Discussion and coffee are flowing inside the Indian Coffee House (ICH) in Allahabad on Wednesday. Out of reach of the unyielding afternoon sun, the cool, dark, if grimy, interiors of the ICH building seem to provide an ideal germinating corner for discussions on politics, culture and current affairs.
The building is shaped like a half-built church but the unending discussions and arguments are on in full religious fervour.
Inside, a group of men, average age 55 and above, are sitting around a rectangular table and several half-empty coffee cups. They are talking animatedly and naturally about the UP assembly election.
In the group are former SP MLA, Radhey Shyam Bharti, former personal advisor to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Jagpat Dubey, Bimal Chand Mohiley, son of Allahabadi legend, Kalyan Chand Mohiley, better known as `chunnan guru' – his statue adorns one of the main intersections – Jan Morcha sympathiser, Avdesh Dwivedi, and staunch BJP supporter and member of the prestigious Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Vibhuti Mishra. While other tables are also occupied, it is this table, which is the centre of intellectual activity today.
Bharti is fed up with what he calls ``media bashing'' of the SP. He says that the media and also political analysts seem to have forgotten all the schemes that CM Mulayam Singh Yadav launched during his tenure. The people of UP would not forget, he said, ignoring the murmurs of discontent against his vociferous opinion.
As Bharti walks out to answer his cell phone – you are expected to converse outside the ICH --, Dubeyji says that while the BSP was running away with the game, in the last one week, the BJP has caught up. ``They are neck-on-neck at present,'' he says.
Mohiley does not approve of current trends in politics. ``During my father's time, who was MLA for four times from city west since 1952, politics was about doing something for the man on the street. Politicians had vision and they wanted development. Now it is a game of opportunists,'' Mohiley says. Others agree, but continue to express and explain why the party they support is slightly better. And as the afternoon shadows lengthen, new people join, older ones leave.
Watching the 'baithakbaz' (people who like to sit and talk) is Baiju, coffee house manager from Kerala. ``Yesterday, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi spent an hour in the evening. I have heard that Ram Manohar Lohia, Gnaneshwar Mishra and Mahadevi Verma used to frequent. The guest list, of course, is not that impressive now.
Ironically, no one espousing the BSP's cause seems to be an ICH regular. Is it because, Mayawati's supporters are yet to rise and smell the coffee?