One need not travel to Lahore and Karachi any longer for a taste of the Pakistani entrepreneurship, humour and its thinking people’s irrepressible urge for democratic freedom.
The proof lies in the pudding served 24X7 at Civil Junction, a thoughtfully named cafeteria in the heart of the Pak capital.
CJ’s 'Vajpayee’s cup of Coffee' is one hot favourite: old, poetically smooth, chronically alone, mythologically brewed, firmly soft and, in short, more than you can expect.
"There is no foreign hand in its making," the cafe's elaborately done menu assures of the cuppa served since the Indian and Pakistani troops were eyeball-to-eyeball on the borders.
Of identical vintage and price, 'Musharraf Guesspresso' is CJ’s best bet: khaki and brewed under high pressure of discipline. Its base very, very strong; the real kick being in its aftertaste!
A brainchild of Arshed Bhatti, a journalist-turned-civil servant-turned political activist, CJ is no ordinary eatery. It is at once a meeting ground, a cerebral junction of sorts, for a variegated clientele: journalists, students, the marginalised minorities and the aadabi (creative) types.
“I like going to CJ. In terms of undistilled thought, it’s a microcosm of Pakistan,” says journalist Sirmed Manzoor. He believes Bhatti’s is a trend-setting venture that has given Rawalpindi, a similarly patterned Aloo Junction.
A graduate from the London School of Economics, Bhatti likes to categorise his café as a social enterprise.
“I didn’t want to be running an NGO, which means other people funding your passion,” he remarks. “I wanted to prove that activism is sustainable if done the right way.”
The intellectual space CJ offers to its loyal patrons is for free but has come to be accepted as a product, argues Bhatti.
“We also serve food for thought, through exhibitions, discussions. The café co-produced with an FM station a radio feature to make people aware of their civic rights.”
In fact, CJ gate-crashed into Islamabad’s sanitised, stiff-upper-lip ambience on the day Pakistan’s current National Assembly was constituted in 2002.
Not surprising, therefore, that the fare it serves includes the elegiac Military Intervention.
“It is a beefy main course. Some like it, some hate it but all take it,” said Bhatti about CJ’s “first generation” dish sold alongside the Murgh Malai Aloo (MMA), a culinary spoof on Pakistan’s right-wing Opposition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
Inspired by Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, Pakistan’s Popular Pakorre is a “tea party” item and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League comparable with Pure Mutton League, an “establishment favourite and a tribute to leadership on plate.”
The café’s second generation menu has made the fare even richer. “Mutton boneless” is its War Against Terror and the Aloo Gosht mix a Civil-Military Translucent Gravy.
On offer for those who like their meals soft is Spineless Opposition made of boneless chicken.