City Hangout – Cotea, Shakarpur
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The noon’s hot white light is entwined with the dust-laden air. The traffic on the main road is stubbornly stationary, and yet it remains a noisy anarchy. Such are the joys of summertime Shakarpur.
And then you enter the narrow partly-shaded Gali No. 3. In it, a long dimly-lit hall with dark wood tables and string chairs.
Cotea is like a whiff of cool air, literally. Opened in March, this lounge-like space has such a comfortably indeterminate character that you could as well be catching your tired breath in some cozy coffeeshop of a mall or airport anywhere across the world. But this is only the first impression.
Soon, a band of chatty regulars troop in and you shift closer to the pulse of the east Delhi neighbourhood. These young men and women could be tomorrow’s doctors—they are students of a coaching institute for medical entrance exams. The area is crammed with these “coaching centers.”, the walls around the adjacent (Lakshmi Nagar) metro station are plastered with faces of celebrity teachers and topper students. The three girls and three boys in the café have taken advantage of a 15-minute gap between the two classes to treat themselves to mayonnaise veg sandwich. And “thank you very much but we don’t want to be snapped because”—one girl explains—“mummy papa will be furious if they discover I’m outside the classroom.”
The café’s three founders (seen at right in the photo) themselves are alumni of the area’s coaching institutes—Manas Varshney (from Chandausi town) is a CA finalist; Digvijay Singh Rajawat (from Bhind) is preparing for his SSC CPO exam; Ujjwal Tomar (from Morena) is a hotel management graduate.
Minutes later, the medical college aspirants rush back to their classes. All becomes quiet. Until another gang from another coaching institute marches in. Soon afterwards a “couple” too enters.
Soon, they are gone as well, including two of the three founders who step out briefly to deliver orders to nearby places (the third founder is busy in the kitchen.) The café is completely empty. The TV on the wall behind the counter is playing Hindi film songs on mute. Now, a young man in shorts appears. He settles down with an unusual book that has never ever been spotted by The Delhi Walla in any other café in this vast city—The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia.
A cup of cappuccino, sprinkled with chocolate powder, costs 35 rupees.