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Century-old Kolkata snacks shop preserves Netaji’s nostalgia

People of Kolkata remember their beloved Netaji

Located in the crumbling neighbourhood of north Kolkata, the century-old snacks shop Laxmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, popularly known as Netaji’s 'Telebhaja' shop, stands as a silent testimony to the golden times of Bengal. Even in these parts of the vintage eastern metropolis, the nostalgia of Netaji is so deep-fried.

Formally established in 1918 by Khedu Shaw, the shop dishes out deep-fried hot fritters everyday to the regulars. Interestingly, this shop was once a favourite of India's one of the most loved freedom icons, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, when he was a student at the Scottish Church College.

People know the establishment as Netaji's 'Telebhaja' (snacks) shop, though he never owned any such, as the present owner still continues to distribute free deep-fried fritters to the customers on the occasion of Netaji's birth anniversary every year. The front side of the shop boasts artwork featuring Netaji and there is also a bust of the freedom fighter erected in front of the shop, precisely on the pavement.

At a time when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced extensive plans to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji, the 103-year old traditional Bengali fast food joint is gearing up to pay tribute to India's forgotten freedom hero this year.

"We will distribute free fritters to the customers from the morning itself. People come in hoards and queue up in front our outlet every year on January 23 just to take part in the unique celebration. It's a very special day for us as we all remember Netaji with that small gesture by spreading happiness among many," Mohan Gupta, alias Mona da, a third-generation owner of the establishment, told IANS.

According to Gupta, who was an elected representative of Trinamool Congress in the state's largest civic body Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) from the ward, Netaji used to be a regular at their shop located at 158 Bidhan Sarani (formerly known as Lord Cornwallis Street), near Hedua. And he was quite fond of the fritters made by Khedu Shaw.

Netaji was also sworn as Kolkata Mayor on August 22, 1930 and held the office till April 15 the following year.

'Telebhaja' is a deep-fried edible item that is best eaten with puffed rice as a popular evening snack. "We are continuing with the same legacy which was started by our forefathers many years ago," Gupta said.

He said during the freedom movement, Netaji and others used to hold meetings across the street and Shaw would often hand out hot fritters to them from time to time – a quintessential item for Bengalis during an adda (meeting) session.

What Khedu Shaw had once secretly started in 1942 by distributing free snacks on Netaji's birthday, has now become a well-known cultural event of the town on January 23 every year to celebrate the birth anniversary of the freedom struggle icon.