City Hangout – Altering Indian Coffee House, Mohan Singh Place
A changing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The discreet way the daylight streams through the glass windows has remained the same. The silhouette-like reflection of the people falling on the tiled wall hasn’t changed much, either. The time as well seems to be moving with the same slowness. Ditto the whirring sound of the ceiling fans, and the starched turbans and the red cummerbund of the senior stewards.
Things haven’t changed greatly at the timeless Indian Coffee House (circa 1950s).
In some other ways, things have changed, especially inside the main hall, that alcove of solitude, shade and overextended conversations. Some of the elderly regulars are no longer spotted. The chipped wooden tables have gone. The rexine sofas have gone, replaced by stiff-backed metallic seating. The blue curtains have gone, swapped with red and brown curtains.
And climate change has finally brought in the AC.
Nestled on the second-floor of Mohan Singh Place, the coffee house is a ditty to the old times when there were no take-away burgers, no self-service counters and no stewards in baseball caps. The prices continue to be affordable. The ambiance too lies marinated in a combination of informality and restraint, unique to this place.
Attired in a starched turban, bearer Brijnandan Kumar (see the first photo below), who has been here since 2006, explains the absence of the elderly regulars of years past. Some of those people have left this world, he says, scrolling through the photos this reporter has snapped of the Coffee House patrons over the years. “This man has died, this one too is dead, this one comes rarely, oh this man comes often!”
Brijnandan notes that the coffee house clientele has lately become younger. “Grey-haired people would sit and gossip about politics and samaj (society), now ladka-ladki (boy-girl) sit together, talking in low voices.”
Indeed, look at this young couple. First, he silently feeds her a spoon of the spicy sambhar from a shared plate of masala dosa. Then it is her turn.
The staff is getting younger as well, at least in one instance. Gaurav Singh Rawat joined the coffee house as a bearer a few months ago, and is the youngest staff member at 22. See the second photo below.
PS: In the pre-pandemic days, the sprawling terrace outside would be filled with tables. One would spend an entire day sitting there, reading a novel or watching the monkeys. The beautiful terrace is now empty.