01 January 1970

The Indian Coffee House: Where Memories Echo And Moments Matter

Weekend Reads

The Indian Coffee House: Where Memories Echo And Moments Matter

Among all the cafes in Delhi, none quite brings me the peace I find at the Indian Coffee House with its aged walls, the gentle hum of vintage fans, and the staff dressed in timeless white uniforms that seem to freeze time itself, as if this place is a haven where time takes a pause, and within these walls, I find solace from the ceaseless rush of the world, writes Gaurow Gupta.

Photo: Gaurow Gupta
Photo: Gaurow Gupta

She asked me, “What’s your favourite place in Delhi?” 

I replied with a sigh, “It’s the Indian Coffee House.” 

She looked puzzled and inquired, “But you don’t even like coffee, so why do you go there?” 

I paused, the weight of memories settling in, and said, “It’s not just about the coffee; it’s about the place itself. You see, this place has been a silent witness to my life’s stories. It has soaked in my sorrows and echoed my joys. I’ve sat here waiting for the ones I love, and I’ve also sat here, longing for connections that never came to be.”

I remember, during the Covid-19 days, I met a girl online. In the midst of the pandemic, a virtual connection brought us together like two lost souls finding solace in the digital ether. We bared our souls, sharing stories and cherished memories, even though she lived miles away in a different city. She discovered that the Indian Coffee House is my sanctuary, a place where I find comfort amidst the chaos.

We made grand plans to meet, to bridge the distance that separated us, but fate had other ideas. Time slipped away and our conversations grew quieter until they faded into silence. Life moved forward, and she moved on, leaving me in the whirlwind of Delhi, alone with my own pursuits.

Then, unexpectedly, a message popped up on my screen, asking if I was in Delhi. I replied with a heavy heart, knowing that this was a rare chance, a twist of fate. She had returned to the city, and her memory of my love for the Indian Coffee House remained intact.

We met as planned, sitting in the cosy Indian Coffee House, the scent of coffee filling the air. Yet, deep down, we both sensed that this was not a new beginning but a bittersweet ending. The chilly evening air seeped into our souls, freezing our unspoken emotions.

After our coffee, we ventured to Janpath where I chose a pair of delicate jhumkas for her, a token of our time together. When the time came to part ways, our goodbyes hung in the air like a heavy fog. We knew in our hearts that we would never cross paths again.

In the end, that coffee house became a silent witness to our fleeting connection, a place teeming with personal memories that would forever haunt our souls. This place, it’s like a bittersweet old friend, a keeper of my melancholy and a reminder of the moments that have slipped away.

This place is my refuge in the midst of chaos, both inside and out. It has a unique way of calming my spirit like nowhere else can. Among all the cafes in Delhi, none quite brings me the peace I find here. The aged walls, the gentle hum of vintage fans, and the staff dressed in timeless white uniforms seem to freeze time itself.  It’s as if this place is a haven where time takes a pause, and within these walls, I find solace from the ceaseless rush of the world.

Sometimes, I drop by for breakfast, and what I notice are just a few folks, mostly older, in cosy chairs, absorbed in newspapers with their coffee by their side. It’s a special kind of atmosphere that feels like a gentle nod to the past. In these peaceful moments, I feel a connection with the stories of those who have been here before me, and it’s like a comforting embrace of simpler times.

What captivates me most is the vintage aura of this place. It’s as if I’ve stepped into a black-and-white Parisian film where the backdrop is adorned with the elegantly aged and the soundtrack is a melancholic melody of solitude. In these moments, I find myself immersed in the profound essence of nostalgia where time and memories intermingle, painting a portrait of the past against the canvas of the present.

In this quiet cafe, it feels like time itself has stopped because of all the history here. People are talking softly, and they often share their wisdom, which they’ve learned over the years. It’s a cosy and familiar feeling. As I sit here, I can’t help but think about all the people who sat in these same seats, dreaming, sharing stories, and living their lives. This place makes today and yesterday come together, making ordinary moments feel special. When I’m here alone, I feel like I’m silently connected to the people who were here before me. This café’s old-fashioned charm doesn’t just make me feel comfortable; it reminds me of the simple beauty and lasting magic of days long ago.

In a world increasingly consumed by reels and ceaseless entertainment, our lives are engulfed in constant noise. However, amidst this relentless cacophony, the Indian Coffee House emerges as a refuge — a place that allows you to think.

Here, you find the beauty of serenity, a place that grants you the precious gift of time to simply be. In a world where our minds chatter incessantly, this is a meditative haven. As you gently stir sugar into your coffee and relish South Indian delicacies, there’s no rush, no hurry. This space provides you with the invaluable opportunity to think, to inquire, and to savour the art of simply being. The poster on the coffee house wall declares it as “the place where you can think”.

When I asked my close friend, who also loves this coffee house, what it meant to her, she sounded a little sad. She said it was like a safe place away from the busy world, a cosy spot where time felt like it stopped. In the comforting smell of coffee, it was a spot for sharing stories, imagining dreams, and feeling like the world’s problems didn’t matter, even if just for a little while, “Ye sirf jagah nahi, ek sukoon hai”.

Nobody felt like a stranger here. You could either join a lively chat or sit alone with your coffee, lost in your own world. People make plans for the future, sometimes initiate protests on the spot, write crucial letters, create political posters, share and read books, reconnect with friends, and occasionally engage in constructive conversations with their opponents. This is a hub of intellect.  I’ve heard that in the past that the place was an ideal spot for left-wing politics. People would assemble here and engage in hours-long discussions.

Sitting in the old Indian Coffee House, I’m transported to a nostalgic era of famous writers like Mohan Rakesh, Manohar Shyam Joshi, Khushwant Singh, and many more. This place is in my blood, a family connection. I’ve heard the whispers of a different time within these walls. The essence of this place fills my soul with the wisdom of the past.

I can sense the traces of deep talks that happened at these tables, where famous writers created stories and talked about life. It’s like their spirits are still here, part of this place’s history. It wasn’t just famous writers, but also people who wanted to be writers, who came here to get inspired. This coffee house wasn’t just a regular place; it was like a special spot for smart people, a place where creativity was all around. When writers from far away came to Delhi, they came to this cosy place in the evenings. They met other writers, talked about lots of things and shared their special thoughts.

As I sit here, the walls resonate with Delhi’s literary history. The curtains whisper tales of days long past and nostalgia fills the air. It’s a portal to the past, a chance to connect with writers who breathed life into this city. Established in 1957, this humble coffee house sits right in the centre of Delhi, making it a witness to the city’s many changes over the years.

When I'm far from Delhi for a long time and miss the city, I turn to my favourite writer, Nirmal Verma. His words in his books make me feel like I’m right back in the heart of Delhi during winter. I imagine myself all bundled up in my warm coat and scarf, taking slow walks through the chilly streets of Connaught Place.

In my mind, Delhi takes on a kind of old-fashioned charm, like looking at an old photograph. The bare trees look like they’re standing quietly, like old friends welcoming me back. As I read more of Nirmal Verma’s stories, it’s as if I’m climbing the familiar stairs of the Indian Coffee House.

Whenever I come across the word ‘dhoop’ (which means sunlight), it’s like feeling Sun’s warmth. It instantly takes me back to the coffee house’s terrace where I used to stand in the gentle winter sunlight, cherishing those moments.

This place has a special charm. It feels like time slows down and conversations feel deep and meaningful. Every moment here is like a piece of art and the memories made here will stay with you forever, just like the taste of a good cup of coffee.

Someone rightly said, “The melancholy of an empty cafe is a silent conversation with all the stories it has witnessed.”