• Anand Puri

Mr. & Mrs. Trinca

Updated: Jan 15

The band tuned up for the evening – a guitar strummed and a keyboardist trilled through notes. Sitting huddled around a lamp-lit table at Trincas at 6:00 PM on a Wednesday evening in December 2019, I pored over two neatly printed sheets of paper. In front of me sat a couple - Heinz and Brigitte Schwank of Thun, Switzerland.

We had met, inexplicably, at the same time that I was starting the Trincas Timeline Project, which was to be a Community Based Memory Project.

Without knowing what I was working on, the Schwanks had tracked me down from half a world away. They were bringing me something special – a connection to the past that I had been searching for. This was information on Trincas, even before (my grandparents) Omi and Swaran Puri, and (their partner) Ellis Joshua bought the business in 1959.

On the first sheet of paper were two scanned pictures of the original owners - Mr Cinzio Trinca and his wife Lilly Studer-Trinca. They’d been taken from an old family album in Switzerland.

Lilly Studer-Trinca 1902 - 1975
Cinzio Trinca 1896 - 1975

I was amazed! Here were previously unseen images; people who’s names are connected with the cultural history of Calcutta.

If you can imagine - hundreds of thousands of Calcuttans over several generations have visited this icon on Park Street. Every true-blue Calcutta-wala has a special memory of Trincas. And now, the faces to the name had surfaced out of the forgotten past!

The pictures showed Mr Trinca with a handsome widow’s peak and sharp features, dressed in a bow-tie and suit. Mrs Trinca with her unaffected smile looked absolutely delighted to have her photograph taken. The sepia-toned pictures had a quality of craftsmanship to them - like well drawn portraits. They spoke of a bygone era, one which we can now only re-imagine from words and pictures.

The second sheet of paper showed Lilly Trinca’s family tree. Her niece - Marlys Studer-Volkart (see picture below) provided these pictures from her family photo album.

Brigitte Schwank, who sat opposite me that December evening in 2019, is elderly Mrs Volkart’s nurse. One day, she casually mentioned plans for a trip to India in December 2019. Mrs Volkart remembered Calcutta, her uncle Cinzio Trinca, and a bakery he’d started in the 1920s.

Brigitte & Heinz Schwank at Trincas, Kolkata, 4th December 2019

Brigitte promised Mrs Volkart she’d try to trace the old tea room. Within days, I got an email from the Schwanks, and a connection was established!

Serendipity is a funny thing.

Only a day before the email, I had connected with Seemah Caller in London. She had narrated her memories of Calcutta in the 1940s, of Mr & Mrs Trinca’s kindness, and of her time as a little girl in the City of Joy .

A day later… pictures of the Trincas arrived from an altogether different source!

Cinzio & LIlly Trinca with a young Marlys Studer and her mother Ella Studer

Over the course of that evening, I learned more from the Schwanks: Cinzio and Lilly Trinca had moved back to Switzerland in 1959 and opened another tea room. They ran it for 5 years and then chose to retire comfortably.

I’m sure they missed Calcutta and Park Street and their bakery. In a much slower world, where handwritten letters took weeks to traverse the globe, did they keep in contact with friends in the far flung east that they’d called home for so long?

I wonder if they ever fathomed to what heights of fame and acclaim their elegant tea-room would aspire to in the decade to come. The Soaring 60s had only just begun for Trincas, Park Street and Calcutta!

The Trincas Timeline Project is an exciting community-based memory project aimed at collecting stories, photos, and anecdotes going back 80 years.

It aims to cover not just Trincas’ storied history, but also provide glimpses of ‘the Park Street Scene’ and Calcutta/Kolkata as it has evolved over the last (almost!) century.

The project focuses on history, culture, music and food by connecting with patrons, musicians, celebrities and historians.

Anecdotes, photos and interviews are converted into short blog posts documenting the personal connections that so many Calcuttans past and present have with this iconic institution.

The goal is to collect a living history of sorts under one virtual roof and create a cultural treasure-house for present and future generations.

Since this is an effort to reconstruct the past all Calcutta residents, fans and diaspora (now spread across the globe) are welcome to contribute memories, photographs and facts. We would love to hear from you!

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