Home Social Culture Re-visiting nostalgia over coffee
Culture - Southern India - March 27, 2018

Re-visiting nostalgia over coffee

BY Mirah Zamin

The Coffee board of India plans to revive and expand operations by bringing on board private
sector food and beverage retailers in the next three years.

Chennai: As one enters the seven decade old building in the heart of T. Nagar, the aromatic smell of
Coffee, bustling sounds of laughter and amongst them, a ting-a- ling sound from a 20 years old brass
bell kept on the manager’s table for every new customer who visits the Indian Coffee House on
Usman road is usual every day scene since 1958.
The first sight that any visitor lays eyes upon is the wooden framed photo of Jawahar Lal Nehru
hanging right in front of the entrance. The coffee house here is like any other coffee house operated
by the Workers Cooperative society with an only difference that it still has life unlike the one back in
my hometown (Lucknow) which has lost its charms with the springing culture of branded foreign
Siting in one nestled corner of the room, his favourite spot the 67 year-old Jayaraj is regular visitor
since past 30 years. “One of my friends introduced me to this place and ever since then my evenings
are waste if Coffee with Poori masala don’t make it to my table” says Jayaraj.

“This place was ‘adda’ for the middle class men, affordable family space for lunches and dinner and
most importantly meeting destination for people after work”, he added.

Every individual occupying a seat at the Indian coffee house has a story to tell, some that of love,
friendship or bond. R Sunanda met her husband for the first time here, “ This is the only place in the
whole of Madras which has not revamped in taste, the food still taste the way it did in the 70’s when
I first visited it with my husband “, she smiles and says. Sunanda’s husband past away in 2000 and
ever since then she visits the coffee house at least once in a week and sits on the same table.
“My Friday breakfast was fixed here when I was in college, every Friday me and my gang would
come to watch a morning show at Krishnaveni Theatre which is right behind the coffee house”,
chuckled R Sampooran sipping his coffee from the white bone china cup.

Narsimha who owns a cloth shop across the street says, “I have been eating all my three meals here
since past four decades. I know people who have been coming here since young who sit and drink
coffee or tea and read a newspaper, never have I spoken to them but we greet each other with
The Indian Coffee house can any day give you a feel from a 70’s Bollywood movie with waiters
dressed in white shirt and pant with Hawai Chappals, bowing down to you and calling out all the
items on the menu. You may not find a waiter one with pen or paper to write down your order
rather they memorize it with perfection. “Never has it been that I get something else than what I
have ordered”, said Jawed who works in the gift shop opposite the coffee house.

“Every items used and kept around here is at least a decade old. Per day we get 1000 customers
roughly from all walks of life, most of them are regular visitors with few exceptions”, said D.
Pushparajan Pillai, the manager of the Coffee house while billing a customer.

Pillai has been around his 37 years with more than 34 transfers in and around Tamil Nadu, he has
great knowledge of the customer and his wants. “I first joined here in 1981, back then this place was
hub for college students, people came for dates here, coming back here again things are different
now we have more of older visitors now”, he added pointing towards A K Gopalan wooden framed
photo on the pillar opposite to the counter.

A K Gopalan is one name that anyone who has ever visited Indian Coffee House would know, a
communist leader who laid the foundation stone for this very café which gives employment to 22

“This is the oldest place to serve coffee in the area with a place to sit and talk”, said Amir Jowher, an
advocate. He went on to explain how many businesses flourished under the roof of this meeting
point. “In earlier times this was the spot next to the bus terminus where everyone could meet, there
were no Google maps for the exact location and hence it was easier to ask the person you were
meeting to come here directly”, he added. One of Amir’s friend sitting next to him interrupted and
added how a talk over coffee created far more connection than a casual meeting.

The place might not have seen prominent faces unlike it other counter parts on Parliament Street in
New Delhi or Chittaranjan Avenue in Kolkata but it had its own crowd and their memories to the
place. As one of the person I met said, “this Indian coffee house was famous amongst the middle
class of Madras, the upper class went to Woodlands drive-in, in their expensive cars”.

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