Tuesday, February 10, 2004

(...continued from where I left off. Although I NEED to make an intellectual comment here about the inverse structure of a blog - as you read down, you go backwards in time. Sort of like reading a novel backwards. Now that I have justifiably staked my claim as an intellectual, I can proceed to prove otherwise in the rest of this blog).

When we left off the last time, I was sitting in a coffee pub in madras, in an effort to compose a novel over an espresso, with my laptop, trying to impress sophomore girls inspite of the fact that they refered to each other as 'Gurl' while they played a noisy game of dumb charades. I was at a creative trough by that time. With caffeine coursing through my veins, each drum-beat from the speakers pulsated through my mind. I began to question the choice of a venue for doing this writing business.

- I picked myself up from my couch with great gusto, stormed to the gaggle of giggling gurls and was about to silence them with an icy remark or two, when a quiet girl in the corner smiled with her eyes and asked me 'wanna play?'.

No wait, that did not happen. That was the patent fiction I was trying to type out on that keyboard, but well, decided against that since the plot quickly went to places Humbert Humbert might have visited.

I tried to cower them with a cold stare - that way I don't need to get off the couch. That did not help since they were too busy staring at someone who was trying to mime 'Schindler's list' and had decided to try miming 'Schindler' first.

I wrapped my laptop, smiled and left without ringing that thank-you bell. Thank-you bells, that's what people get as tips in coffee shops in India. No moolah, only noise from a bell with an old clapper. And when you do that, the coffee guys need to turn around and say thank you. Noisily.

Things changed from that trip to the coffee house. I recieved aid from UT, moved to Austin - live music capital of the world and to coffee shops around campus. With the unerring accuracy of the materialist, I managed to walk into the most expensive and hence exclusive coffee-shop at the first shot! Others might have gone to Starbucks, or to the rhyming Lava-Java, but I headed to the shop with the beautiful neon Aztec face-mask device. It was a cold day and it was the warmth that drew me to it. I entered the door and left my smoky exhalations outside. Warm colours, sounds and surfaces. Dark leather armchairs, steam scalding roasted and ground java beans, people quietly working on their portables or grad students scribbling away with the singlemindedness that only grad students display when they are about to solve an assignment due next month, oblivious to the melee - of people coming/going/recognising faces - or the alternative rock playing in the background.

Ordered a mocha and a donut, grabbed a bunch of National Geographics and proceeded to turn and stare at their pages. Kalahari tribeswomen, Inuit children, Pampas cowboys - caught in a moment, in the limpid light that national geographic photographers carry with them to the darkest and dankest corners of the world. I don't think I registered much. I did not need to. Coffee shops need not edify, their purpose is merely to tend to the soul. That is unless your professor holds research meetings there!

On my way out, I smiled warmly at the girl at the counter like I saw the 'regulars' do. She smiled hesitantly - I panicked - did I tip too less? Judgemental woman. Can she not see that I am a grad student? Or is it because I am? Am I too obviously a poor grad student? Material girl. I pushed through the glass doors hastily and trudged home. Next day, I walked in and she was not there. There was some guy who was tending the counter. I made it 'to go' and walked out - it was sunny outside too. Three days and three styrofoam cups of ( two of latte and an espresso) later, I walked in and this time there was a familiar "will it be Mocha again?". Here was my chance, this was probably the first place outside the university and my apartment where at least one person knows what I like! I decided against experimenting with hazelnut latte or americano. 'Yeah' I sunnily replied to the counter girl. I squinted awkwardly trying to read her name tag pinned on the blouse without being offensive and dropped a bigger tip.

I have since reformed and moved to cheaper places. I now collect addresses of places where you can get a dollar coffee for my morning fix. But JP is not for that.