Amy March, in Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, says, “I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now”. Harish Bhat, the author of India’s first coffee novel, would probably tell you the same.
At the launch of his third book An Extreme Love of Coffee (published by Penguin), so fittingly at the Starbucks store at Horniman Circle in Mumbai on Wednesday, Bhat told us about his passion for coffee and Starbucks. “I buy my own coffee beans, get it powdered, I make my own filter coffee in the mornings. And if I have coffee outside my home, I go to a Starbucks store. Ask my wife.”
An Extreme Love of Coffee is a story about magic and romance, travel and adventure. And weaving all this together is pure and unadulterated coffee. Rahul Kamath, the hero, “is a writer of advertising stories and creator of the famous Nidra Hair Oil film”, is in love with coffee and in a musty relationship with Neha, a food blogger. His boss Haroon offers him a paid vacation as an opportunity for Rahul to write another spectacular script for the upcoming mattress manufacturer from Mysore, Nippon Springlove. His coffee adoration takes Rahul and Neha to Coorg, where a strange elderly lady in a roadside coffee shop gives them a packet of coffee beans. She tells them that when one drinks coffee brewed from these beans, “magical things happen, experiences that money can’t buy”.
And there begins Rahul and Neha’s adventure – through Cottabetta Bungalow, deep within the coffee plantations of Pollibeta, to Japanese graveyards. Encounters with bald, bespectacled sons of Yamamoto, the Japanese inventor of the famous and unique bed spring. And with Ramsey’s Ghost or RG, the enormously endearing ghost. The coffee ghost, as it is also called, appears only to those who nurture and share its love for coffee. Bhat first describes it as, “he had a big white head that was well formed, almost perfectly round, with a mop of grey hair. His eyes, nostrils and ears were totally and clearly visible. But the most important feature of the apparition was the large, white mug that he clutched in his right hand. A mug of steaming hot black coffee.” Among an array of very interesting characters in the book, Bhat names RG as his favourite. No doubt it will also be his readers’.
At the end of their magical adventure, when Neha looks at Rahul she sees a new light in his eyes. A discovery of their extreme love for the hot, frothy drink as well as each other. And together forever becomes a possibility.
The first chapter of the book is set in the Starbucks store at Horniman Circle, the first-ever of its kind in India. And on Wednesday, Bhat discussed his book with Navin Gurnaney, the CEO of Tata Starbucks Private Ltd., surrounded by the magical aroma of coffee, at this very store. When Gurnaney asked him whether he had written any part of the book at the store, Bhat said he certainly thought about many of the passages here. And what made him think of Starbucks as a setting? “The only place that beats my dining room chair for drinking a cup of coffee, it’s this particular store. I was here at its inauguration, have seen several love stories brewing,” he said.
Apart from being a writer, Bhat is brand custodian at Tata Sons and serves as a director on the board of many Tata companies. Asked about how he makes time to follow his passion for writing, Bhat said, “Most of this book was written on Sunday mornings.” His other books are Tata Log and The Curious Marketeer.
An Extreme Love of Coffee is a fast-paced, delightful read. Even if you are not a coffee lover, this book will keep you engrossed. There is love, magic, travel and adventure. And they all smell of coffee.
[Author Harish Bhat with Navin Gurnaney, CEO Tata Starbucks Pvt.Ltd. at the book launch in Mumbai on Wednesday; photographs courtesy Penguin]