In search of a tea house
Being an army officer’s daughter, I have seen many cities in Pakistan. To say that I have been exposed to various cultures however, would be wrong as the only culture I have an understanding of is that of the army.
Most of my adult life however, I have been in Islamabad. Islamabad is the closest it gets to any city being my home. There’s something about the Margallas, the wide clean roads, the neatly laid shopping malls, the winter mornings and the summer afternoons in Islamabad that is so familiar, so comforting.
Just recently I had a chance to live in Karachi for three months. The city is a shocker for anyone who has lived most of his/her life in Islamabad; it’s huge! I have never seen so many people crammed in such small spaces. It is there that you realise how enslaved we are by our bodies; your eyes alone take weeks to get used to the mere enormity of the city that is Karachi. The smells, or the smell, the rickshaws, the dialect, the foggy air, the sea breeze, the frizzy hair - in short, the city is a wonderful contrast to the idea of a city an Islamabadi would have.
I would want to write more on how the city eventually grows on you, on how the divides we create are so unnecessary and disgraceful, however, that is beyond the scope of this article. What I loved the most about Karachi is that it excludes no one. Everybody is welcome and everybody becomes a part of it before they even know it.
From the Itwar (Sunday) Bazaar to Boat Basin, you see people of all religions, nationalities and cultures shopping and eating together with the kind of comfort that is inspirational. Women clad in saris or jeans, nobody turns around to stare at them. Nobody has the time.
One of my favourite places in Karachi was Roadside Café. It’s a small café by the “roadside” that serves Doodh patti, Kahwa and light snacks. It is not a fine dining place. Not a fancy one either. It is there that I figured the concept of a lounge - a place where people just come to sit and talk. From students to famous fashion designers and socialites, everyone sits there, in their shorts and pyjamas, or dressed up if they so please, having intense conversations, sharing jokes, or just listening to the wonderful Pakistani music being played in the back.
My take on Islamabad is that it’s a bubble. It’s a well done pretty bubble alright, but a bubble nevertheless. A bubble some rich politicians and retired bureaucrats have created to shield themselves from the chaos that is Pakistan. A few days ago, I wanted to go to a tea house, a desi place with wooden benches and no fancy façade, where I could sit and talk, and maybe read, without having to spend more than a hundred rupees. Turned out, there is no such place in Islamabad. Ironically, even Hot Spot, a centre for hot beverages, does not serve tea, the most popular hot beverage in Pakistan. It serves Coffee as its core hot drink category.
Ah coffee… I could go on and on. But before I do, let me clarify that I love coffee. I have nothing against it. I love coffee ice cream, coffee cakes, hot coffee, cold coffee, you name it. However, it is an acquired taste.
Did our ancestors drink coffee?
Is it a local produce or grown anywhere in the vicinity?
Do we have the weather for coffee with summers 10 months in a year?
Did we grow up drinking coffee?
I know most of us didn’t. An acquired taste is all right but it doesn’t change the fact that most of us, including the pseudo goray bachay, are still tea drinkers. But all you ever find in Islamabad are coffee houses! Uppish interiors, dark gloomy lounges full of teenagers dressed to kill and loaded with money to throw away.
There are some really nice coffee lounges too. Mocha is a breath of fresh air. Table talk is another place I really like. But then again, they are at the epicentre of the bubble. How about going desi; not playing gora for a change? Get rid of the colonial mindset every now and then, if not permanently. If nothing else, it will add variety, no?
Let me assure you, there’s nothing more comforting that what is your own. When an Islamabadi goes out, I speak for myself here if it offends any other, he/she:
1. Dresses up
2. Stops at an ATM, gets money
3. Goes, orders, eats
4. Pays the bill
5. Comes home
6. Counts the number of things he/she wanted to talk about/ thought but didn’t get the time to share because they were too busy finishing the steak that cost Rs 800!
I miss Roadside. I loved the name because it says it all. I want to sit by the roadside, read to a friend, talk, have tea, and just sit there for as long as I want, without having to worry about how I look, how much money I have, pretending to know the lyrics of the latest Rihanna song, the waiter hovering over my head or having to spend 10 minutes figuring how the fixtures in the washroom work.
One day, I shall open my own roadside café in Islamabad. This well laid out town deserves to be acquainted to the beauty of minimalism, to the hustling bustling tea houses that Pakistan was once full of. I want my city to know the people that we started out as.