Coffee-house culture

A bunch of retired men meet twice a week at a New York restaurant to sort out the world. Nowadays Obama is on their agenda every time they meet over cottage cheese and egg-white omelet. According to The New York Times, their all-under-the-sun discussions do not cover, as a rule, talking about grand-children and their sicknesses.

This is what those in the media call a soft-story; done at times when there is not enough hard news to fill newspaper pages. It is a fluff job done to fill a hole in a news page. The NYT retiree story, featured next to the chess notes, below the fold on Page 21, says most members of the Manhattan retirees’ group, 12 when there is full house, have been together at a neighborhood college for continuing education; and it was one of their instructors who had initiated them into the chat group.

I know of a group in New Delhi that dates back to my college days in the late 50s. Its venue has changed, more than once, over decades. So has its composition. Our New Delhi chat group meets nowadays at the Embassy restaurant in Connaught Circus, eleven-ish on week-days. S P Dutt, a retired Air-India executive, is its unelected life-time convener, whose job it is to pick up the bill. Convention is that every member chips in with whatever he thinks is his share of the coffee bill. If the collection falls short, SPD makes up the difference. Usually, contributions from others – Chawla, Mehra, Mahajan and whoever else joins in –  more than makes up for the bill, plus a generous tip; and it is Mr Dutt’s, Speedie to friends, pleasant duty to accept the table waiter’s grateful salaam.

Evolved during our Delhi University days, the chat group has undergone many changes in its composition. After our graduation the venue shifted from the Delhi University Coffee House  to the one at Janpath. With the closure of the Janpath coffee-house we moved to the Tea House in Regal Buildings; and eventually, to the Embassy.

Connaught Place was then  a convenient meeting point for a varied group that included sales and medical reps., insurance agents, journalists, Speedie’s colleagues in Air-India, and university teachers. At times, we were six or more at a table for four. Late-comers simply pulled up a chair from an adjacent table. Many of those in the group, who have moved away to other towns for bread and butter – Nangia, Mongia, Davy or Munshi – make it a point to drop in at the Embassy whenever they visit Delhi. They debate, deliberate and disagree with uninhibited vehemence of a regular. Lapse of time and changed circumstances of the group members – from bachelors to grandpas – haven’t altered their back-slapping terms of endearment.

Most people in my generation have been brought up in the coffee-house culture. Former PMs – Inder Gujral and Chandrashekar – had been coffee-house regulars in Delhi before they assumed the high office. A B Vajpayee, they says, used to frequent Lucknow coffee-house. Photo-journalist T S Satyan, in his book, Alive and Clicking, refers to his meeting with Satyajit Ray in Calcutta, when the film-maker took Mr Satyan to his favourite haunt – the coffee-house.

Cross-posted in 


4 Responses

  1. made me recall the retiree group i wrote about in the story of the IAS man who landed up in NY…

  2. […] Indian media's shameful eraBhopal 1984 and the Anderson sagaCurry-leaf plant on sale, for $59.99Coffee-house cultureOf Digital Green and Makkal TVOprah, Rushdie rob limelight in JaipurBeehives at my next-door […]

  3. […] doing the blog-post I sent the link to  another coffee-house friend S P Dutt  (NDTV Barkha’s dad),  and  he forwarded it to his friends.  Speedy’s (is how […]

  4. […] day,   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 […]

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