In the past, talking to your friends did not require a background music of food or beverages. An innocuous walk would do. Or just sitting on the roof would do. That changed. Now socializing happens OVER something. ‘Let’s discuss this over a cup of tea’. ‘Let’s get drinks and catch up’.
It is what it is.
But why that has to happen in a Cafe Coffee Day or any fancy cafe or a bar or a fancy restaurant in a fancy part of your city. Honestly, at least in India, most of the fancy places serve food or drinks that are often equally unhealthy as the regular tea stall or neighborhood halwai shop or regular theka-bar.
I had to meet a friend few months ago. We both are from the same neighborhood. It didn’t make sense to go to a third place that is far off. We do not have a CCD or any cafes in our neighborhood. We decided to get a cup of tea at Sonu Halwai – a neighborhood sweets shop. He was making fresh hot Samose then. We got those too. Background set, we spoke of the same things that we would have if we were in an upscale cafe. We ate and drank similar things as we would have otherwise except that it was way cheaper here and the tea was ready to be consumed. Unlike in cafes, here we didn’t have to grab sugar sachets and keep stirring sugar. Some fancier places are even worse – even tea water and milk need to be mixed by you. Although I do empathize with their attempt to celebrate individual taste . Further, it saved us the inconvenience of driving some kilometres to find a cafe.
Saving costs and convenience is definitely one push for this favoritism of mine for local and less opulent places.
But other equally strong, if not stronger, force is the concern for widening gap among socio-economic classes in India. Gap not really about how much people make or about their ability to make money, but about the ability of people to be present with each other. Often, you won’t rub shoulder with, say, an auto-driver when you are having a drink of rum or whiskey with your friend. The drink you may have at some bar in Connaught Place or on One Hundred Feet Road in Indira Nagar, in Bangalore, might be similar to those consumed at a theka bar. A less expensive rum or whiskey might be more common. Chances are that your preferred brand might also be available. Perhaps specific concoction like Mojito or Bloody Mary might be unavailable. Granted, the theka-bar may not have the ‘your type’ music, ambiance and crowd. But are these ancillary background items too big to bridge when all you wanted to do was catch up with your friend over drinks? Could it be possible to go over the fence once in a while?
I understand that at bars, safety can be a concern when female friends are involved. But for other socializing at least, like a quick bite or cup of tea, the place in your street isn’t too bad an option. If health and hygiene are concerns, a ten rupee samosa could very well be equally unhealthy as a slice of expensive burger or doughnut.
This occasional fence jumping addresses that widening gap in an interesting way. Going to those nondescript places creates the presence of otherwise disconnected individuals. When you go to those places, it is very much possible that there might be no conversation between you and those relatively less privileged ones. But sheer presence of all of you in the same space ushers in some sense of familiarity. Just occasional unintentional effortless overhearing of each other’s chats or musings will bring in more familiarity than the transactional chats you had with people like them earlier. ‘Will you go to Moti Nagar?’ or ‘How much?’. They too will perhaps learn to hold you in less awe or feel more comfortable with you.