Memmoirs

OUR G.C. LAHA 

SHANU LAHIRI

There was a time when I would go to G.C. Laha with my Government Art College friends two to three times every week. It wouldn’t feel normal if we didn’t go. We’d pick up various odds and ends — sometimes two brushes, or paper, or some Chinese ink, canvas and other such stuff. During our tiffin break at art school, it was either G.C. Laha or Park Street, which was like Paris for us.

And it wasn’t just buying materials — we’d make it a point to fight with Nandababu for some time. We’d even irritate Pashupatibabu and Loknathbabu — but most if our arguments were with Nandababu, who would pack our stuff for us. The most endearing quality about the shop was the behaviour of its people. I’ve never seen them behave differently with different people, whether young or old. It’s true that three or four of us would bother them a lot, but then they would also be really happy to see us. At times Nandababu would say something utterly objectionable: “Why don’t you go to the adjacent shop? You’ll get things cheaper there.” We wouldn’t pay him any attention, after all, we never went to any other shop. At times, I remember how they would get the paints we wanted and keep them with care. For example, oil would require a lot of white colour, but it wasn’t always available. But Nandababu would keep it separately for us — many times I’ve seen school students, who have just began working in oil, come and ask for huge supplies of white colour. But they were not given more than one portion. Nandababu would say that more often than not, the kids would lose interest after some time, but if they really needed more they would come back again. But those who painted regularly would require the white colour more often. So it was essential to keep the colour for them or they would find it very hard to get regular supplies. This just shows that it wasn’t just about selling colours, through it they actually reached a higher state of mind.

The colours which weren’t easily available were stowed away in a first-floor chamber upstairs. Pashupatibabu or Nandababu would just have to give the order and the colours would be brought downstairs one by one. Though I haven’t been there for a long time, I’m sure the small wooden stairs are still there. Often, I really felt like going up the stairs. Once I did go with Nandababu’s permission. The stairs were really unique — it was quite difficult to go up them. Behind the counter were kept the paints, brushes and board pieces, while the superior-quality paper, the costly colours, pastel paper, canvas paper were kept on the left side. We’d ourselves choose the paints and colours from the drawers — my children too have gone with me so many times. Many from the art school had permission to go inside, and even though we fought, the shop doors were always open for us.

Nandababu suffered from a bad ailment — the veins of his legs had become inflated and knotted by standing for hours on end. Pashupatibabu would take a lot of care of him. And once we left art school, our fights, too, got over — all of them became great friends. One fine morning I saw the news of Nandababu’s death in The Statesman. There was a wonderful piece on him. I felt really sad reading this bit of news. All the Laha brothers were such gentlemen — and they still are so — that they behaved extremely well with their employees. In turn, the employees too behave very nicely with the customers — something that is extremely rare these days.

The paint of the shop are well-known across India. So many famous persons procured their art materials from here — Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Ray, Hemen Majumdar, Atul Bose — I’ve heard such a lot about them. Later on it was the likes of Ramen Chakraborty, Pradosh Dasgupta, Chintamani Kar, Paritosh Sen, Nirod Majumdar, Gopal Ghosh — and it also includes the famous faces of this generation. Even people from outside Calcutta would come here to buy their materials.

I still remember how surprised I felt when I first went to a famous Parisian art shop to buy paints. As soon I entered it felt like I had walked into a larger version of G.C. Laha. It smelt the same inside — a bit must” and old — and even the decorations were similar. There was a small poster to the left of the entrance, or there was an exhibition going on and people were sitting around and one had to enter being careful that one didn’t in the way. I really liked the ambience. Even here famous painters would come to buy colours and it’s still the same. But whenever I go to G.C. Laha in Kolkata — though it’s a bit of a problem going there now since some people recognise me -I feel as if I have come back to my own place.

G.C. Laha evokes wonderful memories of art school but I still miss the presence ofthe Laha brothers and Nandababu.

 

 

THREE GENERATIONS OF G.C. LAHA

GANESH HALOI

 For me, 1, Dharamtalla Street has been a known address ever since I stepped into adolescence. Our ancestral home was in Bangladesh. We hail from Jamalpur, a small sub-divisional town by the Brahmaputra in Mymensingh district.

Many of us were into writing poetry and short stories and there were discussions over whose worked we liked the most. Together, we brought out a hand-written magazine called [Kallol]. Apparently, I was the best with the illustrations, so the responsibility for doing the pictures inevitably fell on me. In those days I used only a pen and ink to work. I knew only about water colours, oil paints didn’t even exist for me. It wasn’t easy travelling to Kolkata in those days. The stories of Kolkata we heard seemed like tales straight out of Aladdin’s magic lamp. Those who lived and worked in Kolkata went home only during festivals. I arranged for my paints and brushes through one of these infrequent travellers. But however much I tried, I couldn’t mix them with water. For someone like me it was a matter of great surprise. Finally I found “Student oil colour” written on the tubes and realised that these weren’t water colours. My reason for going into this story is that I still remember that the envelope in which the brushes had come into my hands had `G.C. Laha Pvt Ltd. Leading Artists Colourmen 1, Dharomtala Street, Calcutta-13′ inscribed on it.

This address was one of the most significant discoveries in my life. Often I would sit by the river and paint, and my journey began with the box of colours that came into my hands by post.

In 1950 my family had to pay the price for Partition. We floated around from camp to camp — bearing the title of refugee against our name. But I never stopped painting. I would still get my paper for doing water colours from G.C. Laha. Then in 1951, I joined the Government Art College. My coming to Kolkata is part of a fascinating history, but it was through this journey that I got acquainted with G.C. Laha’s shop.

Whenever I think of this acquaintance the person I remember first is Pashupatibabu. He had nobility written all over his face and I would be fascinated by the man. And it was a nobility plain to the eye even in his old age. They were three brothers, the others were Bishwanath and Loknath. More often than not, Pashupatibabu would sit at the front counter. Behind him sat the accounts keeper Charubabu. Nandababu and Hemantababu, both to the right of him, were always busy with the various demands of the customers. Among them, Nandababu was always liked by the customers for his friendly behaviour. When there was a crisis of imported paints, he would hunt out the Davidocks paper, water colour cakes and tubes.

I took up a job and went away to Ajanta, but even there I would get my paint, paper and brushes from G.C. Laha by V.P.P. post. But I would never have to send any advance for this, I would just pay up later. In those days , that is before G.C. Laha was established, there were many big shops selling materials for industrial paints and draftsmanship. But there weren’t any shops for just artists. After appearing for the entrance exams from Calcutta University, Girindra Coomar Laha joined his father Akshay Coomar Laha’s shop of industrial and domestic paints. Then in 1905, at the age of just 16, he started the famous G.C. Laha Pvt Ltd in his own name. Even today the name stands for dependability to artists. Whenever one wants to buy goods of high quality, G.C. Laha and Aukhoy Coomar Laha’s name spring first to mind. Girindra Coomar shared a cordial relationship with famous artists like Raja Ravi Varma, S.G. Thakur, Percy Brown, Abanindranath, Nandalal, Ranada Prasad Bagchi and Hemen Majumadar. It was the same way with me and Pashupatibabu. I’ve been to their house a number of times and it was there that I first saw an original work by Hemenbabu. G.C. Laha would bring out its calendar by printing the works of these well-known artists. Pashupatibabu would say that Hemenbabu would paint with his wife as the model. Such beauty is seldom seen in Bengali families.

They were the first in West Bengal to organise a sit-and-draw contest for children. In his early years even Satyajit Ray was deeply connected with this. He would act as a judge. Later on, many of us also became involved with these efforts. The judging was mostly done either in G.C. Laha’s house, at the Government Art College or at the house of their relatives. Through this initiative I became acquainted with Pranab Chandra Daw. In that year over 2,000 pictures had been brought to his house to choose the winners from. Pranabbabu was the husband of Pashupatibabu’s youngest niece, Monika. I gradually came to Pranabbabu better. Durga Puja was held every year in their ancestral house at Jorasanko. Pranabbabu was a member of the Rabindra Bharati Society. It was through his initiative that in 1990 I managed to get almost 36 works of Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath the Tagore, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Sunayani Devi for the Bengal Artforms exhibition held to commemorate Kolkata turning 300 years old. So here again, G.C. Laha had an important role to play in this. I wish all success to this pioneering institution tha.r has sabided through three generations.

 

 

THE PLEASURES OF BUYING PAINTS AND BRUSHES

BIPIN GOSWAMI

People will always remember G.C. Laha when they talk about the history of art in India and its story goes back a hundred years. Nowadays we see so many shops selling goods to artists. Their relation with the artists is limited to only buying and selling. But in the case of G.C. Laha this was a relationship that was much more intimate. And it has still endured in spite of the many changes over the past hundred years. We have also changed in order to keep pace with the changing times. According to the law of nature, we too have reached a crucial age in our lives. In order to survive, some have travelled far and wide on work, others have•chosen Kolkata for providing the inspiration for their work. But wherever we have gone, we haven’t been able to forget the enthusiasm of Pashupatibabu of G.C. Laha. Moreover, in many corners of India, whenever we have sat down to discuss art among our contemporaries or seniors, the name of G.C. Laha has always been mentioned.

 Though I’ve spent a number of years outside Kolkata on work, whenever I remember my student years, I think about a wonderful relationship with this shop. In the Fifties we were the students of the Government Art College. As soon as the bell signalling the end of classes rang, we would set out in groups for G.C. Laha’s art and crafts shop. In those days the pavements were not this crowded with vociferous buyers and sellers. We would walk down the even pavements, taking in the beautiful greenery, and passing the delectable aroma wafting out of Firpo’s, past the Indian Museum, we would finally reach the tram tracks crossing on Dharamtalla Street. In front of us would be the shop. Behind a huge, majestic table sat Pashupati Laha, our Pashupatida. On top could be seen the shining railings that signified tradition. Even now I can remember the lovely relationship that we shared with the great man. We would purchase various paints, brushes, paper and other arts materials and being regaled by Pashupatibabu’s charming words, we would set off for our homes. After finishing college, I started teaching at the Indian Art College in 1957. That again was a different experience. I had the pleasure of working with famous teachers like Somnath Hore, Gopal Sanyal, Arun Bose, Sukanta Bose, Satya Sevak Mukherjee, Sudhir Maitra, Suhas Ray and others. After classes got over we would congregate at the Kamalalay stores for our round of evening discussions. Then we would walk down to our old haunt of G.C. Laha and after purchasing the required goods, we would set off for home.

In those days, we know only Winsor & Newton as the manufacturer of good paints and brushes. And G.C. Laha was the only distributor of this famous company. Many artists were not very well-off and they would have to paint and sculpt with the spectre of poverty looming large over them. They didn’t even have any patrons and in general, there was complete indifference towards artists. In those lean years, it was G.C. Laha that came forward to help them. Many artists have remained devoted to their work with such unconditional help from this organisation and have become established in the world of Indian art later on

G.C. Laha has stepped into its hundredth year and I wish them all-round. well-being.         

 

A SHOP STRAIGHT OUT OF OLD ENGLAND

ROBIN MONDAL

I can’t remember the exact date now. But just after passing the Matriculation exams in 1947, when I was preparing to join art school, I became eager to get myself some materials to start painting. I had no clear idea as to exactly where I would have to go to get various things like paper, pencils, colours, brushes etc. Earlier I had collected the materials for painting from other people, but this time round my research revealed that the famous G.C. Laha at Dharamtalla was a shop just for artists and I would get all the material I required under that one roof.

Before I came to know of G.C. Laha, the only other such shop known to me was Competitive Stores, a big stationery shop at Howrah Maidan that mostly served the needs of the indigenous and foreign residents of the railways’ Colvin Court. I bought my first box of Winsor & Newton water colours from here with a few rupees given to me by my father. At that time this box was like a treasure trove for me. When I would stay home due to an illness, this box of colours became my constant companion. But when I recovered my health and craved to join art school, G.C. Laha became the chief target of my explorations. I still remember the first time I stood in front of this shop, it was revealed to me in a new light, giving it a unique and distinct appearance in my eyes.

The shop decorations — such as the railings above the shop counter — and the people I saw there were presented to my eyes as if they possessed an extra dimension. I couldn’t find any similarity with any of the shops I had seen before in the city. The brass railings meant something more than just what they really were. After all, no shops I had seen earlier had anything like them.

Pashupatida at the counter was a handsome young man, while I was at the end of my adolescence. At the counter on the right side sat Nandada, though I got to know their names much later. I remember, when I entered the shop I had to think a while about whom I could approach and discuss my requirements with. The walls were covered with advertisements and Winsor & Newton posters. In spite of my initial hesitation, I gradually became familiar with Pashupatida and Nandada.

At times even Pashupatida’s brother would sit at the counter. But I never got the scope to speak to him much. Much later Pashupatida’s youngest brother (Loknath Laha) would also sit at the counter. Pashupatida would converse with everybody very easily and he was fully aware of the world of arts and artists of Kolkata. He also knew who the really talented artists were. I personally feel that if Pashupatida were to write on this topic it might actually reveal unique facets of these artists and give the reader an insight into their beings. There was not a single well-known artist who was not acquainted with the people at G.C. Laha.

In other shops the relationship with the customer is confined only to buying and selling, whereas at G.C. Laha the bonds with the artists were much more intimate —something which the artist remembers fondly even after years have passed.

Whenever we have sought their help regarding any matter pertaining to the art world of Kolkata, we have always received the best help possible. I remember when we held the Calcutta Art Fair close to New Market at the Corporation ground in 1970, Pashu-patida came ahead to help us. Even in other matters, their help is unforgettable.

But the experience which has never stopped impressing itself upon me is seeing the brass railings in the shop facade. They stand out like the vestige from a shop a bygone England.

 

 

STRAY MEMORIES

PASHUPATINATH LAHA

On my father’s advice, I joined the family business of Messrs Akshay Coomar Laha after taking the Entrance Exams. At that time only paints used for building purposes, cars and industries were sold. I had to spend two years just as an apprentice to learn the finer details of the paints trade. Gradually I came to know many things, and finally I became a salesman.

Let me tell you why I had to quit studies and join the business at such a young age. In my childhood I was greatly involved in activities like sports, swimming, scouts and even Bratachari (a formal training programme akin to scouts). I also exercised and practised gymnastics. There was a particular routine called the Double-Spike Bed where I would have to lie down on a bed of nails and then six men would stand on my body which would also be covered with nails. I had made quite a name for myself showing this routine at various events. But trouble brewed when the news of my feats reached home. There was extreme opposition to my putting my life in mortal danger like this. Finally, greater trouble was averted with help from my uncle, and I was given permission very reluctantly to pursue my hobbies. It seems that it was to stop me from getting involved in such activities that I was asked to join the family business at such a young age.

While I was at Messrs Aukhoy Coomar Laha, I accompanied my brother Late Amarnath Laha to the ICI company to learn the fine art of hands-on painting. That was quite an experience. I returned to G.C. Laha two years later. During the initial years Father would tell me to just walk around and observe everything carefully. “Whatever you see, pick it up and read it with attention. Ask the salesman about it. Try to find out how and where it is used. Follow how the salesman speaks to the customers and try to understand the technique,” he would say.

One day he said, “Pashupatinath, take the materials and pack them.” When he saw that I wasn’t being able to handle the packing he said, “Give them to me. I’ll do the packing.” When the customer left, he pointed out: “Packing itself is an art. Go to Nanda and see for a few days how he packs.” It would be absolutely incorrect to call Nandababu a salesman at our shop, he was much more than that. However much I write, it won’t be enough to describe Nandababu. Still allow me to recount one incident. One of my distant uncles had brought Nandababu to G.C. Laha. After he had worked with us for a while we got news that he had been jailed. He was released in a few days, but then my uncle came and asked father whether he would want to keep Nandababu in employment after what had happened. He had been jailed for joining India’s Swadeshi movement. Hearing this father said, “This is the sort of people we need. Ask him to come back to work from tomorrow. Nandababu was an asset for our shop. He could attend to three customers at the same time. Purely by the virtue of his own abilities he had earned quite a few special customers who wouldn’t buy their things without Nandababu’s help. There were even customers who would make it a point to come back later if Nandababu wasn’t around. Some people would call him the three-generation Nandada — after all he had worked with three generations of our family.

By the virtue of being in this business I have had the good fortune of coming close to so many famous, noble and successful artists. And now, in the twilight of my life these have turned into some wonderful memories. Let me share a few such memories from my treasury. One day a gentleman walked into our shop, and addressing my father on very familiar terms, asked him how he was. I was sitting at the cash counter then. Father got up from the chair and with folded hands moved forward towards him. Pointing to me the gentleman said, “Who is he? I haven’t seen him before?” Father told him that I was his second son. Looking at me, he said, “So what is your name.” I told him — Pashupatinath Laha. “Mahadev’s name!” he said in reply. When father asked me to offer him my respects, I folded my hands and did so. At this father became a bit irritated and asked me to bend down and touch his feet. I immediately I did it, but even then I didn’t know who he was. When Father said, “Mamababu, how are you?” He replied that he was fine and asked Father where Biswanath was. Father replied that he had gone out on some errand. Then he said, “How is Haridhan? I haven’t seen him for a few days.” Dr. Haridhan Dutta was Father’s youngest uncle. And this gentleman, the famous author Raj shekhar Basu, was his friend. He wrote under the pseudonym of Parashuram. When he finally left Father turned to me and said, ” By touching his feet you’ve made your life worthwhile.

Many famous artists would regularly stride into our shop to buy art materials. One of them was Atul Bose. he called us by our names — Bishu was my elder brother, while I was Pashupati for him. One day he brought a painting of a famous leader of the country to our shop. His intention was to have Nandada open the frame and have him stretch the canvas. He asked me what I thought of the painting. I told him I found it a bit difficult and tough. He replied, j “What are you saying? How can a picture ever be tough?” I didn’t give up. “But I’ve found Hemen Majumdar’s paintings to be a bit on the soft side. One feels like touching them.” Hearing this, he burst out laughing and told father: “Hear him speak Girinbabu, Pashupati’s eyes are finally opening.” Father got up from his chair and said to me: “How can you even think of criticising Atulbabu’s painting? Touch his feet and ask for forgiveness.” I followed his words, but Atulbabu was really taken aback at this. But father was still saying: “You haven’t yet learnt how to respect someone of your father’s age. Don’t repeat this mistake a second time.”

Around a month later Atulbabu himself came to our shop and drove me to his Bondel Road residence. Taking me into the studio, he called in his wife. When she entered with a plate of cakes and tea, Atulbabu told her who I was. She said, “Oh! so this is Girinbabu’s son who criticised your painting. Because of that incident, you were chided by your father, weren’t you? Forget that day and don’t be angry.” It was then that the real drama began. Atulbabu lifted the cover from the easel and asked me if I could recognise the painting. I was terribly ashamed to see it — I touched his feet and apologised. He raised me and embraced me. “Your father is not here now. Tell me, how does the painting look?” I looked carefully and found that the painting had changed a lot. He had obviously worked hard on it. Finally Atulbabu said, “Your government won’t understand the value of this. It will hang in the Bidhan Sabha and I’ll get Rs 300 as remuneration. But that’s not important. I worked so hard on it just to please you.” Hearing this, my head hung down in shame. I again bent down and asked for his blessings. He told me: “God bless you.”

There many such incidents, which ones do I narrate? I can still remember dancer Uday Shankar. Before going on a tour he would always come to our shop to pick up things like paints, brushes, paper and other make-up materials. I would personally put them all together and hand them over to him.. And I felt myself to be fortunate in doing so. Amala Shankar would always accompany him to our shop. And I also remember the quiet Mr J.P. Ganguly, the famous painter. His full name was Jamini Prakash Gangopadhyay. He spoke few words. Later on, when his eyesight became weak he would ask the driver to open his wallet and pay for the purchases. When he suspected the driver, he would ask me to take out his wallet from the pocket of his coat and take out the necessary amount.

Hemen Majumdar, the famous painter, was our regular customer and there are many incidents concerning him. If I were to write all of them this would virtually become an epic. Let me share a few anecdotes. His relations with Father were very cordial invariably he would listen to whatever Father told him’ He had given us many paintings for our calendars. Once father had given him an idea for one of our calendars — it showed a painter’s son who has walked into his father’s studio, and wearing his father’s glasses, he is standing in front of the easel. It was called ‘Can’t I paint?’ father had told him a few times about

the picture. In the mean time, I saw the same painting displayed at the annual exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts with a ‘sold’ label stuck below it. I found out that the painting had been sold on the first day itself for Rs 500. When I returned to the shop I told Father everything. When Hemenbabu came that evening, father narrated my experience to him. Hearing the story, he smiled and said that the sold painting wasn’t actually the one for our calendar. He would give that to us the next day. Then he told me: “I’ll just get Rs 500 for this painting for both your shops. Your father has given me a Rathbone canvas board to work on your painting, while the sold one was done on a Winsor & Newton Roman canvas. For ‘Can’t I paint’ your father will not pay me an advance, but I urgently needed some money. That’s why I sold that one off.” Hemenbabu used to be the estate artist of the Maharaja of Patiala. He had taken a few Roman canvas rolls for his own work, saying that he would make the payment once he returned to Kolkata. He returned after a long time, and when he finally met father, they talked for a long time. At that time, father had asked him to make an oil painting of my mother. Hemenbabu had also agreed but my mother had passed away long before that. But there were many photographs of her in different poses taken by my uncle, the Late Bhabendra Coomar Laha. He was an excellent photographer. He would do the developing, the printing and the enlargement on his own.

Hemenbabu started working on the portrait at our home with these pictures as references. My paternal grandmother was still alive then. She would sit by Hemenbabu and pass him whatever he required. Mother’s clothes, her jewellery — Grandmother had taken it all out on Hemenbabu’s request. But when the portrait was done, grandmother said, “Hemenbabu, this doesn’t fully look like my daughter-in-law.” Hearing this, the famous artist began rethinking the work. After making changes, he finally finished it six months later. This time she said it resembled her daughter-in-law. Touching her feet, Hemenbabu said: “The credit goes completely to you for getting me to do the painting in this way.” Once he had finished the portrait, he came straight to our Dharamtalla shop and told father: “I’ve completed the picture of Biswanath’s (my elder brother) mother and handed it over to your mother. All our accounts and debts have been sorted out.” Father didn’t reply to this, but he understood how upright Hemenbabu was as an artist.

Let me share few memories relating to the famous sculptor and painter Debiprasad Roy Choudhury. He used to be the principal of the Madras Government Art School. I hadn’t seen him, but I’d heard many stories about him. At that time all supplies for the school — and not just materials for his personal use — would be sent from our shop. One evening a tall and well-built gentleman walked into our shop and asked for Nandababu. Hearing his voice, father rose from his chair and greeted him with folded hands. After returning the greeting, the gentleman said, “You’re busy, Nanda is also not here, I’ll leave then.” In the mean time Nandabadu too had arrived. Seeing him, the gentleman said with a pleased voice, “Come to Majestic around four in the evening tomorrow, some orders will be placed.” Later Nandababu told me that his name was Debi Prasad Roy Choudhury. The next day evening I went to the hotel with Nandababu. When Debibabu asked Nandababu about me, he said I was Girinbabu’s second son. When he asked me my name I said it was Sri Pashupatinath Laha. Debibabu asked me to repeat my name, he wanted to know who had taught me to put Sri before my name. I replied that father had taught me that. Debibabu said, “I can’t call you by such a big name, I’ll just call you `baba’.” From that day onwards he always called me baba. Sometimes, if he hadn’t met me for a long time, he would call up. If I asked him what he required, he would say that he had called up just to find out about me.

Right from Bhabani Charan Laha to Bikash Bhattacharya and Suvaprasanna — I can remember many names. We have shared a long, cordial relationship even with the Calcutta Government Art College. Among past principals we were on particularly friendly terms with Sri Mukul Chandra Dey, Sri Ramendranath Chakraborty, Sri Chintamani Kar, Isa Mohammad, Sri Biman Bihari Das and many others. My brother Biswanath Laha was very friendly with Chintamani Kar, especially since they were almost of the same age. Later on even I grew quite close to Chintamanibabu. He would often share funny stories with us at the shop. I also remember seeing other greats like Raja Ravi Varma, Sarada, Ranada and Barada Ukil, Sri S.N. Dey of Howrah, Sri Basanta Ganguly, Sri Bholanath Das, Sri Dhiren Chakraborty, Mr B. Bhiwindiwala and others. I’ve also seen famous art critic O.C. ganguly come to our shop.

I’ll end by speaking on a few matters involving the famous artist and filmmaker Satyajit Ray. I was a great fan of his. I’ve been seeing him right from the time I joined our shop. Then he used to be an eminent artist with the D.J. Keymer company. He was a very quiet and reticent man. Years back, our shop used to have a very good collection of art books. Whenever he came to our shop, he would pick up a book according to his liking and read it standing in one corner. He would never take a seat even if he was offered one. On one particular occasion he had been reading a book for a long time, when Nandababu finally called out to him. Startled, he looked up from his book and saw that it was five o’ clock in the evening. Taking out a tram ticket lodged under his watchband, he placed it in the book and told Nandababu, “I’ll read the rest tomorrow. Please don’t sell it off before that.”

Initially, I didn’t know Satyajitbabu very well. He would come once in a while and we would talk a little. Then, gradually we developed close ties. He would turn things around in his hand — like paper, paints and brushes — before buying them. He always opted for branded products but still liked to check his things before buying them. Then he would hand them over to me saying, “Pashupatibabu, please note down the point size of the brush. If you see it once, I can always come back to you if it is turns out to be bad.” he would frequently come to our shop to buy goods while making Pather Panchali. Often, he would talk to us about his affairs and regret that the movie would probably never be completed. On one occasion I remember him saying that he had finally managed to arrange for some money to complete a day’s shooting. On another day Satyajitbabu suddenly walked into our shop and said that his mother, wife and son were supposed to come to our shop, but he himself had got late in reaching there. He was looking for a bow and arrows for Pather Panchali but wasn’t being able to lay his hands on one and he had got late looking for this. I directed him to the toy shops in New Market and being satisfied, he immediately went off on his search.

When the shooting for the film was nearing its end, he revealed to me that he had sold off his collection of precious records to raise money for the shooting. I told him: “Why don’t you approach Bidhanbabu? Your family knows him so well.” Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy was tlyt. chief Minister of West Bengal then. Finally, after many travails, [Pather Panchali] was completed. All newspapers were profuse in their praise for the movie and Satyajitbabu became quite famous. He made a name for himself and won numerous prizes in the country as well as abroad.

On one occasion Satyajit Ray had come to our shop when three college students started whispering among themselves on seeing him. It was as if they weren’t being able to approach him. Seeing this, Satyajitbabu walked up to me and asked if I thought they wanted his autograph. Seeing his amusement, I called the three of them and asked if they were indeed looking for his autograph. And so it was. Satyajitbabu agreed to give them his autograph but when they held up their books, he said that he didn’t sign on such paper. “If you want my autograph, you’ll have to get an autograph book for it. It is possibly available here,” he said. The three girls immediately rushed to Nandababu and got themselves the autograph books. Satyajitbabu asked for three sketch pens of different colours. Then opening the books he signed in Bengali on the first two pages, and then, turning over, did the same in English on the last two pages. All of this was done with three different inks. The girls went away with pleased faces. I asked him if the autographs in English were for free. Laughing, he replied that since three autograph books had been sold, he had given three extra autographs.

I can talk about many other such stray memories. I don’t want to bore the reader by describing all of them. I’ll let my pen stop after sharing just one more really wonderful memory. 22 Palli Cultural Organisaiton is near our house in Bhawanipore and I have been their organising secretary for years. Every year we organise a sit-and-draw competition for chidren at Northern park. Right from the beginning, Satyajitbabu was involved with us as one of our motivators. And every year he would judge the first, second and third prizes for the ‘tiny’ group which was for the four to eight age group. He used to be so enthusiastic about this that every year he would call up around this time and ask when we would send the pictures to be judged. We would always be present to see him judge and that itself was quite an experience. Today these have become priceless memories. Through my family business I’ve come into contact with many talented, famous people, have got their love and blessings. These are the chief treasures of my life.

With these as my ultimate savings I’ll be able to spend the rest of my days.

 

 

G.C.LAHA PVT LTD

BUDDHADEV GUHA

When I was an adolescent, I would go to K.C. Biswas and Company at 1, Chowringhee on an average of once every week. Later this shop was renamed East India Arms Co in the Fifties. The shop sold guns, rifles, pistols, revolvers and cartridges. The bonus of shopping from there was that one got to hear of the experiences of the famous hunters of eastern India. The rajahs and maharajahs of small princely states of Bihar, Orissa and Assam would congregate there.

From there I would go to G.C. Laha next. The boos of the shop then was probably the father of the present owner, Pashupatinath Laha. He was very handsome and looked like a prince himself, just like Amarbabu at the K.C. Biswas company. They were also dressed similarly. A handloom dhoorti with a wide border and a cotton panjabi. Very few among Bengalis looked as noble, fair and well-built as these men. At present, Pashupatinath Laha too has that same elegance.

I was never what you can call an artist. But right since childhood I felt deeply attracted to paper, pens, colours and brushes. During Durga Puja, the Bengali New year or Rathayatra when I would get a small allowance from my grandmother, I went and spent it on pen nibs, colours and brushes. Fountain pens were not very popular among school students in those days but since my father had a fascination for pens he would buy me Waterman, Parker and Schaeffer pens even while I was in class six and seven. Later on I even got a Mont Blanc.

My mental state whenever I went.to G.C. Laha is comparable to my feelings when I went to the Mont Blanc shop in Frankfurt in Germany. I felt that if I had a gun I would forcibly carry off many of the paints, brushes and pens. I would paint mostly with oil colours in adolescence and in youth. Shyamal Dutta Roy was the compatriot of my cousin Duludada, the son of my eldest uncle who was the famous poet Sunirmal. Basu. He would turn up at times to see my artistic endeavours at our ancestral home ‘Koninika’ on Raja Basanta Roy Road. He even came to our Ballygunge Park residence once. He told me that I painted well precisely because I didn’t have any formal training.

I have never got around to exhibiting my pictures, firstly out of sheer laziness, secondly, because I’ve never had people to egg me on, thirdly, because most of my paintings have been carried off by friends and acquaintances for their homes. Anyway, these are matters I don’t want to talk about, I’d rather speak about G.C. Laha’s shop at Dharamtalla. I firmly believe that the effect that the shop had on an unknown, young artist like me is similar to the way it must have impacted the minds of great artists. I would be enchanted by the variety of colours, paper, brushes, board, palette, easel and other materials of a studio — just like the way one feels when one goes to a big booksellers’ shop.

One also must speak about the owner and the employees of the shop. Every Bengali shop has somehting to learn from them. Pashupatibabu himself, as well as his father and uncle (who passed away at a very young age) and also his son Partha and nephew Siddhartha have treated all artists — whether famous or little-known — with the sort of cordiality that has won their hearts. Each of their employees have also picked up these manners from them, which in itself is quite remarkable.

If my Maker asked me to choose a life for myself in my next birth, I would ask Him to make me an employee at G.C. Laha, so that I can spend my time from the morning till the night with my senses suffused with the smells of paints, brushes, paper and ink. It will be an untiring profes y time surrounded by the implements of the creative arts and even more, because I would be have such creative geniuses around me. I offer my warmest wishes to the owners and the employees of G.C. Laha on such an auspicious day. I pray that they will celebrate two hundred years, though I will not be around to share it myself.

 

 

MY G.C. LAHA EXPERIENCES

SUVAPRASANNA

It must have been around 1957 or 58. I was very young, but had already begun my frequent visits to the shop. An art college, a gallery or a museum were words I didn’t have any clue about. I just knew that G.C. Laha was the place that dealt with all things to do with paintings.

In my childhood I would go there just like that and stare up with wide eyes at the rows upon rows of colours, brushes and many other materials all to be used in artwork. And all of them would be stacked tightly into polished ebony furniture and cup-boards. Everyone was perpetually busy serving the customers who flocked at the shop at all hours.

The showcase faced you as soon as you entered at the counter table sat a fair looking gentleman in a pair of golden spectacles, dressed in a loose Punjabi. He had a sharp nose and spoke gently, but nobility was clearly written on his features. Most of the times he would be busy either writing or signing papers. Once in a while he would raise his face from the papers. On both sides he was flanked by two amply-built young men who were either helping him or answering the questions of the buyers. Later on I learnt that this gentleman was Girindra Coomar Laha, he owned the shop. And the two men by his sides were his sons Pashupatinath and Loknath Laha. It was a shop straight out of my dreams.

One evening, while I was walking past the table in front, the amused gentleman sit-ting on the other side asked me with mock seriousness: “What’s your name, kid?” I was about as high as the table itself. When I tried to walk away keeping to the left of the table he asked me again: “Can you draw pictures?” May be he had noticed me for a few days and felt curious about me. He was silent for a time, before he addressed me again without looking at me: “What paints do you use for your pictures?” I didn’t reply directly but told him that I was planning to paint a picture of Vivekananda with some oil paints on a board, and I required a few colours for that purpose. Again there was a brief silence, and then he called another person who took me to a few counters on the right-hand side. He opened a drawer and took out about six or seven old, flattened, partly dry tubes and handed them over to me. They were small tubes of the Winsor & Newton Company, the only ones available then. He told me: “Use these to paint and come back and show your work when you’ve finished. He has given these to you.” It was like a priceless treasure to me. And this is how my association with G.C. Laha began. The handsome gentleman was Pashupatinath Laha, who later on became our beloved Pashupatida. In those days there weren’t that many arts and crafts shops in every nook and corner. Foreign-made water colour cakes were available in the Chinese market and the Dharamtalla crossing was where one could get everything to do with colours and brushes. G.C. Laha has been a pilgrimage for artists for various reasons. It is an institution that has been witnessed to the foot-steps of famous artists and incidents from their tempestuous lives.

Even I remember various incidents, from my long association with the shop and its family. But those are things which we can probably discuss at some other time. We have passed many unfortunate and turbulent times in our personal as well as social lives to reach where we are today. May be, we never came to a halt. Right from Girindra Laha to Biswanathbabu, Pashupatida and Loknathda G.C. Laha has become linked with our lives directly or indirectly.

When needs as well as wants plagued us in art college, when grappling with life our dreams were gradually turning hazy, G.C. Laha was the last refuge for our dreams. We painters and sculptors would often say to each other that we would merry into the G.C. Laha household and then we’d never have to worry about paints and brushes. Such fantastic stories would be passed around by word of mouth.

To this day G.C. Laha has maintained that same elegance, decency and nobility. Pashupatida and Loknathda have trained the third generation of inheritors who work ceaselessly towards taking the institution forward with the changing times. The mar-ket has expanded new enticements, advertisements, sales techniques and globalisation and an atmosphere of competition keep attracting us from many sides. But we will always answer to the call that comes from the heart. This spirit was planted by G.C. Laha, the driving force behind the organisation and it has not grown faint even after a hundred years.

 

A MEETING GROUND FOR ARTISTS

BISHNU DAS

G.C. Laha has run ceaseless from 1905 to 2005, and it can only continue in the same way. Let its path ahead be smooth and let it live for many more years.

I wasn’t even born when Girindra Coomar Laha had founded the shop. It’s the proof of his foresight and his perseverence that today the shop has become a place where many meet. And not only in Calcutta, artists from all around India want news of G.C. Laha. This is something I know from personal experience. I have been in and out of the shop ever since the time I was a student of the Government Art College. Earlier it used to be just about buying things from the shop. Paints, brushes, paper, pens, different pencils — I would go just to know more about these products. I can’t even remember when I developed closer ties with the shop. And it wasn’t just with me — many others have grown close to the shop in this way. Now I think them to be members of my family. I wasn’t very well acquainted with the founder Girindra Coomar Laha since his age would prevent him from coming to the shop very often. But his eldest son the Late Biswanath Laha and also Sri Pashupatinath Laha and the Late Loknath Laha have been well-known to me since then itself.

I’ve always been impressed by their well-being and their politeness. But I was closer to Pashupatida for various reasons. I would be left speechless by his organisational skills and his social ideas as well as his ability to attract children to him. What’s become a part of their family legacy is their sense of values — something which is lacking everywhere at the present time.

Pashupatida’s frankness, his sense of values, his way of providing encouragement were themselves an attraction for even a mere student like me. This was the ultimate gain. At that time Partha and Siddhartha were quite young and I would be very affectionate towards them. At present Partha and Siddhartha’s efficiency and Pashuaptida’s presence take us ahead, more so because we know them personally.

Late Biswanath Laha, Sri Pashupatinath Laha and the Late Loknath Laha —all three of them would divide their time in the shop, just in the way the current generation does. I’ve seen the Late Nandababu and the Late Hemantababu talking to the customers with a welcoming smile and helping them after hearing their requirements.But Nandababu was always an exceptional man. His wore a high dhooti and a pale, saffron-coloured panjabi with crepe bandage wound around his calves all his life. He was the guardian of the buyers as well as theme sellers. His endearing attitude was liked by all and even if he didn’t speak about it, it was always in his eyes. Many artists would invariably look for Nandababu when they came to the shop, and once they found him, would tell only him their requirements.

Let me talk about something else — at that time I used to live at Arpuli Lane near the Calcutta Medical College. It was a small 8-feet-by-7-feet room in a small blind alley called Sree Gopal Mullick Lane. There was very little free space and so it used to be impossible to bring relatives, friends or acquaintances there. The small room was a main reason but equally important were the perennial problems that plague all landlords and tenants in Calcutta. But I don’t want to prolong my piece by talking about that.

G.C. Laha had become a regular haunt after college, and one day i even mentioned my predicament to Pashupatida, whom I called Nada then. He told me in a kindly voice: “You can come here everyday and spend an hour or two. Tell everyone that you’ll be available here at that time.” It felt as if I had won some great prize, and I did not tarry in putting this plan into action. When I arrived every evening he would rise from his chair and we would go out and have tea at the New York soda fountain — that was our daily routine. Let’s come to something even more curious — the 22 Palli Cultural Organisation. We all know how the youngsters of Kolkata were going astray at one point of time. The idea of bringing them back to the mainstream took shape in the Laha family. With his ideals, Nada began his noble mission and was joined by many supporters, friends and acquaintances of Bhawanipore. It was decided at a meeting that a sit-and-draw contest would be organised for children. The idea was to make kids aware of the importance of 26 January, the Republic. Day of India. It was held at the same field where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose used to play in his childhood. The event became so important that we volunteers along with Nada worked the year round at 10A, Mohini Mohan Road to make this event successful, aided liberally by deep-fried pakoras, sweets and tea. Mohini Mohan Road used to be a beehive of activity of then. What was best was that Nada handed over the responsibilty of this to the next generation.

My deep respect for their values and traditions is the reason for my saying all of this. I’ve always felt that there is always something to learn from the silent expression of values and tradition among this family.

 

 

NANDABABU

BISHNU DAS

Nandababu was the dearest among all in this shop, he was the pillar of the employees. Charubabu and Dhirenbabu were the assistants of the boss, later on Girindra Coomar Laha used to run the shop helped by Nandababu and other employees. Lots of matters at the shop can’t be imagined without Nandababu being there and his presence would add something more to the shop. His patience, his gentle solemnity and manners would attract everybody. Many great artists were very close to him, something that I could understand when I saw him converse with them. He had everything in his knowledge — whether it was the requirements of the artists or the specific needs of young and budding students. This is a shop which is not just exclusively for artists, even others come here to purchase materials they require. Nandababu would stand there and carefully guide people and assist them in such a way that it would save a lot of time even for the others in the shop. The customers would be taken in the right direction. I can remember many things, but let me end with what personal help I got from him. I would find out the addresses of many artists from him. Isn’t it a great gain for someone just out of college or university?

 

 

COLOURS OF OLD DAYS

DEBABRATA CHAKRABORTY

Bhim Nag’s sandesh, C.C. Saha’s records, Dwarik Ghosh’s sweets, K.C. Das’s rasogolla and G.C.Laha’s paints — all of these are a matter of pride for Bengalees. I’ve been acquainted with the G.C.Laha shop for over 40 years now. When I was the student of the Government Art College in 1965, our teacher Barendra Nath Niyogi asked me one day in class to go and get some particular earth colours from G.C. Laha during the tiffin break. So, for the first time, I walked into G.C. Laha on an August afternoon. I had no idea theat there was such a shop for artists in the midst of the din and bustle of Dharamtalla. From then on it became a meeting point, a place for us to congregate, or even to meet up with our beloved once. Kolkata wasn’t thus crowded then. We discovered the route to return home to our Badurbagan residence on the number 12 tram from the opposite side of the pavement. We, the students of the art college, would walk past the Indian Museum and once we reached the shop, we planted ourselves on the rows of chairs there. Everything — from meeting up with friends to returning home — was allowed here. Nandababu used to work here then. He would even address fresh youngsters in a respectful manner, something which was a great embarrassment to us. We would buy our mount boards, as well as the rare Winsor & Newton colour cakes from here. The brushes of this foreign company used to be quite cheap then. I’ve known Pashupatibabu ever since then. I haven’t seen another soul as lively and friendly as Pashupati Nath Laha in my whole life. He was around 42 or 43 then. He was very fair and had black hair completely brushed back. Smoke would emanate from behind his lips from his costly cigarette. His complexion would be visible even from behind his white panjabi. He would smile gently. There used to be a full-sized Belgian-glass mirror outside. One couldn’t even count the number of people who would stand in front of the mirror and comb their hair or try to straighten it in order to look smart. It is here that for the first time I saw Maqbool Fida Hussain walking out after buying his roll of cartridge paper. Or on other days we would see the famous artist and art critic Ahibhushan Malik in his thick-rimmed glasses with his huge sling bag. Ahibabu used to work with Anandabazar. We small artists used to be diehard fans of his free-flowing cartoons done with thick bruskstrokes. Or may be it isn’t right to call ourselves artists since we had just entered art college then. We would be attired in a colourful panjabi and a dhoti or pyjamas, with a Santiniketan sling bag on our frail shoulders and slippers on our feet. From then itself we started to think of ourselves as artists.

On another day we were stunned to see a tall well-built foreigner enter the shop, and Pashupatibabu told us that he was the famous artist Desmond Doing who worked for The Statesman. He could make brilliant sketches. In this way this paints shop turned into a place where we junior artists would rub shoulders with the famous artists and painters of Kolkata.

When Satyajit Ray used to work for D.J. Keymer he would often turn up the shop during the lunch break to buy art materials and read books available at the shop. At that time many good `books of foreign publications would be available here. I got to know here that Satyajitbabu was actually Manikbabu. He was putting together 1 a money for Pather Panchali at that time. Selling off his collection of valuable records, his wife’s q jewellery he was preparing to work on the film. He would be lost in the book he was reading and would completely forget about the time. \ Pashupatibabu would walk up to him and whisper . in his ear: “Sir, your tiffin time is over.” He would sit up with a start and placing the tram ticket as a bookmark between the pages, would say with an ashamed face, “Really! It’s so late? I’ll have to return to office now.” And as he would walk out he would say, “It’s a wonderful book. When I have enough money, I’ll buy it. You’ll be able to get for me then, right?” Pashupatibabu would shake his head and say that he would be able to. All of these are memories of days long past. One day Pashupatibabu told us that he had once seen Satyajit Ray climb on to the bamboo scaffolding in the middle of a busy road to paint. We were surprised and asked him how that was possible. Blowing out cigarette smoke, he said, “He was possibly planning a cigarette advertisement when he was with an advertising agency. In those days these would be done by painting huge hoardings up against the wall. Once the artists were painting such a hoarding, but when they couldn’t execute his orders properly, he climbed on to the bamboo perch to help them. After all, he used to be very finicky about his work.” There are many such stories about celebrities we’ve heard from Pashupatibabu. It happened so that when I passed out of art college I got a job at The Statesman, which was a stone’s throw from G.C. Laha. Down the years my bonds with G.C. Laha have only grown stronger. And the best part of this has been that I got to know about  the vacancy at The Statesman from my friend Ajay Niyogi when we met up at the G.C. Laha shop.

 

 

CENTENARY GREETINGS

BALLARI MUKHERJEE

My growing up days were spent on the second floor of a house which had a neem right next to it. There was a window that came right down to the floor, and my favourite pastime was to crawl into the space below the window with the sketch book on my lap. To be immersed in my story book or the penmarks in my sketch book, to stare at the beauty of the sky through the thin gaps within the leaves or at the broken, scarred stems of the trees and who passed through them, or to see what other people were doing — these used to be my chief occupation. What was regretful is that grown-ups never paid any attention to this unending curiosity of mine. Anyway, there’s nothing to be done about that now. In the meanwhile I came to know Nilimadi, i.e. Srimati Nilima Dutta at my school, Brahma Balika Vidyalaya. Nilimadi would tell us to draw pictures with care, since it was as important as our studies. She asked to go to G.C. Laha with our lists of paints and brushes, assuring us that Nandababu would help us out. It was around 1972-3 — I can still remember it clearly. He had wavy, salt-and-pepper long hair, a firm chin and wore thick-rimmed black spectacles. He would talk with his eyebrows a bit raised. I would stand behind my dad and would immediately complete the task at hand, which was to first take in the din and bustle and then let my gaze sweep on to Nandababu — you can say that I would be a bit bewildered. Even in that crowded shop I still remember this really handsome, dignified man. There was something in his rich baritone that evoked a sense of awe in the listener.

Thanks to Niladi, many forms of art competitions would be sent to our school and among them, the most significant and regular was the one that came for the All Bengal sit-and-draw competition organised by 22 Palli. There wasn’t another big competition like this in those days. I first went for this competition accompanied by my father around 1973-4. Father told me that was what most surprising was that such a huge event was organised so systematically. Working on our pictures, submitting them, collecting our tiffin packs and even queuing up for our Horlicks/Bournvita was so easy because of the discipline. The paintings which won prizes would be displayed at the Calcutta Information Centre. After I had participated in the event a few times, I joined the junior class at the Academy of Fine arts, chiefly due to the encouragement of my father’s colleague, the famous painter Sri B.R. Panesar. I entered the Government Art College a few years later.

When I was at the Government Art College we would often have to run to G.C. Laha when something wasn’t available at the Cheap Store run by Paltuda. Being taught by artists like Sri Niranjan Pradhan and Sri Bandhan Das didn’t just help us to pick up the grammar of art but also to develop our artistic sensibilities and philosophy. In this matter I must also mention the name of Madrimati Shuktishubhra Pradhan (Shuktidi) whose unusually sensitive thinking has taught me time and again to be patient and inquisitive. Sri Ganesh Haloi was the biggest influence on me. With his guidance I was tutored in this school of thought and this lagacy was reflected later in my work. Getting to know Ajanta anew, and through it, learning about the folk art of the world, combining technique and art in my own free thought — I learnt to feel all of this. I remember the annual exbition at college when we would work at furious speed. Sir would stay back after college hours and encourage us in our work. On many occasions we would have to go to G.C. Laha to fetch earth colours.

Quite a few years passed after I left art college. It was in 2002, when I was one of a quartet of judges for the 22 Palli sit-and-draw contest, that I renewed my bonds with G.C. Laha again. I am indebted to Sri Arun Dutta, an artist we all loved and respected. he is not among us any more, but this organisation was always very close to his heart. He would talk to us about old days and tell us of the famous artists who had come to G.C. Laha.

He was present at the prize distribution ceremony of the sit-and-draw contest till the very end, though he was extremely ill then. And this attraction is only possible if both have an infinite liking for each other.

I have often felt that only if one has a deep love for art can share such close ties with artists, inspire children and youngsters in their artistic efforts and encourage general people in matters of art for three decades. And this is a love that is not just unique to one or two people, it belongs to their whole family. It is as if all workers of the organisation are linked together by their love of art. It is due to this that even with the highs and lows down the years they have been able to accept this perennial quality of art in their heart. I applaud this lively innovativeness from my heart.

 

 

THE RAYS AND G.C. LAHA

SANDIP RAY

Baba (Satyaj it Ray) had a very strong connection with G.C. Laha, which went back quite a few decades. He must have been a regular at the shop right since his days in school. And after returning from Kala Bhavan he became a devotee of the shop. Even later, when he was working at D.J. Keymer he made it a point to provide for all his artistic requirements from G.C. Laha. Whether it was Chinese ink, drawing blocks or layout designs — the choice, at least in Calcutta, was always G.C. Laha.

I’m not fully aware for how long the Ray family has had associations with G.C. Laha. I’ve seen Baba going there since my own childhood. That was back in the Fifties. And even if I add another decade to that, then our connection with G.C. Laha is actually about 60 years long! And possibly, Sukumar Ray, my grandfather, was also a customer of the shop. This just shows how faithfully we trusted G.C. Laha to provide us with the right materials.

What Baba required most was drawing blocks. His regular stock of drawing blocks and layout pads were used up very fast. So, he would go back to the shop periodiocally to replenish his stocks. He had a particular fondness for Chinese ink, and preferred Pelican over all other makes. I remember, there was once a time when he started using an Indian variety, but it didn’t prove to be good enough. Finally, things came to such a pass that he went back and complained about the product. The owners of G.C. Laha reacted with amazing alacrity. The complaint was sent off and after that we never had any problems with goods from the shop. This is how prompt the service at G.C. Laha used to be.

Once in a while when Baba couldn’t find the time, he would send me with a long list to the shop in order to fetch the things he required. I would dutifully go there to get the art materials. And when he went, often, he would end up buying more things than he required. It would happen like this: once he was inside the shop, the people at the counter would show him one new item after another. Many of these materials were things he had seen abroad. So, when he saw them at G..C. Laha, naturally, he would be pleasantly surprised and end up buying them.

At times, when there has been an urgent requirement, we have even placed our orders over the telephone and the shop has obligingly sent over someone to deliver the materials at our residence. This was possibly one of the first instances of home delivery in our city! In those days all posters used to be done by hand and Baba would always work on the actual size of the illustration. For that, the most preferred size was the 30-40 paper. I remember so many occasions when I’ve seen him bent over the sheet, touching up his next poster. Then, Baba passed away in 1992. Even till 1991 he would buy his art materials only from G.C. Laha. This is how strong his brand loyalty used to be.

G.C. Laha also stocked some marvellous foreign art materials in those days. This was at a time when such things were not easily available anywhere else in Calcutta. There were beautiful holders and grips of foreign make. We also preferred to use the Staedth..,r pencils with thick graphite and charcoal blocks bought from G.C. Laha. Another thing we always looked out for were the end-of-the-year gifts from the shop. It was always delivered without fail and comprised a diary, a calendar and a wooden ruler. The wonderful thing about the calendars is that even after all these years they have not changed even a bit in design and look just the same. G.C. Laha also has a very quaint and special connection with Baba’s directorial masterpiece, [Father Panchali]. The story board of the film — which is the graphic representation of the screenplay — was done on paper procured from G.C. Laha. When Baba would go to producers he would take this particular story board with him in order to show it and convince the producers to finance his movie. Today, that same story board occupies a pride of place in Paris. He has also another story board, a stylised feature on Ravi Shankar, which was done on paper from G.C. Laha. Though that was never captured on celluloid, the story board itself has been shown many times, in books as well as in exhibitions.

But for me the most memorable thing about the shop is the ambience inside. As soon as one walked in, one would get that unique smell — the smell of old things which raked up long-lost memories in the mind. Everything in the shop put together creates a sense of nostalgia which cannot be found anywhere else. At a time when all institutions that represent tradition are being obliterated Emil the face of this city, G.C. Laha’s stepping into its hundredth year is more than just a cause for celebration. It is a matter of pride. And in this centenary year I can only wish that like previous generations, younger generations too will flock to the shop and partake of its wonderful service.