Some days ago, we were walking in Mumbai’s Matunga, when near Madras Café and Mysore Café we hit a zone filled with the aroma of filter coffee.

Kaapi revolution

I could have tracked the aroma like a sniffer dog to the origin.

Imagine a man sniffing so and finding his way straight into a café, onto a chair, maybe all the way into the kitchen, into the coffee section and right next to the person making coffee! These days my airport nightmares with coffee intervene and discipline the olfactory excitement. A cup of coffee costs over a hundred bucks at the airport. Then I saw a board on the pavement saying ‘kaapi.’ “Hold on,” my senses ordered, checking the airport imagery. Board says ‘kaapi’ not ‘cappuccino.’ That is encouraging, I offered. Probably someone yet untouched by new India or someone defiantly opposing it, a revolutionary of the old order still fighting for the cause of affordable ‘kaapi?’ I went closer; a smaller sign within the shop said: “Introductory offer — filter coffee for Rs 10.”

Red flag in the face of the airport bull!

I dived in. My friend followed.

Sipping with the beast

The shop was just a few days old. We settled into our chairs, appreciated the 10-rupee coffee and took in that outpost of a rapidly fading world. In my head a revolution bloomed. From that shop a movement for cheap coffee shall roll out onto the streets of Matunga, spread across Mumbai, shame those airport vendors and eventually warm a whole world. I asked the young entrepreneur how much he would sell the coffee for once the introductory phase got over. “Maybe 50?” he mused. I nearly spilt my filter coffee. Then I reasoned — revolution in new era would be different, pricier. Besides, 50 is better than 100.

I resumed sipping the brew.

The shop was tiny. If I walked six paces, I would hit the wall.

“Can’t you price a big cup for 50 and retain a smaller cup for 10, even 20?” my friend asked. “That’s possible. But we have to pay 40,000 as rent here,” the young man said. My revolution died. A populace roaring ‘kaapi, kaapi’ was replaced by a muffled ‘kaapi’ lost amid roars of ‘cappuccino,’ ‘espresso,’ ‘Ethiopian,’ ‘Columbian’ and imported what not. I knew that the beast of real estate always lurks nearby. But still — for the sake of that young man, I felt like telling the beast, “Come on yaar, give us a break!” I felt ashamed of the legacy of my generation; even that of my parents’. No matter what the reason, what legacy is it to have the beast shaping every step of the way? What legacy is it to suck the world clean of enjoyable life leaving mercantilism behind?

The young man looked a trifle uncertain as my friend quizzed him of plans ahead. “Maybe I will sell fruits alongside. No, idli, vada and upma, some cookies too. I have a kitchen,” he said, pointing to what seemed no more than a small stone slab fixed to the side wall. He had 40,000 to pay every month; plus raw material cost, labour cost; and then, hopes of own income. It was a tall order.

We wished him luck.

Giant cup

I hope the young man makes it.

I wondered what the beast sips — coffee, tea, cocoa, hot chocolate?

Surely the beast can’t be so heartless. It must have a daily fix; something it loves and would have us brew. Something it thrives on.

Outside the small shop, we melted into the evening’s whirlpool of people and traffic at King’s Circle. It resembled the swirls in a giant cup of frothy brew, stirred with spoon for someone to drink.

I could imagine the beast readying for its invigorating, daily sip of crowded, congested us.

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

(This article was published on January 4, 2013)
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