One has the luxury of spending Sundays as one pleases. A compulsive worker makes a long list of pending tasks and broods over it, the conscientious; attempt house cleaning or car washing or try to deal with the book shelf or rather the disorder of it and others just might watch meaningless programmes on the TV telling themselves that they deserve a break from the hectic weekly schedule.
So an opportunity to step out of the house, visit a gallery and appreciate art was enticingenough and also felt rewarding. Like some of the hidden gems in the by lanes of Bangalore, Indian Cartoon Gallery is in the basement of Midford House, off M.G. Road, one of a kind gallery that exhibits the work of both amateur and well known cartoonists from across India.
The exhibition was by Paul Fernandes called "Bangalore, swinging in the 70s", humorous colourful illustrations of what laid back Bangalore once was. He had painted the colonial, cosmopolitan, secular, intellectual and cultural character of the city albeit with a witty and funny touch. The humourous depictions of Bangalore Club, Dewar's Bar, Koshy's, Indian Coffee House, Russel Market and other famous landmarks of the 70's made us share a few laughs. Nostalgic in the thoughts of the quaint Bangalore of the bygone era, we gave the shining restaurants and cafes a skip and searched for the good old Indian Coffee House.
Until 2009, No. 78, M.G. Road, housed Indian Coffee House, a landmark on the most prominent and fashionable street in Bangalore City. Located on this prominent business road next to Deccan Herald, close to Plaza theatre (now demolished) and Bangalore's famous book stores Higginbothams and Gangaram's the Coffee House in its heyday was frequented by journalists, business heads, intellectuals, artists authors, shoppers, students and just about everyone. For more than half a century, business deals were brokered, story-lines were discussed, books reviewed, exam results celebrated and movies trashed over steaming cups of pure Indian Style filter coffee under the roof of the Indian Coffee House.
While the rest of the area changed relentlessly bringing in glitzier showrooms, taller buildings and posh restaurants, Indian Coffee House functioned as if suspended in time offering a tribute to old world way of Bangalore. Stepping into the cafe would transport one to the long gone era of restaurant business where more importance was given to what was served rather than the decor and furnishings and where you would have no qualms sharing a table with a perfect stranger. Sparsely adorned and plainly furnished, the Coffee House indeed had its own charming ambience.
The Coffee House withstood ravages of development and economics until the lease of the building expired and could no longer be renewed by the Cooperative Society running the establishment. Many regulars frequenting Indian Coffee House feared that the establishment like other casualties of progress will be consigned to annals of the city's history.
But, the efforts of the Cooperative Society paid off and the Indian Coffee House re-opened on the nearby Church Street, if not as prominent a location as M.G. Road but an equally important area especially known for classy restaurants, pubs and cafes. One wonders if the quaint Indian Coffee House will be able to compete with other stylish cafes serving a variety of exotic and gourmet coffees and complimentary cuisines like Starbucks, Matteo Coffea, Krispy Kreme located within a distance of few hundred yards on the same street and the presence of the ubiquitous Cafe Coffee Day in the adjacent Brigade Road.
Our Sunday visit to the Indian Coffee House dispelled this doubt and I was pleasantly surprised to see the restaurant packed and brimming with activity. The management has done a remarkable job of re-creating the aura of the old coffee house in the new address albeit at a smaller scale. Unpretentious, the walls of the cafe still have hand painted posters, the furniture still the wooden benches and tables and the waiters wearing the same white and red uniforms and plumed turbans. Even the menu was the same including the famous mutton cutlet, toast and scrambled eggs and the unusual rose milk and importantly prices still kind on the purse.
Development and globalisation have pushed cultural icons like the Indian Coffee Houses and the Irani Cafes of Mumbai to the brink of closing. This time around, the Indian Coffee House has survived and re-emerged like a phoenix to serve patrons. But we can only hope that it continues to function for a long time and transform its business approach to adapt to changing times while maintaining the spirit of Indian Coffee Houses.
Having paid tribute to the spirit of Bangalore and the icons of the city, we felt that Sunday was indeed well spent!
Sangeetha Shankar and JagdishPatankar