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Musharraf's Guespresso with handpicked cookies

The owner of Islamabad's jaunty café says the menu card needs to be updated. Instead of explaining Musharraf Guespresso as "seasoned and mature", it should be termed "seasoned but stale!"

world Updated: Feb 17, 2008 15:51 IST

The menu card, agrees Arshed Bhatti, owner of Islamabad's jaunty café, Civil Junction, operating since 2002, needs to be updated. Instead of explaining Musharraf Guespresso as "seasoned and mature", he says it should be termed "seasoned but stale!"

The café supports "political conversations". One reason could be that two television channels used it to record its current affairs programmes and most politicians (except Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari) frequented the place while coming for recordings.

But even otherwise, the who's who on the political bandwagon like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (PML-Q), Aitezaz Ahsan (PPP), Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, Farooq Sattar (MQM), Imran Khan (PTI) and Amin Fahim (PPP) come for "aik piyali chai pe, do ghoont guftgoo (small talk over a cup of tea)", Bhatti told IANS.

With the powers-that-be giving final touches to last-minute political wheeling dealings and sleepy Islooites (residents of Islamabad) slowly waking up to Monday's general elections, the place to be in seems none other than café Civil Junction with its politically correct menu.

They can muse over who to vote for over Vajpayee's cup of coffee - explained best as "old, poetically smooth, chronically alone" which has "no foreign hand in its making", but if they still want to go for Musharraf's Guespresso, be sure to get some "handpicked cookies" too.

But with the weather changing unexpectedly, if it is something cool and flippant they fancy, there is Madhuri masti -- "vervy, vibrant and dynamic drink". The civil military mix (aka dudh soda) is time-tested too and Lallo Lassi Dilbihar, won't be a disappointment either.

But in this age of extreme ethnic divide and intolerance something stronger, like Rawadari -- a "pluralist mix" made from various ethnic drinks whose colour keeps changing, but the "essence and spirit of the mix remains intact" is worth a sip.

The café offers culinary items too like MQM (Mattar Qeema Mazedar) or MMA (named after the alliance of six religious parties, now broken) a "unique alliance of poultry, vegetables, dairy" which "sounds hot but easy to chew" and is served with LFO (Light Fried Onions)".

Military Intervention is explained as a "beefy main course, quietly cooked in a chaotic political pressure cooker", and for the vegans, there is VVIP (Various Vegetables in Pakistan), a combination that keeps changing with "seasonal change in political alliance, governments, and climate".

Interestingly, having carved a niche for himself in the capital's eating-out scene, Bhatti is also contesting the poll as an independent candidate on a shoestring budget of Rs 250, 000 of which he has already spent Rs 210, 000. His election office is a truck.

He says the country's politics has been soiled by "non-democratic, dominant economic and political interests just to keep the right people at bay."

Having studied Development Management from the London School of Economics a decade ago, and currently pursuing his PhD, Bhatti says "it is not ambition but energy that keeps his fingers in so many pies".

He recently participated in a reality show hosted by DawnNews, a private English television channel, a hot contest to choose the country's next prime minister. "My biggest competency is my honesty and my comfort level with situational ambiguity, which is an omnibus phenomenon in Pakistan."

But why politics, you ask him when he's doing a swell job running a popular joint? And does he have what it takes to play the dirty game?

"I shall demonstrate clean, yet effective politics is possible, doable," he says confidently. Describing himself as "a post-development feminist", he genuinely believes he can change the world. "The funny thing is I know I can".

And funnily enough, one believes he can. His enthusiasm is infectious.