Done with a sumptuous lunch @ Peter Cat; the Sunday afternoon lethargy was settling in. Next in line was দখিনাপন near Dhakuria bridge, which is normally closed on Sundays. However remains open 24 * 7 (the Kolkata version of this much maligned term means it is just open 7 days, 24 is just a filler) towards the build up for Durga Pujo. You ask a thorough breaded resident of South Kolkata and this is a preferred shopping destination during for Pujo shopping. Markets such as these suffer from stiff competition from swank malls. Had it not been for the bargain hunters, the state emporiums from all across India dealing in handlooms, handicrafts, textiles, fancy goods, and imitation jewelry, the sheer nostalgia of the place; this place might have stood desolately or downed shutters. It is necessary in my opinion for places such as these to co-exist alongside the modern malls, despite the onslaught brought upon it by them.
We pulled in their around 4:30 in the afternoon to find that this place was all abuzz with activity, true to the tradition of Sunday afternoon Pujo shopping, there were people everywhere. Even though it has ample parking spaces, there was a long line of cars waiting to enter the overflowing parking lot. Most shoppers judiciously brought along their chauffeurs so that can they wait in the line for long hours, till kingdom come or they found parking – which ever is earlier. Now parking in CoolKata is a skill that might compete with the best of adventure sports out there. You just gotta have a knack for it ! It is a skill you acquire after years of driving and parking in nooks and crannies of the city. My skills are only about average in this faculty and I am a work-in-progress.
I have a little story about the parking woes in the city. Actually it is pretty interesting, what fun would it be to drive into a huge monstrous parking lot and find plenty of open spaces and park in any. That would just take the fun out of the game. So a couple of winters ago, it got into my wife that we need to take our kid to the Alipore Zoo. So we did, reaching there around eleven-ish. Same story another day – no parking was to be found for a couple of miles on either side of the zoo. I looked across the street from the zoo, and had an Eureka moment ! It was a brilliant idea, if it worked. I had to take my chances. After dropping my wife, my kid, the picnic baskets, the backpack and other zoo effects, at the zoo gate. Drove across the street, pulling into The Taj Bengal. Pulled up to the loading/un-loading deck and handed the keys over to the valet. My car was now in a safe cocoon. I did not have to worry about it being towed away or being hit by another car. I walked into The Taj and into their washroom, freshened up and walked out, and then finally out of the elite address. Crossed the busy street ahead of me, and joined my wife and kid. Mission Successful ! On the way out, simply did the much needed washroom routine after a day at the zoo. Called for my car at the valet desk, tipped the valet Rs. 50 and drove away into the setting sun !
You can barely see the ‘Puchka-wallah’ in the above picture, just outside the main entrance of the shopping complex. He is drowned in a sea of customers. Puchka is undoubtedly the king of street food. It enlivens the shopping spree. দখিনাপন was real busy, and people were shopping as if there were no tomorrow.
Now returning to the main subject matter at hand. Anyone who shops here, stops over at Dolly’s Tea Shop. It is a landmark and really one of it’s kind. Amidst a sea of new-age coffee shops, tea is a forgotten drink. It is not considered trendy by generation-x except for may be resurgence of iced-tea, which is considered a cool drink by the youngsters. Tea remains a choice of the baby boomers generation, and most like it hot !
You can see Dolly’s is a preferred stop and provides for a welcome break for the shoppers. You walk into Dolly’s and you are welcome into a cozy world of aromatic tea, sepia tea chests lining the wall, paper lanterns, and dainty cane furniture. The place has a romantic vibe about it and has been very tastefully done. I am sure many a love story have been woven around this place. Dolly is NOT an equal opportunity employer, as she runs an all female enterprise :)
A huge cuppa is placed on the reception desk with a wire mesh keepsake kettle sitting in it. It is things such as this that makes a first time guest in awe of this place. It is truly a boutique tea shop with a number of knick-knacks strategically placed which gives it a look of something like a curio shop.
A simple yet quite an elaborate menu welcomes you, with categories like Hot Teas broken down by the tea growing areas of India. Darjeeling tops the list, followed by Assam, Uttaranchal and Nilgiri. There is a separate section for Dolly’s Specials and Green Teas. About 20 different types of Iced Tea. It was a warm balmy afternoon so we went with – Green Iced Tea with Ginger and Lemon. There is everything from Pineapple, Orange and Mint. Personally am not a big fan of multi flavored teas. I like my ice tea to taste subtle, so I can taste the tea in it. The iced tea with ginger and lemon was just right and lightly sweetened.
While I was sipping my tea, Dolly made an entry into the store. It took no second guessing that it’s her who is walking in. She walked in and took her seat at the end of the store. She took notice of us and greeted us with a gentle nod of her head. Suddenly the ladies who were serving and manning the store, became more alert with the magnifying presence of Dolly.
I struck a conversation with Dolly and she started to open up a little. ‘This ice-tea is great’ – was my pick-up line ! The loose tea at her store is pricey, starting from Rs. 400 a kg, going all the way up to Rs. 10,000 per kg. She some how mistook us to have deep pockets and started offering us the best the money could buy. We had to tone her down, and told her that despite our looks we were no connoisseurs of tea, and would not be able to tell the difference between a 400 Rs/Kg when compared to 5000 Rs/Kg tea. The conversation grew over iced tea, while we heaped praises on her preparation. That got her talking. Her store, she said was about 22 years old, as old as the shopping complex itself, I would guess. She sources her tea directly from the gardens and tastes it herself. She is also a consultant tea taster to other tea companies – a very elite and exclusive profession right since the days of the East India Company.
All the distractionary measures failed, she kept coming back to the subject of what loose tea are we buying. I would understand selling tea is her bread and butter while the prepared tea she serves in her studio is a frontal to the actual business. We finally were able to tone her down and convince her to sell us the-not-so-expensive variety of green tea at Rs. 400/kg and a second-flush black Darjeeling tea at Rs. 1200/kg. Only buying in small denominations of 250g and 100g.
Finding it difficult to move away after only sampling of one of her prepared teas from a wide selection of may be 100 different preparations of hot and iced teas. I asked her for suggestion of another iced-tea. She had me try the regular iced-tea made with second-flush Darjeeling black. I like my tea sweet, but what I got was way too sweet and I made my dislike clear and following which Dolly took the glass away from me and promised to tone it down some. Even after that though, it was still too sweet.
I told Dolly that I write, she wanted to know who do I write for ? I had to tell her the truth that – I am my own boss, at least as far as writing is concerned. I am still waiting for my first multi-million book deal, so I could afford her Rs. 10K/kg tea, I evinced. I took Dolly’s permission to capture her in my lens, to which she readily agreed.
I bid adieu to Dolly and promised to return the following weekend with my wife for Pujo shopping and tea drinking !
Here are some other pictures I clicked while walking around দখিনাপন.