KOSHY’S PARADE, THE MYSTICAL COFFEE OF BENGALURU
Koshy’s Parade Café has the distinction of serving eminent personalities like Queen Elizabeth II and our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
‘There’s a natural mystique blowing in the air
I can’t hold them back
If you listen carefully now, you will hear.
-Bob Marley, the natural mystic
At a recent Indo-Anglian poetry event, I recalled the dreamy-eyed, youthful, indulgent days spent at an iconic Bangalore cafe, The Parade Café or Koshy’s, where I began to take a serious interest to the Indo-Anglian poetry of Dom Moraes, Nissim Variété Ezekiel. The cafe is known in its original form, “The Parade Café” to most Bangalore elders (the old name has now been changed to Bengaluru) and as The Koshy’s to the population at large. For the purposes of this article, I’ll call it Koshy’s Parade Café to symbolize the juxtaposition of old, genteel and new Bangalore in Silicon Valley! My initiation rites within the grounds of this Koshy’s Parade café were a “chance” encounter and it was on a late summer afternoon that I entered Koshy’s Parade through its glass door expecting to meet a gentleman in particular, Mr. PK Srinivasan, who will be described later in the article. The buzz and vibe of the cafe was simply electric and mystifying for an impressionable young man in his twenties. Clients were deeply engrossed in their conversations over their cups of tea or coffee or drinks, completely unaware of their externalities. The sound of the ‘humming’ echoed throughout the cafe as the large fans moved away. Let’s say there was a “natural mystique blowing through the air” to quote Bob Marley at Koshys Parade Café. So began my journey with Bangalore’s mystical café, Koshy’s Parade Café and its heady world of intellectual talk and spirited conversation. I must hasten to add here before diving into the article that many wonderful afternoons have been spent with the Sunday Guardian’s editorial director, Professor Madhav Nalapat, in this cafe over vegetable burgers accompanied by cups of steaming tea filled with intellectually stimulating conversations. . Needless to add, Professor Nalapat enjoyed ‘celebrity’ status here with young writers and artists listening intently to his ideas and opinions.
LOCATION: BRITISH COUNCIL LIBRARY WORLD
Koshy’s Parade Café is located right in the heart of the city on a busy thoroughfare on the ground floor of a two-story building with an imposing exterior of large bay windows with blinds and paneled glass door. In the early 90’s the British Council Library was located at the very top on the first floor which has since moved to another location which was an added attraction for young bibliophile students like me. The cafe traces its origins to the entrepreneurial acumen and drive of a man named Mr. PO Koshy from the southern state of Kerala who founded the place in 1952. The cafe has the particularity of serving eminent personalities such as Queen Elizabeth. II and our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The cafe’s vibe is rather Parisian bohemian with Formica tables covered in a gingham tablecloth, wooden chairs and rows of good old sturdy leather couches lined the walls with dedicated waiters in no-frills livery. The walls are adorned with black and white photographs of Bangalore’s landmarks from a bygone era as well as portraits of the founders. The lighting is only fluorescent lamps pulled from the ceiling with rods. Tea and coffee are served in china cups and saucers and the most eye-catching feature are the monogrammed silver sugar bowls set on the tables with neat paper napkins on plates and starched cloth napkins for meals offered to customers. Speaking of the ambience of Koshy’s Parade cafe, it would be unwise not to mention the most ornamental being the charming, ubiquitous, affable and great storytelling owner, Prem Koshy. It’s hard to miss his presence as a regular, is muscularly built with an eternal smile and smartly dressed in sporty outfits on most occasions. As well as being a top class restaurateur, one of the best in the world I have met Prem is a wildlife enthusiast, theater personality, green environmentalist and patron of arts and culture. You know when you’re on his “favorite list” when a plate of “Potato Smileys” or little puffy poppadams arrives on your table that’s totally “on the house.” The great appeal of Koshy’s Parade Cafe is the love and affection it has generated among brilliant and distinguished writers, artists, journalists and scholars for its pleasant ambience for intellectual discourse serving fine tea and coffee and delicious hearty meals for dinner. Ramachandra Guha, the eminent historian is one of the ardent patrons who claims that “the only establishment I consider myself close to is the one that runs Koshy’s Parade Café in Bangalore” and has written extensively about his experiences at the café. The idea of perusing the vast compendium of books in the British Council Library, then borrowing a few followed by a cup of tea and a chat downstairs is what drew so many of us to the cafe. Thus, the Koshy’s Parade café was part of the bibliophilic world of the British Council of old Bengaluru!
PK SRINIVASAN: SOCRATIC SPEECH AT THE KOSHY PARADE
Personally, my time with Koshy’s Parade is intimately connected with legendary journalist, columnist, writer and comedian PK Srinivasan universally known as “PK”. My impressions of PK remain that of an extremely loving, generous, kind, patient and brilliant tutor for a raw “beginner” mind like mine. PK was tolerant of my fallacious, exuberant, and impassioned arguments and ideas which he thoroughly corrected or dispelled with intellectual arguments after listening carefully enough, “thus helping his followers to come out of their darkness into enlightenment” to quote Ram Guha from his very beautiful moving tribute to PK in his book entitled “An Anthropologist Amongst the Marxists and Other Essays”. In the book, there is a chapter dedicated to PK, “The Buddha of the Parade: PK Srinivasan” where PK was nicknamed the “Buddha of the Cafe Parade” and described him as a “mild, broadly built, placid colossus in face, wise but non-judgmental”, which in my opinion is the best and most poignant definition of PK’s personality that I can imagine. One should acknowledge the patient listening and tedious explanations that Professor Madhav Nalapat gave to my petulant outburst during my distracted youth. Looking back, I am grateful for all the courtesy and knowledge of individual minds like Professor Nalapat and PK who shaped my mind and gave me an edge in my reflective writer’s journey. Apart from PK there were several distinguished intelligent journalists who congregated at the cafe and it was the crowd that I found most illuminating as they explained the world in very clear, simple and eloquent terms. t practical, devoid of academic verbosity. However, the most enjoyable, entertaining and memorable part of the conversation with PK for me was his lively and witty anecdotes about celebrities and personalities who have established themselves in the public domain in the period. post-independence. PK Srinivasan was a prominent English-language journalist, a regular columnist for India’s leading financial daily, The Economic Times and spent 3 decades with Bangalore’s premier English publication, Deccan Herald. PK held a regular court at the Koshy Parade or, as one of his old friends described it, ‘Socratic Speeches’ where he spoke with humility and humor about English literature, the history, poetry and life yes, life as it unfolded and lived by us. There was a motley crowd assemblage around PK which included a very diverse group of journalists, lawyers, economists, poets, teachers, real estate brokers, writers, artists and simple ” vagabonds” happily drifting through life that I would rather describe as “vagabonds”.
THE POST-WAR WORLD OF INDIA AND BRITAIN
The intellectual landscape or thought world of this café milieu was dominated by post-war British novelists like Kingsley Amis, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. The landscape of post-war British novelists was shared amicably with the earlier guard of Indo-Anglian writers mainly belonging to post-independence India like RK Narayan, Raja Rao, Vikram Seth, Kiran Desai, Khushwant Singh and Amit Chaudhuri. Intriguingly, Indian and British writers sought new meanings and a new identity for a changing world emerging from the devastation of war and partition with the end of Empire. Apart from that stellar cast, there was the constant persistence of PG Wodehouse generating plenty of laughs in a mundane world of human existence. In light of the penchant for humor and satire, it is worth mentioning that post-war British writers and post-independence Indian writers treated this end of colonialism and empire with satire and a spirit that removed the strong rancor from the speech. In post-war British writings we find the leitmotif of the end of an established ruling class of the “old regime”, and in the Indian context it was the formation of a new indigenous ruling class that would be inclusive of all castes, creeds, classes and communities. , thus having the quest for a just and equitable society.
The magazines that were devoured in the British Library were literary and liberal like ‘New Statesman’, ‘London Review of Books’, ‘The Guardian’ and I drifted stealthily to ‘The Spectator’ and ‘The Times’ with Literary Supplement which would betray my ‘tick-tock’ Anglophile Conservatism.
The most delightful moment for me was coming down after an exhaustive reading session at the British Library of the Book Review and Literary supplements, carrying a few borrowed books from Somerset Maugham, Philip Larkin and AS Byatt, then joining the ‘table of chatter» then to exchange notes, discuss at length the authors and the contours of literary currents.
KOSHY’S PARADE CAFÉ TODAY: AN ALWAYS SEDUCTIVE MYSTIC
Today when I visit the cafe, the remnants of my past stay that remain intact are the mystical charm, warmth and smiles of owner Prem Koshy. What changed? The idyllic idiosyncratic world of ‘wanderers’ and ‘gypsies’ has changed enormously across the world and not just in Bangalore. The relentless penchant for trumpeting material success is just baffling with the disappearance of the relaxed pace of life. Journalists are far too busy to enter cafes and chat with random strangers, as the rhetoric is acerbic and pugnacious fueled by a virulent social network. Rampant philistinism has made it entirely acceptable for a modestly read person to demystify Proust without inviting contempt since anti-elitism in the intellectual sphere is the new credo. As I conclude my nostalgic trip down memory lane, I feel blessed to have been a young and “regular” at Koshy’s Parade cafe in the early 90’s and to quote Wordsworth, “Was Bliss at that dawn of to be alive, but to be young was truly heavenly!’.