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  • Ninay Desai

One Coffee, Please. And a Portion of People-Watching


The barista called out the name scrawled on the venti cup, “Cappuccino for Aditya.” I smiled, a gentle wave of satisfaction washing over me. That was close enough, I thought to myself. My guess had been Abhishek, Abhimanyu or some other common male name starting with the letter A. Sorry for the abrupt opening. Let me start at the beginning.


I was nursing a frappe at the Starbucks outlet at the Mumbai airport, killing time before checking in for a flight to Delhi. I was travelling alone and, as always, carrying a book. I settled into a cushioned cane chair, placed the book next to my drink but chose to watch people instead. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a Peeping Tom or an eavesdropper, I admit that I enjoy trying to guess the details of strangers’ lives from what I can observe. I’m no Sherlock Holmes but it is fun to try.


A woman sits alone at a table in a dimly lit cafe. A coffee cup is placed in front of her as she indulges in people-watching.

Starbucks is especially helpful with regard to an added element of my pastime - guessing the names of strangers. Unlike most other coffee chains in India, Starbucks doesn’t bring their customers’ orders to their tables. Instead, they prefer to call out the customer’s name along with their drink order. Which works out perfectly fine for me, the name-guessing people-watcher!


My little game rests on the theorem that certain people suit their names to a T and studying their appearance and body language can sometimes help one intuit this stuff. At other times, it’s just fun to watch people in public spaces and imagine what they’re like. So, this Aditya from paragraph one was tall, fair, with a lankiness to his frame, and a certain affability to his body language. There was a casualness about him that made me think of parents who want their child to have a roll number in class that comes somewhere near the top. I’ve known parents who believe that a single-digit roll number will somehow turn their lackadaisical offspring into a competitive merit-lister. Anyway, a name beginning with an A usually lands a spot in the top ten. At least, alphabetically!


If you’ve persisted with this post till this point, I commend your patience. Or perhaps, you too are a people-watcher. If yes, do leave a comment on what you consider the best places to watch people. I'm partial to coffee shops. I like my creature comforts, you see. Comfortable couches, the fragrance of coffee brewing, the trickle and spurts of moody coffee machines spewing hot and bitter liquids, the hissing of the milk steamer, punctuated by the bings of the cash register and the hum of conversation. This is my preferred setting with its soothing symphony of sounds.


There’s something about the informality of a cafe that allows for people’s personalities to step out. Also, there is an element of waiting or solitude involved. Unlike restaurants, where people usually arrive together for a meal, a coffee shop is a place with many purposes. One could walk in there to work, to catch up with friends, for first meetings – whether dates or interviews, to savour a beverage while reading a book or to buy a drink on the go.


To watch a person while they wait is a whole different ball game. Touching up their make-up or glancing at the door every few seconds, clicking a selfie (at times, a whole portfolio), making phone calls, texting or scrolling through social media or glancing through the week-old newspapers lying around. And then, there are also those who come prepared with a book. Like yours truly!


Airports and railway stations are considered by many to be great places for people-watching. I differ on that front. The anxiety and rushing about of travel can cause most people to depart from their true nature. Almost nobody rushes to a café in a state of urgency. Apart from me, that is!


And that’s what makes watching folks, as they settle in with a drink or a muffin, so entertaining. That is, until you catch someone’s eye who is doing exactly what you are. In a moment of shared confidences, you smile sheepishly, look down and open that book lying next to your coffee.  

 

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4 Comments


zafran9
Apr 22

I too enjoy watching people go about doing their thing, although I didn't try and guess their names. 🙂

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Apr 22
Replying to

Try it except that the name-guessing can usually happen only at a place where the customer's name gets called out. Apart from that, you could try other stuff like imagining their day or guessing their job. :-)

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Guest
Apr 09

Great way to see life passing by while time drifts along.

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Apr 09
Replying to

True. The Fox thanks you for commenting.

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