Life in caffeine dispensaries

A double shot of happy vibe

I’ve been to 19 different cafés in the last one year just in Bangalore (I am discounting the cafes I’ve visited during my travels and anything that can be classified as a restaurant). This random, but nevertheless interesting, fact came up during a chance audit of my google maps timeline. My guesstimate is that I must have spent at least 300 hours across these places over the course of the year. And that’s if am being conservative.

Why do I keep going to these rooms, full of humans, loading themselves on caffeine, whilst twittering at fellow humans noisily or working away in their laptop?

For someone like me who charges his batteries by engaging in solo contemplative activities like writing, reading, listening to music and photography this should sound like a nightmare?

But it’s not. On the contrary, I find cafés relaxing.

Sure, the collective buzz of hustling humanity does charge up the atmosphere. The caffeine in my body makes my fingers fidget impatiently over the keyboard when thoughts either don’t turn up or refuse to spill into words from the amorphous form they exist in the head. Knowing myself, these are things that should ideally make it hell for me to focus and write.

But there’s a reassuring counter balance. In a café, there’s anonymity despite the crowd. Unlike an open office, no one can walk up to you every ten minutes and disrupt your stream of thoughts. Then there’s the reassuring smell of coffee.

But above all, there’s a sense of happiness. A vibe that everyone here is enjoying this moment, somehow. The sense that the person typing away furiously in the keyboard takes pleasure in what she’s doing. Meetings aren’t the same as those in conference rooms.

I can’t explain it. Perhaps it because humans can match the collective brainwave of those around them into stress or relaxation.

It’s a perfect platform to write.

The distractions are fewer at a café compared to the honeypot of alternative activities, viz. home. The latest thing on Netflix isn’t so readily available. A soft bed doesn’t invite me to explore the sweet freedom of taking a snooze in the middle of the day. Snack ideas cannot be acted upon by running into the kitchen. When I am stuck for words, I have to plod on as opposed to taking the easy alternatives like rearranging my bookshelf.

Often, I am part of the café’s ambiance, a block of breathing meat among many others, in one of the many cocoons. Sometimes, when I am stuck, or bored, I become an active observer.

A menu of lives

Every café has a personality and it comes from the people in it.

Some are filled with the power-people of the startup world, the angel investors and CEOs, the fresh-eyed founders and their future employees. Some are filled with giggling groups of teenage people-lets. A few are extended work places, with serious men and women typing away, while some others are just more erudite (only slightly) fish markets.

Occasionally, my curiosity overtakes my need for correctness and I spy. What book is the guy two tables over reading? I overhear young founders eagerly pitch to a well known angel investor. Why is he being so cynical? I spy a student with a engorged book pouring over complicated circuit diagrams and highlighting them prodigiously. Why do I desperately want to know more about the knowledge lies hidden in it?

I make my own judgements. When someone says “Uber meets Instagram meets Pinterest”, I roll my eyes in secret. When I spy someone reading a self-help book, I snort quietly. I get visibly annoyed when loud group of boys and girls (usually young adults) take over the auditory space of the entire place.

The cast has recurring characters. The same investor brings in a new set of people to bully every other day. The creative designer brings different clients to pitch. That one startup guy who comes like clockwork everyday at 10 am and leaves at 3 PM. There’s even a place reserved for him and I never take it out of respect for some mythical café-code.

I wonder about the enigmatic girl tapping away at her keyboard all day while taking calls with a smattering of cryptic phrases like “yellow background will work better”, “index-linked price” and “slogan for the campaign.” Is she a designer, a marketer, a fund manager or a super multi-faceted entrepreneur?

But eventually, I slip back into the cocoon. I savor my coffee and sit back in the knowledge that at that moment, I am indulging in what feels like an experience custom made for writers.

The café is a testament to the happiness of doing nothing but sipping some coffee. That things get done here is just a result of that happiness.