I tasted my first mini heartbreak at a not-so-small Café Coffee Day located somewhere in South Kolkata. My naïve 18-year-old self was sitting with a glass of Blue Lagoon that almost resembled The ‘Draught of Peace’ potion Penny Haywood brewed at Hogwarts, to cure anxiety. My date, who I had met exactly two weeks back at a club where we learned to headbang, admitted that he had a crush on my cousin. He, in fact, asked a common friend for my cousin’s number, but given how confusing Bengali nicknames can be, my friend gave mine. After two weeks of late night conversations on Google chat that read like this, “Do u wnt 2 go out”, we did. And that’s when he realised it was a case of mistaken identity and wrong number. I made a slurpy noise, trying to get in as much icy water I could. He looked embarassed, and stared at his steaming hot cappuccino.
The heartbreak wasn’t this though. It was when the bill arrived.
As a teenager from a Bengali middle class family, a cup of coffee (Or in my case Blue Lagoon) at CCD meant skipping lunch for at least a week. It hurt.
I didn’t know of VG Siddhartha till the news of his death arrived. But I am sure he would have known that he had created a space back in 1996, where teenagers met on first dates, tasted their first coffee, and escaped the eyes of nosy relatives.
Years later, me and my then date who became a friend eventually, have laughed about this particular incident too many times. It’s our favourite story to tell friends. And it always begins with, “Remember, CCD?”
While CCD is expensive and caused heartbreaks, back then, there were only two options in Kolkata. ‘Barista or CCD?’ Invariably, we would always pick CCD. Barista was for the more fancy ones and well, the older ones. CCD felt young. There would always be a bunch of noisy teenagers occupying the biggest couch, probably skipping school. On the rare occassions that I would visit CCD, I would spot them, take a deep breath to cope with the envy and mutter under my breath, ‘Brats!’
No thanks to this envy, in a very embarassing incident, on the last day of school, I remember going to the same CCD with my friends. We wanted to spend a lot of time in the air conditioned space and of course didn’t have the money to keep ordering. So we picked just one item on the menu, ordered, shared and when it was over, ordered the second item. The eight of us together probably ordered three cups of coffee and two brownies when we realised we have crossed our budget. We asked for the bill, but the servers, always busy trying to deal with the school and college kids who had many a request, took a while to get to us. One of my friends had a bright idea at this point. “What if we leave? They won’t even notice it’s so crowded here.” Quietly (Or so we thought), one by one we started stepping out. I was, of course, the last one to be leaving. Just when I pulled open the glass door, a man came running behind me, yelling “Bill! Bill!” We had to pay, my friends chided me for not being fast enough and I think I heard the ‘brats’ laugh a little and say ‘losers’.
The reason these ‘brats’ became my sole source of envy at that point was not just because they could afford that expensive cup of mocha (and other names that I had discovered at CCD), but also because their boyfriends could. My then boyfriend was trying to escape with me without paying the bill.
A year after my date confused me for my cousin back in our first year of college, he decided to make me meet his friend. I assume he was still coping with guilt. The first thought when I met his friend who strummed his guitar at college concerts was: “He can pay for my coffee at CCD!” My 19-year-old self believed being a ‘rockstar’ definitely meant he goes out on several dates with the ‘brats’ and that must mean expensive coffee. I was wrong.
This time, when he asked me out, I picked the place. “Lake CCD?” I asked. He agreed, reluctantly. I thought maybe he is the Barista kind. We ordered for two glasses of Blue Lagoon and a sizzling brownie. He complimented the read streaks on my hair, I blushed. He then read out a few sentences of a song he was in the middle of composing. I was giddy with joy. I looked around to see if the ‘brats’ were around.
Moments after he read his lyrics, he said he had written it for his girlfriend. He then went on to explain the complicated relationship they share after she moved to Delhi for college. “Long distances can be hard,” he said in his baritone voice.
When finally the bill arrived, he announced that he doesn’t have the money to pay for it. I had to pay. Before we parted ways, he said, “Next time, let’s meet on the terrace of your house.”
I am 30, and my dating life hasn’t changed much. But thanks to CCD, I was already prepared for the world of Tinder. And it even came with a disclaimer: A lot can happen over coffee. It sure did.