India Coffee House
He took me there. It was our place, though he never attaches labels to places like I do. It was good. Untainted. A fresh start.
We walked in one summer day around Easter. And found ourselves a table by the corner, at the junction of a wall and a sheet of clean glass that looked out at the world. Like the life outside was on TV. Like we were on display.
The ancient waiter approached us young naive lovers with the wisdom of the world in his eyes and the pride of an age long past in the tall pagdi on his head. Like the attenders of a medieval palace, he approached us with quiet dignity and waited upon us with such proud silence that we were humbled. His entire life is dedicated to serving the likes of us and the rest. He is the manifestation of the ideal he has held dear for so long. 'Scrambled on toast and rose milk' I hear him say, ' What'll you have ?' 'Coffee please' I smile at the waiter, who at 80 knows what I at 21 mean by the gesture and returns it with ease.
I look around at the place brought down to its rustic roots. A lot of architects and interior decorators would be put out of business seeing the simplicity of the place made to look ancient. The mirrors, the posters, the elephant. The tables are the same, and I can feel him shift his knees in front of mine. 'You look beautiful today.' I smile. I look around. The people here cannot be stereotyped, cannot be categorised. There's an old withered Firang who looks like he has found home. There are a few college kids who seem to have found relief in breakfast. There are a lot of men scattered about, looking in turn with indifference at me, inscrutable glances, maybe judgemental, maybe at peace with a feeling or knowledge that is beyond me.
The old waiter in the pagdi is back, moving with a poise lost over several decades. I want to get up and help but I know I couldn't do worse if I slapped him in the face. This was his place in the world, a place he had filled for so long with such ease. How could I intrude ?
I watch the scrambled eggs get rained on by pepper. Tiny black snowflakes. My coffee is laid before me in a cup and saucer, in the age of mugs and styrofoam. 3 cubes of sugar sink in the murky brown.
He's telling me about the movie we'd both like to watch and it seems unreal, in this little hole in time, to be talking about action thrillers and box office ratings. I know he's filling up the silence with the mundane - it's what he does. He looks up, a forkful of scrambled on toast in his extended hand - there is no need to ask. The ease with which the gesture is made and received betrays the young and naive 3 years we've been together. There is an old man a few tables away; he smiles, he remembers.
I raise the cup to my lips, the gray white abomination of today, the chalice of yesterday. It is caffeine everywhere else, it is coffee here, the way it was meant to be - sans foam, sans chocolate, sans cream, sans any of the frilly corporate hullabaloo we spend big bucks on. Milk, sugar and coffee. No nonsense. 'How is it ?' he asks. 'Perfect.'
As we get up to leave, he leaves a generous tip and I know it's not generosity, it is a salute, it is a thank you. I look in the mirror on our way out. A young couple with breakfast in their bellies and content on their faces. The doorman holds the door open for us. A time warp, from where it turned back and stood still, to where it refuses to care. A wrinkle in the fabric of existence, as perfect as it can ever be. 'Come again' says the man who speaks no English. 'We will.' He smiles in understanding. We always will.