14 June, 2021

Found Music Down Free School Street

At the Park Street-Middleton Row corner, speckled with iconic establishments, infected with old joie de vivre, one can sense a ‘modern’ past feeling for the future. In Calcutta.

Sandipan Chatterjee
Found Music Down Free School Street

Ramayan Shah has a pavement stall selling food on Free School Street in front of a sign that says Sarabhai Chemicals. The building behind him is Karnani Mansions, and the look of the sign suggests superannuation, an office boarded up. Ramayan Shah and two other low-level entrepreneurs—the always-absent owner of Chandan Hotel, which roughly occupies six by six feet on the pavement, and Nagendra, with his heavy iron and board—have appropriated the terrain here.

I can remember a time when these businesses didn’t exist in this location, and one could walk from Park Street up Free School Street without any interruption. At a glance, the stalls are squalid, a small universe of cooking pots, potato peels, benches, and a few people absently lolling under the shelter of tarpaulin. They comprise an island with no apparent connection to the Free School Street of the seventies and early eighties, with its rare second-hand vinyl records and its second-hand bookshops, which even now sell everything from horoscopes to Leon Uris to Salman Rushdie to old copies of...

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