Through sounds and silence: A Kaapi story

This is a collaborative piece.

Text: Shivranjana Rathore
Art: Shruti Kabo

One sunny afternoon, on the East Coast Road. 

I have always had a fondness for highways— the never-ending roads, the expanse of sky stretching far and wide and the sing-song-blaring of trucks, whose rear ends display the quirkiest of art and one liners— often serving as little markers of where the driver is from or what his tastes are, along with the invariable HORN OK PLEASE. 

My green coloured bus flew towards Chennai, passing by multiple fields that told tales of monsoon showers. There was a brief halt at a Hotel Annapurna for a little rest. As weary travelers stepped out to stretch their legs, I found myself determinedly charging to the counter, as if on autopilot, to order a cup of degree-filter coffee. As I took back the change, the logical part of my brain, the one that was away from the hot winds of south India, asked me why I would torture myself with hot coffee in the afternoon summer heat. 

Pondering over the blasphemous thoughts, I walked over to stand by the bus, deep in thought as the bus’ engine whirred gently. As I watched trucks and buses speed past on the highway, leaving behind gusts of wind, I sipped on my first dose of filter coffee in months.

And that is when I knew— my perfect cup of coffee was on the road.. 

***

   Kaapi , by Shruti Kabo for TLJ

Kaapi, by Shruti Kabo for TLJ

Growing up in northern India, I was taken to be a radical of sorts for preferring coffee in my milk as opposed to Bournvita. I was considered weirder, when as a college student, I had an undying love for a mocktail called the Black Russian— essentially coffee with cola. Through three years of undergrad in Delhi, I survived on sub-par coffee, but my love for good coffee remained intact. 

It was an addictive affair. If I was home, I would be compelled to make a cup, if I was out, I was tempted to buy one. In addition to pleasant instrumental sounds, the occasional whirr of the blender that’d help me make a nightly cold coffee for the long hours of study that awaited me, was a sound that would calm and comfort me.

So, when I moved out of Delhi to Bengaluru, I found myself in coffee heaven! Every corner of every traffic-choked-Bengaluru road had the heady, strong aroma of fresh coffee. As cars honked to express their drivers’ frustration, I’d lean out the window or rickshaw a little to get a whiff— even if mixed with exhaust fumes from neighboring vehicles. 

It isn’t that I haven’t tried to brew some filter coffee at home myself. And it is definitely not the case that I have not had it anywhere else. But I believe that the best of the best filter kaapi is made at the Darshinis that dot Bengaluru. These roadside stalls, open on three sides with tables to stand and eat at, are fast food style joints serving full South Indian meals and snacks in a jiffy, catering to the large working population of the city. 

My two years in Bengaluru and the many road trips around its neighboring states in this period cemented the belief that filter kaapi is more than just a hot drink. It is a whole experience. When in the city, whether it was on a date with a friend, as a side, over comforting idlis; or post a quick and cheap “meals” dinner, it became an indispensable part of my life in that time. And when on the road, I’d always find my way to a cuppa— traversing through the whooshing of speeding cars, the blaring of horns, the rattling of trucks, or the thumping of music inside local buses; each of these becoming the scores to my journey with the breeze of the open road as company. 

When traveling through other parts of the country, I’d try to recreate the same magic at the ever-enchanting Indian Coffee House that has a presence in different cities. But the strange quiet of the outlets, with the lingering uneasiness of waiters waiting to vacate the tables, had nothing like the experience at a Shree Krishna Sagar near Kudlu Gate on the Bangalore-Hosur highway. If you thought chai was the only highway drink, I can rattle out many other such names to try and convince you otherwise— highways often became homes as they offered the best cups of coffee.

I am not in Bangalore anymore, and there’s no coffee-by-the-roads for me currently. My coffees though have found a home in the comforting, quiet hush of early mornings– when the world is on the brink of noise and activity. It’s a ritual, a quiet reel, rich with auditory markers that only I can see in my mind’s eye plays out— from the trucks on a highway, or the bees around the flowers and the customers around the hawkers at the busy Majestic market area, from that time in the past. 

 

Shivranjana Rathore is a self taught writer and artist who dreams of highway roads while bumming along the beaches of Goa. Besides preserving the sanctity of coffee, she is also working on her first book which is a collection of poems. 

Shruti Kabo's creature comforts come in the form of everything plants and wildlife. When she is not illustrating and designing, she is in a garden, growing food and listening to podcasts obsessively.
See more of her work on her Instagram and Behance