As Devi Paksha kicks in, Kolkata raises a toast to Calcutta’s old-world charm – Times of India

Kolkata News

Kolkata: Hours before Mahalaya, the city’s radio man — Amit Ranjan Karmakar — was felicitated for his unique contribution to Kolkata’s cultural landscape. Karmakar has been repairing radios of all makes, including Bush, Murphy, Philips and Telefunken, since 1976 at his nameless Kumartuli shop.
Purono Kolkatar Golpo (PKG) — a Facebook group with 1,80,000 members that chronicles Kolkata of yore — felicitated him on Tuesday with a wristwatch, a memento, certificate of honour and Rs 5,000. On Mahalaya, the group will also honour the contributions of Lucky Cafeteria at Maniktala Hawkers’ Market, New Bangolokkhi Pice Hotel of Koley Market and Café-de-luxe at Hazra.
PKG’s administrator Jayanta Sen said this felicitation was specially timed a day before Mahalaya. “On Wednesday, he will open his store at four in the morning and tune his old Sansui radio for everyone in the locality to listen to Mahishashura Mardini. Apart from a break last year, Karmakar has been following this tradition since he joined this shop in 1976. His father had set up this shop in 1967,” Sen said.
Karmakar’s pride possession is a set that dates back to 1944. “The owner happily got rid of it at my shop,” he said. Everyday, the 63-year-old opens his shop, which has some 150 sets, at seven and tunes into the radio news before going for a swim. “I have been listening to the radio news since 1964,” he said, before repeating names of news readers including Nilima Sanyal, Prashanta Mukhopadhyay and Debdulal Bandopadhyay, sports commentators by Pushpen Sarkar and Kamal Bhattacharya and programmes like Binaca Geetmala and Joymala. “Days before Mahalayas were very busy earlier since everyone wanted their sets repaired to listen to Bani Kumar, Pankaj Mullick and Birendrakrishna Bhadra. In 1981, I earned the highest – Rs 7330 – during the Mahalaya. From 2004 to 2011, the number of clients dipped. Once photography was allowed in Kumartuli from 2012, youngsters would get their old sets for repair. Pandal-hoppers too drop by now and give me work. This year, the work has gone up,” he said.
According to another PKG administrator Swarnali Chattopadhya, “Karmakar has a treasure trove of spare parts. Members of our group based aboard too have contacted him for spare parts. However, his next generation isn’t keen on following in his footsteps. However, his next generation isn’t keen on following in his footsteps. All these four small establishments we have chosen are important landmarks in Kolkata’s cultural identity. That’s why we are felicitating them.”
In 1941, Bhabgrahi Bahru had migrated from Bhubaneswar to Kolkata to set up the New Bangolokkhi Pice Hotel. A lot of the revolutionaries would use the premises for hiding. Covid impacted the business drastically. Lunch is served to only 20 people. “We don’t have any staff. My wife, despite being a heart patient, cooks. We have a house in Patuli. Once lunch is over, we use the room for their personal purposes. The cheapest fish meal is for Rs 50 while the costliest is priced at Rs 90,” 72-years-old owner Bishwanath Bahru said.
Subhas Saha’s grandfather, Satyaranjan Saha, had migrated to Shantipur from Dhaka before shifting to Maniktala. “In the late 50s, he had set up Lucky Cafetaria for tea and toast. My mother had named this stall as Lucky. She had contributed Rs 10 to set it up. That apart, we also serve ghuni, alurdum and egg curry. The mutton singara, introduced in the mid 70s, is so popular that it gets sold by 6pm,” Saha said.
Café-de-luxe was set up in 1952 by Sukhamoy Aich beside Basusree. “People would come to Basusree and then drop by at our café. Ritwik Ghatak had come to our café. Chuni Goswami, Ram Bahadur, Chandan Banerjee and Sukamar Samajpati would also come by. So did Anil Chatterjee, Bhanu Bandopadhyay and Jwahar Roy. We were the first to introduce mutton singara in south Kolkata,” claimed Sukhamoy’s son, Samir Kumar Aich. Pandemic and the restrictions have the business. “Fortunately, our old-timers still come here,” he added.