Mr. & Mrs. Trinca
Updated: Mar 9
It’s December 2019. The band is tuning up for the evening – a guitar strums and a keyboardist trills through notes.
Sitting huddled around a lamp-lit table at Trincas at 6:00 PM, I pore over two neatly printed sheets of paper. In front of me sit a couple - Heinz and Brigitte Schwank of Thun, Switzerland.
We’ve met, inexplicably.
I’m in the process of starting the Trincas Timeline Project, which is to be a Community Based Memory Project. I want to collect people’s memories of Trincas and build stories around them. I’d love to gather these stories under one virtual roof and leave a legacy that’s accessible to all.
I’ve realized one thing already – every true blue Calcuttawala has a Trincas connection – whether personally or through someone. This is how institutions are made; they seep into your DNA and become a part of your heritage. Trincas is an icon of Calcutta. That much is clear.
Without knowing what I’ve been working on, the Schwanks have tracked me down from half a world away. They found me via Trincas’ newly re-built website and sent me an email.
They’ve been promising to bring something special with them – a connection to the past – information on the original Mr & Mrs Trinca! My (late) grandparents Omi and Swaran Puri, and (their partner) Ellis Joshua bought the business in 1959. I know very little of what existed before that date.
The papers in front of me catch a draft and flutter gently. On the first sheet are two scanned pictures Cinzio Trinca and his wife Lilly Studer-Trinca. They’ve been taken from an old family album in Switzerland.
The enormity of this find hits me. Here are images, previously unseen by Calcuttans. Yet, they’re of people who’s names are so deeply connected with the cultural history of the city.
The pictures show Mr Trinca with a handsome widow’s peak and sharp features, dressed in a bowtie and suit. Mrs Trinca with her unaffected smile looks delighted to have her photograph taken. The sepia-toned pictures have a quality of craftsmanship to them - like well-drawn portraits. They speak of a bygone era, one which we can now only re-imagine. The past has slipped quietly away, but here are little slivers of it in shades of cloudy brown.
The second sheet of paper shows Lilly Trinca’s family tree. Her niece - Marlys Studer-Volkart owns these pictures. They are from her family photo album.
Brigitte Schwank, who’s sitting opposite me, is elderly Mrs Volkart’s nurse.
A few months ago, she makes plans for a trip to India in December 2019. Mrs Volkart remembers Calcutta, her uncle Cinzio Trinca, and a bakery he’d started in the 1920s.
Brigitte promises Mrs Volkart she’ll try to trace the old tearoom; within days, I get an email from the Schwanks, and now here we are!
Serendipity is a funny thing.
Over the course of the evening, I learn more from the Schwanks: Cinzio and Lilly Trinca moved back to Switzerland in 1959 and opened another tearoom. Five years later in 1964 they chose to retire comfortably.
I’m sure they missed Calcutta, Park Street and their beloved bakery.
In a slower world, where handwritten letters took weeks to traverse the globe, did they keep in contact with their friends in the far-flung east?
Did they hear of how their quiet tearoom metamorphosed?
I wonder if they ever imagined that their name would one day be linked to legend; that urban folklore would carry the name Trinca in so many stories of the past; that several generations and almost a hundred years later, their name would live on in the living conscience of an entire city…
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!