Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All roads lead to Cafe Dulce

THE LAZY EVENING TRAFFIC was a definite mood killer. I sat in the back of a taxi listening to Bee Gees croon ‘I started a joke…’ and bring some sense of coherence into my otherwise chaotic day. The inside of the car was air conditioned and gave me no hint of the windy and naturally pleasant atmosphere that enveloped our little space in the universe. I shifted uneasily in my seat and I peered at my watch to realize I was already late. I sighed and looked back up at the world outside – passing by with an unhurried rhythmic pace of its own. So many stories behind all those still, grim, calm, worried and pale faces attached to briskly disappearing bodies. It was like I was stuck in a painting that changed with every heart beat. Each time fishing out a unique tale for me. Each moment brushing up a renewed version of life.

Our vehicle chugged along the little puddle of automobiles and finally took a lengthy pause at a small walk-in café. From where I sat, the tinted vision of the old diner seemed a little askew. There was something about that place that made me sit up and look at it with an added hint of interest. Given that I had nothing else to look at (not counting the dull unexpressive eyes of the cabbie in the rear view mirror) this piece of someone else’s past begged my attention.

The café was called ‘Café Dulce’ which literally means ‘The Sweet Café’. I was unsure if it was called that because they sold mainly sweets or if it was someone’s name. Dulce is a common Latin name hence my liberty with these assumptions. The main entrance to the unassuming edifice of metal and cement was wide and looked as if it did not have a door. Just a square shaped hole in a cement wall. From my view, I could see the inside of the café with some precision. Slow rotating fans hung high on the crumbling paint of the ceiling. Cheap yet brightly lit slim tube lights stood proudly a few foot away from each other. Small yet colorful paintings were hung at regular intervals in between the tube lights. I could not make out what they consisted of, but they did seem joyful and vibrant. A lot of people sat inside at square wooden tables and spoke in absolute cacophony. I could hear their echoes compete with the verses the Bee Gees were trying to wail inside the taxi. One of the men who sat with his back facing me was slamming on the table hard and laughing really loud. People walked in and out of the place constantly indicating that the hour was probably one of its busiest.

The traffic inched a little further and my eye caught a rather interesting sight. About ten men, aged between seventy and eighty, sat at various spots outside the café. A couple of them were busy with what seemed like an intense chess game while a couple more looked over their heads suggesting moves and invoking the players’ grunts intead. A little further away sat another old man on a plastic chair and a child on his lap. He had a comic book in his hands and was reading it aloud to the little girl. She was correcting him at various points as both of them would laugh at each other with the same innocent look in their eyes. The old man’s face would get very expressive at times when he probably was describing an emotional sequence. The girl would raise her head and stare into his fumbling mouth as she recorded everything he was explaining. Adjacent to them sat two more men. Had they not been wearing different clothes I’d have sworn they were twins. The same balding pattern, the identical wrinkled texture of the skin and the similar toothless guffaw as they shared an episode. The one on my right was the one who was laughing harder than his counterpart as he slapped the other on the wrist and urged him to continue. They’d occasionally glance at the slow moving traffic and continue with their chatter.

For a few seconds I imagined them all as young men. My black and white vision showed me hard working and upright individuals who had once met at the same café and had shared the same jokes and laughter. I wondered what it had been like when they were my age. Did they have the same kind of endless anxiety that haunts me? Did they also worry day in and day out about their future that seemed so ambiguous with every look? Questions with answers locked away in those aging hearts with a soul that was still so young and alive.

As the taxi picked up pace in the next few moments and the song came to a slow end, ‘Café Dulce’ had become memory. As if by instinct I turned around to get one last look at that place before roaring automobiles clouded my vision. I sighed again and sat back but no longer bored or exhausted. But a weird sense of relief and joy had overtaken my mind.

All our lives we struggle each passing day to keep ourselves and others happy. Every heartbeat seems like a battle won as our souls continue to survive in a time when nothing seems good enough. The wish to achieve everything in life and to lead a secure future somehow makes us so cynical and closed at times, that we often forget what this all eventually leads up to. We never once think of the only future that matters. We never pause to reflect what we all are really hoping for. We seldom look with intent to the many Café Dulces that might have passed by us. I guess the men there defined the meaning of the café to me by just being there.

I quickly found a prayer escaping my lips…

‘I hope my road too leads to one such café some day where I’d have spent a lifetime yet would laugh with the same honesty in my voice. Amen.’


3 reflections:

Samba said...

I guess we lack the heart of an observer, a journalist, a poet. We are too busy trying to grab the next promotion, writing the next business plan, selling stuff to the next customer. Our lives have become financial markets where the present is governed by the anticipation of the future. That's exactly what results in the anxiety that has become such a big part of our lives. Coz we have become speculators and we don't know whether we are on the right side of the speculation. The only way we see to end the uncertainty is to get rich or get old!

VENU VINOD said...

very good piece of writing Shashi, i admire this sort of write ups. we too find some places of interest in our place too, like the one you mentioned here. i now got an inspiration from you to write on them:)

shakri said...


You are absolutely right there dude. I could not have put it in better words myself. :) Thank you for the words.


Thanks Venu. Late response anta bejaar madkobedi. Been a little tied up ashte. I look forward to reading your works too. :)