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Bangalore in 1969 stood on a cusp: a wisp of the Raj still lingered in the air, already as wistful as nostalgia. At the same time, the city was asserting its new identity. South Parade had been renamed M.G. Road in 1948; the Vidhana Soudha, a majestic mishmash of architectural styles, had come up eight years later—that eventful year of 1956, when the linguistic reorganisation of states brought Karnataka into being, with Bangalore as the capital. In May 1969, the foundation stone for the Karnataka State Cricket Association Stadium, later rechristened Chinnaswamy Stadium, was laid.
For all the robust building, the city’s heart still beat at Koshy’s, relocated in 1952 to St Mark’s Road, a stone’s throw from where P.G. Koshy had set up his bakery in 1940.
“Early morning, there would be people lined up outside, waiting for their coffee,” recalls Prem Koshy, the founder’s grandson, who used to run around the place in half-pants then. “A cup would probably cost 65 to 75 paise. If it was a Sunday, we would have a big Continental breakfast, with omelettes and scrambled eggs and toast served at the table. By 11.30 am, we would have ministers from Vidhana Soudha trooping in, also government officers, lawyers, anyone who worked in the vicinity. At lunch, it would be mostly expat ladies, wives of the large number of foreigners working at hal and other psus. Koshy’s was a one-stop shop for them, since we had a service station right outside and a departmental store around the corner. And at 3.30 pm, we would have high tea—sandwiches and bakery products and a pot of tea, served by liveried waiters—and soon afterwards, the post-work crowd, since we were the first restaurant with a bar licence. In the evenings, Freddie Hitchcock was still leading his band at the Jewel Box, the air-conditioned city’s first air-conditioned restaurant, with its own dance floor. But jazz was giving way to pop, though Freddie still remembered every song ever requested by a guest. Bangalore was a very fashionable city, with people dressing up for lunch and dinner in the latest European styles, since the expats always went home for summer and came back with the latest books and music and clothes.”
Prem Koshy paints an evocative picture and it is easy, especially if you close your eyes and sip their coffee—the same filter has been in use since 1952—to feel 17 once again.