When Sushil Nangia and his neighbourhood friends meet for Sunday beer session at this Northwood heritage pub Raj Singh Mongia would be very much in their thoughts. His recent death has left a void and a vacant seat at the pub that cannot be filled. The Northwood beer-and-gossip group is now down to four members - Davy, Jaggi, Mongia (not Raj Singh), and Nangia. They were all Delhi Janpath coffee-house regulars, who came to the UK in the early 60s. The coffee house closed down decades back, but the biradhri of its regulars bond together wherever they meet.
A handful of them in Delhi, now retired, continue to meet daily at Embassy restaurant in Connaught Place. Its convener S P Dutt, a retired Air India executive and a coffee-house regular since Delhi University days, stays in e-mail touch many more. And those visiting Delhi drop in at the Embassy to re-connect with the biradhri. Nangia does, on his annual Delhi trip from UK.
His Northwood pub group can be said to represent the UK chapter of the coffee-house biradhri. If only they have a pub in Heaven, I suspect , my friend Raj Singh would start a coffee-house chapter Out There as well. Membership for this out- of- this-world chapter wouldn’t be an issue, I guess. Coffee-house notables who are no more include Girilal Jain, Satinder Singh, Richard Bartholomew, Balwant Gargi, and O P Kohli. Jethinder Sethi, recalling his coffee-days in the 1950s, names many more, who are still around and ageing. This blogger completed 74 the other day.
If anyone thinks of creating a Walk of Fame for Janpath coffee-house regulars, at a Connaught Place sidewalk, (like Hollywood Walk of Fame) we would have plaques bearing names of ex-PM I K Gujral ( a coffee-house regular in early 50s), his painter brother Satish Gujral, Nihal Singh Inder Malhotra, Rakshat Puri, Rajinder Puri, Ajit Bhattacharjee, Uma Vasudeva, K N Malik (mota), K N Malik (chota), Kapila Vatsayan, Roshan Taneja, and Irshad Panjathan.
As for the Maliks, a yarn spun around how they got dubbed, chota and mota, has it that someone who came looking for K N Malik at the Delhi Press Club was told by a bearer that there were two of them at the club. When the visitor was asked which Malik he was looking for, he said, ‘the one who worked for The Times of India‘. To which the bearer replied, both Maliks worked for the paper.
Visitor: I mean, Malik the reporter who shows up, but rarely, at his office.
Press Club bearer: Both Maliks are are reporters and they are rarely seen at office.
Visitor: I am looking for the Malik who doesn’t exert himself much.
Bearer: Both don’t.
Visitor: My Malik is usually found at the Club.
Bearer: Yes, both spend lot of time here.
Visitor: Mine is on the hefty side.
Bearer: Both are hefty, but one is conspicuously shorter than the other.
This helped the visitor identify his Malik (the short one) and the bearer promptly led him to the Club card-room, and to chota Malik
If the Northwood chapter of coffee-house biradhri meets at a pub, it is because, in UK, they say, ‘A lot can happen over a pint’ (to borrow the phrase, from the Cafe Coffee Day slogan). To quote from a website on UK pubs, “When it comes to doing business in the UK then the concept of a “pub lunch” is something everyone will encounter at some stage. A public house makes an ideal venue for a business meeting in neutral surroundings” . I had my first interview with a magazine owner for job in Afro-Asian Echo at a pub in Paddington rail station. Most office-goers drop by at their favourite pub on way home. And in London they have thoughtfully located a pub in every neighbourhood. Most Underground stations in Central London are well served with street-corner pubs.
A pub on Fleet Street that has been mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities because its author Charles Dickens frequented the joint. Among other English literary figures who visited at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in their time were Dr Samuel Johnson, G K Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, Alfred Tennyson, Mark Twain, Oliver Goldsmith. Dt Johnson lived close by, at 17 Gough Square. A note left in the pub’s website refers to a teacher of English as a foreign language who brought students to this pub for a feel of the place.
Excerpts from some comments: It’s like walking into a Charles Dickins novel. The place just oozes a dark unspoilt character. The sawdust on the floors may be unnecessary , but it’s still a nice touch.
…was like walking into the set of Harry Potter film set.
…a strong smell of burning wood tinged the air, heavy with the ghosts of London’s past.
Don’t miss Polly, the parrot who lived at the pub from 1884-1926 and is now stuffed in the tap room!
Dark wooden panels, small windows, lack of daylight, it is like entering another world.
I visited with 8 other real ale enthusiasts. The Sam Smiths was utter crap.
… visited this pub with my class while on a study abroad trip.
I have enjoyed the Cheese for 40 years.
Dwarfed by the high-rise buildings, a Victorian era building that defied development. Close to Westminster the Albert pub, they say, has been a favourite watering hole for MPs. The guide on our sight-seeing tour had it that the Albert had Division Bell fitted in it for the benefit of MPs at the pub, so that they didn’t miss out on voting in the House.