Kolkata has multiple faces. Every nook and cranny of the city has a story to tell. And knowing the City of Joy through its history, culture, and people can be as delightful as it can be exhausting, thanks in no small amount to the hot and humid Kolkata weather! However, when you land on the intellectual territory of Kolkata, the famed College Street, home to India’s largest book market and Asia’s largest second-hand book market, you will have an answer for your exhausted senses in the form of the iconic Paramount Cold Drinks and Syrups. This century-old sherbet shop is the perfect departure from the same old coffee shops and smoothie joints that we frequent to quench our thirst. And that is not just because of its delicious, refreshing, cool blends but also owing to its history. Located on Bankim Chatterjee Street, at a corner of College Square, Paramount should definitely be a stop on your Kolkata itinerary.
Nihar Ranjan Majumdar established the shop in 1918. Back then, the shop was called the Paradise sherbet shop. What’s fascinating is that the shop hosted clandestine rendezvous of eminent freedom fighters of India, who strategised their moves against the then British rule from a back chamber. Majumdar, a revolutionary himself, operated the cash counter and kept an eye out for police raids during these secret meetings. Look out for the framed list with the names of Bengali legends who have walked in to quench their thirst over the years. It was after India’s independence in 1947 that the shop was rechristened as Paramount Cold Drinks and Syrups and started functioning as a full-blown sherbet and juice bar. No wonder that the shop has been declared a heritage property by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
It is very easy to miss Paramount in Kolkata, tucked inside the colonnade of an old building unless you are particularly looking for it. But its unremarkable exterior belies what it has to offer. Once you enter the little slice of space, the high ceiling carved up by intersecting wooden rafters, the nondescript wooden benches and slim marble-top tables, and the yellowing images of the icons of Bengal on the walls will magically transport you to a bygone era. And it was sometime back then that Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, the father of chemical science in India, shared with Majumdar the recipe of Dab Sherbet, which has been Paramount’s signature drink for decades. The cool and refreshing dab sherbet is a concoction of iced coconut water and flavored sherbet with pieces of tender coconut kernel (called ‘dab’ in Bengali) floating in it. The sherbet, whose recipe is a closely guarded secret, is an amazing brew that redefines the word heavenly with its myriad subtle flavours. I will also suggest you try the mouth-watering Cocoa Malai, Mango Mania and Passion Fruits Special Drink at Paramount, and I am sure the taste of each will get etched on your mind for times to come.
The appearance of Paramount has not changed even by a bit after all these years. The two antlers that Majumdar bought from an auction hosted by the Nizam of Hyderabad more than 85 years ago, still occupy pride of place on a wall of the century-old shop. And in a rare occurrence, Paramount is still operated by descendants of Nihar Ranjan Majumdar. You are likely to find his son, Mrigendra Majumdar, at the shop whenever you walk in and the amiable elderly gentleman will be more than happy to narrate tales of the times gone by. Take the lane opposite the Presidency University on College Street, then take a right and walk a few steps to find Paramount on your left. Whenever you feel that the Kolkata weather is wreaking havoc on your senses, head straight over to Paramount for not just the cool sherbets but also for your dose of the intriguing history of Kolkata.
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