Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Coffee Tables

Ambitions. Srinagar is too small a place for ambitions. Across the table, at Books and Bricks Cafe, B told me how he lost his job abroad and how the dimness of Srinagar wears him down. He had to return when the floods came and destroyed his house. Then he had decided to return for good or temporarily. He wasn’t sure. 

Outside, the large windows of the cafe, constables in a police Gypsy were shooing away cars to make way for a VIP vehicle. Civilian cars were lined on the side, as a guarded procession passed by.

Sigh. Let your ambitions accommodate this too. This is a police state.

We have noticed with delight how one cafe after another opened in Srinagar and we discovered how much we loved coffee. Coffee, in Kashmir, had lived for a long time under the long shadow cast by Nun chai and 'Lipton' tea. It was the drink your father or the busy uncle had once in a while and the one your mother never liked. Yet somehow, now we have one cafe opening after another and coffee is the new cool in Srinagar.

No. We are not complaining.

At Books and Bricks, a cafe opened by two friends, the ambiance is warm and inviting. The walls are lined with old Readers' Digest's pages and the ceiling is of old apple boxes. And there are books, lots of them. Charles Dickens to James Patterson. "Pride and Prejudice" to "Narrow Road to The Deep North". Also the music. The first time I was there they were playing Sweet Home Alabama which was nice. But the second time I was there, Adele was on, and it was symptomatic to my friend's tale of woe.

There is so much yearning in that cafe, that I may return there just for that (and the burgers, of course). The owners of the cafe are around and approachable. They even requested for a Facebook review in passing, and I said to myself, "Boy! You are getting a blogpost!". (Though then I had planned to write an entirely different post.) It is the new breed of entrepreneurship in Kashmir, well educated professionals with a desire to succeed, and if coffee is what they are pinning hopes on, I say it is a clever choice.

I wish this duo all the luck and also hope they expand into a slightly bigger location which would really help with the "reading cafe" ambitions.


By comparison Coffea Arabica is an old haunt cafe. On an extremely dreary March day, I was to meet a friend there for coffee and pasta. He wasn't pleased. He had hired a new assistant, Asif, in his office and was appalled by the standard of education the kid had been put through. But instead of firing the kid, my friend decided to coach him in the basics, things he should have already learnt in two years after tenth and three years of college. He wanted to give Asif a chance, despite his lack of basic skill and clouded thoughts. Everyone, must be given a chance, after all. He said he had had assistants slow on the pick up before, but there was something about Asif that made him skeptical. I thought he was just too involved, being a Kashmiri.

We are not risking anything; we are gambling away our life. It was 7:30 in the evening and Srinagar was closing down. The last few Tata Sumos were ferrying the last few people back home. Two coffees later we left, wondering if everyone else found this city of tourists that difficult to live in.

PS: This is not a review of the restaurants. 

PPS: While the events described are mainly/broadly true, the names are not.

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