The phone range. Young boys, wanting desperately to be men, wanting to make good, wanting some assurance, some help, some advise? “Could you meet us? We think you could help us.” In the age of start-ups, the excitement is palpable. It’s a level playing field and technology has made paupers into kings, and kings into paupers. Believers into agnostics and agnostics into believers. Tomorrow is here. Yes, technology can do that to you.
So these boys wanting to be men asked in earnest. Could I really refuse? Did I want to? It’s a Sunday. Was my rule of not working, taking calls and doing everything that dealt with that 4-letter word that ends in “k” going to be broken? (It’s work you goose, what did you think? Naughty, naughty!). Yes, will meet.
Starbucks. The upmarket American coffee shop has come to town. It’s like any other home-grown coffee shop, just that it’s American and can boast of Regular, Grande, Vente with prices that are actually US$ in conversion mode.
Ambiance. Middle-aged women in their kitty-part best. Uncomfortable chairs, high stools which were even more uncomfortable, young men and women with their Apple laptops, other younger girls looking moonily at their unshaved, unclean looking beaus. A buzz. No place to sit. People coming, ogling, wondering, going, staff shouting out names. Girl dressed to the hilt in her high stilettos, a tattoo on the side of her calf, a nude coloured lacy dress and her fashionably unshaved boyfriend on a date? A 35-something woman, looking alternately out of the window and her phone, swirling some brew in her styrofoam Starbucks cup.
The Cafe Cocoons. I get a place to sit by the window just recently occupied by said Ms.Bored Out Of My Skull. Two bucket seats and one settee. The boys wanting to be men are yet to make their presence felt. And my mind wanders. To all of us sitting inside this cafe. Cocooned in our lives. It seems we’re all floating on a cloud that is 30,000 feet above reality. That we in this country of mine are really leading such schizophrenic multiple-personality lives. We’re so wannabe. We’re so insulated. We’re so full of ourselves. Here in this cafe, wearing American branded jeans, talking American, (my bad, true that, you got swag, huh?), using American laptops, drinking coffee that may be coming from our own backyards but it’s Starbucks dude!, to wearing Converse or Nike, with perhaps a slight American twang, we send out the “oh-so-bored” vibe. The money, the style (or lack of it), the desperation to belong to the swish set, and in this melange of the haves, “I’ve arrived” is insidiously working its way into what we call the ‘new normal’. Yes, I know, I’m so boring to even remarking about this. Grow up…don’t be such a hypocrite, what’s wrong with you? I can hear some of you say. There’s nothing wrong I guess. But something about this whole scene gets to me. I don’t know why. Something ain’t quite right about this. No siree!
The real world is far away. The real world of a hunger for education, opportunity, learning, justice, belonging, dreams, is actually such a hazy idea that it’s not real. Cocooned as I am in this cafe, smothered in the pungent aromas of Sumatran coffee (fuck it, who cares), trying to make sense of what that aspiring young man behind the counter, speaking to me in broken English is painstakingly explaining to me about the different coffees, my heart wanders away in some pain. I don’t why, but something ain’t quite right about this. No siree!
Maybe another day, another coffee house with the wonderful name of Kumbakonam Coffee House with an unassuming door in a small building could throw light. Maybe the pretentiousness will give way to raw, unpolished, earthy brews and I’ll feel home again.
Aah home! Where the heart is.