Open-air music and film screenings, a host of cafés and pop-up food experiences, literature festivals and events inside hallowed portals of heritage structures – Kolkata is shrugging off its fuddy-duddy image. And perhaps, defining what’s cool.
Here’s a definitive guide to its envelope-pushing spots and events.
Clubs, cafes, open-air auditoriums have now opened their doors to live music gigs. Jazz is back on Park Street – cafes and restaurants like Mocha, Ta’am, Paris Café and Cafela are putting the mojo back into the music scene.
Then there’s Jamsteady’s Friday evenings at the Princeton Club. A live music property, Jamsteady has been a lifeline for Kolkata’s indie music scene. At their Big Sunday festival held at Prantik Retreat, Kolkata folks got a taste of a drive-out music fest. It featured city-based electro-rock bands Pinknoise and Zoo, experimental percussive pop duo Parekh + Singh; rock-rap outfit Underground Authority, Fossils with their Bangla rock; Ganesh Talkies; Ritornellos, Neel and The Lightbulbs; and bluegrass band Fiddler’s Green. It helped that one of the organisers is Miti Adhikari, former sound engineer with the BBC in London who has sound-mixed for The White Stripes, Nirvana, Radiohead, Neil Young, Oasis and the Pixies.
The four-day annual Dover Lane Music Conference that got over in January, is one of the best Indian classical music fests in the country. Performances begin late in the evening and go on all night long till the next morning.
The Jaipur one may be the prima donna, but Kolkata is fast catching up with a series of lit events. There’s no faster route into a literary culture of a city than through its literature fests. Kolkata’s year begins with the Apeejay Lit Fest in the laid-back winter of January with events and workshops like photo-walks. This year’s guests included Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri.
Kolkata Lit Meet (KLM), which follows soon after, has a spectacular backdrop of the Victoria Memorial.
This year’s edition began with a group of students from Kabul University performing Tagore’s Kabuliwala in Pashto. The highlight was a boat journey on the Ganges with Amitav Ghosh talking about the sea, river, floods and the changing coastline of Kolkata. Then there is the Kolkata Boi Mela that takes place in February.
THE LAKE (RABINDRA SAROVAR)
The Lake’s a large water body in South Kolkata with several parks and clubs around it (also known as Rabindra Sarovar). Lately, it is also the hub for open-air music concerts, plays, film screenings and photo exhibitions. Like the Live in Lakes series, a tie–up between The Calcutta Classical Guitar Society and musician Bickram Ghosh, has transformed the area into a hub of music, dance, experimental and contemporary acts that take place each Sunday evening. It began in September and will go on till April.
FOR HISTORY BUFFS
It is recommended that history buffs keep a watch on the websites of Victoria Memorial (http://www.victoriamemorial-cal.org) and Indian Museum (http://indianmuseumkolkata.org) for photo exhibits projected on to the monument, film-based presentations on music, talks and workshops.
You should also follow CAI (calcuttaartsinitiative.com) as they plan to bring events similar to Beyond Frontiers (an art event with the Partition as its theme), and discussions to the city’s cafes, galleries, bookstores and colleges. Chaitown Creatives (https://web.facebook.com/chaitowncreatives) is another place that hosts Artists Collective Night every month where ‘like-minded’ people connect.
WHERE TO EAT
To get a taste of life as it in Kolkata, sample some ‘bhaarer’ cha and biscuits at the many chai shacks that dot the cityscape.
Dolly’s Tea Shop was the hangout place for young hipsters, but it is fraying at the edges a bit. That said, countless new cafés have sprung up: Abar Baithak in Jodhpur Park (https://web.facebook.com/Abarbaithakthecafeteria has great sandwiches, indoor games and Bengali and English books for sale; while Maka Maka (https://web.facebook.com/Maka-Maka-356076787805816/) is a charming café-cum-lifestyle store with a balcony overlooking Deshapriya Park.
The Byloom café serves delicious Kolkata eats like mutton chops with tomato kasundi, luchi-alur dom and nolen gur ice cream. Their range of saris is very popular as are the kanthas, textile jewellery, and Shantiniketan leather items.
Sienna is a new café-cum-ceramics-cum-clothing store. The décor’s all exposed brick walls with lots of blue tiles, and recycled tin dabbas doubling as moodas. The café has a modest selection of salads, sandwiches, dips and a few desserts. The touches of whimsy get to be a tad annoying – like the hand-drawn menu hanging down a wall on a scroll of brown paper or the wall bedecked with framed mirrors in different shapes.
WHERE TO SHOP
Notebooks, postcards or matchbox sets made with images of posters of Jatra, a popular folk-theatre form of Bengali theatre will surely make for great gifts. Available at, CIMA (http://www.cimaartindia.com).
Pick up a signature silk skirt by LataSita (https://web.facebook.com/latasita). The brainchild of former journalist Meghna Nayak, the designs are hugely popular and were showcased recently at the Nariyal Paani Music Fest and a pop-up event in Bandra.
For boho-chic dhoti-pants, jewellery made out of fabric scraps, and skirts fashioned out of gaamchas, head to Aranya (https://web.facebook.com/aranyakol).
You can also buy jars of whisky-infused marmalade, artisan cheese, handmade soaps from the Himalayas, oil from coconuts grown in the volcanic soil of the Andamans, and organic clothing at Living Free (https://web.facebook.com/livingfree64).