From Bangalore to Shimla in North India, one thing we consistently see are outlets of Indian Coffee House, which used to be a Coffee Board chain, turned later into a successful cooperative of its employees.
In Pune, we have other places for filter coffee. These clean, affordable and warm places don’t just attract clients and patrons across the social classes, but also made serious contributions to the idea of India, almost countrywide.
For one, they have successfully persuaded the middle class to try eating a dosa or uttapam with knives and fork.
They were part of the urbanscape of free India, though they were a little babu-ish and not swanky, with a black and white picture of Nehru with a rose, of south Indian heroine Ragini, with impeccably dressed-in-starched-whites waiters.
In Chandigarh, one of the new coffee lounge chains had to close an outlet because it was too close to the Indian Coffee House.
There are people who knew Ram Manohar Lohia because they landed in the same Indian Coffee House bang in the centre of Connaught Place, New Delhi, which was demolished not so long back.
There were and continue to be, in a way, great places to make an adda, places people of every hue came and talked about things.
In Bhopal’s New Market, the coffee house was the central place if you wanted to see actors, journalists, teachers, union leaders, academicians, politicians, contractors, lovers, Naxal supporters, anti-dam activists, leaders of gas victims, artists and poets.
If they could speak, every table could narrate ideas of revolutions, plots of conspiracies, blooming of love stories with happy or tragic endings, striking of corrupt deals, disagreements and persuasions about Karl Marx, Sartre and Che Guevara, character assassinations of our national leaders and, of course, dirty jokes.
Over the strong smells of cigarettes and filter coffee, revolution always seemed round the corner. For a long time, before the Soviet fall and the end of an ideology around 1991, long before the advent of Café Coffee Day and Barista, they were the places of tumultuous action in B-Grade Indian cities, especially during years of the Emergency.
They were not clubs — they were melting pots, the unofficial discussion boards of the confederacy of urban India’s civic society.
They had no legal or constitutional sanctions for this, but inadvertently Coffee Houses had become a kind of an informal platform, where one could leave pretensions behind and be a part of a conversation, which could lead to questions about the ifs and buts and the whys and wherefores of issues in public domain.
Last week I attended two such gatherings in town, when some very bright people, who were also very angry and disgusted about how things are moving (in the literal sense too!) in this great city of Pune.
They effectively articulated what was so wrong with the design of the city, where the plans are going wrong and how a good plan is being so shoddily executed that you will always see chaos thriving on our streets and choking us all for years to come.
These architects, urban planners and designers, and activists feel miffed about the fact that their own city, their own representatives and their own public servants don’t make good use of their talent, which is otherwise recognised in their respective fields.
They felt there is no such place in the city where they can collectively come and evolve a system, which gets some serious attention from the babus and netas, whose expertise as urban planners are highly questionable.
Pune, by virtue of attracting global talent in various streams and fields, will keep having a decent talent pool which could be used productively for the city’s good.
A million bright minds can bring a million mutinies in the way we live. If we don’t remain islands. If we come together.
It can be a real cafeteria or a virtual forum, but it would be a great service to a city which has a great future, which, unlike most other Indian cities, is very young and very aspiring, and, unlike most other Indian cities, is not exhausted or ramshackle or choking.
If you are from this part of the city of million mutinies, you may want to share your bright idea with us, and make the decision-makers hear it. This paper would be happy to be a part of it, in the interest of the city and its people.
This city certainly needs that point of intersection.