Revolutionary Fuel: Paramount’s Sherbet Has a Long, Rich History
Kolkata’s 100-year-old sherbet shop serves, among others, a drink devised by chemist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray.
It is easy to miss Paramount Sherbet at first. Tucked between two bigger shops in the famously busy Bankim Chatterjee Street of Kolkata, this long and narrow shop would have gone unnoticed if not for its legacy. Flourishing for 99 years, the sherbet shop has been the secret fuel that revved the imaginations of Bengal’s revolutionaries and continues to be the lifeline of many thirsty Calcutta University students. And with the passing of every decade, Paramount has taken baby steps towards being an establishment that is at the right place at the right time – that is, by being reviewed by food websites to making its internet debut.
Started by Nihar Ranjan Majumdar almost a century ago, the shop is currently run by his 72-year-old son Mrigendra Majumdar. Extremely chatty and proud of the small shop, Majumdar talks about the riveting initial years of this sherbet paradise.
My father was a freedom fighter. In the pre-independence era, we had all the revolutionaries of Bengal come in to brainstorm and strategise here – Paramount acted as a cover for the hideout at the back. People like Subhash Chandra Bose sat and hatched ‘biplobi’ (revolutionary) ideas right here. From then, we have had some of the most brilliant personalities like Satyajit Ray, Arundhuti Ray, Sunil Ganguly etc walk in for a refreshing glass of sherbet.Mrigendra Majumdar, Owner, paramount
The ‘Dab Sherbet’
Known as one of the important pieces of the Kolkata food trail, Paramount’s story starts refreshingly, just like its sherbets.
The famous chemist Prafulla Chandra Ray (the man whose portrait hangs right on top of my head) shared the recipe or composition of the ‘Dab Sherbet’ with my father who then created Paramount’s signature drink.Mrigendra Majumdar, Owner, Paramount
Delicious, thirst-quenching and seductively subtle in flavour, the coconut water drink has chunks of tender coconut or ‘dab’ thrown in for that extra sass. As I looked about, the Dab Sherbet (priced Rs 50) was present on every table top at the shop.
Curiously, the founder’s family has kept things interesting ever since. They have constantly attempted making newer varieties of sherbet for the masses – while the water based tamarind, khus, rose and green mango drinks do swift business in summers, the specials like Mango Mania and Passion Fruits are new entrants that have become favourites. “Every new drink that Paramount has developed over the years, has been concocted by me. The aim is to be the best in sherbets and we are fortunate to know what our patrons want, year after year,” says the second generation owner.
My parents used to come here as students. Now, I do too. The most expensive drink on the menu in their time was Rs 40, while today it is Rs 120. Why will I go anywhere else, this place is like home.Vrinda Mullik, Teacher
A Legacy of its Own
It is no small feat that Paramount has gained such a large fan base, located so close to the jewel in Kolkata’s crown, the haggardly Indian Coffee House that stands proudly on College Street. The fact that people who visit Coffee House also remember to stop by at Paramount for the Dab Sherbet is an achievement for a shop that hasn’t changed one bit over the ages.
The décor is an impressive one that has stood the test of time. Two antlers, bought in an auction by the Nizam of Hyderabad, are mounted on one side of the wall. Marble-top tables, bought at just Rs 12 each, line one side of the narrow, linear shop. Portraits of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Tagore and other personalities tower over the students who come in from nearby varsities like Presidency.
Embracing a New World Without Giving up the Old
While the shop has not changed at all in almost a century, it has embraced new age technology with child-like enthusiasm. It has been reviewed by some of the best websites, and the youngest generation of the Majumdars have dedicated a website and a Facebook page for the brand. “We have thrived on our walk-in orders and catering services since the beginning. Now, we get NRIs and foreigners who come along with nostalgic relatives and friends. The internet knows us too,” he laughs.
Finally, ask the owner if sherbet is a seasonal business, and he puts forward an interesting logic. “Earlier Bengalis thought cold drinks would give them a cold, so they didn’t visit during winters. Now they have opened up to common sense – its good to have cool things on cold days too. So we do business all year round. I won’t share the profit numbers, but can tell you that four generations have flourished because of this shop.”
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