Do you have a café where writers hang out in Mumbai?” an author visiting the city asked me recently. I was struck dumb, because a sudden realisation hit me like a tonne of bricks — Mumbai, an almost eternal muse for writers, lacks a café that serves as a meeting adda for writers and poets, aspiring or otherwise.
One can argue that Mumbai has the Prithvi Café in Juhu. And perhaps a few other cafés in suburban Versova or Lokhandwala may draw writers, but those are frequented more by Bollywood, TV or theatre actor/screenwriter types. There is literally no single establishment, which can be called a ‘writer’s haunt’ in Mumbai.
It did not help that the visitor was from Paris, a city full of cafés and bars immortalised by literary greats in books, which, in some cases, had been written in the very same cozy haunts. Places such as Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore and the La Closerie des Lilas come to mind.
And this is not a solely western concept. Every self-respecting ‘world city’ has one such place. On our side of the hemisphere, you have the Pak Tea House in Lahore — a café that, believe it or not, has a few tables with signs that read, ‘reserved for writers’. The likes of Faiz and Manto frequented this place once. In India, you can visit the old-fashioned Indian Coffee House outlets that still draw the literary types in Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru.
It’s not to say that Mumbai didn’t ever care for its writers and poets. The defunct Café Samovar in the precincts of Jehangir Art Gallery, Naaz Café in Malabar Hill, and Bastani at Dhobi Talao did exist at one time as writers’ hangouts. The owners even offered discounts to struggling writers who they knew were earning peanuts. But today, even though the city is full of coffee shops and pubs, there is a serious lack of literary landmarks where argumentative authors can meet and spar over a cuppa.
So, here’s a call for a kindred café owner to take note and create a go-to joint for writers and poets. Don’t give us discounts; just give us a place to call our own. A space where young, aspiring writers can argue with established ones over syntax, grammar, tropes, plots or subplots. A spot dedicated to poets for the betterment of verse. Who knows? Your establishment may just get immortalised in one of the many tales spun in its precincts, and perhaps become a part of literary history.