A lot happens over coffee

Last week, I enjoyed watching Kangana Raut's performance in Queen. The movie begins with a knockout punch to her character, delivered by the character's fiancé. He cancels their wedding, due the following day, and he is unfeeling as he does so, not even noting the mehendi drying on her hands. He checks her as she begins to weep and plead, telling her they're in a public place. At the Cafe Coffee Day. "Calm down, yar," he says. "It happens."

Though they began to arrive fifteen years ago, cafes are new in the Indian psyche, and we'd not imagined we'd consume coffee in this accelerating scale.

Starbucks on Cunningham Road, Bangalore

At week's end, I watched another Hindi number: English Vinglish, in which Sridevi's character has no English and her daughter is ashamed of her for that reason. Her husband and their little boy tease and laugh at her accent when she attempts to mix some English with her Hindi. Their jibes hurt her, but she finds joy in the boy's constant bursts of affection, such as in moments when he breaks into sweet gigs with her and spills to her that his sister is out at Cafe Coffee Day, wearing a very short skirt. Seeing the news doesn't shake his mother, he tells her there are boys at his sister's table, but he cannot rouse his mother on this count.

My wife and I are going to the Coffee Day Lounge this evening. The Lounge stands up to Starbucks, whereas the same group's Cafe Coffee Day is a notch simpler and inexpensive and is more loved by youngsters. My architect, Vasuki, is joining us at the Lounge. We are carrying blueprints for a project in Hassan town. Vasuki will make fresh drawings to accommodate a change in plans. All that will be fine, I'm only worried regarding what I should drink. Cappuccino? Americano? The latter, I suppose, with warm milk added. What shall I do about the time, though? I don't drink coffee after 6:00, and the meeting commences right then.

I prefer the Coffee Day Lounge to Starbucks. The latter is cleaner, and it is in India decked up in pleasant ethnic decorations. B ut at Starbucks I've to go to the counter, whereas in the Coffee Day Lounge I'm served at the table. I spread my books and papers and my camera and its appurtenances about me at the Coffee Day Lounge, and spend two hours each visit. I rise once only, to go to the rest room.

Also yesterday, I was at the Coffee Day Lounge at Sadashivanagar. After my first cappuccino, I asked for kestha kabab, which they serve with salsa and mint chutney. As I dipped and ate those patties (the cafe calls them kabab to be nice to vegetarians) a large party came in. Four round tables were joined for them. The group was led by a short old man in whites. He was frail but from the gravitas on his sun-blackened face and his gait and his stance and from the distance everybody kept from him, I could see he was the patriarch. The rest were a mix of old, and not-so-old, and young men and women--some fifteen in all. After they'd ordered, a young couple detached themselves and came over and sat at a table before me.

I realized it was a party out to arrange a marriage for these two youngsters. The man must've asked for time with the woman, to check out more about her than her looks. Confident souls, I thought, because neither was dressed for the occasion. She wore daily-wear salwar-kameez; he wore unwashed blue jeans. She had a matching number of questions herself, it seemed to me. In twenty minutes they were done, and they returned to the main party where the others were themselves dressed for no more than a casual outing for coffee. Only the patriarch was impressive in his white shirt (pen and folded papers in the breast pocket) and a kachche-style dhoti. The groom joined two men at one end and shared with them his findings, and the lady sat at the other end and told the women there what she'd heard. The rest were immersed in other things, and ate varied fare. The patriarch walked about.

That's it. They left soon after. From where I sat it seemed to me that they parted with the mutual noncommittal assurance: "We'll get back."

Wishing them well in my mind, I dipped my last kebab in the salsa. I'd been dipping only into mint sauce until then. My stomach rose up in revulsion at the salsa, which was stale, but I chomped on, the hot spices in the kabab insulating my tongue from the foul tomato. I've not so far experienced stale food at Starbucks, whereas at Cafe Coffee Day they've been generous with it. That's all right. If people find Cafe Coffee Day and its cousin-outlets good for courtship, for making and breaking marriages, and for a scene for a film, they are swell enough for me, for the light reading I do there.