‘Cheenapatti ka Ram’ or Ram’s Chinese connection
Cheenapatti ka Ram is 75 years old. He walks, or in inclement weather takes a bus or tram, to select central Calcutta areas, carrying one or two round aluminium containers in a makeshift cradle
Cheenapatti ka Ram is 75 years old. He walks, or in inclement weather takes a bus or tram, to select central Calcutta areas, carrying one or two round aluminium containers in a makeshift cradle. In them are Chinese specialities: prawn, pork and fish sui mai, perhaps the inspiration for the now mundane momo, but infinitely more delicate; subtly flavoured deep-fried sticks of flour, yow cha qwai in Chinese. An Anglo-Indian friend said they called them “virgin’s legs”.
There are the small and big steamed white buns filled with a meat centre, pao and tai pao. And there’s panthras, a sort of pancake folded over spiced minced pork, coated with bread crumbs and fried—in fact much of what one can get early in the morning if one went to Chinatown for breakfast.
But Cheenapatti ka Ram is an app-free delivery service. On prior order, he will get you Chinese sausages of a blood-red hue, long and slender, spotted with fat and the aroma of rice wine, the ends tied with red string. Or pig roast. Or condiments like sauces and sweets and other eatables of Chinese cuisine. He gave me a disdainful look when I asked for anything in beef
Twenty five years ago, Vyas Muni Rana Paswan (he claims Ram Vilas Paswan as a relative) lost his job as a watchman in a factory in Tangra, the erstwhile leather processing hub of the city. Years before that, his father had moved from Buxar to Calcutta for a job in the Railways.
For reasons unknown to his son, he quit the job and started selling fast-selling Chinese treats in the streets of Calcutta’s commercial district. Made by Chinese families who paid him a commission, he made enough money to invest in accommodation in Chinatown and even get his children married. For Cheenapatti ka Ram, selling Chinese snacks was the logical alternative to lost employment.
He walks anywhere between 25 and 40 kilometres on his rounds, carrying his wares. Sometimes he sells everything in the very first hour, and sometimes it takes most of the day to empty the aluminium containers.
He rues that there are hardly any Anglo-Indians left, his primary customers. Many have moved far from the central localities, or out of the country. He still has a few loyal ones, including some Armenians, Jews and of course, Bengalis. The few stories he narrated gave me a tiny indication of the informal history of this great city, what was, and may well be, the only cosmopolitan one remaining in India.