The Apocalypse

65 Comments

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.

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The ancient chairs have been replaced by red monstrosities.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.

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65 thoughts on “The Apocalypse

  1. Some people fancy revolution, without accepting change… vision of heaven u projected, was probably the same as hell for our forefathers.. accept n move on… expenscino might become super expenscino, n that day we would dream about our days with expnscino n only rs. 100 coffee… not sure about ‘a lot can happen over a cup of coffee.. believe in ‘keep walking’ 🙂

  2. Off late I have seen a pattern among Indians. They come to US for namesake PhDs and start writing blogs. Only almighty can tell how much they work given the amount of time they devote to writing blogs. No wonder the impression US academia has on Indians. This is more apparent in Europe and other countries who put high value on research and development. Little they know that people who can’t find jobs in India go abroad to do “research”…

    And this site is awesome…there is hardly any world topic discussed here. When there is something monumental heppening in Europe, this guy is interested what Bangladeshi’s say about Indian cricketers. On top of that he criticizes and mocks others.

    Hypocrisy thy name is you..
    Peace…

  3. Nostalgia is fine but it doesnt achieve anything, right? Indian coffee houses offer you a simple, non-glossy coffee. At the same time, CCDs etc offer a variety of flavored coffee types. Whats wrong in that? Some people enjoy both. I do. Does goin to a CCD make me a wannabe?

    Abt Bhagat… You dont like him. Agreed. I also dont like his writing. But arent you wasting your time & space in “proving” his writin isnt good? Besides, in the end, who are we to judge? We dont like it. Some people do. Thats their problem.

  4. Mayank,

    I didnt say CCDs are bad. Some people like them. The problem is that like weeds, they will supplant places like the Coffee House very soon, the kind of shops that believe in good coffee at affordable prices. In the same way Starbucks killed the neighborhood coffee shops in the US.

  5. Agreed that Bhagat sucks.. but you should be the last person to say that. I mean “May I Hebb Blah Blah Plizzz” with recycled Gunda quotes and lame sex jokes? You and Bhagat should both kill yourselves if you care about the Apocalypse at all.

  6. He just wrote what he expected to experience/remembered from the place and what he actually experienced. It was a letdown and then the CB thing. The way I interpret it, it was a fitting finale to the disaster. The man offering Orwell or something great would have meant there was still hope. I don’t think there is any jealousy over CB here. You can call a spade a spade without wanting to be the same.

  7. Hello GB,

    I usually refrain from commenting on your blog due to your comment policy, however, this one touched a chord having been through the nightmare that has become Flurys.

    Regards

  8. Arnab, please write a no-holds-barred review of CB’s books in your usual sardonic style. And to hell with people who put it down to sour grapes. Way to go GB !!

  9. Wonder, where these people are coming from? If you don’t like somebody’s writing why travel all the way to his blog and shit there? Shows that they are not real people. Seems like your criticism of CB and Roy have literally have got onto the nerves of some intellectuals.

    Like the line from movie Guru – ‘Agar duniya tere baare mein baat kar rahi hai to samjho tarakki kar rahe ho’. 🙂

  10. “In the same way Starbucks killed the neighborhood coffee shops in the US”

    Though I am not a capitalist or a big fan of Starbucks myself but I feel it is unfair to blame Starbucks. I would blame it on the people who for reasons which are beyond my comprehension stopped going to those Cafes for Starbucks. Is it the trying-to-fit-in herd mentality or extra money or show off ? But the same is going on in India. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16932747)

    I see the same pattern at many other places like literature, TV, media etc. In all these cases I would blame it on the cheap taste which people have developed these days.

  11. Would love to see you stuck with CB in an elevator for 4 fours. You writing a blogpost about it named, “Last Temptations of Christ” and he writing a 99/- rupees book on it named ‘Fours Hours in an elevator with a stranger of the same sex’ or some shit.

  12. Don’t worry, GB. Enjoy life in heaven (or Bethesda or whichever suburb of DC), occasionally get your war-subsidized ATF-burning air-ticket to our living hell, which will always remain your ek-hafte ka heaven. Just remember to head out before you catch bronchitis from all the coal smoke.

    Btw, CCD coffee sucks as bad as ojjinal coffee house coffee.

  13. The comment board validates ur prophecy Arnab.Calling things progress and way ahead wont improve anything.CCD n Barista sucks,coz rather than a place for chit chat n coffee they work on snobbery and elitism.A sizeable bunch of their regulars just go for the sake of bragging and kewlness.Most of them charge ridiculous prices for a cuppa,the people serving lack basic etiquette,quality control is poor and cost cutting is done at the cost of customer inconvinience.Most of the “hip” crowd wont admit it for the fear of sounding down market.n before u make conclusions,im 21 and have been to a good number Barista,CCD n cafe mocha around Delhi.

    Arnab,bro loved MIHYAP.quite decent for a first timer.ordered it alongside The Mine.N pliss nvr stop making Gunda jokes ever.

  14. Looks like the floodgates have opened and trolls are running amok . Who are these people? Now I know what you meant when you reflected about your blog …sigh !

  15. Lovely post. While Coffee House still remains, College Street is no more what it used to be. Too many Chetan Bhagats and Rashmi Bansals and solved problem-sets abound.

  16. Only last month I had thumbed out my reminiscences of the same. You may browse The Albert Hall Coffee House, 1962-65 (Part Three) at apsendotcom.wordpress.com, if you are history minded. As in my salad days, so in yours, the Coffee House had been a true myth.

  17. I agree with most of your post, Arnab.

    Although I think a case could also be made for free market forces. Who are we to decide which coffee house is worth holding on to? It seems but a small step from there to objecting to all such companies (Multiplexes, McDonalds, Big Bazaars being some examples).

    If enough people felt that all CCD sells is bland coffee at exorbitant prices, it would never have been successful.

  18. Based on the market forces argument, Chetan Bhagat is the greatest author India has ever produced. Tagore never sold as many books and neither did Premchand.

  19. @Anonymous – never did I say that CB or CCD are actually good. All I’m saying is that they exist because there is a demand for them. You and me might not like them – but we don’t have a right to impose our will on others, right?

  20. How is GB imposing his wills on others? He is merely stating a preference for one over the other. Did he say anywhere “Burn CCD down”? He is just scared that CCD will close Coffee House.

    As pointed out by Hariyander, the standard of commenting has gone down on this blog.

  21. Try opening a coffee shop in kolkata or any big city in today’s real estate prices, charge what the old coffee houses for a coffee, that too an “artisanal” one. Lets see how long that business runs.

    Starbucks and its equivalents dont sell coffee, they sell an ambiance with beverages which are acceptable to many. People dont go to the artisanal spots in big cities of US for the ambiance, at least most dont, they go for the good stuff. Even if the place is cash-only, doesnt take reservations and so on. Just like a lot of people who do read dont have the best taste and go for bhagat, many go for the starbucks coffee. By definition, the followers of the “good stuff” would be few, and hence the vendors would be few as well.And starbucks maybe present in every suburb in multiple locations, but if you want to seek out a good coffee, there would be a few spots in most suburbs. Dont expect it everywhere, just like every rosogulla vendor in kolkata wont be worth a visit, also dont expect the artisanal spots to be open late like starbucks often is.

  22. That teaches me a lesson – never argue with the trolls. Someone who takes a look at the other side of the coin is never welcome – we ‘reduce the standard of commenting on this blog’. I’m sorry, sir!

  23. Chetan is unfair. He priced his books low. Though i like his writing .. what bugs me is my cousin has only read chetan bhagat. And i am sure had there been no chetan …he would not have touched novels either !

  24. Your post trasported me to my days when i would spend time on College Streeet footpaths looking for second hand bargains. I fully share your vision – there will be no co-existence, the future, for whatever its worth, would bulldoze upon the current and the past, and all that would be left behind would be memories, till such time the people having these memories also pass away.

    Your posts on Calcutta bring a lots of past back , and make one happy and sad at the same time.

  25. Cant really agree with you, I have gotta say. Being mid-30s, I have seen both the Indias (pre-westernization and post), and I feel the CCDs/Baristas are more suited to spending time with your girlfriend than the old coffee houses. But, if it is just the bachelor hangout, I have always preferred the road side tapri chaiwala.

  26. wonder why every post here has comments by (self proclaimed?) old timers saying,”great post! vintage bong!!” ?
    do they think that bong was once better than now?

  27. Very well written. You write from your heart sometimes and for your gallery at others. This one is definitely the former category. I hope there are more posts like this one.

    ” 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.”
    The line is full of a panache that you possess but do not always display. Congratulations!!

    Regarding Bhagat, why don’t you take a direct shot at him by reviewing one of his books. You do such a great job with B-grades. I find it excruciating that people treat him beneath contempt rather than taking him on and showing him his place. Its a bit like the position of atheists before Richard Dawkins came along. Bhagat is too dumb to get subtle hint. As a matter of fact there is enough evidence that the word ‘subtle’ is not even a part of his somewhat limited vocabulary.

  28. Any mass market item, be it CCD coffee or CB books, tends to aim for the lowest common denominator. The accessibility of these items does not mean they are per se terrible. Its just that if institutions like coffee house and alternative/classical cultural options are not conserved or offered to the youth, an entire generation will grow up without the benefit of having a real choice in what they like. To that extent I completely agree with you GB.

  29. Just curious to know if you have read any of Chetan Bhagat’s book or you also trash his works (if you can call it that) just because it has become fashionable to do so. I have read books of many good authors and I have also read Chetan Bhagat and I feel Chetan Bhagat delivers what he promises i.e. simple stories and unpretentious writing with a good dose of humour (revolution 2020 however is a waste of time). I follow your blog quite regularly and loved “The Mine” also……

  30. >>> the price of success – comment quality has gone from stackoverflow and Quora levels to youtube and rediff!

    Probably you need to go through this blog’s archives. Great many trolls have slayed and been slain here. Old memories 🙂

  31. My brother, a corporate lawyer, just informed me that “The Mine” is a fascinating read. Since he isn’t a fan of your first book, I am confident his opinion is unbiased. Will pick it up on my next trip to India. Or is it available in the US? Will check….chaliye jao Arnabda. Er por new genre for your next masterpiece – historical fiction ba lad lit, maybe 🙂

  32. It’s not about whether Starbucks is bad cofee (I don’t think it is) or whether Chetan Bhagat is horrible literature (it is). It is about how unique Indian experiences are being replaced by generified, ready-made, thought-up-by-marketers-and-consultants products in the process of economic growth & globalization (which is often an euphemism for westernization).
    Ultimately we may not be able to stop the Costas but we should definitely make sure that the unique experiences of India are preserved so that our children can reminisce about them too.

  33. i know u dont like CB but he opened doors of english literature for lot of indians who had never read english novels before including me. FPS was my first novel and boy i thoroughly enjoyed it. and now i m reading ur books..

  34. “Revolution 2020: Love, Corruption, Ambition” sounds so much like “Daag: The Fire” or “Baaz: the bird in danger”. It IS apocalypse NOW when book titles start resembling desperate sounding movie titles!

  35. I was never drawn to the coffee house. This is simply because I came to the US after grade 12 (HS). I went there a few times with friends and did not really care for that place. My brother on the other hand, has many fond memories. Ditto my dad. As far as nostalgia goes, nothing will ever beat Lake-er lebu cha for me. Every time I go back to Kolkata, I take a walk around lake hoping Naran would reappear and his little stall behind the open air theater would be bustling with students gulping down “mumlet” and lebu-cha. Bis saal baad, I still remember and long for it.

  36. I fully support the author when he says – I need to stop writing horror. But my Ramsay moment came when I came to know that he has authored books that got published. And who the f is Chetan Bhagat? Is he some kinda Hemant Birje or Puneet Issar trying to save some witch with baggy soobs from the clutches of a monster?

  37. 🙂 you are back in the groove and how!

    i have to say that iam enjoying the comment section also…this is like dinner and dessert..

    no wonder i keep coming back…i still havent read Mine but been hearing good things.

  38. This is typical of all the infrequent NRI visitors, especially those from Chennai. They wont miss to visit good old (intended) Woodlands, but shall nto go to Saravana Bhavan, call them GreatMads instead of GraetBong, all the same.

  39. Heyy guiiiis, I am back I say! Back to spew arbit venom! All this while, I was busy deciphering the Shastri phenomenon- the art of gibbering highly nonsensical repeated cliches, and it turns out it was an evening he had spent with the Chiddu, when all evening Chiddu shouted at him with his unexplainable gibberish- and that changed the Shastri forever! And the world got the dream team behind the mikes- the Shastri, six-pack “elevation and distance” LS, the erudite eco-friendly Arun Lala and the irrepresible Chiddu! Bring on the IPL!!

  40. Problem with GB is the same as that with Kolkata and Bengal. Both find a certain amount of ‘Coolness’ in not moving on. And I dont mean that fearing that CCD will trounce Coffee House amounts to ‘Not moving on’ ; but sheer focus and time time devoted to such topics and stale humour clearly indicates that typical bong characterisitic. But thats his problem after all. He likes to be called the GreatBong.

  41. i like Chetan Bhagat .i really do. and i dont like the psuedo intellectual creeps who criticize everything.

    and compared to what chetan bhagat has achieved in terms of popularity, success and name in the world of writing… whats the achievement of those who criticize him ?

    cheap jokes on mithun movies apart… whats your achievement sir ?

  42. Nice one Great bong. Your sarcasm is actually great. The problem with most of the people here who have been extending support to CB, is that they don’t understand him well. Some of my fren who like CB also think of him as some great writer which he apparently is not. Selling books or being popular doesnt make you a great writer elsewise twilight would have been counted as classics. There are far better English writers who don’t sell “blockbuster novels”(as claimed by his site..ref http://www.chetanbhagat.com/books/) but their novels reflect the passion for writing which makes a great read..like Ruskin Bond..CB is a part of a revolution called rise of consumerism n marketing..
    The coffee house story is mere extension of this revolution…Again Great@great bong

  43. GB or CB, how does it matter! Haven’t read either of their books yet..if someone has fun reading any of them, so be it

  44. @swati its so funny that you claim to understand everything while those who like CB books dont understand his books.
    if you say something is a classic it becomes classic and if you say it is rise of consumerism n marketing it becomes so 😛

    why dont you join the commitee which grants the noble prize for literature 😛

  45. CCD or any other chain though should never take over Coffee house .. but there is no wrong if Coffee House which is a brand in itself should change with time keeping the old with the new. Coffee House could have a huge flat screen TV may be depicting Tagore’s work or the ever changing bengali culture. They could renovate the interior for all that if they increase the price a bit as well I don’t think there is no wrong. They need to sustain and Coffee House can become a bigger brand or even might have a chain.It will surely make Kolkata proud.

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