A lot can happen in Cafe Coffee Day

Mr Ramakrishnan, the President of CCD!

So, as we all know, 2012 is the year in which the world will end, and a clear sign of this impending apocalypse is Starbucks, which will be subjecting India to its undercaffeinated beverages and irritating jazz music before the year is out.

I’m particularly devastated about this because we already have a couple of our own perfectly good coffeeshop chains: Barista, and the cheaper (and perhaps more cheerful?) Cafe Coffee Day. The latter, with its iconic red sofas and Bollywood background music, has become something of an Indian institution – no mall or market is complete without the CCD red inverted comma.

But it’s all change at our favourite cafe chain. No longer must we rely on the sloth-like waiters, as we now place orders at the counter. The menu has also changed to incorporate some slightly fancier sandwiches (although, tragically, Maegan’s favorite lemon tea has been axed). Oh, and they’ve just opened a brand-new ‘Lounge’ branch by the Saket PVR.

So while everyone is busy raving about St*****ks, we have decided instead to celebrate CCD, by compiling this list. Enjoy.

Relaxed: The MIT CCD at Manipal (by Udita)

The CCD that has only ever housed students, almost always those that pretend to be studying heavy engineering books, is located in the heart of the University town that I lived in, Manipal. This CCD is witness to ‘filmy’ drama everyday, in the form of hook-ups, passionate making-out sessions, impromptu break-ups, and groups so large that all 9-10 of the tables must be joined. The conversations range from new crushes to the last exam to the latest bike in town. Often, there are local gigs (pioneered in my times by Anamol’s band) and one can listen to Floyd and Dylan while sipping not-so-well-made coffees. But when the music and the ambience is so laid back and ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ types, what more can one ask for?

Chilled out in Chennai: Adyar CCD, Indira Nagar (by Maegan)

Prominently located in one of south Chennai’s most amiable suburbs is another CCD that scores highly in the rankings. With an abundance of wicker chairs and sofas tucked under the shade of a leafy green canopy, its outside area may well be CCD’s most picturesque. Notable for its sizzling chocolate brownies (which are always proudly served with a suitable amount of drama and gusto) and unpredictable opening hours (I’ve known it to be open past midnight when busy but closed at nine on quiet nights), what really sets it apart are the staff. Willing to let you use their toilet when you’re passing by & just can’t make it home, they also came to the rescue by providing a small cup of (free!) milk when I ran out while baking a birthday cake for a friend late at night. Now that’s what I call service …

India’s best CCD?: Amber Fort, near Jaipur, Rajasthan (by Susanna)

When my parents were visiting, my dad developed a sudden and intense fondness for Cafe Coffee Day (the same way he did for ‘Ducky Duck’ in Japan). After a heavy thali, what could be better than a coffee in CCD? After being harassed by hawkers in Connaught Place, only CCD would provide some much-needed tranquility. And after traipsing around the Amber Fort for hours in the midday sun, when we spotted that little red inverted comma, and drank cappuccinos while looking out over the fort’s golden stone walls, we probably were the happiest tourists in all of India.

Engrossed: CCD Counter at STMicroelectronics, India (by Udita)

I consider myself fortunate to have a CCD counter at my workplace, where… wait, hold your breath… prices are half of what they are outside! Yes! It’s almost half the reason why I get myself to work everyday and since I am a very regular customer, I get goody-bags, free coffees etc. every once in a while. One can usually overhear people having intense discussions about the leakage graphs of a device or the capacitance of a BJT. The coffee is good and even lemon tea is still served here. The best part, they still makes ‘Coffee Toffee’ for people who request it; it used to be on the menu a long time ago.What can I say, I feel blessed…

India’s worst CCD?: Rajiv Chowk metro station, Delhi (by Susanna)

It would only be fair, while describing the best, to also include the polar opposite, which can be found in the sweaty, stale-smelling interchange metro station underneath Connaught Place. This CCD is always packed, but even if you can find a table you’ll immediately want to die because there’s no airconditioning. Once, I went in here to be told there was no milk. ‘Um, so what can I have?’ I asked the waitress. She heaved a sigh and eventually found the strength to reply, ‘only black coffee, madam.’

Tested  & Infested: Noida Sector 18 CCD, UP (by Maegan)

Susanna may have already taken the title of ‘India’s worst’ for Rajiv Chowk’s undeniably unimpressive branch, but in Noida’s sector 18 I think we have a contender. Tucked away not far from the metro station up an insalubrious looking staircase, its ambiance leaves much to be desired. Best-known for its acute cockroach problem and long-term out of use toilet (‘currently being fixed, madam’) the massive amount of time that I spent there is perhaps the most damning indictment of my Noida PG. Either that, or I kept going back because of the lovely waiter who enjoyed helping me with my Hindi homework.  As they say, you win some, you lose some …

(Photo of Mr R borrowed from here)

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Curd, Lemon Juice, and Mustard Oil

However much I’d like to think that I completely fit in, there are several things that single me out as a foreigner. Granted, I’ve been blessed with a strong constitution when it comes to street food and tap water (God, please don’t strike me down with food poisoning for that comment!) but India – I have found – will catch up with you in other ways.

Have you ever witnessed a conversation between two ex-pats who’ve been here for more than about six months? The cliché would be that we’d reminisce about things we miss from home (turkey dinners, snowy winters, pub lunches etc) but the reality is somewhat different. Within five minutes the conversation will have turned to ailments – yes ailments:

“Oh my God, you have a weird skin rash under your armpits too? Apparently it’s the humidity”

“Don’t feel too bad – it could be worse -I have a friend here who literally cannot eat food outside anywhere without being sick for three days afterwards.”

“Ah! My hair is falling out in lumps too! What’s the deal with that?!”

You get the picture? My latest ailment has been my scalp, of all things. Having been through the wars with psoriasis supposedly triggered by Chennai’s humidity, I thought that I might be more suited to a dry, temperate Delhi winter. Conversely, it turns out that this is not the case – apparently my scalp responds to dryness by giving up the ghost, falling off & becoming incredibly itchy. Not good. Clearly I can’t cope with either extreme.

Fear not though – help is at hand! Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has had a simple (yet bizarre) solution to offer. My boyfriend remembered his mother massaging mustard oil into his sister’s scalp at this time of year – had I tried that? Friends from college poo poo-ed the mustard oil idea (too difficult to get out, apparently) but swore by the application of fresh curd.  Feeling very confused by these pieces of conflicting advice, I turned to (who else) Udita, who rubbished all of the above suggestions, but thought that lemon juice could help, and be a lot less messy.

I’m personally up for trying all three (perhaps not at the same time) and will report back on their relative merits. I’d rather that than carry on popping anti-histamines like smarties, which is clearly not a sustainable solution.  It’s funny – adapting mentally to a new culture and way of living can seem in the abstract like the most difficult thing to achieve, but it seems in many cases that it’s the body lagging behind the mind. Ah well, hopefully with the help of curd, mustard oil and a dash of lemon juice I can persuade my fragile gori physique to step up to the mark. I can hope, anyway.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Foley Photography, via flickr)