Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lamakaan : A Space with a Soul

Views from Lamakaan, Hyderabad
The black board that welcomes you is filled with information written in white chalk. As I am told there is a cafe inside, instinctively I search of the menu on it. Menu it is though,  of a different kind; if you are thirsty and hungry for some aesthetical spread, it is all here at Lamakaan, an oasis in the middle of the upmarket urban sprawl of the Banjara Hills in Hyderabad. Lamakaan, the emerging and thriving cultural hub of the city has not only the best productions of theatre, music , monologues, writers' interactions, book launches and exhibitions to offer but also moderately sweetened tea served in glasses and small samosas and also bondas, all for Rs 20/- (compare it with the minimum two dollar fares in the other cafes that dot the urban landscapes). The three level space is full by evening five o'clock, and surprisingly youngsters talk to each other! Some of them do have laptops opened before them, but they too are animatedly conversing with their friends. Lamakaan is a no-smoking zone but it definitely not a no-mobile phone zone, yet no one seems to look at their mobiles. A rarity indeed.
A music concert at Lamakaan

Coming from Delhi, I am reminded of the legendary Indian Coffee House at Connaught Place, where the writers, artists, intellectuals politicians, film-makers and so on met regularly to discus issues as if there was not tomorrow, over endless cups of coffee and the patent worthy cutlets, in those good old days. Having a lot to do with Kolkata, sculptor KS Radhakrishnan remembers those 'addas' in Park Street and Shakespeare Sarani. Brought up in Mumbai, theatre and film personality, Arundhati Nag cannot help gushing about the Samovar Cafe at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Kalaghoda and the Prithvi Theatre surroundings which had inspired her to realise her dream theatre Ranga Shankara in Bangalore. I am in good and famous company. We are suddenly engulfed by the auditory, olfactory and sonic ambience of Lamakaan. Small Aloo bondas dissolve on our palettes, washed down  by tea served in glasses which a Mumbaikar would spontaneously call as 'cutting chai'.

Multipurpose cafe space at Lamakaan
Lamakaan has been active in the city for the last six years. Even before that the place was already there and it was slowly being nurtured by veteran photographer, Hasan, who like Chandigarh's Nekchand, loved rocks.Hasan travelled all over Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and to the place where his rock love would take him and kept taking photographs of rocks! Madness to the ordinary eyes, Hasan's passion has resulted into a huge repertoire of rock photographs and it could be easily the sociology and ecology of rocks in South India to the expert's and exalted eyes. A few of which are exhibited at the side walls along the stairs that lead to the second level where music, dance and other choreography are rehearsed. Itinerant artists are also accommodated in that modest room.

 KS Rashakrishnan and Arundhati Nag with Akshay from Lamakaan

Rocks are everywhere. The amphi-theatre where we sit and sip our tea and converse with Akshay, a young cultural enthusiast who grew weary of his job in event management and advertising companies, and has now taken up the position as a program manager Lamakaan, has a backdrop of two huge rocks that resemble a saucer over a cup. Lights and sound systems are in place. Arundhati Nag who knows the troubles, first hand, of running such a place wonders how Lamakaan is managed. " We generate funds by running the cafe" says Akshay.  "Seven young boys manage the cafe. The food is modest but in good quality. During the lunch hours one has to wait for ten minutes to find a place to sit and eat. They don't just come, eat and go. They slowly develop a soul relationship with the place. They get their friends. They develop interest in theatre, music, films and literature. With no persuasion per se, they all become our patrons."

Theatre workshop at Lamakaan

Run by a trust that resists corporate funding for ethical reasons are solely funded by canteen, contributions and the meagre rent yielded from programs. "We keep a left of the centre policy. So we have the support of most of the university educated youngsters" Akshay says "It is not that we don't make any profit, we do make profit but we reinvest it in the programs, and notably we are over-booked. It is a happy scenario overall but it has its own teething problems."

Open air theatre with rock backdrop

Banjara Hills in Hyderabad is the abode of the rich and powerful. Road No 1where Lamakaan is located however is surrounded by the middle class and upper middle class  who have a problem with sounds and people. Insulated by economics and discretion these rich people found a threat in Lamakaan as it started attracting more and more people. Citing the theatre sounds, the noises of rehearsals and so on as public nuisance, some people around filed a case against the establishment last year. With the city's intellectuals and artists rising up in rebellion against the move to close down Lamakaan, the government quashed its move to curb the activities of the blooming cultural centre and directed the organisation to be careful as the road congestion that its programs could create especially during the weekends.

Development and modernisation are the aspects that eat into the old cultural hubs and turn them into glass, steel and concrete edifices that emanate heat than cultural and spiritual energy. Politics and religion of late have started taking away the available spaces for setting up memorials and religious establishments or places of worship. The mental spaces for discussing cultural issues are also shrinking quite fast due to direct and indirect ideological threats. Seen against this grim backdrop, liberal, intellectual and artistic spaces like Lamakaan should be conserved, preserved and cherished.
" The next plot lying vacant is under litigation, Once it is lifted, we don't know what would come up there; a mall or perhaps a high rise. Then Lamakaan may have to develop new strategies of survival" Akshay looks into the darkening surrounding with hope.

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