The Indian Coffee House (c. 1957), on the second-floor of Mohan Singh Place, a dull shopping complex, next to PVR Rivoli in Connaught Place was not a place but a culture in itself. Once a hub of intellectuals, its romantic atmosphere is unmissable in its run down furniture. To a time when Swiggy and drive-throughs didn’t exist, there were no self-service counters and the staff was turbaned and dressed handsomely in a uniform that showcased their dignity, the ICH has been the home of an extinct elegance. The terrace sharpens the homely relief one feels on entering the complex.
The stories of delectable coffee and open conversations at the heart of Delhi is a gentle reminder of how solitude and long hours of conversations can co-exist in a place. Anyone could join any group without feeling like a mere spectator; the smiles and hearts of the people as welcoming as the coffee and the south Indian food served by the ever-smiling turbaned attendants.
The place hosted various journalists, bureaucrats and intellectuals who spent hours sipping coffee and deliberating and debating. It hosted the likes of people like Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Chandrashekhar etc. being a place more sophisticated than any other in the city. The Indian Coffee House was apparently demolished during Emergency in 1976, one of the darkest phases in the history of India. Every portal of free speech was censored as it was believed that many conspiracies against the Indira government were hatched at the Indian Coffee House, however, it continued to be the centre of free speech and expression and good food which made everyone go bonkers!
The glorious past started taking a back seat in the 1990s when the liberalisation of the Indian economy was declared. The market opened up, outlets like McDonald’s and Baristas took over the city and there on, even though it underwent renovation, the nostalgic Indian Coffee could never regain the position it had lost. Though the year-long renovation tried to improve the two dining rooms and the open roof area, the nostalgic glory was lost and the sales dipped rapidly.
Over the years, the Indian Coffee House is far from what it was during its glorious days; it’s flooded with pesky flies, the terrace is no longer an attraction rather the perfect spot for scary monkeys to hangout, the chairs are wobbly and dusty, there is a paucity of staff due to low pays and the Mohan Singh Place no longer provide it the kind of atmosphere that it boasted of. Nonetheless, the food is still finger licking good, the dosa, vada and mutton cutlet still delicacies and the coffee the same welcoming cup of love it was years ago. Rather than continuing to be a thinking man’s haunt, the place has lost its charm and provides solace to the older people who reminisce the good ol’ days. Students and groups however, flock this place given the cheap prices of the yummiest food served with the warmest smile in yesteryear’s fashion by the well dressed attendant. Attempts have been made to revamp the place and all is still not lost. We are hopeful for a better tomorrow for the lost glory cannot be regained but the place still is a safe haven for our history which will continue to inspire generations of intellectuals willing to dig a little deeper. And who is ready to give up the coffee and good food at such reasonable prices, not me, for sure! Maybe the nostalgia for an idealized age of intellectual life is tugging at my heartstrings stronger than ever and maybe this is the history that I want to be repeated for once! Still an expectant history student, call me that, if you may! *sigh*
Where Mohan Singh Place, Near Hanuman Mandir, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place
Time 9am to 9pm
Nearest Metro Station Rajiv Chowk