Blogger friends Anindya Sundar Basu of @pikturenama, and Dolon Dutta Chowdhury of @poutpretty, have embarked on a journey to preserve the essence of old Kolkata, driven by their shared passion for history and their love for the city’s heritage.
“We had organised a pre-Covid photo and food walk. Unfortunately, the pandemic struck, and life took unexpected turns. When we finally decided to revive our explorations, we were surprised to find that some of the places we wanted to visit had disappeared,” says Anindya.
One of those lost treasures was Favourite Cabin on Surya Sen Street, a place with a legendary history, frequented by freedom fighters of yesteryears. “Its absence prompted us to act,” says Dolon.
Initially, their goal was simply to capture images. But as they delved deeper into the project, the duo realised the importance of sharing the stories behind these places with others.
“We were also inspired by the stories our parents and relatives shared about their experiences at places like Chhota Bristol, and Magnolia on Park Street. We felt the urgency to preserve these memories because this generation may not witness them in the future. Creating a repository for these memories became equally important to us,” says Dolon.
And so Kolkata Classics was born.
Chhota Bristol on Metro Gully, which remains to this day, an all-men’s bar. 'We felt the urgency to preserve these memories because this generation may not witness them in the future,’ says DolonTT Archives
Savouring stories like slow-cooked food
There are countless untold stories waiting to be shared by Kolkata Classics. And here’s a glimpse of some of them, without revealing too much!
“We’ve come across the oldest tea stall in Kolkata, started in the early 1900s, which we’ll be featuring soon. And a phuchka stall that has been running since 1970 – during the Bangladesh Liberation War,” reveal the duo.
Then there are cabins, pice hotels, Udipi hotels, Parsi dharamshalas, places frequented by the Sindhi and Gujarati communities and more. “Kolkata is the melting pot of influences – Armenian, British, Jewish, and even settlers from Odisha. I think people are gonna like what we have in store!” smiles Dolon.
“We don’t want to create quick, flashy content, but rather evoke a sense of yearning in our audience, like savouring slow-cooked food. We’ve put great care into production, even collaborating with a lead guitarist from Cactuss for the music,” says Anindya.
‘We’ve come across the oldest tea stall in Kolkata, started in the early 1900s, which we’ll be featuring soon,’ reveal the duoTT Archives
Of places and the people behind them
Beyond the exteriors of these eateries lie the stories of the people who run them, and their challenges. “It’s not all glamour; there are intriguing stories waiting to be uncovered. The pice hotels, for example, have a fascinating origin; unemployed youth from Odisha came to Kolkata, equipped with their culinary skills, and the rest is history,” says Anindya.
These pice hotels started as simple bhaater hotels, named ‘pice’ derived from the word ‘paisa’. Today, they stand as a testament to the city’s history and have even played a role in the freedom struggle. “Imagine a place like Hindu Hotel celebrating India’s independence on August 15, 1947, and as an act of victory, renaming this hotel as Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel!” says Anindya.
Or take Jagatmata Bhojanalaya, a small 15-20 seater pice hotel. “If you visit now, they’ll serve your meal in a kasha thala. They’ve even preserved the tradition of not serving chicken due to its prohibition in Bengali households in those days.”
Inspiring the younger generation
Kolkata Classics hopes to inspire the younger generation to appreciate their city’s heritage. Dolon says, “We discovered places that bore scars from World War II, like an iconic pub reduced to emptiness today. The waiters themselves are saying, ‘Ki hobey ekhane eshe, kichu pawa jay na, aager motun kichuye nei, bikri hoye jabey’ (Why come here? Nothing is available. It’s not like before. It’ll be sold off soon). We feel so sad when we see this. We hope to inspire the younger generation to visit these old bars and keep it alive, instead of a modern pub!”
“Or instead of going to eat a Korean corn dog, why not consider Anadi cabin for Mughlai Paratha? We should be proud of these places that have survived almost two centuries,” says Anindya.
This does not mean that one should not disregard modernity, but rather emphasise the coexistence of the past and the present. “Our point is that while we explore what is new, we must not forget the old. It’s the coexistence of both,” explains Dolon.
‘Instead of going to eat a Korean corn dog, why not consider Anadi cabin for Mughlai Paratha? We should be proud of these places that have survived almost two centuries,’ says AnindyaWikimedia Commons
A friendship born from passion
Dolon’s journey into the world of blogging started around 2012 and Anindya, two years later. “There weren’t a lot of bloggers in the city back then, and blogging did not mean creating reels. It actually meant writing,” they grin. They met at blogger meets and “Anindya thought I was a snob. And I thought, ‘this man, my goodness, he talks too much’ – which hasn’t changed!” laughs Dolon.
Anindya playfully adds, “Our friendly banter also includes the distinction between bangal and ghoti, and while Dolon hails from north Kolkata, I am a settler. We both share a love for history and literature; we love to discuss literary works like Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Sei Somoy.”
As they walked through Kolkata’s lanes, they would envision the past and share stories. “We realised that our storytelling styles complemented each other perfectly. She sees the words first, while I envision the visual narrative. Combining our skills and passion led to the creation of Kolkata Classics,” says Anindya.
‘Our friendly banter also includes the distinction between ‘bangal’ and ‘ghoti’, and while Dolon hails from north Kolkata, I am a settler.’ says Anindya
The bigger plan
Team Kolkata Classics plans to archive these stories in various formats, as each tale is unique. Some may require long-form narratives, while others are best conveyed pictorially. “With sponsors, we aim to expand our efforts and cover a wider spectrum of stories. We may even venture into podcasting in the future,” say the duo.
Participation is encouraged. “We also welcome contributions and suggestions from viewers. Let it be a collaborative effort in preserving Kolkata’s heritage,” says Dolon.
Do these food adventures mean watching the calories? “All that walking helps, especially in this heat!” laughs Anindya. Dolon adds, “Believe me, at times, after a meal, we just want to just go back home and sleep!”
Here’s to more Kolkata Classics stories that induce bhaat ghoom!