From the dandy street cafés in Europe to mosaic cafés in our cities, coffeehouses provide a means to escape life’s worries. Stepping into a café, you enter a world of pheromone where the aromas entice you to linger in its subliminal realm. With a cup of coffee in your hand and soft music frolicking in the background, it affords an unspoiled setting to divest one’s cares for a brief life’s moment. Yekili Cheryl Zhimo’s beautiful writing transports you into the calm and enchanting world of coffeehouses.
Hakuna Matata- Swahili for no worries. This place has got charm, that's for sure. Incandescent light bulbs hanging low from the cross lapped wooden planks, a mini-sculpture of feisty looking Havana Browns, a whimsical collection of books, ceramics, rag dolls, cacti, and a bunch of other antique and vintage pieces shelved on the cafe walls. I flip open to page ninety-seven of Chitra Divakaruni's The Palace of Illusions, just happy that I got to do this Hakuna Matata indeed, drifting farther, my tongue hugged by a cloud of earthy goodness.
We all walk in for different reasons, don't we? She waits behind the counter. Is she doing it for the money? Perhaps to meet someone new? Or is it just because she loves this place as much as I do- the ambience, the cookies...the coffee? He doesn't seem to notice her anxiousness, though. He orders cafe mocha, one iced tea, and two servings of vanilla mousse cakes, pointing to a table cramped beside a sturdy-looking bookshelf. His company sits there, his mother. The excruciating look on the Amazonian wood mask drooping beside her doesn't seem to intrigue her at all. She's too occupied to notice, checking her phone continuously and flipping through multiple newspapers. It’s not that she doesn't care. She's just too busy: a 21st Century Working Mom. She resigns from her aloofness and reassures her son, "I'll be there, don't you worry. Now drink that up before it gets cold." So adorable! They’re sharing pastries now, giggling.
It’s amazing how things have changed in a few decades. Back then the Naga society didn't take too well to working ladies, let alone mothers. ‘She’ seemed more valuable at home, doing chores, completely confined to the domestic world. Our society adapts pretty fast, sometimes too recklessly, though, as it skips stages, leaving loopholes. It’s too risky, for the world doesn't take kindly to the feeble rooted. Perhaps ‘she’ would have come much farther if it wasn’t out of necessity or subjective interests, but genuine thirst for equality.
Of all establishments, coffeehouses are the most admirable. As much as it is about the pastries and beverages, it has a lot more to do with socializing and spending some quality ‘me-time’. Unlike restaurants of course, where people are too occupied with their food that they can barely think straight! Coffeehouses ooze positivity, they are places where you could do a lot of productive stuff or simply de-stress. There’s no discrimination when you walk in alone because it understands just how important individuality is; selected literature, artwork, music, a one seat table near a massive glass window, it helps us think, understand, retrospect and reassess.
A hundred and ten...a hundred and eleven...they float in. Yes, they do not walk much like Della of O’Henry’s story The Gift of the Magi. They're in love. She receives a phone call looking a bit flushed. She tries to compose herself while her boyfriend places an order. I'm guessing it was her parents. The call…she didn't tell them where she was. Maybe her parents are still not comfortable with the whole idea of ‘dating’ we postmodern Naga kids are so into. For the sake of love she lives a double life. Do I call her a coward? Or is she a braveheart? I wish there could be more transparency in such matters. A hundred and fourteen, a hundred and fifteen...they come and they go, the people.
I feel like the cafe and I are close acquaintances now, sitting somewhere in the corner, observing. He tells me how T.S. Eliot walked in one day, looking a bit heavy and timid as always. He couldn’t help but smile a little after taking in a sip of sweetened coffee. Apparently, he wrote a poem mentioning "coffee spoons". He told me how 'Café Procope' was a major meeting place of the French Enlightenment, frequently visited by thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot. He then mentioned the Green Dragon in Boston where John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere planned rebellion. Maybe someone like them would one day walk into this cafe; a Naga Voltaire or Paul Revere, and entice change, bring clarity to our foggy society.
The young man walks back to the counter and converses with the barista. I think he liked the vanilla mousse cake a lot. Or maybe he didn’t notice her almost-hazel eyes earlier when he was busy scanning the menu. They're smiling at each other. It’s like a scene right out of the movies, except they're not exchanging numbers. Maybe he'll ask for it the next time he visits, maybe he won't. I plug in my earphones, and ‘Ride’ by 21 Pilots makes more sense to me than ever before. I rest my eyes for a while.
All this is like a mini-version of a Western cafe: the food, the music, the people, except for the decor maybe, which is a crazy mash-up of multiple cultures. I am happy that the coffeehouse made its way to Nagaland. The ideal that it embodies, and its ability to infuse itself into any culture is what are most admirable. It embraces change. Our society keeps re-inventing itself too; social norms, activities, and responsibilities; this cafe stands as evidence. In a world where change is the only constant, perhaps coffee and the cafe culture could be the other constant- a pivot of social life. Oh! It’s already seven thirty and I need to head home. But wait, all this reading, observing, and thinking has left me a little dizzy. Yes, another cup of coffee, a doughnut, and maybe a slice of cheesecake too.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognized Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Dr. Salikyu Sangtam, Nivibo Yiki, and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.