Loudon At Random
It was named after Lady Hastings, wife of the Marquis of Hastings, who by lineage was the Countess of Loudoun.
Gradually the second 'u' in the name simply disappeared.
In 1967 Loudon Street was renamed after Dr. U. N. Brahmachari, the physician who invented the drug Urea Stibamine as an antidote for the then rampant malady Kala Azar.
He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine, and was later awarded the Knighthood in 1934.
So much for history.
Memories of Loudon Street slip easily into focus. St. Xavier's had a goalkeeper called Ali with legs like springs. He identified a Loudon Street garage for his much touted 'Jean junction'. His jeans did sell fast, but his shop disappeared faster. Loudon Street had another joint called 'Deli'. The place supplied delectable Frankfurters to me and to the KLM flight from Calcutta. KLM stopped their flights. My ration of Frankfurters vanished abruptly. Hotel Rutt Deen on Loudon belonged to the Ruttonjee family, owners of Olympia, Kolkata's iconic watering hole. Ruttonjee was a nice man with an extra large middle. He always wore something that resembled a white uniform. Reason why I once confused him with a waiter of similar width.
To others Loudon will remain just another street. To me it's where birds used to come home. Flowers used to open up. . Where a much advertised 'Nature Park' simply used to be a pond full of fishes. Where I just used to be.
Caterpillars I knew
Is it farcical or simply stupid to imagine that Calcutta once had a bunch of thousand horses to yank trams?
The first horse-drawn tram rolled out on a metre gauge track on February 24, 1873. Enterprising! Steam locomotives were once deployed to haul trams as a matter of consequential examination. We are the only trams in the world to still use the foot for the foot gong. Soul-stirring in terms of advance achieved! After a hundred and thirty years of plying, things remain fairly unexceptional. Only 100 trams trundle out of depots now with a fleet strength of 272 vis-à-vis a capacity of 319 in 1930. Unquestionably unimpressive.
A Toast to Trams
Trams to me were good-natured caterpillars. Genteel, the exact word. The 'conductors' were mostly of the agreeable, easygoing species. Their laid back attitude suggested a sociable, friendly company.
The caterpillars remain cleansed. An untainted, upright, exemplary champion on Kolkata's pollution standards. They have the decency and straight lines to follow and do not add to the unsystematic, slapdash, chaotic traffic hodge podge. Why does Toronto or Honk Kong believe that trams are imperative and not dispensable? Why are some of us so averse and disinclined without an option or substitute? Must we remain perpetually obstinate and blind? One hundred and thirty years of endurance in a city that has chaotically travelled towards the past and in reverse, is not for nothing.
Has anyone seen a Sikh tram driver? Just one of Kolkata's oddities! I know of a warmhearted industrialist who takes morning walks just for the joy of taking a tram! Freakish? Not a heinous crime if you still have liberal doses of romance left in you. You don't have to be quixotic either.
Memories a la carte
A non-combative silence greets you at the South Park Street cemetery as you leave the belligerent traffic behind.
Walk past the two sons of Charles Dickens who lie buried here.
The earliest grave dates go back to 1768. The pavilions, pyramids and mausoleums are in a state of permanent decay.
The infuriating calm around them almost thoughtful, cultivated. A towering monument is that of Sir William Jones, the founder of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. A curious one is that of an eccentric Irishman, who was nick-named 'Hindoo Stuart'. Interestingly, he was Major General Charles Stuart, who cared for a dip in the Ganges every morning.
A few feet away lies the stouthearted Henry Vivian Louis Derozio who left a permanent impact on the Bengali mindset.
Room in the sky
Mrs. Indira Gandhi used to love Sky Room's Prawn Cocktail. Hardly surprising that it was flown in freezers regularly to Delhi. My uncle loved his Chicken Tetrazzini except that he would order it as 'Petrazzini'. They understood. Baked Alaska and Black Forest Pudding was like health that did 'melth in your mouth'. The Telegraph once carried a report that Sky Room would reopen. That never happened. Good things hardly happen twice.
Some lives stay in a state of permanent surprise. They do things unanticipated, unimagined. They are half-remembered people who do some delightful but bizarre things. There was this guy called Kapadia who did the strangest thing at St. Xavier's School. He actually attempted to and successfully did bite a dog. The Prefect almost did rusticate him for this terrible mission he was on. To me he was the unstoppable spirit we all lacked. Kapadia later in life went on to do extremely well at one of the Tata companies.
Anthony Quinn in the film 'Lawrence of Arabia' had made a perfect statement on life – “it was written”. Without labouring the point, I do feel the spirit of Kolkata is a script already written and we are merely following it, unexpected turns included.