Kolkata’s Park Street revels in Christmas

Kolkata, Dec 25 (IANS) India’s iconic British-era Park Street here Thursday hosted thousands of revellers from across the world as they soaked in the Yuletide spirit with generous helpings of cakes, carols and heritage.

Festooned with lights, streamers and decked up with everything and anything related to Christmas – light displays of Santa Claus on sleigh, the ceremonial giant Christmas tree, Park Street truly showed its organic side Dec 25.
From being the hub of the Kolkata Christmas Carnival celebrations to having a music video dedicated to it, the historic promenade reflects the changing times.
“Kolkata has always been a cosmopolitan city and controversies like these have never affected its spirit. Something like this happened last year too.
“However, Christmas in Kolkata always sees diverse communities and people of all age groups participate – be it the annual Christmas Festival sponsored by the West Bengal government or be it the family festivities. Controversies will pass,” Rev. Abir Adhikari, secretary, Calcutta Diocese of the Church of North India, told IANS.
A silent witness to history since the 1700s, the famous thoroughfare Thursday got its own music video, titled, “Park Street – A Living Ballad”.
“The music video captures the golden era of the street. The song dedicated to Park Street is called ‘Keep Dreaming on’, composed by Grammy Award-nominated jazz musician Louiz Banks,” Supriyo Nandy, secretary, Society for Park Street Rejuvenation Kolkata (SPARK), told IANS.
The eight-minute-long video is a nostalgic trip down memory lane through the legendary diners, confectioners, nightclubs, burial grounds (the well-known Park Street cemetery), auction houses, churches, business centres, heritage structures – that contributed to its unique identity.
The street had rather murky origins in the 1700s as an unpaved, nondescript connector between Fort William (the seat of the British military) and three cemeteries. It transitioned to one of the most elite boulevards in India by the turn of the 20th century with the influx of the Jews, Armenians, Parsis and Europeans.
Taking its name after a deer park owned by Sir Elijah Impey, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal (then British India), Park Street’s metamorphosis mirrored the edifices that came up-some of which were firsts for India.
While Mocambo is said to be independent India’s first nightclub, Magnolia is the country’s maiden ice cream parlour. Hall and Anderson is believed to be the first departmental store.
Dotted with quaint tearooms (Flurys), stately edifices erected by wealthy Jewish and Armenian merchants (Park Mansions and Stephen Court), some of the finest restaurants and nightclubs in the country, Park Street was the place to be seen and spotted during the 19th and 20th century.
The creme-de-la-creme of the city held sway at Park Street till the stretch lost a bit of its sheen with the migration of the Jews, Armenians and Europeans.
Park Street now sits at the crossroads of globalisation what with shiny new-age cafes, clubs, pubs, fast food centres, gift shops and bookstores attracting an increasing number of youngsters.
And come Christmas, the illuminated street (re-christened Mother Teresa Sarani) is engulfed in aromas of plum cakes, Dundee cakes and chicken patties as citizens draped in woollens brave the chill to queue up for their favourite bites.
Performances by choirs, Armenians, Army band and Kolkata Police band are staples at the Allen Park at one end of Park Street. Children and adults, sporting red Santa Claus caps and other Christmas paraphernalia gather around the tree.
At the other end, food stalls buzzing with customers, border the neighbourhood post office, creating a carnival-like atmosphere.