This Café Is An Artistic Haven For Kolkata’s Queer Community

This Café Is An Artistic Haven For Kolkata’s Queer Community
Amra Odbhuth

Although the Supreme Court of India’s recent and long overdue verdict on Section 377 decriminalised homosexual sex, Indian society, its public spaces, and its citizens have a long way to go before they can truly embrace the spectrum of sexuality that exists. To counter this collective, heteronormative conditioning, young Indians are taking to the streets in pride parades and online platforms like Twitter and Instagram to loudly and proudly assert their queerness. One such young, queer collective is Amra Odbhuth (we are queer) founded by Upasana Agarwal, Nandini Moitra, and Raina Roy.

Nested in the Jadavpur neighbourhood, Amra Odbhuth is Kolkata’s first event space and eatery that is accepting of and publicly celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. “We want to make this a community-led space where the entire staff will be queer... Even though we believe in having a social space, we want it to be very art-centric,” says Upasana, an illustrator and artist. They, Nandini, and Raina are members of the LGBTQ+ community too: Upasana and Nandini are partners and gender non-conforming, preferring they/them pronouns, while Raina is a transwoman and an activist for 20 years.

Pictured: Raina, Nandini, and Upasana (Courtesy: Amra Odbhuth)

“There aren’t many regular queer-centric events in Kolkata, so we thought we’d do a monthly meet somewhere,” explains Upasana who tells me about their initial plan approaching cafés in the city to host events. They, however, decided against collaborating with other cafés because of potential class and caste barriers and a filtering of content. “Nandini’s family has a house that was almost falling apart, so we started basic repairs there... Since then, we’ve been holding an event once a month,” they say. With a changing menu that keeps you on your toes, Amra Odbhuth serves a mix of usual café and Bengali cuisine alongside a gamut of artistic experiences. “We love to cook and experiment with cuisine... Not only Punjabi food, but other north Indian, coastal, and south Indian food. We want to do all this in a café style,” says Upasana.

Courtesy: Amra Odbhuth

Whether hosting book launches featuring queer writers or poetry and music events, Amra Odbhuth has become a safehouse for queer Calcuttans wanting to express themselves through art and performance. The café even hosted Alok V Menon, an outspoken and notable figure in the international queer community who is also a poet, writer, and educator. Café attendee, Shakti Waghela said on Facebook, “Im in love with this place, I’ve never felt so accepted before, I’ve finally found my place. Don’t lose hope dear queer friends. There will always be places like this willing to accept and embrace you.”

Pictured: Alok V Menon with other event attendees (Courtesy: Amra Odbhuth)

The café is especially interested in carving out a space that is intersectional because the queer movement is not singular, but inclusive, says Upasana. “Most LGBTQ spaces are dominated by cis, gay men. Queer women and trans people have limited representation,” they say, explaining that they’re proud of the 150 strong attendance that is balanced across all demographics.

Upasana talks of Amra Odbhuth as a community run and built space with its balcony, library area, kitchen, porch that houses a cat bed, screening room, garden for growing vegetables, backyard, and all other cozy and intimate nooks and crannies. Andy Chakraborty wrote on the café’s Facebook page, “With it’s mood lighting, it’s old Calcutta hospitality and it’s various shout outs to queer art, Amra Odbhut feels more like an old friend’s house than a café.”

Courtesy: Amra Odbhuth

Upasana, Nandini, and Raina want to make Amra Odbhuth a regular, full-time café, not one that comes alive only for special events. For this, they have started a crowdfunding campaign that everyone can donate to to fund renovation costs and the hiring trans and queer staff members, who are at risk of hostile work environments elsewhere. Andy Chakraborty adds, “It’s simultaneously refreshing and heartening to see queer and hetero folk alike discussing art, politics and entertainment media (among other things) while enjoying an equally refreshing mojito and... I’m glad this space exists, I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Amra Odbhuth Café and Collective can be reached at 9830570009 and

Feature image by: Amra Odbhuth

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