Park Street, Mother Teresa Sarani, food street, heart of Kolkata, cultural melting pot, brand hub — call it what you will, but Park Street is an intrinsic part of the Kolkata nostalgia.
Pulak Kumar Chakraborti explores this nostalgia through his novel, Park Street Theke Phire Dekha, which is also a rich micro-urban history of the neighbourhood. The Bengali book, published by Punascha, was launched at Oxford Bookstore by chief guest Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, the Bengal minister for agriculture, on September 16. Also present on the occasion were Karan Paul, chairman, Apeejay Surrendra Group, and artist Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharjee.
Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay recollecting his meetings with Jit Paul.Soumyajit Dey/ My Kolkata
The guests reminisced about Jit Paul and Surrendra Paul and how their labour of love “created” the commercial hub at Park Street. Karan Paul said: “It fills me with nostalgia. PK, as I fondly call Mr Chakraborti, since 1992 has been one of the key pillars of our group. I, too, see much of Kolkata and India through the prism of Park Street and the events and people around it. In PK’s book Park Street Theke Phire Dekha, he writes about his life and times centred around Park Street. He has given us glimpses and flashes of his recollections and memories. My family’s life has been interwoven with that of the mystical Park Street. In his endeavour, PK not only had a bird’s eye view but was also an architect. I’m sure the book will serve as an important historical document for future generations.’’
The author, who had served the Apeejay Surrendra Group for decades, traces the legacy of the Pauls and how they transformed Park Street to what it is today. The book presents his memories and experiences at work and his relationship with the family.
Pulak Kumar Chakraborti reading out a passage from the bookSoumyajit Dey/ My Kolkata
Chakraborti read out a short passage from the book to give the audience a “slice” of nostalgia. He said: “I pay my respect and homage to Jit Paul and Surrendra Paul. I had tried to depict how Jit Paul transformed the colonial upscale residential area of Park Street to a very high standard commercial area. He selected the best location for his business empire. The history of Park Street cannot be documented without both the Pauls and their families.’’
The author, who retired as a director of Apeejay Surrendra Group in 2002, had worked closely with Jit Paul, Surrendra Paul and Shirin Paul as well as the next generation of Priya Paul, Priti Paul and Karan Paul. He took to writing with the encouragement of Karan Paul.
Chakraborti's writings are mostly fictional or autobiographical. His first book, Abhigyattya Ebong Ek Eknayak, was published in 2019. It was followed by Gift of a Noble Spirit, Tamarind Empire, The Border and Tamarind Triumph. Park Street Theke Phire Dekha is his second Bengali novel. He has four other books in post-production: Bhoot Rohoshya, Golpo o Rochona Somogro, Treasure Hunt and Mr Jit Paul and Mr Surrendra Paul, As I Saw Them.
The septuagenarian author resides at Lake Town with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
Karan Paul addressing the audienceSoumyajit Dey/ My Kolkata
Chief guest Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay recollected: “I also have a long association with the Apeejay Group. Whenever I visited them, Jit Paul used to offer me black coffee and cake from Flurys. Along with that, he used to give me Ramayana, Mahabharat and books by Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and more. Those books are still in my library. This (book) is not merely a book, it is a history of the life of an entrepreneur who started from zero and built a kingdom that is not only known in India but also abroad.’’
Artist Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharjee designed the cover of the book by putting together images of the old and new Park Street to form a skyline, beyond which is the bust of Jit Paul.
Both Shuvaprasanna and Chakraborti proposed that the area around The Park hotel and Apeejay House be renamed as Paul Square or Jit Paul Surrendra Paul Square or Place and a street in Alipore be renamed as Jit Paul Surrendra Paul Sarani.