The other day, we got an email from a colleague that he'd be performing at Shisha Cafe in ABC farms. This colleague, let’s call him Xerxes, works from home and is also part of a band. The band would be playing Bob Dylan. He'd sent such invites earlier but these events usually happen on Thursdays. (At Shisha, Thursday is assigned for live music).
Earlier, I'd never been able to get out early on a week day. Also, there was the logistics of it.
Getting around should be easy since I drive and Koregaon Park is one of the few places I actually know directions to. But after losing my license, spotting no less than 3 accidents every time I’ve gone out to KP, and squinting through dark roads whilst at the wheel, I avoid driving at nights. Pune has a pretty good service called Indian Drivers. They loan out drivers for 8 hours for 450 bucks, with extra charges for the night. But you need to book them in advance and then sometimes, they send across a really rude buffoon who ruins a good evening. (Rudeness ruining experience is something I really must develop a thick skin to, if I must live here. I haven’t yet. In time, maybe.) So, all in all, much planning and plotting must be done for an evening get away.
But last week, things sort of came together. Work had been quite gruelling and by mid-week, I sensed a raw, itchy irritation in the air...the kind you have when people have been interacting with each other for too long over the same things. You know, the kind of quotidian dramas that get fixated on when day in, day out, you are solving the same problems, talking about the same challenges, wading through the same 9 to 5 experiences...All you want is for someone to just change the subject!
On Thursday, Xerxes did.
Some of us at office decided to go and I was to leave with a colleague. I think I like it when I have company when I’m driving. At least the kind of company I had that night. My colleague wasn’t too loud, she kept chattering quietly about something – maybe jam or snails or something, and I drove in peace. After a long time, I had a chance to wear a light, floaty dress whose neckline is a blush too low for office, but is fine for an evening out with colleagues. I think the dress, more than anything, made the evening a special kind of get-away...to get out of jeans that look and feel as if I’m headed to a coal mine somewhere.
Shisha at ABC farms has two levels. The upper level is for live music. There’s a small stage and a scratchy sound system. There are huge divans covered with faded, colourful rugs with some Persian prints of birds of paradise, huge flowers, and vines. A few tables are scattered in the centre. Some tables have votives. When Shisha had, well, shisha, that is when hookahs were allowed, the place had the sweet soporific intimacy of an opium den.
Now, it tries.
My colleague and I reached a half-hour late. By that time, others from office were curled up like cats on those divans in the corner. Large platters of miniscule finger foods were already ordered as was a large pitcher of delectable orange punch. We squeezed in. Since we were all women and women go nowhere without luggage, much time was spent placing handbag upon handbag gingerly. (There ought to be a video-game for that. You score extra points for balancing a square purse over a soft Hobo.)
I ordered my Red Bull, wedged into my spot, and let the evening take over. There’s a reason I still like Shisha, even though it’s ambience or food is nowhere close to what it used to be. I like it for evenings like this. Conversations flitted around like stories scribbled on butterfly wings. Since I don’t drink and was fasting that night, I couldn’t bond over food. Much talk seemed tangential. The music was nice but I’m not a Dylan fan.
I leaned back and looked around. Someone was texting with a goofy smile, someone else was squinting to catch the shade of red of a woman’s shoes. A fleck of golden candle-light did a sort of ballet around the rim of a glass of white wine. Shisha has rolls of carpets hung like sails on its wooden beams. Somewhere outside paper lanterns hang on a single, solid branch. The mood, the time - they swirl with all these arabesque motifs that lull you. Softly into silence.
Many years ago, that was my very first experience at Shisha as well. I was with people I barely knew in a city I had just moved to. But sitting in a corner, sipping my brew (a tea-infusion with dates), I felt ensconced.
At Shisha, I can be as far removed from the goings-on as possible. I can be with strangers or people I barely know. But the feeling – the feeling is that I’m always in the midst of friends.