Surreal Ambience of Alfa….Soft lights, filmy music and hot coffee…life in Simla of the Seventies

Pic credit Arun Seam



Though Fascination fascinated us but it was Alfa all the way for us… The reasons being…one that a very fashionable crowd snuggled very cozily in the fascinating ambience of the Fascination!! The crowd…almost all young crowd…the boys and girls seemed to know each other and whenever we went there, we felt like imposters on the beautifully bonded chic girls and handsome boys…. We felt as if by being there we had somehow impeded their freedom. They would talk in amicably leisurely manner, which seemed a part of their being.   We literally shrank in one corner, looked out towards the glaring light on the Mall, drank our coffee burning hot and ran down the stairs to the Mall….our very, very own, the Mall. And strolling past the beautiful show windows, not for the goods displayed, but for our image in the long and clean glass windows….we walked to reach Alfa!!!
Though we had spent more than our dedicated quota of money for the day but pooling together all the chillers, One and Two rupee notes….we entered the cozy, comfortable ambience of Alfa…. The world inside was different. Once our eyes would adjust to the soft and low lights…the aroma of coffee, chai etc., we would rush in to our favorite spot in the corner. Nothing of the outside world was visible….from this surreal Ambience of Alfa!

Once seated we would order  half tea set which the three of us could easily share…..cheap and best! It was not for tea but for the feel that we would ho there as the best tea for me would be made in a patila….boiled and sugared!

The soft lights oozing out of the round elongated lampshades hanging from ceiling on each table top adding a soft glow to faces of all those enjoying….a big samosa, a sizzling hotdog….or a steaming hot cup of coffee. Music in the air soothing the ears and the aroma of coffee and tea invading our nostrils…. provided it the ambience which was surreal to us!

The corner most table, from there we could watch the entrance, the people sitting on different tables and the best was that this table faced the counter. The man at the counter manned the playing of music and we could tell him quite easily which song we preferred listening to….and he would play that. Rather he knew our preferences and would play all the songs which he knew we loved and this feeling made us feel “important”….and we just loved it!! Ah…what shallowness we had… Vanity thy name is women….so true it was in case of our Alfa Ambience. Our favourite was “Aajaa re…ab mera dil pukara…” an old song from film Aah! And he would play it when we would be there.

The lampshades emitting soft light on the table top, focusing on the sumptuous spread, added just a glimmer of soft light to the faces of all sitting around the table….and that was what we loved. It made everyone look more beautiful than they really were..

Vanity….vanity all the way! I just loved how the light would add beautiful glow to Chandra’s face and she would tell that the glow added the same touch to my face as well…. What a feel it was! Chandra, my best friend, a Be gali girl had beautiful complexion and these halos of light would make her bronz like complexion bathe in golden hues. How I wished to have a complexion like her. When I commented on her comexion and the wonders that this soft light played on it, she said, “Back home in 24 Pargana… the girl is shown to the prospective groom in the light of evening Sun going down the horizon” and while I imagined how everyone’s face shone bathed in soft golden hues of evening Sun when I walked to Chaura Maidan from the Mall every evening….she added, ” And imagine if the girl has a Kansa thaali in her hands…” I could just imagine the glow on the face of a young girl….with dusky complexion, a Kaansa thaali in her hands, Golden rays of Sun falling on Kaansa thaali and reflecting back to the face of the girl…. And above all the demure shyness on the face!!!

The lampshades of Alfa recreated a fraction of that magic but still magic it was….for young girls on threshold of youth…with dream filled eyes!! Waiting for a life where everything would be surreally real !!!


The lampshades had a light coloured paper as inside lining  and some lovelorn bravehearts would scribble names of their sweethearts thereon….wishing that someday the girl of their dreams might read the message…. The message would be in codes… The first letter of boy’s name, the symbol of addition and followed by the first letter of the girl’s name!!!
The guess work….of breaking the codes was more difficult than breaking the Da Vinchi Code!!! But we would make guesses all the way….all the time! We would giggle making guesses and ascribing a face to all those letters….

The half set of tea would be sufficient for three or fours of us….. Rather the waiter serving us would add more to the quantity….perhaps he might have seen us opening up our small boxes and sharing our booty to pay for the tea!


With song…”Karwaten badlte rahe…saari raat ham….” in the background….., Soft hues of light and shade adding a glow to to our faces, and guessing for alphabets of the first names dangling in the light of bulb of the lampshade….we would sip our tea when money was scarce but would have sizzling hot coffee with mouth watering hotdog when we could afford… The pocket money mattered!!

But one thing remained constant….the dreams in our eyes amidst the ambience of Alfa!!!

But as soon as one came out of that surreal world….the full glaze of light on the Mall invaded one bring back one to the real world!!!! And we would walk back to our homes….the real world of our very being!!!

While I walked to Chaura Maidan, our residence, …the evening Sun would cast its golden rays on my face….I would downcast my eyes…not because of demure shyness but because Sun’s rays  would make it difficult for me to open my eyes fully. And with half-closed eyes…I would dream of a life ahead….life of surreal reality till the steps to my home would bring me back to my life….my reality!!! 

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