Favourite Cabin, Calcutta
From the mid-70’s, I can remember so many days when after buying a few books from College Street, my school-teacher father would take me to this tea shop on Surya Sen Street to have buttered toast sprinkled with sugar and an excellent cup of tea. My father would tell me that it used to be a favourite meeting place of many of the Bengali litterateurs and intellectuals of another era. This decrepit, old tea shop, located a stone’s throw away from the bookshops at College Street, the campuses of the University of Calcutta and of the Presidency College, retains a part of my childhood.
Later as a student of Presidency College and Calcutta University, I often visited Favourite Cabin and tried to recreate, if only in my imagination, the extraordinary past of this place of otherwise shoddy appearance. The list of items served was sparse too: tea, toast, muffin and sliced cake. My father told me long ago that the appearance of the place was deceptive!
Favourite Cabin is best known for its association with the writers linked with the Bengali magazine Kallol. Situated on what was then known as Mirzapur Street (now Surya Sen Street), the tea shop was a favourite haunt of those writers. In his memoir entitled Kallol Jug, Achintya Kumar Sengupta writes: “Sitting in a circle over the marble-top tables in the cabin, the adda used to continue well after the tea sessions were over… it gave rise to many a debate and helped to form future strategies. Kallol would have been incomplete without Favourite Cabin…”
During the days of India’s freedom struggle, Swadeshi meetings would take place in the inner chamber of the shop and the freedom fighters would escape through the backdoor as soon as the owner of the shop, who sat near the door manning his cash counter, would signal to the freedom fighters that a police raid is imminent. It is no wonder that the road on which this tea shop is located has been named after Surya Sen.