Hindustan Park has always been like an extended neighbourhood for me with plenty of excuses to visit the parallel lanes of Rashbehari Avenue/Gariahat. It still has some charming one or two storey houses with front gardens. Reminiscent of an era when Calcutta was home to a large section of professionally established upper middle class. In one such quiet lane of leafy trees and beautiful houses, the South Indian community of Calcutta had started running a club with Nobel Laureate Sir C V Raman as it’s first President. The second President was the former President of India, Dr. Sarvapally Radhakrishnan. Established in 1926, the club was originally located in a rented premise in Bow Bazar and later had shifted to the purchased property in Hindustan Park. The idea was to create a home away from home for people from all the southern India states.
I frequented the club canteen (remains open to non-members as well) during my University years. We had less money and a lot of free time to spend. Also the modern café concept was missing at that time which gave us the opportunity to experience some real food. Right after completing my studies, I got sucked into the demands of the job world and South India Club got erased from my mind.
Recently during a phone conversation, a friend mentioned the club canteen. His office is nearby and he has his lunch there often. I instantly became nostalgic and we set up a lunch meet at the club. The club is situated in between a row of private residences and if you don’t know the exact location, you may very well zoom past it. Though a stone’s throw away from the bustling Gariahat shopping zone and businesses are slowly creeping in to the lane, it’s still a quiet lane. Club entrance is covered by a large red iron gate and a humble signage is put up at one side introducing the club. A driveway or pathway is adorned by trees and opens to a small courtyard. The L-shaped three storey building guarded by a broad verandah runs along the sides of the courtyard and the first room in ground floor is the quaint canteen.
The small room has basic plastic chairs and tables and can accommodate about 22-24 persons at a time. Though there is no AC, one hardly feels any heat due to the trees and thick walls of the building. There were college kids giggling, ladies with fabindia shopping bags, middle-aged gentlemen having a quiet meal and office group out on lunch break. They represented all communities and everyone was very relaxed. It was just my kinda place. Old (but well maintained) building surrounded by greens and laid back environment. Brought a wide smile on my face as I joined my friend at his table. Menu was classic and vegetarian. We decided to keep it light and ordered uttapam, masala dosa and filter coffee.
The staff have their roots in the southern states and prepare food based on recipes closest to their home food. So the dosa and uttapam, sambar and chutney were pleasant to the taste buds. No spiking with commercial spices to make it bold. Just wholesome goodness of purity. The coconut chutney has a thicker variety as well and can be requested separately. The filter coffee (got too busy chatting and forgot to take a pic) was sharp and power packed, the kind that gives you the red cape to fight the odd evils that crowd your day. I was told that the vadas and adais were very good too. I saved those for a later occasion. Apart from the items on menu, one can buy packaged papads, pickles and savouries made at the canteen. Bottled water and aerated drinks are available too to go with your food.
The smiling Buddha like manager told us that the very filling meal was only Rs240. His zen like composure spoke about how to be happy with less. Some of it got transferred to me and I left the canteen content and refreshed. The jackfruit tree in the driveway brought a very happy ending to this much cherished experience.