Stumbling onto a cache of rare books in College Street, ones I had been looking for quite some time (I need them for a secret project), I was feeling like A. Raja after the 2G auction, the treasure-hunter who had finally reached the end of the rainbow. Thus in a state of light bliss, I floated into Coffee House, one of the last surviving bastions of Kolkataiaana.
Coffee House. Where the ceilings are high, the chairs are old and the coffee is still Rs 10. Where Rabindranath Tagore , serenely austere, gazes down indulgently at those below, squabbling and dreaming. Where ancient waiters, dressed in white, go busily about, they who have seen your parents hold hands and now see you doing the same but care only for your order. Where amidst the clattering of cups and rustling of papers and the hustle-bustle of conversation, time flows slowly like honey over raisins. And where if you keep your ears open, you will catch a bit of Baudelaire, a bit of Byron and even a bit of Bokachoda.
I order hot coffee and pakodas. And as I sit soaking up the sauce, the oil and the caffeine, I get it.
A vision of absolute Hell.
The ancient chairs have been replaced by red monstrosities. A giant sign in front , garish like a strip-club banner, yells “A lot can happen over coffee”. A twenty-something, in a green shirt and black trousers, bends in front and says “What kind of syrup would you want with your expensicino sir? We have hazelnut, vanilla… .”. The picture of Rabindranath Tagore is gone. In its stead is a flat-screen TV showing MTV Roadies. Chikni Chameli plays in the background. A girl on her cellphone curls her lip and says “You can..like… talk to my hand”. Another squeals “That Deb is sooo handsome in Pagloo. What yaa he acts better than Jeet.”
And then as the hot coffee scalds my tongue, I am brought back to the world. As beautifully serene and pure as I left it.
I need to stop writing horror, I tell myself.
The fell shadow of wannabeness has not fallen here. There is some beauty left in the world.
I sit in silence for some time, soaking everything in like a sponge. The bill is settled. My wallet is not much hurt.
And then as I walk out to the kerb, where for many a meter stretch lines and lines of bookstores, the haunt of Kolkata’s intellectuals and bibliophiles, it happens again.
A man catches me by the arm. Thin and wiry and with a mustache like a paintbrush, the gentleman passionately exclaims: ” Revolution sir.”
I look at him. College Street has always had revolutionaries.
Pointing to his stall, full of Solved IIT Physics and C++ tomes, he says, voice brimming with pride, “Revolution 2020. 20% off. His other books also here.”
I was not dreaming. No I was not.
The apocalypse is here.
The CCDs and the Costa Coffees will follow suit.