By Saibal GuptaKolkata, June 3 : Madhusudhan Das, more popularly ‘Madhu Da’ of ‘Office Para in the Dalhousie area — the traditional hub for different offices in Central Kolkata — came to Kolkata with his father when he was just eight years old.
His father used to run a tea-stall just opposite Bankshall Court and he started working as a helper.After more than 50 years, the 62-year-old man from East Midnapore decided to shut down the tea-stall, now transformed into a roadside restaurant.
In what will be seen as a huge loss to the community among others, Kolkata’s food history is changing forever due to Covid-19.Many small, historic “Eating Houses” in the city’s old business districts have started shutting down permanently, after a century or more of feeding delicious, affordable, home-style meals to office-goers and daily labourers.
“This restaurant is more than 100 years old and I have been running it for the last 54 years.Here many people used to come to have my tea.I have seen many judges, Postmaster General and even Secretaries of different departments who used to come here for tea,” Das said sitting on his make-shift square bench where he has prepared “Chaa” for the last five decades.
“We suffered primarily when the government decided to shift the state secretariat from Writers’ Building to Nabanna because it took away the flavour of Dalhousie and then the Lockdown has finished us,” he said.
Das’ son who works in an IT company prefers to spend more time in the virtual world than serve tea and food to the people.
“My daughter is married and my son works in an IT company in Rajarhat.He is not interested in our family business that my grandfather once started.We have been in this Dalhousie para (neighbourhood) for more than 100 years.
“I am growing old and cannot work for the whole day.Moreover, due to lockdown there are hardly any customers.I am thinking of shifting to my home area and starting a business there,” Das said.
Das is not alone, there are hundreds of such small makeshift eatery owners who had to switch over to different professions due to frequent lockdowns in the last one year.
From veg-thali at Rs 25 to Biryani @85 — the roadside eateries that were once the landmark of the city, where not only daily office goers but from students to tourists loved tasting the authentic Kolkata dishes, are fast fading away from the city skyline owing to the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns.
The 75-year-old ‘Siddheswhari Hotel’ in Central Kolkata that was famous for serving Bengali cuisine had kept all their operations suspended for the last one year owing to the dearth of labours and cooks.
Its hotels like these that at one point were even the stuff of popular sitcoms on Bengali TV channels in earlty 1980s.
“We have most of our cooks from Bankura.Birbhum and East Midnapore and due to lockdown, they are not able to come.Naturally we had to close our operations for a year.
“We don’t know when we will be able to start the hotel again.Initially we started home-delivery but that is also not working because of staff shortage,” Jagannath Mondal, the manager of the hotel said.
The street food carts that fed the thousands of office goers, students and men and women who were part of the complex and vast services sector across the city have gone.
There is no food on the street.Kolkata is without its phuchka wallas, its jhaal muri and papri chaat wallas.
There are no chops, no fish fry or chilli chicken being sold on the street.
No one is frying samosas, steaming up plates of momo and thukpa, frying up hundreds of kilos of “Chinese” chowmein, rolling out parathas for rolls filled with mutton, chicken, eggs or paneer.
The food business is not suffering alone but it was related to other ancillary businesses that have also been closed or slowed down.
A city with around 2.75 lakh street vendors has shut down.
It means that the food vendors, about 50% cent from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have either gone back or are stranded in Kolkata, with no income and nothing to send home.
The streets of Ballygunge Station, Jaan Bazar, Lake Market, Beleghata, Ultadanga — where vegetables and fruits and some food grains, spices and even utensils were sold every day by hundreds of vendors are shockingly deserted of the men and women who encroached the carriageways.
It means that the farmers who produced the vegetables and grew the fruits are stranded with rotting piles of fresh food and no buyers.
The supply chain has been cut – even though there is demand.
Netizens have urged Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee: “These are historic setups which need govermens to step in to support.Preserving history is part of an elected government’s sacred duty to protect.Kindly help them @MamataOfficial @derekobrienmp.