A crowd gathers in front of the fire-ravaged market on Wednesday. (Pabitra Das)
The Mirzapur Street area, as Surya Sen Street was known before it was renamed, is Manik Bandopadhyay country. The radical Bengali novelist, who died at 48, used to live in one of the dingy lanes of this neighbourhood, and some sections of his path-breaking novel, Putul Nacher Itikatha, were set in a dingy — even sleazy — hotel, the likes of which still proliferate here. Here two such struggle to survive — Modern Lodge, and another inappropriately named Ayesh, for it does not seem to be an establishment where one can expect creature comforts.
Mirzapur has not changed much since the death of this disenchanted Marxist in 1956. Human hands have never intervened to smoothen out the furrows wrought by time. So the walls of most of the houses in this street, which begins its march at College Square and connects Mahatma Gandhi Road with Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road, are all grey and begrimed although not in that bad a shape.
They seem to have been so for centuries, although these double-storeyed buildings could not be of a pre-1930s vintage. Only one building has been demolished, and its doorway with a lunette on top stands in isolation. It is being turned into a five-storeyed office block.
Tram tracks run through the street. At the MG Road end of it stands Purabi cinema, very popular among middle-class Bengalis till the late 1970s, and at the Sealdah end is located Jagat cinema, which never earned the label of respectability.
As its name indicates, Mirzapur used to be a Bengali Muslim stronghold, and was and still is a huge paper market — of paper scrap in the pre-Partition days, and of printing paper and sweet boxes thereafter.
The five-storeyed Surya Sen market at the Sealdah end, a concrete box with several concrete boxes inside, is not an old construction. It was popularly known as Pakistan market as it is probably “exchange property”. The original owner must have moved to East Bengal after the Partition.
The street still has a strong EB identity. At the Sealdah end, opposite the fire-scarred market, stands East Bengal Jewellery, and the new paper shops that line the street were all started by EBs (as referred to in matrimonial columns).
Ranjit Kumar Bose, 73, of Bosco, one of the oldest paper shops in Mirzapur, says there are a few hundred paper shops once owned by Muslims but upgraded after the Partition by Bengalis who came from across the border. Some neighbouring shops are equipped with paper cutting machines.
Surya Sen Street has a number of schools as well, the most famous of which is Mitra Institution (Main). A little further down stands Madhya Kolikata Balika Bidyalaya (Madhyamik) and the last in this line in Adarsha Bidyamandir (Higher Secondary). A signboard at the entrance lists the dates of birth and death of the worthies of Calcutta.
A building with a long row of windows on its first floor has Tara Bhojanalay on its ground floor. It is an eatery, and the smell of fish curry wafts through its doorway. A few buildings away, again on the ground floor, is the tiny Shelly Skin & Hair Clinic, and opposite it Tower Plaza, one of the few freshly-painted houses here. Surprisingly, it is not, as its name indicates, a new construction but an old building with a rather pretentious front turned into a paper market.
At the Sealdah end is the office of the Progressive Students Union and on the ground floor Popular Dyers and Cleaners. It is an old house as the cast iron lunettes indicate.
Across APC Road are the tin shacks where cheap furniture is sold. The towers of the highrise apartment block coming up on the grounds of the Cossimbazar palace sprout through the tin roofs of the shacks.