Tucked behind the Girish Park Metro Station, Niranjan Agar, one of the oldest ‘cabins’ of the city ,will complete its centenary on June 1, 2022. Founded by Niranjan Hazra in 1922, the joint was once frequented by legendary personalities like Uttam Kumar, Tarun Kumar, Bikash Roy, Utpal Dutt and Manna Dey.
Over the years, it has retained its dignity and legacy and is still popular among the old timers, office-goers and students. Every evening, it is a common sight to come across people, middle-aged or old, huddled together in the cabin discussing politics or socio-economic issues over cups of steaming tea accompanied with chops and cutlets. Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) has given Niranjan Agar a heritage tag in 2019 as a recognition of their resilience to stay in business, despite all odds.
Vivekananda Pan, fourth generation owner of Niranjan Agar said, “My grandfather started this business by selling dust tea to students and office-goers. As Bengalis have a concept of ‘jalkhabar’ to fill the long gap between lunch and dinner, there was a demand for snacks along with tea in the evening. He took the opportunity to establish this eatery that was quite popular at that time. Soon, the cabin became a regular haunt for customers who wanted to engross themselves in some ‘adda’ over tea and good food.”
The cabins sprang up in the city in the 20th century and got their names from ply-partitioned, curtained cabins, in which families, mostly womenfolk, could dine in privacy. Gradually, the word ‘cabin’ came to be loosely associated with small restaurants. Utsa Ray, assistant professor of history at Jadavpur University feels that these public eateries allowed the common man to discover “the pleasures of eating out.”According to her, consuming cutlets, chops and devils were not always possible within the domestic space. Therefore these small cabins provided a space for those who could easily gorge into chicken cutlet, mutton chop without being concerned of the taboos found inside homes.
Subol Mitra has been visiting Niranjan Agar for the last 50 years. “During the late 1960s, we would visit the cabin for our evening adda. We would take different items, tea and sit there for hours. Even now, I sometimes visit the eatery alone as it reminds me of the past,” said Mitra.