Monday, March 09, 2009

A muffin in the morning

I walk in and there’s a surge of joyous familiarity. The waiters wear Turkish caps and I say “shisha” the way I would have if I was in the Middle East. The music is a reckless mix of old rock, hip hop, nineties sentimentalists and swish contemporary numbers whose classifications are as irrelevant as the names of the artists. My CD collection, for the most part. When my Moroccan tea and shisha arrive, they are good, very good, not just approximations. The keeper of the shishas is the most on the ball of all those I’ve come across. Coal gets replenished almost before you notice that it needs to be.

Halfway through the menu, it leaves off the cheerful listing of croques, crepes and panini to state suddenly: “There are only two refuges from the miseries of life – coffee and music” . Nevertheless, the place itself is bright and happy. Earth colours, with the occasional splash of pink or turquoise, assorted “art director’s pad” furniture and the option to buy the chair you’re sitting on if you’re so inclined.

But most of the clientele here is not in the furniture-buying demographic. They wear tight t-shirts of the FCUK War variety and are at least 15 years younger than I am. So shisha is clearly the thing of the moment then, but it fits so easily into the Bangalore ethos that it seems surprising it wasn’t always here. I notice someone who’s sitting alone in a peaceful trance and the thought crosses my mind that, this being Bangalore, the strong fruity scents could mask quite easily the more delicate herbal scents of private blends that have always been here. Also, this being Bangalore in 2009, the smokers are inside, while the non-smokers are outdoors. This is one of the many Wonko-the-Sane features of our times.

I message my friend in Dubai to say I’ve found “a shisha place so perfect I could cry.” She replies, “Is it Mocha?” It is. The one on Lavelle Road. I’m told there’s another, better one, but I hate Koramangala with a passion. On Lavelle road, the tech parks are hidden away and Bangalore Club is reassuringly close, its elitist disdain for Bengaluru hovering protectively over the venerable Gulmohar trees. People don’t seem to speak Hindi much on this street, or if they do, it’s at a normal volume, not one that carries for miles. (I have nothing against Hindi per se. I just despise people who move somewhere and then refuse to integrate, and it so happens that the ones I come across these days invariably speak Hindi.)

The food is good. The apple-cinnamon muffin is, in fact, the best I’ve ever had. It’s not idle praise - my favourite type, I’ve tried these from so many supermarkets and bakeries, airport lounges and cafes that if I plotted them all on a globe, it would look a little like an Emirates route map.

The night before I left Dubai, a friend asked me what I would miss about it and I replied that I wouldn’t know until I left. I thought my answer to this question was going to be “shisha culture”, and it’s true that I do miss that, but It turns out that what I miss most is me.

But I take a deep drag of my grape shisha, and it’s one of those times when the universe flows through you in a steady, glowing beam. Maybe that’s three refuges – coffee, music and tobacco, where “coffee” stands for food or beverage of choice and “tobacco”, for whatever you enjoy by yourself.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

get ready to say good bye to your "dubai shisha culture" the Dubai Govt has banned the use of sisha in any public place ! and when the dubai govt bans anything it stays banned, not like our "spurious culture" a la the various senas. You and all your friends are welcome to my house where I have a working sisha , (its lit when my wife is not looking), achan

Anonymous said...

I miss the sheesha culture too though I do have a beautiful Abu Dhabi narghileh in the basement. My neighbour (the wife) has Lebanese ancestory and seems to know its operation instinctively! The sheesha never leave us, apparently. Or is it the culture.....

Govind said...

Shouldn't you qualify your hatred of Koramangala? I thought there was on older side with bungalows and yes, trees.

Gargoyle said...

Interesting. I suspect I don't have a rational reason, I've hated it for as long as I can remember...

Gargoyle said...

I strongly believe that the shisha epitomises the best parts of the culture, so maybe one is synonymous with the other! I have an Abu Dhabi nargila too! It's a sort of table-sized one, present from a Lebanese friend who also taught me how to light it, thoughI haven't yet tried it. He claimed the (your?) shisha man at the Montgomery gave him tips and tricks.

Anonymous said...

Since 'sanskar' cannot be taught and is ingrained (according to many high born Indians), then sanskar has to be language (because then it is communicated).
If this is true, since sheesha is = glass in Farsi, Arabs must have Persian culture. Is this blasphemy of the highest order... probably....

Gargoyle said...

Gasp! You could start a war (always assuming they have any "bandwidth" left from the existing wars). Come to think of it, the "iconic" barajeel came from Iran too...

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