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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Coffee and TV

William Wallace, a Scottish nationalist, who later acted in the movie Braveheart, said, “…they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!” Inspired by the movie and its big words, modern day corporate warriors coined their own war chant, “Let’s have some good coffee!!!” War shouts like these emerged from the cubicle national park in America and soon spread to developing economies like wildfire. Together with the revolution came Starbucks and soon the number of Starbucks exceeded even the number of obese people in the USA. In fact, Sancho Panza was nominated for Nobel Prize in economics and peace for suggesting “number of Starbucks per capita” as the metric to be used for WTO negotiations; lesser the number of Starbucks per capita in a country, more it needed to sacrifice.

While in the USA, the uncontrolled predator-free population expansion of Starbucks has made it a mass product; in emerging and newly developed economies, people can still command respect by holding the white Starbucks glass. Such cup-holders can be frequently seen walking through office corridors, oozing with confidence, and saying loud “hi” to coworkers. Holding the glass in front of him like the Holy Grail, this king of the hill signals his low caste coworkers who drink from the office coffee machine to make way for him. But in such economies, such coffee is still rather expensive and so it is not unusual for upstart executives to recycle the Starbucks glass. It stays in his desk like a trophy long after the original drink has been consumed and disposed off as urine and the glass is reused for drinking from the office water supply. Together with religious excuses, lack of good coffee has become a perfectly acceptable reason for apathy at workplace.

For a long time in India, coffee was typically associated with the office-boy who served it in steel, plastic or earthen glass. And when chains such as Barista and Café Coffee Day started in India with $2 coffees having unpronounceable names, Indian consumers like Shalu aunty forced them to give more shelf space to Alu tikki and Samosas. However, for Indians outside India, professing a loud and slavish dependence on coffee has become a social and professional necessity.

Four years back in the Bay Area, forced to accompany my colleagues, I had my first encounter with Starbucks. When I looked at the list of Italian names on the menu, I thought that besides coffee they also sold replicas of famous Italians in different sizes as souvenirs and asked for a Grande sized replica of Da Vinci, Garibaldi, or Antonio Gramsci. But the store-people were convinced that Latte and Caramel Macchiato were more famous Italians. Then and there, I lost my faith in myself and famous Italians and have never since been able to appreciate coffee or any hot drinks for that matter. And then, I looked at my colleague holding a "grande" drink. A few of those humongous drinks, if dumped in the Indian ocean, can drown entire Bangladesh and a few Indonesian islands.

Ok, so that was all about coffee. As for TV, well I just put that in, courtesy Blur.

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