When we were kings: The Presidency College Canteen


One of our regular readers was reminiscing about her college coffee shop, The Daily Grind, in the US. Coincidentally Bunty, a friend of mine of from high school, college (where we became really thick) and post grad days called me the same day and we spoke after some nine million years.

This set me thinking about my college days at Presidency College in Calcutta and of course, food memories played a large part.


We had all heard of the hallowed Indian Coffee House opposite Presidency College at College Street before we joined. The place was legendary and was considered to be an intellectual hub with famous Presidencians (Satyajit Ray et al) over the years having long discussions on cinema, politics, the Naxal movement and so on over endless cups of black coffee called 'Infusion' and cigarettes.

The action had shifted to the College canteen known as Pramod da's Canteen (after it's owner) by the time I had shifted there. The canteen was a fairly bare room behind what was called the 'Main Building' (in the photo below). Most of us were quite strapped for cash in those days and we didn't have the defence budgetlike allowances of today's college kids.



So 50 paisa teas were the order of the day then. I am a coffee drinker so had to shell out Rs 1.50 (the amounts are so small that I won't even try to convert them into US, I am talking of 1 or 2 cents here). A soft drink was a luxury. Though sometimes I would ask the girls in my class to treat me to one after a rare game of soccer. There were 3 guys in a class of 21 in sociology so we did pile on the girls occasionally. I would sometimes buy a cutlet and have it between two thick slices of bread which was quite a fill at Rs 4.50. Pramod da was also famous for his once a week mutton rolls. It was rumoured that one of the college stray dogs would disappear the day he would make these.

The college canteen was really the hub of our college life and we would keep going there in between classes. I went there once in the end of 2006 when I had gone to Calcutta on work. It was a Saturday and college was empty. I had my Cinema Paradiso moment as I returned there eleven years after I had passed out. I could sense almost all my close friends around me as I was transported back to some very heady times... don't be taken in by my big grin in the photo below, it was a very lump in the throat moment.

The canteen was much more than a place to eat. There was a halo around it and it. There were two sets of people at college. Those who went to the canteen and those who didn't. I remember that it took us a few days to muster our courage to go there after we joined college. And there was no coming back once we stepped in... we would while away hours making new friends, fretting on fragile affairs of the heart, sharing our career anxieties, discussing world politics and the growth of the BJP, we would watch India snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in many cricket matches in Pramod da's tiny black and white telly.

And, of course, there was Pramod Da (in the photo below) who sas a link from the past whenever I go back.

Of course a post on eats during college days wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention the unusually white mishti doi of the sweetshop, Putiram, the 6 Re chicken stew of the YMCA canteen outside the college square pool and the food boxes that we volunteers got during the colleges Fests and the celebrations.
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