While flying out of Kolkata last weekend on a work trip, a tiny kiosk at the airport’s food court filled my heart with wistfulness and unleashed a floodgate of memories. I scanned the glass racks and found a slice of my childhood, delicately placed on its customary bedding of a frilly white lace paper doily. It was intact, as though time had not touched it at all.
As I hurriedly tucked into the sugary treat, I could hear my voice of reason, chastising me, warning me of the consequences that would follow this act of reckless abandonment. I wasn’t listening, of course. Would you have?
I may as well have been born in Flurys, for all the time that I have spent there.
My mother was around five or six years old when her grandfather first took her to the tearoom to buy some bread and cakes. He wasn’t allowed to eat sweets at home because of his duodenal ulcers so my mother accompanied him on stealth missions to Flurys. Her reward for not ratting him out was a box of sugary pastries that she would eat all by herself!
Over the years, the visits to tea shop became an inevitable part of her school and college routine. Loreto House, her school (and college) was just down the road and that made it all the more easier. When she married and had children (who also went to the same school), her Flurys circle became larger.
Most of the people at the shop, starting from the doorman, waiters to the cashiers knew us well. I remember, staring into the display racks piled with goodies, my head barely touching the counter, chubby fingers tracing patterns on the glass as I stared googly eyed at the mutton patties, sausage rolls, rum balls, chocolates squares, boats and strawberry and pineapple pastries, lined neatly one against the other. There would be a delightful array of round cakes, with bright marzipan roses on top. Pink, green, orange. Loaves of bread, buns and cheese straws.
On special days, after a swim at the Club, my father would bring us to the tearoom for a late breakfast. We would all huddle together, all three of us siblings, expectantly. The waiter would bring chicken sandwiches and a trolley full of pastries we could choose from. My heart would skip a beat at the sound of wheels against the marble floors and the sight of the familiar trolley piled high with pastries and other cakes. The sandwiches were divine, soft white buttered bread, stuffed with chicken. I still remember the faint whiff of mustard in each bite.
All good things always come to an end. Childhood included.
I’ve grown up, gotten a job and moved out of the city. It’s been over twenty years. The tearoom has gotten a makeover and I can hardly recognize it any more the last few times I’ve been back on a visit.
Most of the old staff have left. The new waiters are young, impatient and speak in accented Bengali. There are queues of noisy people, always waiting outside to get in. Everything about the place seems pretentious – from the menu to the pastries and the chocolate boxes on display. My fingers don’t knock on the glass expectantly any more. Instead they tap impatiently on the counter demanding to be served. The pink pastries are conspicuously absent and I can’t hear the familiar sound of the wheels grating against the floor any more. Perhaps it’s time to move on. There’s a brand new world of Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf out there. I shouldn’t be hanging on to the past any more.
I sigh, finish the last of the squidged pink cream and sponge cake on my plastic plate, collect my bags and walk out of the food court. Boarding for my flight to Delhi has just been announced.