Calcutta to Kolkata

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A little bit of Calcutta to Kolkata:

My best memories of Christmas and New Year are in Calcutta as a teenager. I have spent winters in London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris. Even LA. But nothing quite compares to the Calcutta I knew. Park Street was like fairyland, brilliantly decked up days ahead of the festivities. Singers and musicians came from all over to perform there but the best among them were the local Anglo Indians who outclassed everyone.
There was Pam Crain who sang like a dream, with Louis Banks and his boys in Blue Fox. Usha Uthup jived away at Trinca's in a South Indian sari. Hers was a voice you could never forget. A Shillong band often backed her up. There was busty Delilah at Moulin Rouge, a blonde who lost her way and arrived in Park Street from heavens knows where. She wasn't exactly the best singer there but she did some amazing gigs which everyone loved, for all the wrong reasons. For me at 16, she was Christmas.
There was Brenda Lilley at Blue Fox who later married tennis star Jaideep Mukherjee. Her sister Fay sang at Mags in fabulous Queens Mansion, an entire building lost by its owner, an Armenian called JC Galstaun in a horse racing debt in this season of carols and mistletoes. Galstaun was a great gambler and bought several buildings in Calcutta, including Queens Mansion, with his winnings at the races. Losing his prized possession however broke his heart. Yet, like a true gambler, he walked out the next morning, handing over the building to its new owners. His autobiography was dedicated to the very book makers who had taken all his money.
Also, the story goes, a famous playboy prince from the Land of the Dragon up in the Himalayan mountains, left Humayun Court on Lindsay Street, barely a ten minute walk from Park Street, at the crack of dawn on New Year's day, having lost throughout the night at the roulette table, playing against some of the worthies of the time. The stakes were high and by the time the game was over, the young prince had lost everything he had on his person. So he quietly got up and walked out, leaving behind the keys to his Austin Sherline on the table. He rode home to Tivoli Court in a baby taxi, which his staff paid off on arrival.
The others at his table were Angelo Firpo, the Italian owner of Firpo's the legendary restaurant on Chowringhee, Pat Williamson, Boris, the Russian impresario who later settled in Kathmandu and opened a restaurant called Boris' and boasted he could offer you a tiger for breakfast, Eddie Cracknel the jockey and Daddy Mazda, owner of Golden Slippers, Calcutta's most celebrated nightclub of the time, bang opposite Nizam's, back of Hogg Market. Many were the lurid tales that went around about what happened at Golden Slippers but what made the club famous was the list of defaulters prominently displayed on a wall near the gate, featuring some of the city's best known names. There was also the 300 Club on Theatre Road and the Bengal Club where a croupier with a cockney accent would regale members with tales of nightclubs in London's West End. Many gambled with cowries. The Maharajas of Cooch Bihar, Jaipur, Burdwan, Nazarganj were regulars. So were royalty from Nepal and Bhutan.
At the heart of all this festivity was music, the bands and the crooners. They were the life of every party, every celebration. They made everything happen. Without them, Calcutta would not have been Calcutta. But years went by, Governments changed, politics redefined our life and culture. Suddenly new taxes were imposed on live entertainment. These taxes were so punishing that within a very short time, all the restaurants stopped playing live music. The crooners left Calcutta. Bands disbanded. Musicians picked up other jobs. The music slowly died. And the city became Kolkata!

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