling all-nighters or dancing to JBS or Bar0-C till 5 am? Where do they get the samosas and jalebis from ?

    Tell me that woman who was outside the IIMC gates and used to sell dry biscuits (and procure other, more interesting stuff) is no longer there. Go ahead, I dare you!

    n!

  50. I guess that is what they call “Life happens”… while all our local Mahaprabhus are replaced with swanky 21st century sweet joints, the school-uniform clad brats that we were are now replaced by calorie-conscious NRIs who grace the establishment barely once a year (if that) as opposed to every week…..

  51. Somehow I get a feeling that at the end of the day, this post was about the denial of ‘chanar jilipi’. LOL

    @Swati

    I think you summed up the whole discussion quite well. My point is, just like we lament about the things that have changed without us, I suppose even those things lament about the changes that we have gone through in their absence. Kinda complicated, but fair enough

    @ Mr Alok Ray

    “You leave a part of you behind and spend the rest of your life looking for your lost self.”

    “Those with a less sensitive mind possibly live a happier life, living only in the present.”

    Thank you Sir, for those pearls of wisdom.

    @Aonymous

    Have a slightly different point of view. I don’t think this is only about people ‘who have made a choice to go away from the home town in search of greener pastures’. I think change is greater than all of us. And we have no choice but to accept it, irrespective whether we have chosen to change by migrating or have chosen to stay where we are. Let’s not make it an ‘us vs expats’ thing. I don’t think GB had that in mind while writing this post.

  52. Its the same with Bombay…the Bombay of my youth has changed into something better/worse..I still love my city…inspite of the crap that the govt is doing to it. It changes, metamorphoses and still retains a charm unique to itself. Love it and will always consider it home 🙂

  53. Echoing Kits, its the same thing with Bombay; things are changing, and sometimes it makes you sad. But then change is inevitable, and that what you are missing, today doesn’t even exist for someone who reads this 10 years hence. And (quoting Garden State) we end up a group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

  54. GB, it would only be fair that you follow up this post with an article which outlines the things you like about the new changed Kolkata. Changes, that you always expected while you were living there and have finally happened.

  55. Hi GB,

    Brilliant post …The winds of change are being felt everywhere…hence your post connected instantly… Two disjointed thoughts :

    * It is obvious Bongs have ‘discovered’ money…Hence no doubt, both the Paras & the addas are slowly becoming extinct…Very ably reflected in the “Quizzing Circles” around the country. Where Once the Quiz Teams from Calcutta were feared and lionised, today we hardly get to see any exciting teams appearing at the National Level.

    * Is the certain nostalgia, a sign of growing ‘old’…a feeling about the world moving on without ourselves & the changes that one is unable to relate to for good or worse

  56. GB, I don’t really know you so don’t take this personally!

    Why shouldn’t Kolkata change?

    Why should things remain the same way they were when you left?

    A person who has gone abroad has changed himself, is Kolkata mourning its loss?

    As for the mishti place doing well that was bound to happen.Why resent someone else’s growth in their own respective fields?

    You moved out for greener pastures, someone in Kolkata is doing the same.

    Again, nothing personal, but I see my brother doing the same.Come for a vacation from Foren and notice the changes dismally.

    Sameera.

  57. A good post.Mahaprabhu in the ground floor and HSBC on the top, money and sweet together. Yes it looks like Haldiram clone.Even Bengali boys and girls have started looking like characters from Hindi films.

  58. Excellent post Greatbong, could identify with every bit of it.

    I still remember how me and my husband let out a collective gasp of astonishment at the sight of the new look Gariahat crossing a couple of years back when we were visiting home much to the delight of our cab driver .

    Well , as a child I would often hear my dad say…’Shei Kolkata ar nei”.
    Guess its my turn now.

  59. Hey!
    I have a major sweet tooth…lolz. I love everything you have mentioned there. Wish i had a chance to explore kolkata too. Being a bong…i have been to kolkata just once.
    Very nice blog.

  60. Eki mama, tumi to dekhchhi amar parar chheley!

    Even I am more than a little bemused by the rapid changes in our para in specific and Calcutta in general. And my father was quite shocked to see a menu full of tea & coffee at Barista so he asked for the ‘food menu’!

    And yes, the genial uncle at Campari is also no more…

    Sigh, sic transit gloria mundis!

  61. Beautiful post. I suppose the losing of the things that moor us to the past is an inevitability. Of course not that it makes it any the less sad. This along with the post about the Book Fair are simply masterpieces.

  62. @Nikita
    “Wish i had a chance to explore kolkata too”

    If you want to get a taste of Kolkata, you can try out a semi-roadside eatery called ‘KOLKATA CALLING’ in Thakur Village, Kandivali(East).

    As far as I remember, there is a guy called Proshanto da who runs it and has a ‘cohort of sweaty, oily, banian-clad men’ who are his cook-cum-waiter-cum-friends-brothers. This place is the one, amongst all I have seen, in Mumbai that can get as close to Kolkata.

    You will find plastic furniture with think lining of dirt, a big poster of Maa-Durga, Anandabazar Patrika, Sananda and lastly thousands of house-flies.

    But I can tell you one thing about the food. It is simply awesome. It has a good offering in a plethora of sweets as well. In fact, its main business is driven by wedding order of sweets, kochuri, jilipi etc.

    Try this place and you will feel back in Kolkata, particularly with Proshanto da and his trade-mark North Kolkata accent. *

    * Presence of this eatery is a subjected to further exploration. Don’t blame me if it does not exist anymore!

  63. I grew up in Patna. I went back after a long time year before last, just to see my school and the house I grew up in. Both have changed irrevocably. But attending the Durga Puja there was like a nostalgia shock – truly good to relive that experience.

    But it’s not gonna happen again.

    There is no more reason for me to go back to Patna, even for a visit. What remains will remain only in my memory.

    I am probably more nostalgic about my three years at Kolkata and 6 at Pune! I guess living in different cities kind of tempers the nostalgia bit a little.

  64. Change is the only thing that is constant about every city,right?(this line is used by “The Statesman” everytime they change something…they write “change is the only thing that is constant about our newspaper”..so I take no credit for it!)..but anyway, a really nice article..really helps us visualize the old mishti shops of kolkata so vividly.loved reading it!

  65. Change in social patterns is (unless coerced by social design/accident) almost always dynamic (continually perpetuated however slowly) and self-justified (otherwise it would be rolled back) in evolutionary sense; hence static (snapshot) approval (/disapproval) thereof may make little sense.

    The same, I would suggest, should apply here: much of the so-called Bangla confection was derived from medieval non-Bangla neighbouring centres of civilization (like Mithila, Mathura, Patna, Puri), whereas farinaceous ones were adapted from West Asian/North Indian halwa (hence ‘haluikar’) and chhana-based from Portuguese cottage-cheese. The more traditional “country” fare based on jaggery (pre-dating British sugar-mills) or rice have already been phased out considerably in Kolkata.

    If allowing the above confection to enter ‘quintessential’ Bangla taste was a desirable gain yesterday, allowing the same quintessential Bangla taste to evolve can hardly qualify as a loss today by the same token. In this regard, do check out the following beautiful story on food globalization –

    http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1628191_1626317_1632291-1,00.html

  66. Awesome writing… i loved reading about the little details, which brought the para and the wonderfully unhygienic but delicious food, the ambience (unforgettable) so alive.

    Born outside Kolkata, married to a dyed in the wool Kolkata Bong, with a gaggle of warm in-laws in my life, this was vintage Bengal brought alive. “the plastic jug and the peeling paint” – so evocative.

    There are many things I used to dislike about Kolkata during my brief visits but I was always startled with the extent of free thinking and innovative beliefs I would find there.

    I certainly regret the passing of the wonderful small town, intimate feeling I used to get on my vacations to Kolkata. But I guess consumerism and industrialization bring it’s own baggage…I just so hope and pray that Kolkata and Bengal retains its cultural sensibilities in some way while everyone rushes to Hyper city or what ever it is they have there.

    Also, on an aside, whatever happened to the scientific spirit among the people there. I dont see such a strong scientific temperament among the education system anymore (I am not talking about number of people taking engineering or medical) unlike the earlier era that gave rise to such greats.

  67. Sorry for the delay in replying. The VedVyasian research for Gunda and then car troubles and a spyware invasion led me to be away for some time. Excuse me for not replying individually to each of you. A few general points.

    I have no problems in Calcutta progressing. I am happy for it. In this post, as Ravi understands, I make no “judgement”. I do not pine for the cochlear hair and the broken jug because they represented a simpler life. I do because they were things I could ‘recognize’. Home is one place you define by its familiarity. Not that the neighbourhood sweetshop is the first thing you think of when you say “home” but definitely its disappearance removes one more element of the “familiarity”. I realize I have changed a lot myself and my physical appearance is perhaps more of a shock to the owner of Mahaprabhu than their appearance is to me. But Mahaprabhu does not define home with respect to me. I do. To an extent. As to the Bengali-ness of sweets as pointed out by S.Pyne I do not see the relevance. My lament is that the sweets I grew up are gone. Whether their origin was Portugese is moot. If I grew up with North Indian sweets and if they were replaced by Tiramisu ladoos, I would feel the same sense of disorientation.

  68. Nice post… a really nice summing up of what a lot of us feel everytime we go back to Cal…
    Tho at times I can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, if these changes had started happening a couple of decades earlier… I wouldn’t have had to spend my grown-up life in Mumbai…

  69. Now this is something I could relate to. The world is changing. And a few years later( maybe )you won’t be able to locate your favorite sweet shop or cha stall. Thank god they didn’t change the name of the shop. But that was to retain customer loyalty, I guess.
    The problem is- everything is getting upgraded. Progression is synonymous with miniaturization ( in case of the attire of girls too) and variety/options ( North Indian sweets in a Bengali sweet shop!!).
    When you went back home, you still had the image of your childhood and you expected to find something similar. But in your absence, your familiar Mistanno Bhandar was replaced by a shopping complex.
    Had you been in Kolkata and seen the gradual change, it wouldn’t have effected you so much. The vision was sudden and unexpected and that is why it had a greater impact on you.
    The truth is- the kids born and growing up in Kolkata now will never know or miss Kolkata as you knew it.
    Sad? Maybe…

  70. it would be selfish if you wished calcutta hadn’t changed..cos u have..

    when other cities are losing banana leaves to steel plates, dabba waalas to delivery boys,hand written mails to SMSes, film music to bad remixes..calcutta too has to pay a price..and this price has been changing without you..

  71. GB, I think I agree with your feeling: it is disorientation of our own bearings of self that we realy feel a concern for, which is merely reflected, in a tad silly way, on losses of “quintessential” entities/customs that we claim to “root” us. In other words, I believe that the onus of insecurity in ‘[m]y lament … that the sweets I grew up are gone’ rests entirely upon the word ‘I’ and not at all on ‘the sweets’ (or loss thereof).

    Our claims of how entities/customs that we like to believe “root” us may not stand in the face of factual/historical interrogation, but if such facts are beyond the purview of our own current bearings, we could care less. Nobody laments that humans were cave-dwellers in the past, and not living in caves disorients us. It is ‘we’, after all, who matter, not so much our “defining” entities.

  72. @ S. Pyne: Am not sure why such a complicated analysis is needed in the first place; it’s a simple post, albeit a poignant one about loss of familiarity and the resulting sense of disassociation.
    OK, a taste of your own medicine; if I were an evolutionary biologist, this is what I would have said.
    ‘Seeking familiarity must have been an evolutionary necessity for survival. If man’s love for adventure exceeded his affinity for the known and the familiar, more often than not, he would have ended up in a tiger’s stomach or between the jaws of crocodile- clearly natural selection favored affinity for the familiar.’ 🙂

  73. I feel your pain, brahthar. Fortunately there’s still Tasty Corner and Maharani.

    What was that place on the corner where the goli from Hindustan Road met Rashbehari Avenue, just round the corner from Campari? We used to go there after rowing, to eat kochuri shingara. Long gone.

    J.A.P.

  74. Nicely written …but it made me sad and miss home and morely my native place. Though haven’t been brought up in WB…but cld relate to the panorama of the post very well.

  75. GB, just in case it didn’t get lost under the psychobabble, your post was very nice.
    I re-read it, and thanks for reviewing nicely a key change in my beloved city.

    I guess in the maner of an armchair subalternist (is there any other type?) I tend to seek bloggers to use their fresh (academically unencumbered) insights as often as possible to deconstruct (with reason and sensitivity) quintessentiality prototypes that promote parochialism, unquestionable reverence, and irrational varieties of exclusion. Earlier leading intellectuals (like Tagore in his ‘Gora’) would do this, my feeling is that now bloggers have democratized this exercise of desirable skepticism and unconventionalism (which made me commend blogs of yours like ‘Rasiya tailor’), which is great!

  76. S.Pyne, i am really tired of your unnecessary complexity. There is no need to write comment in such a complex language unless u want to show the world ur english vocabulary. To be frank, it makes us feel annoyed. Plz plz plz, ur complex language is very boring and annoying. It fails to make a good reading. Plz show mercy on us.

  77. @Kishor
    I used to feel let down by such posts earlier. ‘Coz I used to think that I am the only one who is not getting a feel of whats going on.
    Now that you have expressed that you too have a similar concern, I am feeling relaxed.

    @S.Pyne
    Please do consider the masses like me. All of us are not convent educated and/or GRE-TOEFL aspirants. I appreciate that you help us improve our language & vocabulary, but at the same timer there should be some entertainment value too!!
    This is just a request, please don’t take any offense.

  78. GB, let me end my monologue with a somewhat funny anecdote that I don’t know whether I did or did not share with you in SB. A couple of years ago Prof. Dipesh Chakrabarty, the distinguished Chicago historian visited the Humanities Institute at SB in the floor just below the Center for India Studies (CIS). Chakrabarty is an authority in “politics of identity”, in particular nationalist identities. His talk (‘Literature and the Politics of Identity in Bengal’) was centred around Dinesh Chandra Sen, the 19th c. historian of Bangla folklore. (I had strong subalternist views in favour of Sen’s pioneering work, which is often dismissed as non-rigorous way of “doing” history.)

    Deconstruction is often an essential approach for tackling obscurantist claims of quintessentialsm: agmark hindutva, gujarati asmita, aamra bangali, tamil nationalism… the claimants always keep their definitions nebulous, thus hard to attack and can encompass a large target audience. (“Politics of Identity” is certainly the most active strain of politics in Indian democracy.) Hence I always felt a great debt to Sen because folk lore and music, ironically, capture polymorphic nature of natural human expression most sincerely and is ideally suited to aid scientific deconstruction.

    After his talk, Chakrabarty was having coffee when I approached him to discuss about the Pali linguistics study I was doing then at CIS. Along the way I raised the same questions as I asked here earlier: if it is just *my* personal sweets/customs, then who cares? if not, then what essential historical features of the community makes it *own* these sweets/customs? At that I was jokingly asked by somebody, surely you (i.e. ‘I’) can’t research that w/o belonging to a well defined research community yourself. My apologetic answer that being trained as a mathematician I use statistics and computer science to identify linguistic patterns in eukaryotic genomes was a good source of amusement for the coffee crowd.

    So long…

  79. Dear S.Pyne, what i can understand from ur comments is that u are suffering from severe mental disease. Plz consult a psychiatrist immediately. I can sponsor ur treatment because i don’t want to see a human being going completely mad and insane before my eyes. U plz consult psychiatrist immediately. Otherwise, u will end up chained in a padded room.

  80. A delectable post…..makes me nostalgic. Calcutta
    has transformed….true….but one still finds these
    mishtir dokan in all the old paras.
    keep writing
    i remember 10p gujyiaas….i guess you were too young.

  81. Reading S.Pyne, I realised that even Gayatri Spivak-Chowdhury doesn’t use such a lot of polysyllabic words in her essays, all in the mere confines of a paragraph or two.

    Wonder why she is so highly regarded ?!

    @Sayon
    Yes, yes— I used the interrobang.
    Four syllables in two symbols.

    Outpyning our dear Pyne?

  82. Mea culpa.
    It is Gayatri Spivak-Chakravorty who writes huge words about this deconstruction-subaltern-thingummybob thing.

  83. Wonder why she is so highly regarded ?!

    You have to read her. She is brilliant and according to Amartya Sen in his ‘Argumentative Indian’ she is the quintessential ‘argumentative Indian’. Consider this typical postmodern statement of hers: I am not erudite enough to be interdisciplinary, but I can break rules.

    Btw, Spivak comes after Chakaravorty.

  84. Mahaprabhu nam tar shonge onek purono smriti joriye achhe.tai porte darun laglo. Or thik pasheii ekta nabo krishna giun o chhilo if u remember. amar mmabari chhilo oi paray ar jatayat tao chhilo khub .pujor din gulor shonge mahaprabhu ar Shinghi parker pujo mile mishe ekakar

  85. It may interest the sweet loving Bongs that the price of one medium size sandesh and one brick has kept parity for the past 44 years. In 1963, when we graduated as architects, both cost 25 paise per piece. The prices went up to 50p,Re 1, Rs 2 and now are Rs 3 each! It requires actuarial knowledge far greater than mine to explain this coincidence. Incidentally, the starting salary of a fresh architect, at least in Kolkata, has been more or less, the cost of 15 gm gold through out this period.

  86. Seen a few examples in the recent past where expatriates reminisce about the wonderful ‘things’ in their ‘era’. It is like time stopped the moment they left Kolkata. Their memories are mired to the time they left.

    This is not a criticism on them. On the contrary, I believe everyone has their right to their own sweet memories. And your post only exemplifies that. I’ve been out of Kolkata, and India, not for too long – not long enough to look back at memories nostalgically. Maybe these things grow on you ..

  87. True man arnab… evry summer holiday till the 2000s i saw callcutta change rather quasi change… then in 2004 when i went there again…there was a huge change.. malls, glassy buildings, new neighbours. but there is something about kolkatta that never changes with the modernization, the gawdy but great in its place calendars never changed. Compared to all other cities in india this is one that has changed the least and i think thats the best thing about amader kolkata…

  88. Hi Arnab
    My first comment on your blog.Never knew you were from Dover Lane. The building where Mahaprabhu was used to be my mamar bari….now only memories remain..nothing else….really loved your post

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