A space for 'weirdos'
Sehaj Sahni, the founder of Urban Desi House, says he started the cafe to provide young artistes, or weirdos as he calls them, a real-world space to meet up. “Youngsters have very few offline spaces where they could come together and collaborate. The places that do exist charge exorbitantly and many of these artistes, who are either fresh out of college or are college drop-outs cannot afford them. This is how I started the youth project, Indian Youth Café, in 2013 that later powered the Urban Desi House. I wanted to create a social space which will bridge the offline disconnect,” adds Sehaj.
They also offer discounts to students and support youngsters, who want to get together for social causes. “For example, we host a monthly meet of young film aspirants, who come together to discuss ideas for shortfilms and to screen movies, for free. We also organise a ‘young weirdos’ meet-up for the youngsters, who get tagged as weird, for not fitting in with the society. We wanted to bring all these weird people together so that they can collaborate and help each other become successful. It started as a single discussion round on youth focussed-issues like education, but then we started bringing in learning sessions like discussions on gender fluidity, creative writing, acting and so on,” he explains.
A non-intimidating conversational space
Sriram Ayer, who teaches and promotes arts through his foundation, set up Wandering Artist as a studio where these arts can be performed. “We started looking for a space to set up a studio in the Robin Hood model where the profit will go towards teaching arts. I think the calm vibe of this place is what lends itself to everything we do today. For example, we provide closed sessions on our top floor for artistes to have conversations and discussions. If these sessions are set up in the same space where the regular customers come to hang out, then many may feel intimidated and won’t speak up. At the same time, our space is open for people who want to learn, who want to perform and who want to simply hang out. So, rather than being separate entities, all of these together create a singular space where they all interact, collaborate and enjoy performances. We are agnostic to culture and art form. We host both established and upcoming performers in our conversational sessions, discussions and performances on a regular basis,” explains Sriram.
An anti-cafe for youngsters
Akshaya Chittybabu and Nithya Fernandez, who started Backyard, calls the space an anti-café. Their clients pay for the time they spend there and get unlimited chai, coffee, free Wi-Fi and lots of entertainment like board games, reading nooks, live performances and so on. “We get a lot of freelancers and artistes who come here to unwind, ideate, work and meet new people. We also host story-telling-sessions and maker’s markets,” says Nithya.
They also stand apart because of their unbiased support for all sorts of cultural and social causes. They recently hosted the city’s first drag show. “Getting the venue was the biggest challenge for the show. Some even said they didn’t want to spoil their ‘reputation’ by hosting an event like this. However, the guys at Backyard were very supportive,” says city-based fashion consultant Jabez Kelly, who organised and participated in the drag show.
Nithya says it was the right thing to do. “We are not here to judge someone on their sexual orientation or anything else for that matter. We are here to provide a space for people who want to come together and interact. Our top floor is for theatre, music and jam sessions,” she adds.