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Coffee & Conversations
|by Ninad Parikh|
Rain and coffee have nothing in common. But there was a connection that Jason had established in his mind. When it rains, the need to have coffee translates into a craving. He would go alone and end up having conversations with few people at the coffee shop, of which he was a loyal customer. He preferred to have casual conversations that don’t become a burden on his mind. With each sip of the coffee, he would drain his mind off the last conversation. By the time he would finish coffee; his mind would be as empty as the cup of the coffee. But today was different.
“No coffee today, Sir?” somebody shouted.
Jason had not heard that voice before. He turned around in anticipation of having a coffee-mate sitting somewhere in isolation. The coffee shop was still vacant. He saw a man, rather an youngster, standing at the counter and waving at him with a wide smile.
“No coffee today, Sir?” the boy at the counter repeated the question.
Jason smiled and then looked at the sky. Downpour had further intensified. He looked at the dark clouds and saw a shine somewhere in one of the clouds. His tendency to make connections resulted into one more connection. ‘May be there is a hope of conversation here’, he thought. He smiled at his thoughts and opened the gate. Aroma of freshly made coffee was inspiring enough to pace up his gait. He walked in enthusiasm towards the counter.
“Hi….I am Jason. I am a regular here but never seen you before”, Jason said, while still savoring the unusual aroma of coffee.
“I am Mandeep. I use to work in the Shipra Mall branch. Got transferred before three days.”
“Oh…Great. May I ask you something?”
“Sure Sir…have a sit please”
“As I said, I am regular here. Never seen you before. But that’s besides the point. The point is what aroma is this? I mean…I have tasted all the flavors here. But this seems new. And who is having it after all? There is nobody around.”
Mandeep raised his right hand in which he was holding a cup. The way in which he held the cup showed how proud he felt of having it.
“I am having it myself. Been waiting for customers since last two hours. Got bored and made one for myself. I can make a similar one for you, if you will.”
“Sure thing. I can’t wait enough.”
“Excellent. Please have a seat. It will take just two minutes.”
The aroma of the coffee prevailed in the coffee shop. ‘He must be twenty-one or somewhere near. I like him’, Jason thought while taking a seat near to the counter. Mandeep was wearing an orange t-shirt and a black cap. The usual uniform of the coffee shop. He looked smart in the uniform. Jason had always loved the coffee shop for its ambience, seating space, colors, architecture and various other things but today the air of freshness around Mandeep was new as well as intriguing for Jason.
“Take the seat on the rightmost corner. That’s the best place in this coffee shop”, said Mandeep while his hands worked on the coffee preparation. His back was towards Jason but he somehow had seen where Jason was trying to place himself.
“And why is that so? Don’t tell me that there is a Vaastu thing involved”, Jason asked with a tinge of satire in his tone.
“I hardly know anything about Vaastu. But I know a thing or two about coffee and what people love to do over a coffee. You seem to be a person who likes to observe people and surroundings while having coffee. If that is really so, then the rightmost corner is the best place to do that” said Mandeep with a clear conviction.
Jason shifted himself to the seat on the rightmost corner. He did not say a word. May be his gesture of shifting to the other seat was enough to convey his affirmation and appreciation to Mandeep’s assumption. By the time he took the new seat, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled up the coffee shop. Jason was awestruck again due to the aroma and also due to the fact that Mandeep had hardly taken two minutes to prepare that coffee. ‘He seems to be deft at that’, thought Jason.
“I have never had such wonderful coffee Mandeep. Where did you learn this? I mean this is no science, it feels like an art in itself”, said Jason after taking few sips of the coffee.
“And how about guessing what people want to do over a cup of coffee?”
“Sheer observation. I have been making and serving coffee for last four years at different places and in different cities. Faces have changed in front of me but tendencies have largely remained the same.”
Jason was not only enjoying the conversation but also savoring it more than the wonderful coffee.
“Four years is a long time. You must be twenty-one or nearby.”
“I am twenty-one”, while saying this he came across the counter and took the seat opposite to Jason’s and continued, “To my own surprise I found myself enjoying only one thing in life. Making coffee. I was neither a good student nor did I even attempt to be one. I left studies at seventeen and joined my uncle’s coffee shop in Mcleodganj. I spent first three years with him but then decided to experiment with a bigger city. I tried convincing my uncle to set up a coffee shop in Delhi. But he was and is still content with the small-time shop at Mcleodganj. I also took long to decide to move to Delhi as the feel of Mcleodganj was very different. The weather, the quality of tourists, the love for coffee and the comfortable life was dear to me……Oh! Sorry…Am I boring you? I haven’t talked about myself to many people in last eleven-twelve months. So when you asked or rather mentioned about my age I thought I got an opportunity to open myself.”
“I’m loving it. I was hopeful of one but was least expecting such a nice conversation. Please go-on”, insisted Jason.
“Thanks Jason. Back in Mcleodganj, I got a chance to experiment a lot especially with the regular Israeli tourists who had nothing to do and hence did not mind bearing with my experiments. I had heard a lot about the cost at which coffee sells in places like Delhi and Mumbai. So, was always enticed to move and earn more money. As you would have guessed by now that the only desire I have in life is to have a coffee shop of my own, where the aroma and flavor of coffee will be decided by me and only me. And this is between the two of us”, Mandeep ended with a cautious remark.
“I admire your passion and courage. But I hope you are aware that even a small coffee shop in Delhi would cost a lot of money. It is not easy at all. The money you will be getting here wouldn’t be sufficient for that…”
“I am aware of that”, Mandeep interrupted, “And hence I have started working in a BPO company in the night shift. I come to the coffee shop only by afternoon so I catch up with some sleep in the morning. The money that I earn from the BPO job is hardly spent on anything as I have restricted myself from the same. My manager at Shipra Mall branch was not ready to leave me as I attracted a lot of crowd from my BPO company who lived nearby. But seems like my performance at that coffee shop was taken seriously and I got transferred to this more frequented, more popular shop. Sorry Jason…I forgot to ask you…Would you like to eat something?”
“No… I am fine. Coffee was great. I feel content. How much time do you think you would need to establish a shop for yourself?”
“I really don’t know. May be three years from now.”
‘Three years from now.’ That statement took Jason into his own past. He had made a similar statement, over beer, to some of his friends when he was asked a question about when would he leave his job and start his own business of auto-accessories. He had not planned for it – even a bit. And hence was stuck to the same old job and it looked like he would be stuck to that job for coming five years. He wished in his heart that Mandeep does end up fulfilling his dream. He took out money from his wallet and stood up.
“Let me know if I can be of any help, any time. This is my card. In any case, we would be meeting here almost on a daily basis. Keep me posted. I should be going now. Will catch you soon”, Jason gave the money, shook Mandeep’s hand and waited for Mandeep to respond to his offer.
“Sure. You are one amongst the few who have listened to me. I am sure you would be of great help. Thanks Jason. See you around.”
“Good-bye Sir. Enjoy the rains.”
It had always been easy for Jason to go back home without taking any burden of the conversations he had had at the coffee shop. But this time it was different. He did carry back a lot of conversation with him. Rather all of it. While driving back home, he was surprised that the only thing he was thinking was about the conversation he just had with Mandeep. The rule was broken. He was pierced. But he was enjoying the same. Especially, it gave him a chance to reflect back upon his own life, his own passion/s, and his own promises. ‘May be there is a Mandeep in each one of us. May be we don’t recognize him. May be we ignore him. May be we let him wither away’, thoughts crossed his mind like fast paced cars on long, deserted highway.
Over next few weeks, many conversations happened between both of them. One followed by another. But somehow each conversation was like a fresh start.
“It is all about the beans. And ofcourse you would know that Arabica is preferred over Robusta. But in Mcleodganj we had to use Robusta a lot as we had to be economical. I hated it but there was no option. Here also it is not hundred percent Arabica but a combination of sorts”, Mandeep loved talking about coffee.
“Just assume for a while that you don’t get to have your coffee shop, then do you have any back-up plans?” to which Mandeep had replied, “I don’t have one. And I hope I don’t need one.”
“So what did you want to do when you were of my age, Jason?” Jason knew that someday this question will come and he would hate that part of his conversation with Mandeep. But he liked being honest with Mandeep. We tend to be honest in front of the people whom we think are innocuous. It is a method to reduce the guilt of consistent dishonesty. “At your age I had not thought of what I wanted to do. But I have made myself believe that I do have an aim of getting into auto-accessory business and be successful. But frankly speaking I should have started something on that by now. I haven’t.”
Such random conversations kept happening for few weeks.
One day it again rained heavily. Liked the way it had rained when Jason had met Mandeep for the first time. In the last few weeks the rain had sort of showed up less frequently and was less intense. When it rained heavily again, Jason remembered the day he had met Mandeep and was hopeful that the coffee shop would be devoid of visitors and he would be able to chat with Mandeep more freely.
He reached the coffee shop. The aroma inside the shop was not the same.
“Welcome Sir…have a seat. I am sure you would love to have a cup of nice hot cappuccino”, said a man standing behind the counter.
“Hi…I think I will skip today”, Jason said and left in a hurry.
Jason was surprised to realize how much it had impacted him to not see Mandeep there at the coffee shop. When he saw some other person behind the coffee counter he asked himself as to why he was there at the coffee shop – to have coffee or to meet Mandeep. The answer had surprised him. He was a person who had not taken back any conversations and memories. But the relationship that he had developed with Mandeep was may be different. ‘Where was Mandeep?’ Jason thought. May be he should have asked the man behind the counter.
“Mandeep did not inform me at all. Anyways, please give me your manager’s cell number. I will talk to him”, Jason was least bothered about having coffee.
That night he talked to the coffee shop manager. Mandeep had left the coffee shop. The manager told him that Mandeep had got a job somewhere else.
‘Did the need for money overcome his passion?’
Weeks passed. Jason stopped thinking about Mandeep hoping that all his thoughts prove to be wrong. Jason’s visits to coffee shop grew very infrequent. He was no more interested in conversations. He had loved the conversations only because he did not have to carry anything back. Also, he had got absorbed in his work.
“Hi…you are Jason right. It has been many days since you have come here. I hope it was due to your busy schedule and not because of the quality of our service or the taste of our coffee.”
“Hi…yes I have been keeping busy.”
“I got a post for you from Mandeep who used to work with us before few weeks. Do you remember him?”
“Remember! Ofcourse I do. Thank you so much. I will have a hot cappuccino. Thanks.”
His excitement knew no bounds. He was scared at the same time. All the ‘may-be-thoughts’ came back to him. His mind suddenly became a whirlpool of thoughts. All the conversations he had had with Mandeep came back to him in those few moments. He carefully opened the envelope and took out a letter.
How are you brother? I am sorry I could not inform you before leaving. It all happened very fast. But believe me I did want to tell you about what I was thinking. As you know, all the while, I had been thinking about one and only one thing – coffee. I had decided to have a coffee shop of my own in Delhi. But one day I received an offer from my boss in the BPO company I worked for……’
Jason stopped reading. ‘I was so right. Why Mandeep? I told you about how I had wasted my life with the hope that you will read that page of my life and gain something from it. But I guess…it was destined to be’ these and many more thoughts crossed Jason’s mind.
‘But one day I received an offer from my boss in the BPO company I worked for. He was very happy with my performance and sincerity. Infact, he was aware about my dream of having a coffee shop of my own. So he told me to take up the offer as he had recommended me for a very good raise. He told me that it would help me save faster. He gave me only two days to think. You had gone to Kolkata then. So I could not discuss with you. But I thought of what you would have told me. You would have asked me not to take up the job as it would have taken me deep into a system from where I would never be able to find my way out. You would have told me multiple times to do what I wanted to do and not what life offered me with. I thought about it Jason. I was not in two minds any more. What I wanted to do in life was to make good coffee. Owning a coffee shop was a dream but at the end I just wanted to make good coffee. Why did I even think of coming to Delhi? I had lost direction and ended up in Delhi. But from here, losing the direction again would have left me dead. You were so right Jason. It is important to know what one wants to do in life and not what life offers one with. Life had offered the opportunity to come to Delhi. I picked it up. Life was again offering me an opportunity to earn a lot more money. I did not pick it up as I had known by then that all I wanted to do was to spread the aroma of good coffee. What would be a better place than Mcleodganj for that? And I have a coffee shop established over there already. I decided to come back here…to my home land. To the place where nothing else matters to me but the aroma of coffee. Jason, it is impossible to express my gratitude towards you as it is you who made me realize this. I can’t write enough to explain this. So I am trying to convey the same in some other form. Please look into the envelope. There is a visiting card in there. Mr. Manoj Batra. I met Mr. Manoj in the coffee shop. I was fortunate to have a long conversation with him like the way I did with you when we met for the first time. Mr. Manoj was impressed with me. He had said that he was also looking for people with same passion in the field he was in. Mr. Manoj seemed to be a different person. The appreciation of passion showed in his eyes. He gave me his card. This is the same card. I have missed you all this while. I wanted to call you but I had lost your card and number so thought of writing a letter. But this doesn’t end here. I would wait to see you here in Mcleodganj. I am not putting down my address as I know that when you land up in Mcleodganj you would easily find me out. Just look for the place that serves the best coffee in Mcleodganj. I would wait to meet you.
He opened the envelope and looked at Manoj Batra’s visiting card. The punch line of his company read – ‘Most successful dealers of auto-accessories in India’. He looked up. He looked at the counter in the coffee shop. The manager and the server were busy. He smiled and sipped the last bit of coffee left in his cup. A new conversation with Mandeep had begun.
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01/28/2011 13:23 PM