Coffee

I have been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. Maybe I started drinking at the age of  three. Maybe even earlier, maybe later. But I clearly remember that back when I still had half-day school (i.e. kindergarten), after my afternoon siesta, I would sit down with my grandmother (another major coffee drinker) and we would sip coffee together. My father had been pissed off that my mother never drank coffee, and he had told my grandparents (with whom I spent the day while both my parents went to work) that they should bring me up differently. And so my grandmother had initiated me to coffee fairly early in life.

When I was in high school, I remember being one of the few people in my class who drank coffee. Back then, it was before the coffee days of the world came up, and coffee was still seen as downmarket. Something that you would invariably order at the end of “tiffin” at the neighbourhood Sagar, or Darshini. Coffee was uncool, and had an “uncle” feel to it. It was what you got when you went visiting relatives, or when guests came home. In my family, a visit to a relative’s house would not be complete without at least four rounds of coffee, one as soon as you arrived, one just before “tiffin”/lunch, one after food and another one “for the road”. And my poor mother would miss out on all this.

For a strange reason I can’t fathom now, for a long time I used to prefer the coffee that my father made, a nasty “decanted” brew, made from finely ground coffee powder we got from “modren coffee works” in the Jayanagar Shopping Complex. Despite my grandmother’s exhortations that the coffee she made – from a steel filter using “pure” (i.e. without chicory) coffee beans sourced from India Coffee Works – was superior, I would tell her that it never measured up to my father’s coffee. It was only later on in life (maybe when I got to high school) that I started finding my father’s coffee disgusting (interestingly back then, his mother (i.e. my “other” grandmother) and siblings also made coffee the same horrible decanted way), and I convinced him that we should also start making coffee using a filter.

During the last few years that I lived with my parents (ok I didn’t really live with them, only visited them during (substantial) vacations), coffee had the aura of a “special dish” in our house. We would make coffee only if we had guests. My mother anyway hated the drink, and my father would have had his daily fix at work, so instead they made ┬átea at home, some four times a day, with plenty of sugar. If I protested, I would be asked to visit the nearest darshini (one abominable place called Anna Kuteera). I would grudgingly sip my tea.

So coming back to high school, it was uncool to drink coffee. It was “uncle” to do so, and with friends you only had pepsi (or coke or thums up or whatever). So I was mildly shocked when I found that some classmates in my “new” school (which I switched to in 11th standard, and which was decidedly upmarket compared to my earlier school) had gone out “for coffee”. And a few days later, I ended up accompanying some of them, once again “for coffee”. We all had the relatively inexpensive espresso (Rs. 10; cappuccino was Rs. 20) that day at Cafe Coffee Day (#youremember?) on Brigade Road. It was the first time in my life I had felt “cool” drinking coffee (yeah, back then I was a wannabe and all that).

Six years later, when I got admission into IIMB, my father decided that along with me he too should “go upmarket”. The day I got my admit, we went for coffee (!!) to the Jayanagar Cafe Coffee Day (my mother refused to accompany us since she found that they made chicken samosas there). Soon, I found that my father had started having some official meetings also in coffee shops, rather than in his office (where “office boys” would source coffee in flasks from Adigas a few doors away).

Another level up was when Kalmane Koffee opened an outlet at the forum, and another in Jayanagar. Now, we could sit in a coffee shop and have “real coffee” (I never took a fancy for the taste of cappuccino). It is indeed unfortunate that they haven’t managed to scale up the way CCD has. Though I must mention here that the only time I had a “personal interview” back when I was in the arranged marriage market, it took place at a Kalmane Koffee outlet. And I don’t know why just about everyone I go to that coffee shop with ends up ordering this coffee called Nelyani Gold (I stick to plain vanilla Filter Kaapi).

Some three years back, I had bought a Moka pot from a Coffee Day outlet (they have coffee powder stores apart from their cafes). For the last six months or so, I have abandoned my filter and have been exclusively using this pot to make my coffee. For a long time, I didn’t get good results, but this time I read up and instructed the person manning the counter at Annapurna Coffee Works close to my house to grind my beans extremely finely. Awesome coffee I get, now. Now, if only I can figure out how to froth the milk at home like those Cappuccino machines in Rome do…

Chowka Baarah

Yesterday after a gap of about fifteen years, I played chowka-baarah. For starters, the name intrigues me. It translates into four-twelve (I suppose), but that doesn’t make sense. Essentially, there are two primary variations of this game depending upon the size of the grid used (5 by 5 or 7 by 7), and these two numbers are “big numbers” in different systems. In the 5×5 version, the “big scores” are 4 and 8, while in the “7×7” system, it’s 6 and 12.

A certain variety of seashells (called kavaDe in Kannada) are used as dice, four of them in the 5×5 version and 6 in the larger version. The “score” of the dice is determined by the number of kavaDes falling “face up”, and if all fall face down, the score is twice the number of dice. So if you have 4 shells and all fall face down, you get 8 points. I haven’t done much research on this but I do think the probability of a die falling “face up” is much more than the probability of it falling “face down”. I don’t know the exact probability.

The game itself is like Ludo; your pawns going round and round in circles and inward in order to reach the centre of the square when it “queens”. The first player to queen all their pawns wins. There are concepts such as doubling pawns (they act as a pair hten, move in pairs only on even throws of the die, etc.), cutting (if your pawn reaches a square where an opponent’s pawn is, the opponent’s pawn “goes home”, etc. Simple game, and widely played in a lot of “traditional households”.

Considering that I had stopped playing this game when I was still quite small, i had never realized the strategies involved in playing the game. Back then I’d just generally move whatever pawn i fancied nad somehow my grandparents would move in a way in order to simply enable me to win. It was only yesterday that I realized that the game is not as simple as I thought, and that strategy dominates luck when determining how you do.

It’s not like bridge, where card distributions are exchanged across pairs in order to take the luck out of the game. Nevertheless, I realize that the number of “turns” in the game is large enough for the probabilities in the seashells to balance out across players. Rather, the decision that you need to make at each turn regarding which pawn to move is so important that the importance of this drawfs the number you threw! Again you will need to keep into account stuff like the distribution of your next throw, your opponent’s next throw and so on.

I think I have a thing for games with randomness built into them rahter than those that are completely a function of the players’ moves (like chess). I think this is because even with the same set of players, games with randomness built in lead to a larger variety of positions which makes the game more exciting.

Coming back to Chowka Baarah, the other thing I was thinking of last night was if sunk cost fallacy applied in this, when I was trying to decide betwen a reasonably advanced pawn and a backward pawn to decide as to which one to save. Finally I decided that apart from the loss in terms of the pawn being sent home, other things that I had to take into consideration when I moved was about which pawn capture would be more valuable for the opponent, probabilities of differnet pawns getting captured, potential danger to other pawns, etc.

It’s a fun game, one of the most fun “traditional” games. Maybe one of the most “strategic” traditional games. Miss playing it for the last fifteen years or so.