Park Street Memories of the 1950s
Updated: Jan 15
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.
While the two went on to script much of the urban pop-culture history of Calcutta in the ‘60s, little information exists on Trinca’s from the 1940s and 50s. No photographs have been found, and recollections of the time are vague. So when a chance encounter on Facebook led me to a person who’d spent her childhood on Park Street and known the previous owners, I jumped at the opportunity to find out all I could. On a Tuesday evening in December 2019 Seemah Callér and I chatted over the phone. She was at home in England, and I, in Kolkata, half a world away. Seemah, grew up in Calcutta in the 1950s. I’m rewinding Park Street in my head: Billboards disappear; cars change to classics and traffic thins. Hanging wires and signal-lights vanish as gas lamps on tall iron posts grow out of the ground. A horn parps 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.
Opposite 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 can be seen slowly swirling the still Calcutta air. On the footpath in front of Trinca’s Tea Room, 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 with clips of shining silverware; old-fashioned glass display cases hold cakes, patties and biscuits; and the smell of hot, fresh bread wafts out of the adjoining bakery. At some point during happy mornings, a little girl might be seen skipping out the side door, her pockets bulging with goodies.
Seemah’s mother, a young widow - Sally Moses, was in charge of the linen department at Trinca’s Tea Room & Bakery in the 1950s. It was her job to ensure starched and immaculately pressed white tablecloths and napkins for the “upper class tearoom”.
Seemah remembers the adjoining bakery running 24 hours a day. She has memories of peeping into the confectionery to find her mother; of shyly hiding from the imposing Mr Trinca and of being given hot pork patties by Joe Fernandes the Goan-Portuguese baker. She reminisces of delicious childhood memories skipping down Park Street to the Jewish Girls School (“in a castle!”, she says) with sandwich boxes and her pockets full of chocolates and pastries to share with friends. “He’d always ask how many friends I had,”she says of Mr Trinca, “and then give me more than I could possibly carry!” Cinzio & Lilly Trinca lived a comfortable life in Galstaun Mansions across the road from their happy business of tea and cakes.
Seemah recalls how her mother would buy alphonso mangoes in New Market as a gift to Mrs Trinca for the kindness the couple showed her family.
Lilly Trinca delighted in eating mangoes - “she called them bathroom fruit!”, says Seemah. When presented with a box, she would say with great excitement “Come, come! Come, come! Let’s go into the bathroom with these and wash them.” With Seemah and her little brother in tow, they would stand on wooden stools and eat the juicy mangoes over the bathroom sink, not caring about the mess they made! You know you’ve lived in India if you have a mango story worth remembering.
Seven decades later the memories stay with Seemah – of pastries in pockets, pork patties and scoldings, of alphonsoes, wooden stools and a doting Swiss family who made India their home. Our conversation lasted over an hour. Seemah was delighted to reminisce, and I was happy to encourage her. It was like stepping back in time and seeing Park Street and Trincas with her eyes.
Here we were, separated by generations and continents, yet connected through a restaurant and a city. We live through so much, but it’s the bits we hold on to that shape the past. These... are memories worth holding on to.
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!