Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Indian Coffee House

Photo by Findlay Kember

When I said 'institution', my visiting friends probably imagined palmtrees and the scent of jasmine playing off highly polished dark wood furniture perched on tasteful tiles. Instead classic means burgundy fake leather benches, toothless men in kurtas, a man in a checkered shirt reading the sports pages.

The fans don't whine or hum, they function. Like crickets' song mashed together with the sound of waves. Froth-topped jo sipped from glass tumblers, a bespectacled man's white beard and straight shoulder-length hair rest on his pink shirt. "Pakistan" I hear in his words, the rest lost to me in fast Hindi.

Michael Jackoson enters, a fast moving splash of yellow marched from entrance to kitchen. The celebratory T-shirt of the young man a visual scream among the teal paint and white tiles and pastel formica tables rubbed white with a thousand wipes.

The waiter, green turban cocked, ignores his establishment's 'No Smoking Signs'. Grabs a saucer by dislodging its cup among the other porcelain debris, flicks overspilled tea on the tray and hands me my improvised ash tray. Silence descends. The bearded man wolfs down his soup. The waiter forgets my order. Remembers it and shouts it at me for confirmation across the tables. A patron laughs, an amused bark.

Newspapers are read, papers shuffled. My red kurta feels like an offense, my gender a curiosity. Beautiful light. The shuffle of leather slippers on coffee stained grey marble where ants run oblivous to the mini-highways provided by its cracks and fissures.

I ordered, at first, chai at the Indian Coffe House. What a faux pas.

The cream coffee with its square sugar chrystals dissolved sits in a cup so small the teaspoon looks like a ladel.

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