Park Street Memories of the 1950s
Updated: Jan 13
In 1959, two young hospitality professionals - Puri & Joshua - quit their jobs at the Oberoi Hotel in Calcutta and took ownership of a charming Swiss Tearoom on Park Street. The gentleman they bought the business from was named Quinto Cinzio Trinca.
Puri and Joshua went on to script much of the urban pop-culture history of Calcutta in the 1960s. However, very little information exists on Trinca’s Tearoom from the 1940s and 50s. There are no photographs. Recollections of the time are vague and fading fast. Tidbits of information that float our way are well worth holding on to. This article is about just that – tidbits from the past, and the strings that connect us.
A chance encounter on Facebook in December 2019 led me to a lady in England. Seemah Callér had spent her childhood on Park Street in the 1950s. She’d known Mr & Mrs Trinca, and remembered them fondly.
It’s the 1950s. Today’s Park Street rewinds: billboards disappear; trees change shape; cars change to gorgeous classics and traffic thins; cable wires and signal-lights vanish as gas lamps on tall iron posts grow out of the ground; a horn parps quaintly and one can hear a piano play in someone’s home.
On well-laid pavements, barefooted coolies carry commerce on turbaned heads, men in suits carry important airs and women in wide-brimmed hats are pausing with drama to fan themselves in the relatively cool shade of a collonaded one-storied building.
In the impressive Galstaun Mansions (now Queeen’s Mansions), large apartment windows are thrown open (probably where the piano is playing) and fans suspended from high ceilings swirl slowly in the still Calcutta air.
On the footpath in front of Trinca’s Tearoom, people stop to peer in through large open windows. Inside, the establishment bustles with well-heeled patrons. Neatly laid tables are dressed in crisp linen and shining silverware; boxy glass display cases hold Swiss confections, layered cakes, crisp patties and buttery biscuits; the smell of hot, fresh bread wafts out of the adjoining bakery.
A little girl skips out the side door, her pockets bulging with goodies… this is Seemah. Seemah’s mother, a young widow - Sally Moses, is in charge of the linen department at Trinca’s. It’s her job to ensure that tablecloths and napkins of the “upper class tearoom” are starched and immaculately pressed.
The bakery behind the tearoom runs 24 hours a day under the supervision of Joe Fernandes the Goan-Portuguese baker. His signature dish and absolute delight are the pork patties. Many a patty has been covertly slipped to Seemah who stops by often on her way to the Jewish Girls School.
She’s everyone’s favourite, of course - with patties from Joe, sandwiches and pastries from Mr Trinca, she’s the queen of her castle!
Cinzio & Lilly Trinca live a comfortable life in Galstaun Mansions across the road from their happy business of tea and cakes.
Every few weeks in the summer, Sally buys alphonso mangoes from New Market. These are a “thank you” for Lilly & Cinzio Trinca – a gift for taking care of her and her daughter.
Alphonsoes are Lilly Trinca’s favourite. She calls them “bathroom fruit”. Armed with a knife, a stepping stool and backed up by a posse that consists of Seemah and her little brother, Lilly tackles the mangoes in the best (non-European) way she knows how – hovering over the sink, with mango juice dripping everywhere!
You know you’ve lived in India if you have a mango-eating story worth remembering!
Seven decades later the memories stay with Seemah – of pastries in pockets, pork patties from Joe and scoldings from her mother, of alphonsoes, of wooden stools, and a doting Swiss family who made her family and made India their home.
Separated by time and continents, it’s amazing how people are often connected through a sharing of memories. Institutions (like Trincas) and experiences (like eating mangoes) bind us without us realising.
We live through so much, but it’s the bits we hold on to that shape our pasts. These stories are memories worth holding on to and strings worth keeping attached.
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!