Kobi kobi chehara kandhe te jholano bag
Muchhe jabe Amol er naam ta
Ekta kobita o tar holo nako kothao chhapa
Pelo na shey protibhar daam ta……
Coffee House er shei adda ta aaj aar nei aaj aar nei
Kothay hariye gelo sonali bikel gulo shei aaj aar nei
(He looks like a poet with a bag on his shoulder
Amol’s name though will be erased
Not even a single poem of his was published anywhere
He didn’t get the recognition he deserved…
That adda at the Coffee House is no more, it is no more
Where has that golden twilight vanished, it is no more…)
When Bengali singing legend Manna Dey died on October 24, 2013, obit writers quoted lines from this one song he recorded 30 years ago. Dey was a playback singer, a music director and a classical vocalist who belonged to the Bhendibazaar gharana and had recorded more than 4,000 songs in his lifetime. So why were lines from mostly one song, ‘Coffee House Er Shei Adda Ta’ quoted and sung in memory of the great man?
It is because ‘Coffee House er shei adda ta’ immortalises an almost unbearable Bengali-ness of being, romanticises a lazy nostalgia for a time gone by when talking art and politics and sipping coffee in a smoky hub of intellect with dollops of Leftist languor was the Bengali’s raison d'etre even as the world moved on.
That time has truly passed.
Last evening, a saffron wave crashed on the Coffee House and washed away the last remaining doubt that Bengal has changed. ‘Coffee House Er Shei Adda Ta’ will still be sung. The story of artist Nikhilesh, guitarist D'souza, journalist Moidul and failed poet Amol will still be remembered. But with that, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants will fill the air of this establishment on Kolkata's Bankim Chatterjee Street with a history as rich as the coffee.
Last evening, a saffron wave crashed on the Coffee House and washed away the last remaining doubt that Bengal has changed. (Photo: Twitter/@SeemantiniBose)
"The building, where the Coffee House is functioning, was the residence of the great Bengali philosopher and social reformer Shri Keshab Chandra Sen. Later, it was named 'Albert Hall' in honour of Prince Albert Victor of Wales. After independence in 1947, the Central Government changed the name to 'Indian Coffee House', where a coffee joint had been functioning since 1942.
"In 1958, the management, for unknown reasons, decided to close down Coffee House for good. However, the workers' association took a decision to run Coffee House on their own and since then the "Indian Coffee House" has been under the management of the "India Coffee Board Worker's Co-operative Society Ltd," says an article in Nabrangindia.
During the 1950s and the 60s, Left leaders frequented this place and brainstormed as ‘My Name is Vietnam’ slogans were chanted outside. In the late 60s and the 70s, Naxals sipped coffee and discussed the Red Book as gunpowder filled the air and corpses were discovered in dingy bylanes. The place became synonymous with the likes of actor-director Aparna Sen and writer Sunil Gangopadhyay, who were once frequent visitors.
Last evening, BJP youth leader Tajinder Singh Bagga along with 40-50 volunteers went inside the Coffee House, ordered coffee, had a verbal altercation with those who sneered at them, and chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
“Chaos broke out inside the Indian Coffee House, the quintessential hub of Left-leaning intellectual conservations, on Monday after BJP supporters walked in, sat down and later struck off the ‘No’ in the ‘No Vote for BJP’ writing on the walls. This upset the CPI (M-L) supporters and those who are part of the 'No Vote for BJP' campaign and were present when the BJP supporters walked in. Slogans were raised by both sides. Jai Shri Ram chants were heard,” India Today’s Prema Rajaram reports.
Thirty-four years of Left rule had pushed Hindu religiosity to a corner. But there was a before. And there is an after.
There are Jai Shri Ram chants inside Coffee House now.
Outside, Mamata Banerjee is reciting Chandi Path.