A man and his street - Jit Paul ( APRIL 1, 1923-JUNE 3, 2009)

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By The Telegraph Online in Calcutta
  • Published 4.06.09
Jit Paul

The man who defined Park Street as much as the street defined him died on Wednesday.

Jit Paul, 86, one of the founders of the Apeejay Surrendra Group as we know it now, succumbed to cancer at his Alipore Road residence at 9.30am.

With The Park, Flurys, Park Mansions, Apeejay House, Apeejay School, Oxford Bookstore, The Tea Table and Banyan Tree in the group’s bouquet, Paul was one of the principal architects of what became known as the Park Street culture.

“I always joked with him that Park Street should be renamed Jit Paul Sarani. The street was extremely dear to his heart,” said friend and restaurateur Nitin Kothari.

“He chose Park Street to open the very first hotel when the family got into the hospitality business. He had operations all over the country and in many parts of the world, but he still chose to have his office on Park Street till the very end,” added the proprietor of landmark Park Street restaurants Mocambo, Peter Cat and Bar-B-Q.

Paul’s fondness for the street went much beyond his first hotel and office. “He built the foundation of the Park Street culture and was responsible for making the street what we know it as today,” said Raj Mahtani of Satramdas Dhalamal Jewellers, opposite The Park.

Born on April 1, 1923 in Jalandhar, into a modest manufacturing family, Paul decided early on that he would dedicate his life to building the business. From 1938, when he formally joined his father in the steel business, Paul was quick to convert Amin Chand Pyare Lal into Apeejay Surrendra.

The family business was split into three parts among four brothers in 1989 — Caparo in the UK of Lord Swraj Paul, Apeejay Education Society of Stya Paul, and Apeejay Surrendra of Surrendra Paul and Jit Paul.

Today, Apeejay Surrendra Group employs close to 27,000 people in tea, hospitality, shipping, real estate and retail and financial services.

Paul’s vision — inherited by nephew Karan and nieces Priya and Priti — was to make it India’s largest and most profitable privately owned family business by 2010, when the group completes 100 years.

For Calcutta, Paul’s role as Mr Park Street is the most endearing and enduring.

Chef Shaun Kenworthy, a former employee of The Park, recounts Paul’s contribution to the famed food culture on the city’s favourite street. “He was himself vegetarian and his meals were simple,” points out Shaun.

Flurys, Calcutta’s favourite tearoom, was his baby. The book Flurys of Calcutta: The Cake That Walked mentions how Jit Paul, on a morning in 1965, struck up a conversation with Joseph Flury on the street and ended up making an offer he couldn’t refuse.

That was the Jit that his friends remember — an irresistible man of action.

“I have lost a dear friend and the country has lost a big entrepreneur,” said R.P. Goenka. “He was a great friend and I will miss him terribly. It was a pleasure interacting with him both personally and in business,” said B.M. Khaitan.