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Cafe culture brews in chinar country


Coffee shops are springing up across Srinagar, set up by just-returned youngsters. There is more than just the brew here — these are cosy nooks for conversation, debate and book talk

Srinagar is a city without nightlife and multiplexes. But in the last few years, a new bunch of cafes have become haute-spots for young artists, poets, writers and students. These cafes are not just chilling zones, but serve some real food for thought with cultural events centred around art and politics.

Most of these spaces — Ground Zero, Cafe 99, Chemistry, Books and Bricks, Hukus Bukus, The Goodfellas and next to it Chai Jhai, all in the heart of the state capital — came up after their founders returned to the Valley after long stints elsewhere. They missed the casual after-work get-together when you meet friends and exchange news and views — once these addas used to be a way of life here.

But if it’s Kashmir, there has to be a mission to it. Maybe that’s why these cafes are different from the ones in other cities: the cuppa here isn’t just about casual conversation. There are intense debates, reading sessions and talks by those whose hearts beat for Kashmir.

A Hauz Khas Village regular during his four years as a student in Delhi , Danish Yusuf, 27, moved to the UK to study at Middlesex University. When he returned home, he didn’t know where to “chill”. “Many of my friends, who chose to return home after studying abroad, felt a serious need for a place where we could sit and talk in the evenings. As a student abroad, I worked at many such outlets, but back home the only options we had was one Cafe Coffee Day and a Cafe Arabica. So I decided to tackle this problem,” he says.

Yousuf and his friend Arsalan Sajad started the first-of-its kind American diner in Srinagar, Books and Bricks Cafe. The cafe has the feel of a reading room with pages from Reader’s Digest for wallpapers. Thomas Hardy and Zadie Smith greet you from the shelves. Here you can catch bookworms exchanging notes on Arundhati Roy and Faiz Ahmed Faiz over endless cups of coffee. In the background, Kendrick Lamar raps We’re Gonna Be Alright.

You can also take a shikara to a library right in the heart of the Dal. The book cafe by Gulshan Books at Nehru Park, which was inaugurated by CM Mehbooba Mufti, has a porch overlooking the lake.

On the banks of River Jhelum, at the historic Bund, The Goodfellas cafe is run by 27-year-old artist Mujtaba Rizvi and friend Ali Abbas, 27. It is just the place if you want to walk in for a story slam or a cosy art show. On display are works of schoolchildren from far-flung areas of Kashmir.

A recital in the memory of Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali, whose Country Without A Post Office is forever in the news these days, drew packed crowds recently. Then there was an event dedicated to the resilience of Kashmiri women. Among the speakers was Nobel-nominated activist Parveena Ahanger, known for her campaign against forced disappearances.

“This is not just a cool place to sit with friends after work. This is a centre for creative ideation, where we try to give something back to our society. That’s why we gave up career options abroad and chose to return home,” says Rizvi, who studied at Goldsmiths, University of London. Abbas is from University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Source: Times of India