In the midst of popular and ever-growing coffee chains like Barista and Café Coffee Day, there are still some veritable Indian institutions which have stood the test of time. One of these is the Calcutta Coffee House. Located close to Calcutta University just off College Street and the bustle of its booksellers, this meeting place for students, writers and intellectuals has been around since 1942.
An unassuming sign above a doorway leads to a rickety staircase which climbs to another time and place filled with clouds of cigarette smoke, wooden colonial-style tables and chairs, ceiling fans suspended from ropes, waiters dressed in white uniforms and tall turbans, and walls of peeling paint.
Many of India’s great thinkers and artists have sat at these tables and sipped coffee while discussing art and politics under the gentle breeze of the ceiling fans. Some of the regulars included Nobel prize winners like writer and poet Rabindranath Tagore and economist Amartya Sen. This was also the hang-out of freedom-fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, filmaker Satyajit Ray, actor Aparna Sen and singer Manna Dey, amongst other famous Bengali personalities.
The simple décor doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1942. There has been resistance to plans to renovate and redecorate this historical café which has fortunately preserved its old-world atmosphere.