India coffee house was one of the best known hangouts in Srinagar city, situated on the famous Residency Road. I have no idea when it started its business in Kashmir, but remember a day of summary 1964, my absolute favorite time of year when we, as small group of students of nearby S.P. College, Srinagar made a choice to visit it. With pounding hearts we walked up the wooden stairs. At the entrance a sign board gave the management information of the coffee House that read as, ‘India coffee House’, ‘Established: 1940, Management: India coffee board workers co-operative society’. Further the footnote read: ‘Satisfaction of the customer is our destination’. The smell of coffee, sniffed in a breeze brightened our mood, the moment we pulled the curtain at the entrance.
The coffee house was jam packed and looked magnificent with traditional ‘Khatumbund’ roofing painted in coffee colour. For a while we were in state of stillness, heart in our mouth, dared to pull the chairs around a corner table, and occupied at the Far East end where it was dark, and the coffee house was already loud. Around same time a waiter dressed like Maharaja in Snow white colour uniform, with a red turban, and a robe around the waist, appeared for taking an order. He politely asked, plain or cream coffee? Any eatery? We have roasted nuts, vegetable cutlets, sandwiches, wafers, and omelets in menu, besides cold coffee. Before any of us could respond, he added, “Boys it appears you have skipped the classes. Never repeat the action. You guys are too young for this place, now since you are here, enjoy the cold coffee, this place will make you addict ‘I am sure’.
The words of Mr. Mehboob, a waiter here from ‘Lucknow’ were prophetic. Over the years the relations with him grew. He would always speak in beautiful Urdu, and served India coffee house (Srinagar branch) for decades together, he lead a team of dedicated staff which included ‘Guru’, Ghulam Qadir, A lone Kashmiri on the staff and many others as managers.
Coffee House Srinagar was a place where many eminent personalities have been to at some point of time in their life. Be it late Shamim Ahmad Shamim, or Late Sharif-u-Din, an aspiring politician then, who was nick named ‘Dandikar’ by his close friends. So many great persons used to visit the place on daily basis. I remember famous writer and dramatist Late Ali Mohd Lone, Late G.R. Santosh who had immense love for his Hindu wife ‘Santosh’ as regular visitors. Rubbing shoulders with top politicians, we would spend our time and breathe here. I remember it well that I got introduced to the vibrant and legendary politician Late Mr. Shamim A. Shamim, (The then member of parliament) in the coffee house. During that maiden meeting he took pains to explain his differences with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, which lead to his separation from so called the lion of Kashmir. Indeed it was a treat to listen to Late Shamim, a genius all-round. God Bless his soul.
Many times we would come face to face with persons like Mr. Wahid Rana of Pillo Modis Satantrwa party and Mohan Charagi, who later became the editor of the National Daily ‘Qaumi Awaz.’ All of them were remarkable in their artistic characters.
Coffee house provided an ideal space to many persons to nurture and exchange ideas, information etc. Indeed the different types of topics like Palestinian suicide bombing or an Israeli strike, Indo-Pakistan war, rumors, news, and gossip were also carried between coffee house and other places. Our visit from S.P. College to coffee house for some time came to a grinding halt on the orders of legendary and most loved principal Prof. Saif-u-Din. Non-stop raids and so called surgical strikes led by veteran Prof. G.M. Mir of Chemistry Department who caught us red handed skipping academic classes and subsequent fines off course, lessened our visits, only to be revived much later.
With its closure India coffee house that was center of literary, philosophical speculation, political prophecies, gossip, and political fermentation got also buried forever.