Coffee, Art and More- A Heartwarming Kolkata Story

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coffee art by Partha Mukherjee
coffee art by Partha Mukherjee

I met Partha Mukherjee at Tribe Café, a warm and welcoming venue in Golpark.  Its signature bright blue wooden door, the colorful interior with loads of art and books, and the comfortable sofas and chairs furnished in sunny colors and prints, was a wonderful place to meet him.  Over a meal or a cup of hot tea or coffee, Tribe nurtures meaningful conversations. It  is a hub for art, books, film, music and hosts a range of public conversations and events. 

Last month, Tribe invited him and I to participate in a group live art session. I was taken by the young man’s warm smile and intrigued as I watched him work with no paint or other art materials. Partha dipped his brush in a cup of coffee.  He introduced himself as KolkataCoffeeMan, and of course, I wanted to know more about him.

Partha mukherjee
Partha Mukherjee with his coffee art at Tribe Cafe.

As a boy of ten, Partha fashioned images out of straw and clay, an art form he learnt from his cousin.  “I made idols for Vishwakarma, Lakshmi and Saraswati pujas and realized I could make things by myself.  My father recognized my talent.  So, like other Bengali children I was sent to an art tutor to learn painting.  I had several teachers and started painting to earn pocket money to buy books.  I always loved books.” 

The Bethany sisters commissioned Partha, a student there, to paint murals on the Meghmala Roy Education Center walls to serve as colorful backgrounds for Jesus and other Catholic religious images.  Partha’s work was admired, and the sisters recommended him to paint wall art in other schools.  Thus, from the get-go, Partha was working with different mediums on a variety of surfaces.  Now an engineer, Partha sells his paintings and donates the proceeds to help vulnerable, low-income people dealing with health and other personal and family emergencies or tragedies.  “I like my money to go directly to people in need,” he explains.

Wall art at Meghmala Roy Education Center
Partha in front of his wall art at Meghmala Roy Education Center.

Despite his demanding professional career, Partha finds time to paint – “… painting is a stress buster for me,” he says.  Keenly interested in people, their moods, and their stories, he is a fine portrait artist.  “I create portraits using minimal colors.”  About eight years ago, he happened to dip his brush in a mug of coffee and liked the warmth of the color he had accidentally put to paper.  He found the sienna and ochre tones had a look he wanted to explore.  Always an experimenter, Partha is determined to gain control over the sticky medium, which, when mixed with water, is hard to control.  He knew he would not only have to control how best to use coffee as a wash, but also needed to ensure the longevity of the color on paper.  Over time, Partha figured out the right combination of substances that he would have to mix with the coffee for the pigment to last.

As a boy of ten, Partha fashioned images out of straw and clay, an art form he learnt from his cousin. “I made idols for Vishwakarma, Lakshmi and Saraswati pujas and realized I could make things by myself. My father recognized my talent. So, like other Bengali children I was sent to an art tutor to learn painting. I had several teachers and started painting to earn pocket money to buy books. I always loved books.”

Partha painted some magnificent portraits with coffee.  What is even more fascinating to me is that he uses “coffee art” to start and spark conversations that address loneliness, depression, and other mental health challenges that individuals are confronting.  During the lockdown, when tropical cyclone Amphan caused devastating damage in West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh, (May 2020)  Partha, by selling his art, continued to help people in distress. He met other artists who relied on their artwork for their livelihood, who found themselves in dire straits.  It was then that Partha realized that people not only needed money in turbulent times, but also needed to talk about the problems they face.  Through talking people often find ways to confront and overcome their daily struggles.

Amitabh Bachchan portrait in coffee

Once Partha identified how he could meet people’s mental health needs, he reached out on social media to have coffee and to talk with anyone who wanted someone to listen to them. “If you are feeling there is nobody to hear what you have in mind, have a cup of coffee with me, and I will listen and be a sounding board if you like.  Whatever you say, will become a piece of coffee art.”  Several people responded to his post setting in motion a series of conversations.  During the talking sessions, Partha drew their story as it was unfolding.  Many found these hearing sessions therapeutic.  After the session he gifted the painting as a reminder of their meeting.

Also read: Esther and Aollo by Lois Spatz

Partha felt uplifted after he had such sessions and followed them up with his Durga Instagram.  Through the Instagram posts he imagines and portrays Durga as a little girl that has a good home-made solution for everyday problems.  “I try to share the problems people discuss in our coffee session and respond in the funniest way possible through the character Dugga that I have invented.  She can relate to these stories.”  Dugga, in her own quirky ways gives sound advice to cheer the heart (Instagram.com/durga stories).  The discussions stemming from loneliness or depression thus come around full circle to end on a positive and uplifting note. 

Partha’s irrepressible spirit, his optimism, ability to listen with his heart, ingenuity and his generosity has made so many people smile and feel their burdens lightened.  Kolkata’s Coffee Man is clearly a rich brew for the body and soul.  To me he represents the magic of Kolkata.  My Kolkata!

Images courtesy: Partha Mukherjee.

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2 Responses

  1. I am one of the lucky ones to know Partha personally, a charming person with a heart of gold and loads of talent. Thank you for this lovely article

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