Coffee With Someone Young
The coffee I had as a child bore no resemblance to the one I saw on screen in Westerns, where sturdy men in Stetsons and brown clothes poured out a brown slush from a ‘billy’ into tin mugs and sipped the mug with almost orgasmic pleasure. How could coffee be so brown? When did those men add the sugar? Did that brew really afford them such extreme pleasure? If so, I wanted it too. I wanted that pleasure, and if the way to get it was to drink something that seemed halfway between rat piss and rubber tree sap, then I would do that. I wanted to acquire the sense of power and control that one sip of coffee bestowed on that cowboy. I was a child, and fantasizing about the world was as much a part of my body as my blood.
I grew up, of course. And I started drinking that coffee, the very same one that that cowboy (was it James Dean or Henry Fonda) drank in that movie. By now, I had forgotten the association between black coffee and power. I drank my coffee strong and black because I liked it strong and black. I no longer fantasized about life. Reality checks came my way as regularly as the home loan EMI. Dreams were what one got during the deepest REM. They didn’t exist during waking hours. And even if Freud became famous because of other people’s dreams, I knew they didn’t matter when it came to real life. Just as how I liked my coffee mattered nothing in the scheme of things.
My children started growing up, and I watched them live through their own dreams. They mocked me for drinking coffee that looked like a cross between rat piss and rubber tree sap, and made gagging sounds when, on one forgettable occasion, they took a small sip from my cup. They were children, far, far away from their adult mom. They walked behind me, if I was to be believed, or ahead, if one went by their version, but never with me. We weren’t on the same page.
A few years ago, my older son asked me for a cup of coffee, and followed me into the kitchen when I went to make it. ‘No milk, mom,’ he said. ‘And no sugar, please.’
I looked at him and my only response was, ‘Well, then, I think I’ll join you.’
A few years later, my younger son followed suit. We sat together and sipped our coffee. We talked about his dreams, not the REM kind, but the ones he saw with eyes wide open, we talked about my hopes, we talked about climate change and world peace, and almost came to blows over the Beatles. Our conversation pinged over all the topics that had so bothered me all those years ago, when I had yet to make the transition to coffee drunk from tin mugs under a cold Montana sky. A cup of black coffee with a young dreamer… Perhaps there’s hope for my open eyes.
Coffee With A Book
Getting coffee alone was something I dismissed, I always thought that people who went to cafes to read or do work were wasting time. That they probably weren’t getting much value out of the activity and were doing it more out of the need to outwardly express an idea of themselves. They wanted to be ‘somebody who reads’, ‘somebody who can get work done at a coffee shop’, someone who fits into the ‘intellectual’ milieu, i.e. their presence at a coffee shop was tied into an identity that was affected.
I was wrong about this, not everybody who goes to a coffee shop alone goes to be seen or acknowledged.
In 2015, a year into my first job and a year into being an adult I found that I had lost the ability to get through a book. I would read news, documentation for work, blogs etc. but I had lost the ability to read through a 150-200 page novel. This was especially disheartening as reading was a prominent activity through my childhood and even through college. Reading always provided a means of escape, it seeded my imagination and allowed me to access other people, places and things that were outside my context. But now, every attempt to read would result in an overwhelming anxiety of being isolated, and moreover that the activity of reading was forcing me to be isolated. Any attempt to read would transform into other menial activities, house hold chores, bike rides, runs or going out to eat alone. And even though these other activities were isolated activities as well, they didn’t leave too much room for reflection which suppressed the anxiety.
During one of these reading induced bouts of anxiety I decided to go get coffee as a distraction, but this time against my preconceived notion of propriety, I also decided to take the book along. I figured that reading at a coffee shop couldn’t be any worse that my attempts at home. This changed everything, I found it much easier to read in public than I did in private. I found myself engaging with the book, and also taking numerous breaks to taking in my surroundings. My reading was slower, but I was less prone to being overwhelmed by the intermittent but inevitable emptiness that follows moments of reflection while reading.
This revelation, that doing solitary activities in public may enhance those activities was brand new to me. It was exciting and became a regular occurrence on the weekends. It allowed me to explore more public places and also allowed me to get through books that I had previously struggled to complete. I learned how to read again through a thousand crucial distractions.
Coffee with myself and a book, helped me deal with an anxiety that was consuming me during a favorite activity and allowed me to reclaim this activity. It also challenged my conception of the purpose of public activities, and proved to me that as an introvert there is utility in being surrounded by people, even if there is no direct interaction between them and me. It opened me up and has made me less judgmental of public personas, the ‘coffee shop snob’ may just be a vehicle of self exploration, somebody learning to read again.
Coffee with HIM
Having a cup of coffee is a much more rare occasion for me than having tea. It’s a special time – the feel of the hot mug in my palms, the typical aroma, even the process of ordering it – ‘One Café Latte please, single shot’ – the Latte rolling over my tongue languorously, the focus on single, everything. It’s like a feeling one gets when in Europe – different, a bit strange, very classy.
And add to that coffee by HIM!
HE who is usually the recipient of all stuff. The center of our home. The busy one who loves all the pampering. (Not to imply no one else gets pampered…but HE looooves it.)
So when on a lazy Sunday afternoon, post all of yoga and brunch and weekend papers, a contented voice calls out –‘Hey, coffee for you?’ – joy gushes through my pores, unfettered, every single Sunday. We both know the answer, the question is rhetorical, and yet it’s magical. Each time, I almost sing it out – ‘Yes, a café latte please, single shot!’ – from wherever I am.
He potters around, sets the coffee machine, chooses out of our large array of mugs collected from all over, and begins his ‘work’. The help knows when to leave the space to him, she watches amused. It took us some time to get her out of the ritual – she was flabbergasted to find HIM in the kitchen earlier, almost an intrusion of her space. Now she has learnt to enjoy this.
Meanwhile, I relax on my favorite sofa, the Sunday crossword all set in hand, cross my legs in a comfortable position, and wait for the familiar large mug to arrive.
Finally the man arrives, with 2 mugs perfectly settled on a tray, a bowl of sugar for me, the small spoon in place (after a bit of coaching), and a wide smile on his face. Priceless.
Coffee by HIM. Coffee with HIM.
Koffee with Karna
(The camera starts with a high shot in a darkish room but quickly pans down and across as the lights fade-in. It zooms in to show a rather dapper looking Karna, wearing a steel-grey, open collar kavacha with a golden yellow pocket square)
Karna (to the camera): My first guest tonight, is the daughter of a king and a wife of many stalwarts but is equally famous in her own right. She’s been variously described as independent, assertive, courageous and a woman of substance. Her debut appearance as a heroine has reached epic status. Please welcome to my show tonight, the gorgeous – Draupadi
(Draupadi walks down an indoor staircase dressed in a fiery red, off-shoulder evening gown with a slightly low neckline. Karna gets up to welcome her and they air-kiss)
Karna: Welcome to your first appearance in my show, Draupadi. Thanks for coming.
Draupadi (settling down on the couch): Well, since you had come to my ‘show’ many years ago, I guess I had to return the favour. But I’m very excited to be here.
Karna (laughs): Well, I haven’t forgotten that day, you know. But we won’t talk about it tonight. I notice that you’ve discarded your usual sari for a stunning bold dress. Do you feel safe in such ‘non-extendable’ clothes? I mean if you had been wearing this on the fateful day, Krishna may have a problem adding gown after gown. Its not designed for such stuff. (smiles)
Draupadi: Thanks. You men are always correlating safety with clothes. And you make jokes about it. It’s just the way your mind works. Anyway they told me your close friends, Kauravas, aren’t going to be here tonight. So I guess I should be fine. And I know I am very safe with you, Karna. (winks)
Karna (with mock embarrassment): You’re the one who’s supposed to spill the beans on this show, not me. Let me start off by asking, what did you think of your debut role?
Draupadi: It was a great experience. They don’t write too many epics with substantive roles for women. Normally the women are expected to just follow the hero or get kidnapped just so that the hero can come to save her in the climax.
So when Vyasji approached me with the script, I loved it. It was what I call a multi-layered epic. I’m so happy that it’s done so well at the box office. It shows that the audience tastes are maturing.
Karna: But despite having played such a strong character you’re not considered a role model for young women? How come we have thousands of Sitas but not many name their daughters after you?
Draupadi: Well, I don’t really know, Karna. I do think about it sometimes. I know Sita is very talented and has a great fan following. I am not comparing, but I find her roles very passive. She is what she is because of Ram. And yet what you say is true. It’s a reflection of our societal attitudes. I think we find it easier to glorify women who are submissive and silent even when they are victimized, but are reluctant to accept an outspoken lady in similar situations. The men feel less threatened that way.
Karna: You think the fact that you have multiple husbands and that they themselves have other wives has something to do with it. The ‘our culture’ thing, if you know what I mean.
Draupadi: Could be. Also, that they gamble. And drink. People are judgmental about these things. But in the end, I’m happy that they at least come across as real people with human failings and strengths. But to each their own. I’m not in the No 1 rat race and you know that. (smiles)
Karna: That’s an honest answer.
Karna (to the camera): I’d like to now invite my second guest tonight. The most popular and yet the least understood person of our times. Even calling him a ‘person’ is perhaps confusing. Sometimes a man, sometimes god and sometimes even a godman. He’s a director, actor, friend, philosopher, guide as well as an author. His ‘Do-it-yourself’ guide to living has been on the top of the bestseller list. Please join me in welcoming to my show tonight, the scion of the Yadav clan, the all-in-one – Krishna.
(Krishna enters smiling beatifically, wearing a crisply starched cotton pajama kurta with a black half-sleeve jacket with the buttons open in front, looking like a politician from the northern regions)
Karna (to Krishna): Before you came we were talking about Sita. Now we can talk about Gita. You know ‘Sita aur Gita’- Hema Malini, he he (The joke falls flat. Krishna just continues to smile).
Karna (to Krishna): Tell me Krishna, what made you act in the epic? Was it something you always wanted to do from childhood?
Krishna: Not only from childhood. From my previous births. And it was not my want. It was my destiny. My karma. Anyway, on earth we are all actors. We are acting all the time. Even when we do nothing we are still acting.
Karna (with mouth open impersonating a goldfish): Uh? ok.
Karna: But how did you get cast for your role. You were not from the industry – not a star child, or anything like that. Did that matter?
Krishna: No, never. If you’re good, or trying to be good, it doesn’t matter what your lineage is. Only how you act matters. And even more than acting what matters is your intent.
Karna: But it does matter Krishna. If Draupadi had known that I am a star-child she wouldn’t have…. (bites his tongue as Draupadi looks at him suddenly).
Draupadi: What was that? What is it that I should’ve known?
Karna: No, nothing.
Karna (turning quickly to the camera): In conversation with two hot, intelligent people who’ve seen the world of epics from within and without. Lots more coming up on the other side of this break. Stay tuned.
Coffee with… Kumud Ma’am
When I say ‘Hindi professor’, the first image that comes to your mind is Kumud Ma’am. Chatty, salwar-kameez clad, maybe from Delhi and full of K-serial swag, she is the woman who taught me the Hindi I know today. Sometimes good, mostly bad and almost always garnished with a South Indian twang; she isn’t to blame for my poor learning of the language.
She did her best. She took regular tests. Made us recite from our textbooks. And even took private tuitions. She was the quintessential Hindi professor seen in schools across this country. Sadly, I didn’t pick up the perfect Hindi from her. But what I did pick up was something more inspiring — her fearless way to deal with life.
She never gave a damn about entering class late or other professors gossiping about her. She always told us marks were not the end of the world, and asked us to follow our hearts and explore. She fought with rickshawallas for exact change. She stood up for students in front of their parents. She even went against the principal in support of her students. She was, by far, the most bold and uninhibited woman I had come across during my schooling days. She taught me a life lesson that no coaching class or textbook ever could.
Fearlessness has taken me from being a timid biochemistry student, to being a self-assured advertising professional. It taught me there’s no right or wrong, only choices we make. It made me stronger. It took me beyond the safe and into the exciting.
Fearlessness has the power to lead us to the unimaginable. It lets us explore careers, relationships, hobbies, skills, feelings and emotions that enrich us. Being fearless is something I always remind myself to be. But ironically, I was too fearful of Kumud ma’am, to ever sit with her over coffee!
I’ve been struggling with this one for a few days, wracking my brain trying to figure who I’d like to share a coffee with and not really getting anywhere. So, instead, here are 10 proposals for coffee dates that I’d like to be a fly on the wall at.
Donald Trump and Arsene Wenger
Frida Kahlo and David Attenborough
Meryl Streep and Professor Mcgonagall
JRR Tolkein and Carl Sagan
Hilary Clinton and Kim Kardashian
Beyonce and Vijay Bhat (my dad)
JK Rowling and Carrie Fisher
Vladimir Putin and Han Solo
Rihanna and Gordon Ramsey
Salvador Dali and Walt Disney