Situated in Rajani Sen Street, virtually where Feluda lived, Baithak is a little coffee shop which has quite a lot to offer, although the seating space is meager. Getting lost in the roads that lead to Baithak is something that’s sort of inevitable for me. In the sweltering heat, it’s quite the thing for me to get lost. I have recently felt that there are others who need to scold me for my lack of road sense, but I have realized that better to have a lack of that than lack of direction in life. It’s the sort of Holy Grail which I would happily meander about for.
So there.

Where was I again?
Right. Now, when you ask for the location, locals would stare at you blankly. After the first few tries, I gave up. Then The Brilliant Idea struck. 
“Where’s Mudiali Pujo?”
And voila! That’s the magic keyword to finding this place. It’s located right where the Mudiali Pujo happens every year. 
There are two sections in this place – you can sit outside in the heat, smoking your heart out while grabbing a cup of tea, in true Feluda manner. At times, I have wished for a Charminar cigarette to grace my fingers while intellectual discussions ranging from Derrida to Danny Denzongpa. But then again, the heat forces you to be inside. Where you find a set of small stools and tables, and the need to lean on the wall while waiting for your cup of tea because the stools after a while aren’t comfortable to sit on, especially for a person of my stature.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like my stature, mind.

It just means… well… you know what it means!

And they have free Wi-Fi. Of course, sometimes, the server actually forgets the password. But well. Still. Free Wi-Fi. 
And while you are there, check out their menu card which is designed lovingly by someone who had scouted through a lot of books written by Satyajit Ray. Smile while you see the “Machhlibaba” Sandwich, inspired by the movie Joy Baba Felunath, or cups of Nathmull’s First Flush tea, reminding you of the times when the Great Mr. Prodosh Mitter sipped his drink at Darjeeling. 
Sigh. Reading the menu card makes me want to curl up and read a storybook. Preferably a Feluda.
Nathmull’s First Flush Tea
Naturally, as dictum presents, we ordered the First Flush first, since we figured we were there for the long haul. A cup of fragrant liquid gold, accompanied by a sachet of sugar, and a discreet inquiry “would you like milk?” came. We declined the milk, added the sugar, and drank, enthusiastically discussing something that I vaguely remember having something to do with the influence of India in the Caribbean diaspora. 
Photo Courtesy: S
With the tea came some little refreshments, like scones and cookies. I wasn’t much of a fan of them. They were dry and crumbly, and not exactly what I would want with my cup of tea. Also, I prefer my scones with butter, clotted cream and jam. There were none here.
Fresh Lime Soda.
Fresh Lime Soda was what she wanted. She looked at me with piercing eyes behind a pair of glasses, and I felt like a recalcitrant schoolgirl. I mumbled something, and went up to the counter to tell the man about her drink of preference. In deference to her choice, I have to say, the day was pretty hot, and the nimble server asked for her preference with a thoroughness which was promising – “Not very sweet, just enough salt, add ice but don’t water it down”.
He delivered it too, apparently. She sipped her soda and did not complain.
Thank God for small mercies.
I was more inclined towards the sandwiches, and after a brief tussle between that and the “Kankrar Khutinati”, bits of crab held together with a dab of mayo, ordered the boring but faithful Chicken Sandwich.
Chicken Sandwich
A generous portion, the sandwich was filling and filled with bits of chicken, bell pepper, with a good smear of Mayo, with a handful of salty chips strewn on top. Slightly bland for my taste, I would have preferred a bit more mustard, and little less heavy-handedness with the mayo. But still, there is something wholesome about the dish. While I munched on the sandwich, she stole the chips, dipping them in the tomato ketchup. 
My other selection was recommended by the server – the “Machhlibaba“. Okay, fine. So I do like Maganlal Meghraj. Sue me. He fed Lalmohon Babu LSD. That made me curious about LSD, especially when I read what Mr. Jatayu went through after he had it. No prizes for guessing, the “Machhlibaba” is a grilled fish sandwich, crunchy, mildly sweet, and salty, with chunks of fresh flaky fish, butter, and more of those chips, which I assumed came from a packet of Lays’, but who’s complaining?
Caramel Custard
I went up to the counter to check their dessert offerings – although she was quite interested in the Caramel Custard, I was more reticent about it. Unfortunately, I have developed quite a petty hatred for the dessert in the last couple of months, and although the portion served was pretty generous, after a spoonful, purely for research purpose, I turned up my nose, and awaited my choice of dessert. The custard was creamy and lightly sugary, with a decadent hit of caramel and butter that hits the back of your throat just when you think you’re over it. But all the same, it was still lacking something I could not figure out.
Hot Chocolate
I was more inclined to try the hot chocolate. Despite the heat outside, I have heard nothing but good things about the hot chocolate made here, and I decided to give it a whirl. The server told me to stir it before drinking it. On stirring, everything inside the cup went deliciously chocolate brown. That, in my books, is never a bad thing. I stirred some more, and sipped. 
It was hot, sweet but not overly so, with a mild hit of heat on my tongue. Chilli powder, I guessed, but still, quite good, and thankfully, not disgustingly ladled with whipped cream to sweeten the deal, but rather, the chocolate, with its delicate bitter sweet symphony, was the star of the show. 
I sat down and savored the cup of goodness, closing my eyes for a while, and just letting the world come together in my head. Baithak is a place where you sit down and let things happen, relax and watch, or take part in a debate with random strangers, or just read a book or play with your phone.The food’s generous and unpretentious, just like what your favorite aunt would bring out. It feels like being in someone’s drawing room, a baithak khana, which is probably what the owners were trying to achieve when they opened up this place.
P.S. Apur Panchali released recently, which has a decided Satyajit Ray hangover. Did anyone see it yet? If yes, how is it?
Photo Courtesy: C. Taken a while back at Baithak.

5/C Rajani Sen Street, 
Southern Avenue

Phone: 033-4003-6777
Written by Poorna Banerjee

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