A young man was admitted to Presidency College in 1913. Sublime voice, bright eyes. Occasionally he gathered his classmates and used to give anti-British speeches. He loves to eat too. After class, he with Hemant Sarkar and a few other friends reached the back of the college at 82 Bhabani Dutt Lane, Kolkata-73. Calling the hotel owner, “What’s in the menu today, Mangobinda? Please serve food quickly, we are hungry. ” Subhash Chandra Bose used to sit in a circle with his friends to eat and discuss about current political situation of India. Today I will share the story of Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel.
Speaking of that day, 98-years-old Prahlad Chandra Ponda’s eyes sparkled. So many times he heard this story from his elder brother Mangobinda Ponda! Later he himself saw Netaji more than once. Now with the weight of age, numb body, pale face, all those memories are still immortal. At the age of four or five, he came to Kolkata from Orissa holding his grandfather’s hand. Elder brother opened a rice hotel in those days. The purpose is to provide food for destitute Indians in exchange of money as little as possible. Only in one anna one can get dish filled with fish and rice twice a day. Even if there was no money in the pocket, no one would go back. “My grandfather used to say, I opened the hotel not to do business, but to serve the people. We are the ones who know the joy of serving food for hungry people. “
Mangobinda named it ‘Hindu Hotel’. The place was given by a Muslim family. From the beginning till today, the Muslim brothers of Kalabagan have come first in any danger. Though “Hindu Hotel” but customers of every religion having free access in this eatery. In the words of Prahladbabu, “Together we have liberated the country. We have no difference. We are brothers. “
Started in 1910, the hotel grew in a short time with the worthy company of Mangobinda and his brother Prahlad Chandra. Reputation spread all around. Many people used to come to eat light fish soup and rice. Although in those days it was no longer just a rice hotel. It became a secret arena for freedom fighters. Wearing dhoti-Punjabi, bright young people used to come in groups to eat. Their meeting continued as they ate. They also used to prepare the next day’s proceedings. “One day a group of freedom fighters taking meal in the hotel. The English police raided. Mangobinda stood at the door. He was beaten badly but not allowed any police to enter. The police were forced to retreat. The young freedom fighters all embraced Mangobinda. The blood was pouring down the side of his ear. But a child-like smile on his face,”said Prahlad Chandra with pride.
After completion of his college studies, Subhash Chandra was then fully involved in politics. Again the dust of his feet fell on the Hindu hotel. This time with his guru of politics. This Hindu hotel became more popular, Mangobinda’s got a new name ‘Thakuramshai’. As soon as he entered the shop, Subhash Chandra said, “Look, Thakurmashai, who did I bring?” Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. I heard your hotel is very famous now. So, serve food fast, we are very hungry! The two of them ate with full of satisfaction. As he was leaving, Chittaranjan Das told Mangobinda, “Feed this boy well. He is the future of the country. “
In 1930 Subhash Chandra was then the mayor of Calcutta Corporation. Nirendra Chandra Roy, Amulya Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jatish Joardar and several other followers appeared at the Hindu Hotel. Prahladbabu met Netaji for the first time. He gave some instructions to the followers about the course of action for the next day. As soon as they ate, the slogan ‘Joy Hind, Bande Mataram’ was raised. Mangobinda and Prahlad Chandra also tuned their slogan with Netaji.
Famine happened in Bengal in the year of 1943. Thousands of people were dying without food in front of their eyes. Famine along with cholera, malaria, smallpox, the footpaths of Kolkata were full of skeletal people. Mangobinda could not stay still. “As long we have our hotel, no one will die.” Prahlad Chandra started preparing Khichuri with his elder brother. Khichuri is a dish mixed with rice and dal. Hundreds of people sat down to eat. After many days, everyone blessed them to have a full meal. “Thanks to their blessings, our hotel still survives today,” Prahladbabu said with a twinkle in his eye. Within a few years, that auspicious day came. For which there were fighting, movement, so much bloodshed, that moment, in the year of 1947. College Street lights up on the night of August 14th. The sound of the radio was coming from house to house. 15th August 1 am at night. India was independent! People burst into joy and crowded roads. Wearing Khadi cloths, Gandhi hat on head people gathered on road and started marching. The two brothers raised the flag in front of their hotel. In a few moments a group of volunteers appeared. At the end of the procession, they completed their meal. They suggested, “No more ‘Hindu hotel’. India is now independent. From today, the name should be “Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel”.
Prahladbabu still blinks his eyes in remembrance of that day. His elder brother is no more today. He still maintains the tradition of the day with his son and grandchildren. Even at this age, he regularly come to his hotel, sits there for at least an hour. Sometimes he goes out to the market. Old wooden table with marble slab on top, water in a clay pot, food on banana leaves and pictures of freedom fighters across the wall still carrying the tradition.
Still, every year on Independence Day, the Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel is rebuilt. The paint falls on the wall. On the night of 14 August, the name of the hotel was rewritten. On the morning of August 15, all the family members arrived at the hotel. Prahladbabu raise the flag. In a short speech he reminisces those days. On Independence Day, the hotel cooks ‘Independence Day Special’. The hotel staff Anadi while serving that food said, “I have been working in this hotel for 50 years. Where to leave? ” Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel is our home!”