WHEN WE LANDED at the huge airport that serves Kolkata (Calcutta), it looked much as it did 3 years ago. Only one of the 6 or 7 baggage retrieval conveyor belts was in use and the vast airport seemed almost empty. The situation was the same when we last used it in December 2019.
We made the long ride from the airport to South Kolkata in a vehicle that was not available 3 years ago: an electric taxi. While being driven in this advanced form of vehicle, I wondered whether much else had changed in the city. Although there is much new construction at the periphery, it seems that delightful old Kolkata simply looks a little older.
A visit to the busy New Market (aka ‘SS Hogg Market’) revealed little obvious change. Our first port of call was at the excellently and tastefully stocked Modern Book Depot, where we chatted with the owner and made a few purchases.
Our search for a small funnel took us around the market buildings. A small store crammed full of kitchenware was able to fulfil our quest. We had been looking for this simple item in three other cities – in vain.
To our great relief, Nizam’s restaurant looked much as it has done for many decades, although an additional dining area has been added. The walls of the two older eating areas are decorated with framed theatre (English and Bengali plays) and cinema posters (mainly films made in India).
Nizam’s was founded in 1932, and has been well-known for its tasty kabab (‘kathi’) rolls ever since. A paratha is fried in oil on a tava, and cooked mutton or chicken is placed on it plus or minus a a beaten egg. When the paratha is ready, it and its contents are rolled up and wrapped tightly in paper. According to the customer’s choice, chillies can be added before the paratha is rolled. The management of Nizam’s states that the paper wrapped rolls were invented so that in the era prior to Independence, British men and their casual, temporary, female companions could eat the rolls without getting grease on their fingers. Whatever their history, these kabab rolls are highly enjoyable.
From where we were sitting, we were able to see the paratha dough being strenuously kneaded by a young man rhythmically thrusting his hands into the stiff paste. I was also able to watch other men threading meat onto metal skewers and others grilling the meat on glowing charcoal. The dough is formed into spheres a little smaller than tennis balls . These spheres are then flattened to make circular discs, which are then fried on the tava as already mentioned.
Walking around New Market and driving between it and south Kolkata revealed that the centre of the city I love has not succumbed to the often tasteless modernisation that has affected many other cities. I enjoy the unchanging appearance of Kolkata, but many people who have lived there bemoan the fact that it is a dying city. This is not say that Kolkata lacks vitality. It is still full of life, but as far as business opportunities are concerned, both the present and the future are not looking particularly optimistic.