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Dark Coffee, Bitter Words

Two faces on the adjoining table made me perk up. I sensed some unseen tension. Perhaps an estrangement and an effort to make it smooth?

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Dark Coffee, Bitter Words

The December sky was clear. The sun-soaked tarred road around the central park of Connaught Place enclosed beds of colourful flowers. A chilly wind touched the heavy woolens.

Dilliwallahs felt good, window-shopping in the high-ceilinged arcades of CP. I sighted the board of Phipsons at the corner—shuttered up after Independence. This was a special shop selling liquor to the card-holding elite of Delhi.

Turning the corner, I entered the Indian Coffee House on the Queensway (now Janpath). The sharp piquant pervasive smell of sambhar-dosa-coffee and the waiters with their impressive starched turbans extended welcome.

One more coffee!
Cream Coffee!
Cold Coffee!
Four Coffees!

The entry and exit of coffee addicts. Praised be the waiters who recognise not only faces but also tables and present correct bills and pick up tips, large or small, with the same grace. Voices, laughter, shouting—this finely textured noise has its own force.

Two faces on the adjoining table made me perk up. I sensed some unseen tension. Perhaps an estrangement and an effort to make it smooth. "So? Happy to be joining Metcalf House?" There was near sarcasm in the voice. "Yes. Would’ve been happier if you were also to be there."

He kept watching her with a look that combined old intimacy and new distance. The old nearness and freshness seemed to have evaporated with the mere mention of Metcalf House.

"I am sure you’ll qualify next time."

He did not respond.

"Bhuvan, shall we order something?" she asked.

"Yes. What will you have?"

She laughed. "You’ve forgotten so soon?"

He also laughed with abandon. "What’s there to remember?"

He got up and turned towards the facilities. When he returned, there was some freshness on his face and the smell of liquid soap on his hands.

She brightened up.

"I’m going to give you a treat today. Egg sandwiches and coffee or masala-dosa and coffee?"

"Only coffee."

She addressed him endearingly. "Bhuvan, what do you mean?"

"Look, Mausami, don’t you realise that the period of our being the nearest to each other is going to end?"

"Next time, you’ll surely get to Metcalf House."
When the bill arrived, she extended her hand to take it.

"No. Why are you doing so?"

"I’m giving you a treat."

"Because you have been selected for the IAS?"

She got up in a huff. 

"Bhuvan, you are taking everything amiss."

Bhuvan said irritably, "You are not able to see the arrogance in your eyes."

The girl shrugged her shoulders and silently pushed away the past.

"You are hurting yourself and me."

They left abruptly. The table was occupied again and I waited for my friends to appear. 

This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, January 15, 2006

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