At Mocha in Churchgate on a Saturday afternoon, small groups are quietly enjoying coffee and chocolate shakes outside. But inside, one room is crammed with students, couples and yuppies puffing away on hookahs, joking and talking while indie music plays loudly.
One group of college students refuses to speak to us, saying their parents have no idea they are there.
But Akash Patil (24), an MBA student who lives in Byculla, willingly tells us that he frequents hookah bars like Mocha and Koyla twice a day, in the afternoon and after 11 pm. Chatting around with three friends, he says: “I enjoy the ambience and the conversation. We have intelligent conversations. We talk about music, films, current affairs the stock market and things like that. I would rather come here than go drinking because it’s better to go home sober. Plus, when you drink, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He says the Rs 300 hookahs are smoked by “innovative” Mumbaiites, who are “not one of the crowd”.
Besides hookah smoking, his friends’ interests include clubbing, listening to rock and trance music and surfing the Net. And they point out that their grandfathers smoked hookahs in their villages, as did the Moghuls.
Plenty of women are smoking too. Nearby, sit two wealthy South Mumbai women, bedecked in jewellery, puffing away. No food or drinks are allowed inside the hookah room.
Patil’s friend Nisha Putran (19), from Mira Road, a BSC student says: “I like trying out the flavours. Chilling here helps me de-stress after studying.”
“If you’re new, you smoke apple and mint,” says Amit Patel (27), a medical student and self-styled hookah expert, puffing on a blueberry sheesha. “When you are advanced you smoke flavours like pan.”
“I come here every day. My parents know about it, but as long as I do it in moderation, it’s OK. I don’t drink alcohol, so this is my main source of entertainment. I tried smoking and I didn’t like it, whereas this makes me feel euphoric.”
Many of the smokers are there to bond with friends. They say its fun and conducive to good conversation. “You can smoke, talk, interact and you feel refreshed,” says Patel.
“We just come here to pass time,” says Karan Chhajad (18) at the next table. “We don’t have anything else to do and we don’t drink alcohol. I guess it’s bonding with friends.”
They know it’s harmful, but opinions differ as to whether it is more harmful than smoking and alcohol. Rishabh Dhoka (18), a B Com student from Jai Hind College, who is blowing smoke rings and impressing his mates, says defensively: “It’s better for you than cigarettes.” He adds: “It’s what 90 per cent of college students do because there are no places to hang out in South Mumbai. It’s too boring to have coffee in a café; this is the best thing for the rainy season.”
What unites them further is their opposition to the new smoking legislation forcing them to smoke in a closed room. Says Patil, “It’s really congested in here. Before they brought out the smoking regulations we could smoke outside and it was much better.” As for the move to ban hookahs altogether, Dhoka says, “I will just smoke it at home.”
A weekly column that examines the diversity of urban communities