The Piano Man

Time. It passes rather slowly in the hills. It’s unhurried and lazy, like a never ending winter sleep wrapped in a warm blanket. In this very moment, it seemed to be undulating, in poetic slow motion.

The piano man was playing. Eric Satie was his muse, and I, along with a handful wandering misfits, his audience. Around us were hundreds of books, old and new, sitting on sleek wooden shelves. The coffee was waiting to be brewed and breakfast to be made. From the balcony where I sat, the green hills were watching us with snow-capped mountains peeking from behind. And they were all listening to the piano man. He was playing Gnossienne No. 1 by Erik Satie.

This was Café Illiterati in McLeodganj, India. The Piano Man was Yannik, its owner. And I, could have been outside of my body, for while Yannik was on the piano, my mind was spiraling in time, with memories that were perhaps yet to be made. Much like the piano piece, lacking in rhythm or structure, an anomaly that shapes the very beauty of it, my mind was meandering in perfect harmony. And this was, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments in life.

It was a Monday afternoon, when the café opens late and we were all waiting for the staff to arrive. “They’re always late on Monday and somehow most customers show up on this day!” Yannik said shaking his head in frustration. He cleaned a beautiful wooden teak table for my friend and I, and put it out in the balcony with two benches. The staff was late, Yannik was growing impatient, it was a beautiful Monday afternoon and nobody was complaining. The cafe wasn’t located in the usual labyrinth of restaurants, shops and hotels at the center of the town. It was far away from all the chaos that comes with the gentrification of any beautiful place that offers the quiet promise of a peaceful time away from our mad concrete jungles.

One look around the café and you could tell that this wasn’t just a means to an end. This was a labor of love. Every single element within these four walls was waiting for a story to be told. The piano sat in front of a window overlooking a vibrant bougainvillea tree. Sketches drawn by Yannik’s kids hung here and there, and a quote on a chalkboard by the kitchen window read, ‘There is no good explanation for what is going on here!’ While leaving I purchased a book on a collection of poems by Tennyson, and Yannik handed over a bookmark to me. It was a custom made bookmark with wild peony seeds embedded in it, meant to grow if put in soil and watered. “Some say they grow and some say they don’t,” he said shaking his head with skepticism and a faint smile.

After living in Mcleodganj for 15 years and running the café for four, the paino man was now leaving.

Café Illiterati will still exist, but the space within these walls will never speak of the same story again. And the hills will still remain, but perhaps never again will there be the perfect underscore to the perfect moment for a wandering soul.

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