The noon’s hot white light is entwined with the dusty air. The traffic on the main road is stubbornly stationary, yet it remains a noisy anarchy. Such are the joys of summertime Shakarpur.
And then you enter the narrow, partly-shaded Gali No. 3, and in it, a long, dimly hall with dark wood tables and string chairs.
‘Cotea’ is like a whiff of cool air. Opened in March, this lounge space has such a comfortably indeterminate character that you may as well be catching your tired breath in some cosy coffee shop of a mall or airport anywhere across the world. But this is only the first impression.
Soon, a band of chatty regulars troop in and you shift closer to the pulse of the east Delhi neighbourhood. These young men and women are students at a nearby coaching institute for medical entrance exams.
The area is crammed with these coaching centres; the walls around the adjacent Lakshmi Nagar Metro station are plastered with faces of teachers and topper students. The three girls and three boys in the café have taken advantage of a 15-minute break between two classes to treat themselves to a mayonnaise veg sandwich. And “thank you very much, but we don’t want to be snapped because” — one girl explains — “my parents will be furious if they discover that I am outside the classroom.”
The café’s three founders (seen on the right in the photo) are themselves alumni of the area’s coaching institutes — Manas Varshney (from Chandausi town) is a CA finalist; Digvijay Singh Rajawat (from Bhind) is preparing for his SSC CPO exam; Ujjwal Tomar (from Morena) is a hotel management graduate.
Minutes later, the medical college aspirants rush back to their classes. Everything falls silent, until another gang from another coaching institute marches in. Afterwards, a ‘couple’ enters.
Soon, they are gone as well, including two of the three founders who step out briefly to deliver orders to nearby places (the third founder is usually busy in the kitchen).
The café is now completely empty. The television set on the wall behind the counter is playing Hindi film songs on mute. A young man in shorts appears. He settles down with an unusual book that has never been spotted by this reporter in any other café in this vast city — The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia.
A cup of cappuccino, sprinkled with chocolate powder, costs ₹35.