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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022
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Diary

Kolkata Korner

Ha! So what was all that talk about Kolkata being a city of booklovers and the culturally inclined? Truth be told, it is just an outing, an opportunity to have unhealthy junk food, and buy a comic or novel for light reading at a discount...

Kolkata Korner
Kolkata Korner
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Washout
Little seems to be going right for Kolkata and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The 15-month wait for a cricket match at Eden was bad enough. And when the BCCI finally gifted a match to Kolkata after so many months, thanks to the powers-that-be out here removing a certain Jagmohan Dalmiya from the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), the weather gods played spoilsport and the skies opened up. What’s worse, the downpour started a few minutes after Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee—an avid cricket fan who played no little role in Dalmiya’s ouster—reached the stadium on Thursday to witness his favourite Sourav Ganguly in action. It appears that the divine powers haven’t approved of the manner in which Dalmiya was removed from the CAB and the role Bhattacharjee played in the sordid drama.

Sorry Debut
Kolkata police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee, who succeeded Dalmiya (thanks to Bhattacharjee’s support) cut a very sorry figure indeed on Thursday. The ODI was his acid test and he failed miserably. The smart shower (only 3.1 mm rainfall) on Thursday evening needn’t have led to an abandonment of the match had the CAB listened to the weather forecast and made adequate preparations. It turned out that of the two super-soppers (machines that soak up water from the pitch) that the CAB has, only one was available at the Eden. Prasun’s excuse: he wasn’t aware of the weatherman’s dire forecast! This, when all those who went to witness the match knew and were carrying umbrellas. Also, the underground drainage system that could have carried off the rainwater was clogged, thanks to lack of maintenance by the CAB. Prasun must shoulder the entire blame for this fiasco, as he must for the sorry state that the other organisation he presides over—the Kolkata Police—is in. But it’s not that he’s unhappy—the CAB made a huge pile from the sale of tickets for the match. And no one’s even talked of refunds.

Epicureans’ Delight
There’s fantastic news for all gourmands of Kolkata—Sky Room, that legendary eatery on Park Street will re-open its doors a few months hence. Sky Room, which opened in the mid-1950s, was the most famous restaurant of its time and, even now, remains the most-talked about joint among Kolkatans who have migrated out. Its décor—a dark blue ceiling dotted with small lights, thus offering a glorious skyscape to a starry-eyed diner—and its delectable Continental dishes such as prawn cocktail (this particular dish used to be flown down specially for Ms Indira Gandhi to Delhi), chicken tetrazini, lobster thermidor and those yum desserts like Baked Alaska and Black Forest pudding, as well as it excellent service and relaxed atmosphere, has inspired many a tribute. Dining at Sky Room was always an occasion to look forward to and recount later; I remember those annual visits to Calcutta during our winter holidays never used to be complete without a dinner at this restaurant. And when it closed in 1993, it broke many hearts and even moved Bachi Karkaria to pen a moving farewell that brought tears to all epicureans’ eyes. Now, it’ll re-open and, we’re promised by the new owners, the fare will not only be the same, but would taste exactly the same!

Crass Crowds
While on this, I must say that Park Street is no longer the preserve of the classes any more. Walk into any restaurant (and all, mind you, are upmarket ones there) and you’ll find that a sizeable section of those occupying the tables aren’t really there for a fine dining experience. All they have is alcohol and chilli chicken (apparently a favourite), followed by fried rice or chowmein. Many of them, thanks to higher disposable incomes, are the sales reps sorts or are the petty contractors and building materials suppliers from the suburbs. Hey, I’m not a snob (in fact, quite the opposite), but the point is that with such customers around, the discerning ones who used to frequent Park Street joints and would contribute to the great ambience of such places, are moving out to other eateries scattered across and around Kolkata. I’m afraid if this trend continues, the quality of Park Street’s restaurants will suffer—that’s because with customers who don’t know the difference, for example, between a blue rare and well-done steak, the chefs would no longer feel the need to deliver their best.

Cheap Thrills
Talking about restaurants and bars, a new menace has invaded Kolkata over the past year or so. Dance bars. Those out-of-work girls from Mumbai have flooded this city and many not-so-expensive bars that used to be decent watering holes serving interesting snacks have become crass and vulgar joints with loud music packed with lewd, middle aged and pot bellied men in safari suits gulping down their drinks, ogling at and cheering those nubile young things on stage. The amount of money that these men shell out to the lip-syncing and dancing girls is amazing; I’m sure these very men would fly into a rage if their wives demand even a tenth of that amount for some domestic needs! One wonders how the state and city authorities are allowing this profusion of dance bars. Trade sources tell me that other shady activities are afoot. I don’t want to sound or act like the moral police; my concerns are more to do with our favourite (and decent) watering holes being converted, one by one, to cheap bordellos. Won’t we be able to drink in peace any longer?

Book Fair?
A lot has been written (by me as well) on this topic. But I just can’t help making this observation: the organizers of the book fair say the grounds of the Salt Lake Stadium where the fair will be held this time are too small and the sizes of stalls have been drastically reduced. Fine. And some permanent features like ‘Children’s Pavilion’, ‘Books of the Year Hall’ and the artists’ corner—‘Monmarte’—have been axed due to shortage of space. Also fine. But the Food Pavilion will remain part of the fair. The reason? Without this facility, very few will go to the fair. And the organizers will stand to lose a huge sum of money they’d have earned from the sale of entry tickets. Ha! So what was all that talk about Kolkata being a city of booklovers and the culturally inclined? Truth be told, for an overwhelming majority of the visitors to the Kolkata Book Fair, the event was just an outing, an opportunity to have unhealthy junk food (that Bongs are so fond of), to tell neighbours and friends they’d been to the book fair and, while there, buy a comic or novel for light reading at a discount. And they proudly call it a book fair!

Cold Again
Kolkata had bid adieu to the winters and just as we were bracing ourselves for the inevitable hot and humid clime to follow, the mercury has dipped a bit. Thanks to the showers caused by what the weatherman tells us is a low-pressure trough and cyclonic circulation. Whatever the reason, one can’t but thank the weather gods for this welcome break in the journey to onset of the summer season. Like many Kolkatans, I had dry-cleaned, mothballed and packed away my woolies. Only to bring them out again. This spell won’t last for much longer, but hey, aren’t we glad this happened? A last taste of the winters before we get to experience it ten months later.

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