Now as the years roll on
Each time we hear our favorite song
The memories come along
Older times we’re missing
Spending the hours reminiscing

Hurry, don’t be late, I can hardly wait
I said to myself when we’re old

We’ll go dancing in the dark

Walking through the park and reminiscing

Little River Band, Reminiscing

It’s been a bittersweet week for me.

It was the week I had a really worthwhile session with the group board on Tuesday. I’d spent a lot of time preparing for the session, been coached and advised by many friends and wellwishers within the firm, and it went well. Really well. BT is going places and I’m delighted to be here and part of it. We’re moving along apace with Ribbit, and there’s a real sense of excitement, a real buzz developing. [Disclaimer, for the few of you who may not know: I work for BT; BT owns Ribbit; I chair Ribbit on behalf of BT]

It was the week I learnt that my boss, friend and mentor Al-Noor Ramji has decided to return to his banking roots and leave BT. He’s had an incredible impact here, helping set the direction of 21CN, getting the whole company behind the Right First Time program, moving us down the road in the SDK initiative, all while transforming the back end of the company into Innovate & Design and its sister function Operate.

There are a number of us here who’ve worked with him before; for quite a few, BT is the third company where they’ve worked for him; for at least one person, the fourth; and there are many like me who are two-fers.  That in itself tells you something about the man, his leadership and his ability to inspire. For many of us, working for him is like Hotel California in terms of checking out and leaving.

Some of us went out for dinner with him last Wednesday, and we spent the evening reminiscing about Al-Noorisms; there was laughter and joy aplenty, amidst the unavoidable sadness. We wish him well in his new role at Misys.

It was also the week I learnt that there’d been a tragic fire in Calcutta, bang in the centre of the spaces I occupied during much of my youth and adolescence: the corner of Park Street and Middleton Row.

At least 24 people died, many unable to escape the flames. Horrifying. My heart goes out to all the families affected, it must have been terrible.

I felt slightly confused when reading the reports of the fire. They kept describing Stephen Court, the building whose top two floors were affected, as a “multistorey”. But that’s not the way I remembered it. I could only think of it as having a ground floor and three storeys above it, hardly a multistorey. Turned out I wasn’t wrong: the so-called multistorey was only six floors high, and the top two floors had only been added since I left Calcutta. So what that means is that a building built in 1910 managed quite well, thank you, for getting on a hundred years, while the twenty-seven year old extension pretty much burnt down. Says something.

The building, the location and the restaurant on the ground floor all form a deep and intense part of my nostalgia. But this time around, I want to concentrate on the restaurant. Flury’s.

I was so pleased to find this photograph while searching for something to illustrate the post. I really think that Victoria Bernal captures the essence of Flury’s in many subtle dimensions: its metropolitanness, its sense of being a cool oasis in a hot and busy city, the sheer scale of the place, the incongruousness of finding an amalgam of swiss chocolatier and colonial tea-room in a frenetic and pulsating urban landscape.

Here’s another of her photographs. [Thank you Victoria, I found your whole Calcutta set a delight.]

Flury’s. A place out of time set in a city where no time is out of place. A place known to have been frequented by the Satyajit Rays and Mrinal Sens and M F Husains; even though Ray and Sen spent time at India Coffee House, College St (below), they were also known to like their Flury’s visits. In fact, Husain himself confessed to sitting down on the Flury’s steps waiting for it to open, looking across at the Alliance Francaise where his first-ever exhibition was held in 1951.

[My thanks to lecercle for the photo above.]

It says something about Calcutta that one day you could be sitting comfortably in Flury’s, the next day you could be in the coffee house in College St, and the day after you could be drinking tea out of mud vessels by the roadside at the Maidan.

Memories of Flury’s are many and variegated.

As a child, I remember going there with a sense of wonder and amazement at the sheer range of cupcakes available there; I was particularly fond of an all-chocolate boat-shaped offering, the size of a large finger. I don’t actually remember going there for tea, just queueing up to buy assortments of cupcakes.

Then came callow youth and adolescent time. I remember there was an occasion when a bunch of us were trying to make money selling tickets to the 1977 Mohun Bagan versus New York Cosmos match (the Pele match) using Flury’s and Cappucino (the 24- hour coffee shop that used to be part of Park Hotel) as bases.

It embarrasses me to think about it, but Flury’s was also where I did something quite ridiculous involving tomato sauce and a man in a white suit. I tried to splash my sister with the sauce. She ducked. The white suit became a red-and-white suit. People at the other table graciously accepted my apology. And everyone tried not to laugh while the red-and-white suit’s remonstrations went unheard.

Flury’s remained a key location during university, especially given its location between my then all-men’s college St Xavier’s, and the all-women Loreto College on Middleton Row. It was also a place frequented by the more affluent of the backpacker class, another reason why it was popular amongst young adults.

The location was also close to a whole slew of popular night-time spots: Blue Fox, Trinca’s, Mocambo. I think Peter Cat came late on, and Sky Room went early. There are vague memories of places called Moulin Rouge and Bar-Be-Que as well. But one way or the other, the not-quite-four-way junction of Middleton Row, Park Street and Free School St was a veritable Clapham Junction, everyone in the city centre passed through there, so “in front of Flury’s” became a popular place to meet.

[Incidentally, using these place names reminded me of an earlier post about Hamilton Bridge.]

Which brings me to the end of this post. I have very fond memories of Flury’s, understand why it is now shut, and hope that it opens up again by the time I arrive in Calcutta with my family in December.

6 thoughts on “Reminiscing”

  1. JP: This is tragic. I did not grow up in Calcutta but when I lived there, I spent many a weekend afternoon and evening between Flury’s and Peter Cat (on Middleton Row, then serving some delicious chhelo kabab). Often with books and for hours, and I was never shooed out of Flury’s. :-/

  2. Sad news.

    Not so sure that it was just affluent backpackers that made it to Flury’s. I went there in 1988 and it was a much anticipated highlight of my four month trip. I spent £ 400 including travel and accommodation in that time so I had to think hard about treats. Well worth the money for the experience.

    Thanks for triggering some very happy memories of another time!

  3. Thanks for this ….you have taken me back 35 years or more…my mouth still salivates at the thought of the chocolate cone that they used to sell- it was actually melted chocolate in a waxy paper cone meant to be used as icing- clearly for me, it was a chocolate cone meant to be eaten right there & then – forget the cake! And then there were these subtly sweet sponge fingers, meant to be used as some form of base in a trifle pudding, but for me they were heavenly as is .

  4. Your post created a tug in my heart strings!
    I was at Flury’s just few months ago while I was showing some of my favorite city haunts to a dear friend who was visiting. We bumped into my college friends savoring desserts for afternoon tea. That afternoon with friends from two different worlds created one more happy memory of Flury’s along with the several from the yesteryears. Flury’s was a constant when so much of Park Street( can never bring myself to call it Mother Teresa Sarani) has changed in the past decade. It saddens me to think how much we take things/places (& people too for that matter) for granted – in my mind I always hoped that every time a out-of-town friend visits, we would stop for dessert or a cup of Darjeeling tea at Flury’s. Just like you, I sincerely hope that they restore Flury’s to its exact past glory — without change!

  5. Pingback: Peep at Flury’s

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