The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The changing economy at Barrackpore

I went to watch a movie at Jayanti – a popular single-screen theatre that has been recently converted to a 3-screen multiplex at Barrackpore, my hometown. After buying the ticket, I had some time to kill before the show. I was feeling a little hungry and thought of treating myself to a mutton roll. There are two popular roll joints adjacent to one another at Chiria More, where Jayanti is located. As I reached the first one, called Anil Saha (after the owner’s name), the price of a mutton roll on the price board in front of the joint shocked me. It was Rs 35. I am aware of the rising prices of mutton, but it completely freaked me out. How can people pay Rs 35 for just a mutton roll! It costs far less in Kolkata. And a few rupees added to it, it can buy a plate of chicken fried rice from a decent small joint there.

In hindsight, the realization dawned on me. It is a popular roll joint. Every evening it has customers crowding in front of it. The owner knows the market. Therefore he surely knows how to price his products. I have little doubt that even at that price mutton roll is in high demand at Anil Saha. At the same time, I’m sure a mutton roll is available at a lower price in some of the other popular roll joints in this district town.

Anil Saha is part of the fast-growing snacks and eating out market in Barrackpore, once a sleepy sub-divisional town on the main line of Eastern Railways from Sealdah (on road it is the place where BT Road ends). It has always had an educated population and a good number of people coming to it everyday for education, job and entertainment. It has a number of Bengali and English medium schools and two colleges including Rashtraguru Surendranath College - one of the better colleges in Kolkata’s suburbs, Palta Waterworks is located here and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is nearby, apart from the sub-divisional administrative building, the sub-divisional criminal court, banks, a head post office and other government offices. It has 4 single-screen theatres apart from Jayanti. All this hints at it’s being a good market for out-of-home food consumption. Some of the food joints are riding the demand curve in such a way that they comfortably started pricing their stuff higher than their city counterparts long back. And thus the price of a plate of mutton biriani at the hugely popular biriani joint ‘Dada Boudir Hotel’ near Barrackpore railway station has touched Rs 100 now, where in New Aliah Hotel, one of the best in Mughlai cuisine in Kolkata it costs Rs 83. A mutton korma (or some similar mutton dish with gravy) costs Rs 130 with just about a moderate quantity of mutton in one of the popular restaurants here, our next door neighbour shared the other day.

Supporting this phenomenon are the real estate prices. A kottah of land near Barrackpore railway station may easily cost Rs 5-6 lac. A local friend, a software engineer by profession, who I met the other day, shared that he was taken aback by the price per square feet (Rs 2000 or more) for an apartment at Genexx Towers, being constructed by a big real estate player from Kolkata at Palta, a place next to Barrackpore, as he went looking for an apartment.

Real estate is growing fast in Barrackpore, with vacant land and old houses fast making space for apartments. Many upper middle class families are eyeing the town for setting up home due to its inherent characteristics – peacefulness (there are hardly incidents of political turbulence / hooliganism, education facilities, good train and road connectivity with city (Local trains starting from Barrackpore go to Sealdah, BBD Bagh – the central business district and south Kolkata). And the corresponding rise in total disposable income of the population is showing in various aspects of living and changing the economic balance.