Night Out @ Tung Nam – Kanad Sanyal
I was wandering along Chattawalla Galli, the erstwhile Chinese quarters of Calcutta, on a sunny winter afternoon last year and came across the faded signboard of Tung Nam, an old Chinese eatery on Sun Yat Sen Street, just at the junction of Chattawalla Galli and almost diagonally across the Sea IP Chinese Temple. Tung Nam is one of the few surviving relics of a time when Chinese cuisine (or Calcutta Chinese to be more precise) has not been “proletarised” to the current extent when chow chaccharis are available from thousands of road side shacks. I decided to venture inside out of pure nostalgia and was very pleasantly surprised to find that they have managed to maintain the same quality as in the past, at least for their signature dishes of dry pork chilly and gravy chow mein. The interiors also remain more or less same, the only immediately noticeable difference being plastic chairs, which have replaced the old heavy wooden ones. The walls have aged a bit and need a fresh coat of paint badly. It was not particularly busy time for the restaurant and as I wait for my food to be served, silently watching an old gentleman sitting next to an aquarium boasting only one very large fish and painstakingly separating strands of threads with trembling hands for some unknown purpose, I took a travel back in time.
My association with Tung Nam goes back a long way, more than thirty years. During late seventies and early eighties, Calcutta Medical College Hostel on Eden Hospital Lane used to be my permanent address during holidays in my college. We would visit Tung Nam to celebrate “occasions” – like someone finally succeeding in passing on
a letter to THE GIRL in his para, etc. etc. You get the drift? It happened after one such celebration during late 1980, September or October I think. We had been to Shaw’s Bar (behind Metro Cinema) and then followed it up with a long session at Krishna’s thek at Sudder Street, smoking charas. By the time we sort of got back to earth, we could find only two of us out of the original gang of five which set off from the hostel. We decided to get back to the hostel but soon discovered that we are far too much stoned to read the route numbers of the buses and planned to walk down instead. En route we finished off a couple of more gulis procured from Krishna. Then we searched for Eden Hospital Lane and our hostel for God only knows how long, but without any luck. We just could not get our bearings right and despite asking for directions several times, failed to reach the hostel!!! At some point in time during our hazy ambulation across the lanes and bye-lanes, we discovered ourselves facing the familiar signboard of Tung Nam. We immediately felt hungry and stumbled into the place, only to find that it was well past the closing time for them. The family that ran the restaurant was having their dinner and were extremely kind to literally share with us whatever they were having. That we were sort of regulars also helped. Once dinner was finished we asked the owner for directions to our hostel. The guy stared at us blankly for some time and then broke into a toothless and loud laugh. Once the laughter subsided he barked a few orders in Chinese and disappeared inside. We were still standing on the pavement when out came two charpoys. These were placed on the pavement and one of the bihari waiter told us to sleep the night there and then get back to hostel the next day. We collapsed on the charpoys and passed out in no time.
I woke up very early next morning to loud and delighted shrieks of street children and found a goat, complete with a beard of its own, lovingly licking the bearded face of my partner, sleeping peacefully in the next charpoy. Let me make an honest admission here which I had never done in the past. I actually joined the street children and enjoyed the sight for some time before I dutifully shooed the goat away and woke my partner up. My partner in crime in this instance is a senior professional with Central Government Health Services now and a renowned physician to boot. While I cannot name him due to obvious reasons, I hope he comes across this picture and the write up, if only to get back temporarily to that fateful night some thirty three years back. স্মৃতি সততই সুখের!
– Kanad Sanyal