بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
It has long been observed in history, and also practically proved true through recent studies, that tea-houses and cafés helped nurture and polish the writing of many a writer and poet in the history of mankind. In the modern-day, coffee houses definitely help telecommuters and freelancers boost their creativity.
One of the advantages of being not-so-young anymore, more independent, and having children who are beyond the diaper-clad, tantrum-throwing stage, — is that, thankfully, I now get to sometimes make escapades to a nearby cafe, or any other secluded & quiet public place, to find a space to think with more focus, jot down ideas, make lists of my past articles (and juggle the items on these lists around until they resemble a semblance of a non-fiction book), and work on some long-neglected drafts, to name a few.
I did not expect the change i.e. working in a space besides my usual home environment, to have such a sudden and profound effect, but yes, it did the trick. The first time I did this little writer’s café jaunt/exercise, I was amazed at the result!
Pining for some peace and quiet (which can sometimes get rare at home, due to our children always being around, masha’Allah) I had taken a journal along with me at a favorite tea-place (more on that below) while my children hung out with my hubby somewhere else. Within just an hour, I had created better lists and brainstormed more ideas on paper, than in the many weeks/months that I’d spent at home in my little “bedroom-office” (which is another name for just my small desk with a Mac on it; don’t let your imagination run wild thinking of some hi-fi, elaborate home-office space).
So what nearby cafés in DHA, Karachi have helped me attain a rare change of routine and space, giving a sudden boost to my writing work? Here is a list, below:
I was really a big fan of Papparoti after it first opened in Dolmen Mall, Clifton. I loved it’s elaichi chai and bun (without topping).
Why is that thought in the past tense now, you might wonder? No specific reason, except that one naturally moves on and grows out of some likes. I do not go there much now, but did so regularly, some years ago.
Once, I went there with my journal, and sat for some time on one of their corner, two-seating tables to have some chai and me-time. It really helped me clear my head, and I jotted down some great ideas, which now physically exist in real life as my first few self-published books.
I was quite amazed at how much of a difference a simple change of environment can make upon one’s capacity to think, plan, and brainstorm!
But you need a relatively quiet and undisturbed space in order to be able to achieve that.
Gloria Jeans Coffees
This café, also located in Dolmen Mall Clifton, is not exactly the ideal place for working, at first glance. It is usually very crowded and blares off-putting loud music (more on that below) during its busy hours.
But physically, when it is emptier, the GJC outlet at Dolmen Mall, Clifton, is actually quite a cozy little café that has several quaint corners affording more privacy than others, including a wide balcony with a view of the sea.
When it is not crowded, the music is not on, and the televisions are turned off or muted (i.e. during business “slump” times), it transforms into a quiet little writer’s haven, complete with wooden bookshelves lined with books, and sockets on the ground next to some couches that allow diners to charge their laptops and smartphones.
Plus, it is perhaps the only café in Karachi where I have actually seen some people (including seniors) do some official work, read a book alone, or conduct professional-type meetings, with several folders and documents sprawled out on the coffee table in front of them.
The food is nothing out of the ordinary though. However, this outlet of GJC at Dolmen Mall has helped me relax and work on my writing more than a few times, along with help from some coffee and cake, of course.
As my three children jet off to nearby Sindbad together, I can enjoy a half hour or so of uninterrupted work, with a nice view of the sea, as I jot down some ideas and plan my forthcoming writing projects.
And also have a small cappuccino while I’m at it.
Pane & Amore Café (the balcony)
This cupcake café happens to be at a short walking distance from our apartment!
When it relaunched and relocated to Zamzama a few years ago, it came with a lovely terraced seating area in its new design. This balcony affords diners more privacy and seclusion from the rest of the café. At night, this terrace is illuminated with lovely string lights.
It also has a four-seating table in one corner that is more secluded and surrounded by potted plants.
Once or twice, I have escaped to this table on their balcony for some quiet work time (including having a cupcake, with a cup of tea). Although the din from the noisy, bustling commercial area below would hardly make this place qualify as a “quiet” place to work, it is still a charming getaway for ‘aunties’ like myself. And I am already used to the surrounding din as I live just a stone’s throw away, anyway.
As for their cupcakes: they are hands down the best you can have in Pakistan!
Although, truth be told, I do enjoy savory finger food more.
Silk Lounge in Madinah
So. Unbelievably. Peaceful.
Ah, Madinah! The city of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. A place that I could call my second home, judging from the connection that I feel to it, and the impact that it always has on my heart and soul. It’s cool breeze, it’s aura of Allah’s mercy, it’s lovely people, it’s simple food. I could go on and on about my beloved Madinah.
I have had the supreme honor of working on my writing at this peaceful silk lounge, with a lovely view of Masjid Al-Nabawi in the distance, which is visible from some of its windows. The lounge is quiet, even though it is at walking distance from the Prophet’s masjid, and hardly occupied by people at all, throughout the day.
It is quite exquisitely decorated, and very quiet and peaceful. The two wall-mounted television sets display only the images from the cameras in the nearby Masjid Al-Nabawi, with the volume muted. It has dining tables and chairs, as well as couches and sofas. The savory and sweet items served for high-tea comprise mostly of hors d’oeuvres -type finger food prepared by professional chefs. I tried Carpaccio for the first time at this lounge!
Nearby, in a private corner, there is one of the cleanest and most state-of-the-art ladies’ washrooms you could ask for (individual hand towels!?). The minimalist waiting staff does not bother you at all while you write or work (Arab men in Madinah respect women’s privacy so much, it is almost other-worldly).
Working in this lounge was truly a beautiful experience, and I thank Allah for having let me work on my writing in the blessed city of His beloved Prophet ﷺ, and so near his masjid!
My personal preferences for writing, or working on planning my future writings, which almost always involves thinking long and hard, coming up with ideas, and jotting down lists, in addition to actually writing, at any public place besides home, almost always involve the following must-have’s:
- No music! This is a no-brainer, of course. I believe that music is forbidden in Islam, so I cannot work anywhere if there is constant loud music, unless it is faint, intermittent, or at a distance. However, since we live in an imperfect world, I do not allow forbidden things to make me a hermit and never step out of my home at all (and believe me, I love staying at home, as I have exhorted many a time in the past, and I usually need a valid reason to leave it). After all, some passing young Muslim girl just might spot me working in a cafe, and be inspired, just the way I was when I was seventeen.
- Dimly-lit, cozy corners, indoor potted plants, and large, comfortable, dark-colored couches. I love dim lighting with lamps around to illuminate the surface that I am writing on (such as a journal or notebook). As for technology, it is self-illuminating, so all the more workable in dimly lit spaces. Plus, dim lighting and tall potted plants help me preserve my privacy.
- Air conditioning. Yeah, yeah, I am a bit of a high-maintenance person. I can not work anywhere in the summers unless the temperature is below 30 degrees Celsius. And nor can any other professional who takes their work seriously. So yes, if it is any month of the year that falls outside the date range of 20th November – 15th March in Karachi, an air conditioner that works well is a must.
- No rowdy adolescents. Umm, sorry, but like I mentioned, I am old now :P, i.e. 39 years old in September this year, insha’Allah. I deserve to have some “aunty-nakhra’s” by now, don’t I? Such as being extremely picky about the milk in my tea, and the size & shape of my handbag (which has to accommodate the amount of things I need to carry around).So, yes, groups of skinny-jeans-clad teens who come to cafés to just hang out/”chill” with friends, show off their designer wear, talk loudly in fake accents, take selfie upon selfie to post on Instagram (judging them…..who, me?), and do not have any serious work to do, make me turn around and leave — with a discernible eye-roll. You won’t find me with my journal in a café bustling with boisterous youngsters.
- No impatient, hovering waiters. I do appreciate these young lads who serve me my food. They work so hard and round-the-clock. Anyone who contributes in any way towards feeding me has my sincere dua’s for blessings & rewards, not to mention cash tips. But if that skinny lad keeps pestering me every 15 minutes, while I am absorbed in working, to ask me (again and again) if he can get me my bill….well, he probably won’t see this particular “Ma’am” (or her tip) again!I like to be left alone once my beverage and food has been served. And when I want someone to bring me the bill, well — I have a voice and a hand that I can raise, don’t I?
- Free and fast wifi. Enough said.
- Ottomans. If they let me put my feet up every now and then to relax while I lean back on the couch, the café staff just might get a higher tip from me. Don’t worry, I’ll wear clean socks!
- A good menu. Duh. I am a foodie. In case you still haven’t checked out my Instagram food feed yet, you might be wondering why the menu would matter to me as a writer. Get me a great cuppa, and watch me pound on those keys!The cafe should have good-quality but affordable food, especially finger-food (that I can sample without needing to pick up a fork or spoon) as well as comfort food (pasta tops the list). Chocolate desserts are a must. I have noticed that I crave different foods at different times, and this also affects the kind of work I can get done. I go for quality over quantity, so yeah, the food matters!
- No wall-mounted, loud television. I can NOT stand local news channels. They repeat the same things over. And over.
And over (x infinity).As for cricket matches with loud commentary? Where’s the exit?
By writing this post, I am not trying to encourage ladies to leave their homes and go gallivanting around working in cafés and public lounges.
My intention is only to appreciate the nearby cafés that offer some safe and secure spaces, which are available to work-from-home professionals like me, who sometimes need a breather and break from their usual routines. We all know that most such quaint cafés in Karachi are thronging with “aunties” (and their children) during the weekdays.
Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that not every café (in Karachi, or elsewhere in the world) offers a safe, secure, and dignified environment that is permissible for a Muslim woman to hang out in, either alone or with company. Also note that my husband is almost always nearby (or soon-to-arrive) to pick me up, along with our children, whenever I do go out somewhere.
At the end of the day, I love working from my home, and would have it no other way.
So here’s to more writing, blogging, and self-publishing in the future, insha’Allah!