ZEN CAFE AND MISSED CONNECTIONS
WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
Zen Cafe is a vegetarian/vegan cafe and co-working space with hot chocolate that will command your attention.
It looked as if the whole of the sky was hidden behind gray clouds. The tops of Lower Parel's tallest buildings were smothered in mist. A heavy rain had fallen. The road was silver-slick. Big drops sat motionless on the trees, and all the leaves bowed to the earth, heavy with wet.
She walked past the huddle of security men at the entrance, her umbrella leaving a rill of water in her wake. Up the stairs she drifted until she reached her favourite table, the one by the mezzanine railing. A waiter appeared silently. "Coffee, madam? Tea? Pizza? A soup?" Today she wanted a sandwich, plump with portobello and gouda. No, a quesadilla, perhaps. But at last: "The roasted pumpkin ravioli, please. And a hot chocolate."
The chocolate came first, a big, frothing cup of it. It must have been good, for she buried her nose in it and sighed with pleasure. Across the room, a man stared at her. He was a most interesting looking man, reading Kierkegaard and sipping a cappuccino, as interesting looking men are wont to do. His hair was closely-cropped and he had long lashes. He peered at her through them. But she looked palely through him; she simply couldn't see him at all.
Then the ravioli came, floating in a moat of olive oil. Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers floated from the speakers. Delicately, she speared the pasta into two, watching the plumes of steam escape. As she ate, a gaggle of men and women swept laughing onto the sofa beside her, hung about with large bags. From the bags tumbled out laptops but alas, the Wi-Fi wavered. A chorus of voices rose in complaint. But them she couldn't see either. There was a large, people-shaped hole where they were.
The waiter whisked away her plate and brought her the menu. It was black and fancy, a “curated, rotational menu of coffee offerings”. She asked for Origin X, a black coffee from the Nilgiris, with “notes of caramel and spice”. The coffee came, strong and hot, and with it a chocolate hazelnut cream and a scoop of ice cream. She strongly approved.
The office crowd stumbled out, and a sudden hush lay heavily on the cafe. The music had played itself out. And then she looked at him, a long, intimate, searching look, and for a minute they were caught in their own circle, just the two of them. Him fiddling with his coffee cup, and her playing with the ganache on her plate. The air danced and quivered between them.
He turned to ask for the bill and scraped his chair back to go to her...but she was gone. Only an empty plate remained, a moonscape of chocolate rubble tossed around it.
The afternoon lengthened into evening, and the interesting-looking man found himself back outside the cafe. It had grown dusky. The sky was speckled with stars; the street lamps glowed warmly. He turned and walked home.
Zen Cafe serves coffee and vegan/vegetarian food, plays jazz and is a superb co-working space.
Zen Cafe, ICASA, Raghuvanshi Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (w), Mumbai 400 013. Phone: 022 2498 4825