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A Lot Can Happen Over Coffee

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By Dinesh Wagle
[Here is PDF version of the article]

In New Delhi’s old commercial hub, discontent is brewing over cups of coffee. The caffeine has jumped out of the cafe and reached the court. A civic agency has threatened to close down a 57-year-old coffee house located at the top floor of a shopping complex Mohan Singh Place in Connaught Place for not paying the rent. The patrons are not pleased, and the Indian Coffee Workers Cooperative Society that runs the not-so-commercial hangout has sued the New Delhi Metropolitan Council. The war for coffee guff is being fought on all fronts: cultural, political and judicial.

In this age of air-conditioned cafés with nice seating arrangements, you wouldn’t really fight for the continuity of a coffee house where fans hovering over the stained tables and broken chairs can hardly provide any respite to customers in the scorching summer heat. By the standards of the swanky outlets installed across the city by chains like Barista and Café Coffee Day, the Indian Coffee House is an old and ailing museum where mostly oldies and middle-aged come to kill time by talking all the “nonsense” that comes to their mind. But that is exactly the reason, its patrons argue, for the continuation of the coffee house. Despite its grimy outlook and loathsome service, this is no ordinary coffee house after all. As some protest pamphlets pasted these days on the walls of the Coffee House proclaim, this is a café that has produced prime ministers of India.

“Save the PM-maker Coffee House,” says one placard. “This is the country’s think tank coffee house,” proclaims another. “(It’s an) intellectual hub.”

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