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Young life in the university canteen.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In March, 2008, while Mr Barack Obama was racing Ms Hillary Clinton, bombs were blasting Baghdad, Ms Kareena Kapoor was dreaming size zero, and Mr Fidel Castro was rumoured to be dying in a Havana hospital, Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia campus treated itself to a new canteen — named after…well, make your guess.
Castro Café, popularly known as Youth Café, has no cuba libre, no anti-capitalist chatter, no JNU-esque junoon, no rock star posters, but it still rocks.
With good food, airy corridors, uniformed staff and FM music, it has grown to become the university’s hottest hub. On a good-weather day, the café can accommodate 200 people, but even on a hot humid August afternoon, the turnout is good. The benches are occupied, so are the tables and so is the space in front of the counter.
Students scattered all over in groups: boys and boys alone, girls and girls alone, boys and girls together, and then a little sprinkling of lovebirds inside the café and also outside on the lawn.
Many Jamia students hang out here — and that’s a bit of a surprise because the university, spread over 210 acres, has more than 15 canteens! And from the classrooms, it is an uncomfortably long walk of Castro Café. So, what is the big attraction? It can’t only be the stunning architecture, even if that has been talked about in Europe’s architecture magazines.
A plate of butter chicken, costing just Rs 28, can be a great temptation, too, but what really, really matters are the chicks. Not as in chicken, excuse the pun.
“Girls are the biggest draw,” says Mr Mohammad Asif, a B Com final-year student. Although female students also frequent the popular sutta point in front of the BTech faculty, the best eye candy is to be had at the café. “All pathakas come to Castro,” says Mr Mohammad Ahmad, BSc second-year student.
It is not clear if the girls, too, are as eager to mingle. A group of all-girl MA English (Hons) students refuse to pose with a gang of guys sitting on the other side of the café. “We don’t mind being photographed, but not with those boys,” says one of them as she orders rajma chawal at the self-service counter.
The boys are not discouraged. “If your confidence level is high and you have patience, passion and stamina, you will succeed in making a girlfriend in this place,” says Mr Mohamamd Asif.
That sounds like a lot of work, more so for the girls. “Jamia isn’t a place where you can find dashing boys,” says Ms Aditi Raj, a first-year law student. And yet she too loves Castro. “This is our Barista,” says her classmate Ms Zinnea Mehta.
“Since the café is far from the departments, teachers don’t come here, and that’s always good,” adds another student who does not wish to be identified. “We sit, relax and sometimes even sleep here,” says Mr Amandeep Kadyan, a first-year law student.
However, who is this Castro? No one The Delhi Walla talked to could say who exactly was the guy after whom the café is named. Not even Ms Bushra Quasmi, a student sporting a Che Guevra tee. Sorry, Fidel.
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