Shimla’s Coffee House culture may lose steam, say veterans

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Shimla, April 30 (IANS) The famed Indian Coffee House on The Mall here will start serving from Monday snacks other than south Indian delicacies as well. The old-timers are distinctly unhappy.

The Coffee House says the change is necessitated by economic reasons. But those who have patronized it for decades say the eatery will soon lose its character.

“To our dismay, the Coffee House management has decided to make it a ‘dhaba’ from May 1. Perhaps they are not aware that there are a number of ‘dhabas’ in Shimla,” B.D. Sharma, a former Press Secretary to the Chief Minister, told IANS.

Shimla’s famous outlet has seen many prominent customers — late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and then BJP leader and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When he studied in India, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a frequent visitor too.

Modi, during his recent visit, recalled that he used to spend hours at the Coffee House with his journalist friends to keep a tab on the state’s political developments.

And many from Shimla’s academic, legal, art and journalistic circles were regular clients too.

Daulat Sen, a government employee and a regular for over 35 years, said: “The Indian Coffee House attracts a particular class of people. It’s wrong to assume that it will attract tourists too.”

He said the decision to start serving north Indian food too, including paranthas, would not attract food lovers in a dominantly south Indian outlet.

Old-timers say that earlier the Coffee House had a carrom board, playing cards and newspapers for customers. A plate of salted peanuts was served with each cup of coffee.

According to Sen, a cup of coffee in the early 1980s cost Rs 2. Now it is Rs 25.

The Indian Coffee House at Shimla came up in 1962, the shop area bought for Rs 85,000.

“It is because of demand from guests and also to tide over a funds crunch that we have decided to serve other Indian food along with south Indian dishes,” Manager Atma Ram Sharma told IANS.

He said Indian Coffee House in Kolkata and Jabalpur have started serving other Indian food too.

These arguments have no takers among the long-time Coffee House clients who say they throng it because they feel bonded to it.

“May god give the management good sense,” moaned an upset Sharma.

Octogenarian Raj Kumar Mariya too prefers this place not just to enjoy south Indian delicacies but also to meet old friends over endless cups of coffee.

“It is the only place where we can meet a particular class of people. It is a place to discuss and debate everything, from politics to socialism to art and to national issues.”

In March 2000, then Home Minister Advani spent time at the Coffee House with his party colleagues over coffee.

He again visited it in August 2009 along with then Gujarat Chief Minister Modi.

Modi, now the Prime Minister, said at a public rally recently: “Sitting at the Indian Coffee House along with my journalist friends, I used to get an insight into the state’s political developments.”

Modi, who was the BJP’s in-charge of Himachal Pradesh from 1994 and 2002, added in a lighter vein that he never paid for the coffee he had. His journalist friends used to foot the bill.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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