28 February 2014

Au Bon Pain at Park Street


On the night of 22nd December 2013 I was gallivanting at Park Street with a friend. Park Street as usual for December nights was heavily decked up as the illuminated Wonderland of Calcutta. Even to this day I actually feel like Alice whenever I enter Park Street. Me and my friend were walking towards St. Xavier's College to see its Christmas decorations. Suddenly I noticed this notice in front of the place which was previously the musical Wonderland of Calcutta. I knew immediately that I had to come there again the next day at 5 pm sharp. 

Au Bon Pain at Park Street opened on 23rd December 2013. I reached there at 5 pm sharp. Loved the overall feel and ambiance of the place. I bought a cup of coffee and sat on the window side. Looked through the crystal-clear glass at the hustle and bustle of Park StreetI could have easily brought a friend along with me, but I preferred to be alone by myself. I just needed to spend some quality time with my Soul and dive into my personal pool of nostalgia. 

I sat by the window side and stared at the flowing river named Park Street. Sipped into the hot coffee. Tried to enjoy the lovely winter evening. But I was somewhat sad and depressed. I really missed Music World. I went to the place not to celebrate the birth of Au Bon Pain, but to mourn the death of Music World. All the memories relating to Music World came back and flooded my mind and in doing so made the corners of my eyes leak. 

When Music World closed forever, I wrote this Blog-Post. 

The last day of anything and the first day of everything is really special and remains memorable for all time. Time flies really fast. People change. Landmarks change. Music World changes into Au Bon Pain. But the charm and charisma of Park Street still remains the same. Yes, I still prefer calling her Park Street and not by the official name Mother Teresa Sarani

Here are some pics from inside Au Bon Pain. 

Sitting alone in one window side corner, I observed all the people both inside and outside of Au Bon Pain. Just outside my window a vendor was selling books and magazines. People were leafing randomly through the pages of those books and magazines, though nobody bought a single thing. The vendor must have been very sad and depressed from within as his business was not inching forward. Inside the Cafe people were buying coffee, burgers, juices, soups etc. Professional, amateur and those irritating wannabe shutterbugs were constantly clicking their stuff. Little children were running here and there and enjoying the novelty of the place. Couples in love were busy whispering sweet nothings into each others' ears. Almost everybody was eyeing those window side seats. And the staff was busy serving over-enthusiastic customers. 


Neel Dutta was there too. But I didn't see his father. I know for a fact that Anjan Dutta loves all things related to Park Street. I was hoping that he would walk in any moment. Throughout all my Xaverian years, so many times I have seen Anjan Dutta at Park Street, either coming out of Flury's or going inside Park Hotel. Anjan Dutta occupies a huge section of my childhood. In those days he was my preferred musical choice because it felt that he was actually singing those very songs with which I could easily relate to as a teenager. 

In 1999 I had bought his album Kolkata 16 as soon as it was available at Rashbehari Melody. Loved all the songs very much, especially Ekdin Bristitey, Ek Je Chhilo Ghora and obviously the title track Kolkata 16. Here is the iconic song along with the iconic words : 

E Sondhyer Shohor Aamar 
Je Raastaay Neon Ekaakaar 
E Raasta Boroi Purono 
Raastaay Aamar Chheleybela 
Ekhaan Thekey Swopno Dekhaa 
Aalo Aandhari Restoraa 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aamar 
Ekhaan Tatey Prothom Dekhaa 
Aamar Prothom Premikaar 
Haat Dhorey Haantchhey Onnyo Keu 
Hothat Boro Hoye Jaayoaa 
Jontrona Bhultey Shekhaa 
Kanna Ta Giltey Shekhaa 
Ghurey Ghurey Phirey Ei Raastaa 
Bhalobasha Khunjey Paayoaa 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aamar 
Ekhono Koto Shonibaar 
Mukhomukhi Shei Restoraa 
Aalo Aandharey Aamar 
Bhalobashar Haat Dhora Jaay 
Ekhono Raater Aakash Laal Ekhaney 
Bondhuttyer Chokh Maataal Ekhaney 
Moner Bhetorey Ekhono Ekhaney 
Baajaano Jaai Aamar Guitar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aanar 
E Kolkata Sholo Aamar 

For those who don't know this, the Pincode of Park Street is Calcutta 700016. I still love calling my city Calcutta and hate using the official name Kolkata when I am writing in english. Only when I am writing in bengali, then I use the word Kolkata. Otherwise even when I am thinking about my City of Joy, inside my mind also I always call her Calcutta. For those who want to read about my love for The Telegraph Colour Magazine, which later metamorphosed into The Telegraph Graphiti, the links are here and here. The reason why I am mentioning Graphiti is that still today on their cover page they use the word Calcutta and not Kolkata. Here is last Sunday's Cover Picture : 

Sitting inside Au Bon Pain, I missed my First-Love. I was really missing her a lot. She made her presence felt by her absence. Though she was not there physically, but still I felt as if she was sitting just next to me on my left side and I felt that my left hand fingers were entwined into her right hand fingers. I felt that she was also whispering sweet nothings into my ears like the other romantic couples inside Au Bon Pain. I felt like listening to Mohit Chauhan's Koi Ho Yaadon Mein, Sapnay and Humsafar. Also felt like listening to Lucky Ali's Teri Yaad Jab Aati Hai, Dekha Hai Aaise Bhi and Aanjani Rahon Mein. Lastly I felt like listening to Palash Sen's Ab Naa JaTum and Maeri. As I was sitting alone in a sad sombre mood, these few lines from the poem Purono Notun Dukkho came to my mind. 

Came out of Au Bon Pain around 9 pm and then walked up and down Park Street. Thrice. I love Park Street. Period. And I also love all her tributaries and her distributaries too. Park Street on this December night was realistically magical. The whole Street had an ethereal aura to it. It felt like Heaven on Earth and absolutely mesmerized everyone. People were busy basking themselves under the neon lights and buying Santa-Caps, medium sized Christmas trees and extra-large sized goggles. Little children on their parents' shoulders seemed the happiest. But I could not find a remedy for my sadness. As I walked alone I got lost inside the crowd. For some unknown reason Nishito Raater Badol Dhara kept playing inside my mind on a continuous loop.   

From Day One, I kept on going to Au Bon Pain almost every week. I just can't get enough of that place. I have tried almost all their items and nowadays my personal favourite is their Mango-Lassi. A mango symbolizes life in many ways. Just like a mango, life also seems soft on the outside but from the inside it is hard as hell. Again if Heaven were a Fruit, then it would definitely be a ripe, juicy, luscious, sensuous and voluptuous Mango. These days the very thought of Mangoes brings to mind Katrina Kaif's Aamsutra ads. 


Au Bon Pain is now my most favourite destination in Park Street. Whenever I go to that Street for some work or pleasure, I always make it a point to drop in at Au Bon Pain for atleast half an hour. A decade back, Park Street Barista was my favourite coffee-joint. In those days Barista used to be on the Music World side of the road. These days it is on the opposite side. Back then I used to go to Barista almost every weekend. Ten years back I had bought the coffee-mug shown in the picture below from Park Street Barista. I still have it. It says, I Don't Want A Raise, I Want Six Coffee Breaks

I had first entered Park Street Barista in the year 2002 with my First-Love after our Higher Secondary results were out and we both had passed with the highest marks in first division. I immediately fell in love with Barista. Back then CCD was on the Peter Cat side, but I never liked it. Barista was always my preferred choice. In those days there was another coffee-joint at Golpark named Caffeine where me and my First-Love used to go often. From there we used to go to Dhakuria Lake


Anyways coming back to Park Street, back then inside Barista there used to be a black acoustic guitar on their wall. Anyone could take it down and strum it. Whenever I used to go there, I used to strum a few chords and play a few notes on this black guitar. Once I noticed that the first string was broken. The next evening I went there again after my Political Science classes got over at St. Xavier's College, and replaced the first string on my own and tuned it perfectly with my electric guitar tuner. The Manager of Barista was pleased with my effort. I always used to sit on the ground floor and watch life pass me by on Park Street through the glass door. Only when I took my girlfriend there, then we used to go and sit upstairs, which was like a more private place. Here are three old pictures of Park Street Barista taken on 22nd December 2003 at around 6 pm featuring myself and my then best friend Abhishek Mukherjee. The pics were clicked by my Kodak KB-10 camera which I had bought in 2002 from the Kodak Shop in Park Street on the very first day of Xavotsav that year. In those days, after the prints had come back from the shop, I used to write the date, place and time on the backside of each photo, thus creating an everlasting memory of the moment when that particular picture had been clicked.  

Here are some old pictures of Park Street Barista taken on 1st January 2004 at around 3 am featuring myself and my then best friend Abhishek Mukherjee and another friend Pratip. We three boys had spent the entire 31st December 2003 night on Park Street and had explored all her previously unseen parts. Then we went to Victoria Memorial around 4 am. I can never describe in words how it feels to be on Park Street when the midnight clock strikes twelve. One has to experience this moment first hand. It is like walking a tightrope with the drunken-euphoria of the new year on one side and the merciless lathhi-charge by the Calcutta Police on the other side.  

Please notice the omnipresence of that black guitar in all the pictures above, except the last one. I just love the acoustic guitar. I personally prefer an acoustic jumbo guitar with nylon strings. I first started learning guitar at Calcutta School of Music under the legendary Carlton Kitto in the year 2000. Anyone who is interested about this maverick guitarist who is also the last name in Jazz in Calcutta, please watch the documentary named Finding Carlton. 

On the evening of 22nd December 2003 while Abhishek and I were sitting inside Park Street Barista, a poor little boy was selling strips of chewing gums outside the glass door. He was smiling at us and as soon as I made eye-contact with him, he begged me to buy his stuff. I came out of Barista and bought quite a few gums and also gave him an extra ten rupee note. Today while writing this Blog I am wondering where that boy is now and what is he doing nowadays. Here is that poor little boy's picture which I had clicked back then. 

I actually need a separate blog-post to write about my friendship with Abhishek Mukherjee. During the Durga Puja of 2004, most probably on Ashtami, me and Abhishek and two of our female friends went to have lunch at Park Street in my black Maruti Esteem. I again need a separate blog-post to write about my Black-Beauty which was like a Car-cum-Bar for me and my friends. After having lunch we all went to Music World. I bought Fossils' second album and he bought Cactus' Rajar Raja. We had to buy cassettes and not cds because the music system of my car only had a cassette player. From Music World we obviously went to Maddox Square. Later that night I again came back to Park Street driving my car with Keno Korley, Acid, Bicycle Chor, Buddho Heshechhey, Udaaner Gaan and Bodhurey blasting through my car-woofers. 

Now allow me to come back to the present times. I think the first outlet of Au Bon Pain opened in Calcutta at the Quest Mall. But I didn't like it there. Infact I just don't like the Quest Mall. For me South City Mall is always my preferred choice. Anyways I love the Park Street branch of Au Bon PainHere I am with my new best friend Subhajyoti Guha at Park Street Au Bon Pain in January this year. I was telling him about how much I missed Music World. I was also telling him about a foxy female lawyer who also writes heart warming Blogs. 

Here I am sitting alone pondering over the idiosyncrasies of the Universe. These few lines were playing inside my mind on a continuous loop : Aashaar Sojolghono Aandharey, Bhaabey Boshi Duraashaar Dheyaaney, Aami Keno Tithidorey Baadha Rey, Fagunerey Mor Paashey Ke Aaney. I concluded my thought process by realizing that the only solution for Mankind to achieve everlasting World Peace is through Tagorean Universalism

I took a friend of mine there and she also immediately loved the place. However initially she couldn't pronounce the name Au Bon Pain properly and thus renamed the place into Hau Mau Khau. She said that pronouncing the French name is a real 'Pain' in the ass. Therefore these days whenever we plan to meet there, we always refer to it by its banglacized name. In no time this has spread among my group of friends like wildfire, or rather like the Stephen-Court fire. Anyways here are two pictures of mine where I am enjoying my drink and my view, the scenery outside and the greenery inside. Xaverians will immediately understand the meaning of the term greenery in the last sentence.   

Also I felt like listening to the songs of Moushumi Bhowmik, especially the song Ekhon Kichui Ojaana Nei from her album Amar Kichu Kotha Chhilo. Wanted badly to hear these lines again, Aamra Ekhon Jeney Gechhi, Kotha Bolaar Dhoron-Dhaaron, Kon Gachhey Kon Shaar Lagaabo, Kon Foshol Ta Tolaa Baaron. A little boy was selling colourful balloons outside. I clicked him through my Blackberry. 

Here are two pictures, one shows the books and magazines outside the glass pane and the other one shows a passing taxi. I really miss those old upper-portion-yellow and lower-portion-black Ambassador taxies of my childhood days. And I also miss those red double-decker buses from my childhood days. As a child I just loved to sit on the upper deck window seat.  

Here are two pictures from Google Images which define pure nostalgia for me. If I had a Time-Machine then I would instantly go back in time to sit once again on the upper deck window seat of a red double-decker bus and have an elevated view of Calcutta. Whoever is reading my Blog, please listen to Bhoomi's song L9 Bus from their album Gaan Doriyaai. When I first heard this song it seemed to me that the composition was more of Anjan Dutta-ish than the typical Bhoomi-ish. Anyways it is a heart-warming, heart-touching and heart-wrenching song painted with the purest form of nostalgia. The L9 double-decker bus-route was from Golpark to Bagbazaar via Southern Avenue, Sarat Bose Road, A.J.C. Bose Road, Chowringhee, Esplanade and C.R. Avenue. Even to this day Calcuttans really miss the L9 Bus. However there is a ray of hope. If everything goes right then double-decker buses are going to make a comeback soon on the roads of Calcutta. I am eagerly waiting for that day. It seems that I might not need that Time-Machine after all.   

Au Bon Pain means a place with good bread in French. Many years back I saw the brilliantly inspiring film Remember The Titans which is still today one of the greatest Sports-film ever made. There in one scene the Coach, played magnificiently by Denzel Washington, asks his student players during a training session, "What is Pain"? And the students reply in unison, "French Bread". Also in the film Good Will Hunting, a scene was shot at a Au Bon Pain restaurant in Harvard Square, Cambridge, U.S.A. 

PS : Music World, I will always remember and love you till the day I die...