City Hangout – Madras Coffee House, Connaught Place
A lounge to be with yourself.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The chandelier is burning faintly. Its slight light is shining up an elderly man’s bald pate. Elsewhere, a woman is sitting alone, wiping her eyes occasionally with a handkerchief. On the next table, a middle-aged loner has his right arm plonked along the cushiony seat’s long armrest, his palm supporting his tilted head.
Being among the oldest surviving commercial landmarks of Connaught Place, Madras Coffee House naturally drips with an inherited stateliness. It is simultaneously casual. Everybody here, at least this moment, seems marooned in their own unconscious selves. This is contrary to our experiences in most of Delhi’s upscale cafés, where we instinctively start to strut on entering, trying to make an impression in front of real and imagined audiences. In Madras, one feels less on show, as if nobody were watching. May be it has something to do with the unusually comfortable seats; they have the scope and softness of a sofa, instantly making the wearily limbs feel at home.
Since 1935, the place has been through a series of makeovers, including in its name (Shanghai Restaurant and Bar, Respo Milk Bar, etc.), but still exudes the ambiance of a long-ago time. May be because of the low-hanging fans, the moderately high ceiling, and the dignified serving staff, more advanced in years than the baristas in coffee chain outlets. A notable charm of the place is the fact that it plays contemporary Hindi Film love songs. This music is so much more accessible to many of us than jazz, or hard rock, or some other western genre heard in other cafés. The mood thus finds an amiable middle-ground between the hushed grandeur of a legacy lounge and the relatability of a relaxed chai stall.
The idyllic timepass seat here is a side-table by the entrance, from where you may spend hours watching the citizenry crowding the market corridor outside. But the best table is at the center of the middle row, its glass top reflecting the chandelier above. The sight is intensely evocative of the final para of Chandelier, a celebrated poem by Greek poet Constantine Cavafy:
“In the small room, radiantly lit
by the chandelier’s hot fire,
no ordinary light breaks out.
Not for timid bodies
the lust of this heat.”
PS: If you are a daring type, try the Oooh L La Dosa—it has chocolate sauce as an ingredient.