In VG Siddharta going away did we realise that he was more than just the owner of the Cafe Cafe Coffee Day, he was a mentor and progenitor of a culture. With Cafe Coffee Day, he spawned a popular culture in India of people bonding over non-alcoholic beverages in new spaces. And Design was at the centre of it all.
Cafe Coffee Day represent the only nation wide movement after independence that provided Indians access to designed public space, which are consistent in their promise, emotional connect and their presence across the country.
Historically Indian public has been deprived of the delights of design especially in the modern times. In modern history it was only during the British era that design was allowed a distinct intervention in the public space. A nation-wide concerted exercise by the British rulers to design public spaces ensured that places like railway station, post office, police station and courts were designed to offer a consistent visual narrative and proposition. In some cities till recent past, railways station designed in pre-independence days continued to be the hang out place, where young people would come from the city areas to have tea and lounge.
Against that backdrop, CCD cafes served a pertinent need by offering public spaces which had design at its centre. Facade, walls, furniture, knick knack, cups and even coffee was designed to delight and connect. Design being at the centre meant that there was a certain degree of humanism which permeated every touch point. And which none other public space promised across such a wide geographical spread.
More than the coffee it was the promise of engagement and human touch that endeared CCD to the public. One of the CCD memories which I came across and that have stayed with me is of a mother driving down the highway, stopping over for her kid’s milk at a CCD cafe. She was served a bottle filled milk but the payment was declined.
So Cafe Coffee Day did not just supply beverages but induce a popular culture around spaces (which were safe and delightful) and world class coffee. This spawned a nation-wide culture of hanging out and Cafe Coffee Day cafes soon became viable options other than discotheques & cinema theatres to hang out at. Slowly CCD cafes bloomed into spaces that was brimming with positivity and the promise of conversation. So parents who shun the idea of other places, opened up to the idea of their kids hanging out at CDD cafes. In the last decade as CCD cafes sprouted across the country, it slowly induced a sub-culture of hanging out of home by offering spaces that were devoid of negative connotations and emotions.
Whether it was the space, the emoticon as the logo or the coffee emotion overlaid – the entire packing that CCD offers was emotional design. It became the go-to place to soothe ruffled emotions – by becoming for the harried office goer the place to unwind, for the college crowd to indulge in small talk, to meet, to hang out or the safe unhurried place for mother and kids – whom I have often seen hanging out in school uniform post the school hours.
It is another matter that the period of CCD growth has also been the period of the largest migration of population in India post independence. Progress and development in the last two decade has meant that economic opportunities have pulled young Indians out of their family comfort and emotional ecosystem. Is it a matter of just coincidence that it is these people who flocked to the CCD cafes to connect communally and to have their cup of emotionally laden coffee.
So will CCD survive the sudden demise of his mentor – may or may not. But such institutes physical existence is never a measure of their contribution and connect. The culture that VG Siddharta build and the emotional honesty he demonstrated in his going away will endure beyond the business cycles.
Images from goodreturn.in, thehindu.com & truelocalz.com respectively
Published on 9 November 2021