Pray, pause, talk & tea- The New Indian Express

Pray, pause, talk & tea- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

In the congested alleys of the Batla House neighborhood where women had no place to relax or put their bags down after shopping or just to meet outside the home for a friendly chitchat, ‘Sheeru Café’ on the first floor at the Cosmos Plaza, has become a  hidden-from-view, cozy leisure area for many. 

In ones or twos or in a group, women dressed in delicate chikankari salwar kameez bought from local stalls, troop in into the café all through the day—to pray, pause, or grab a bite. Located in a southeast Delhi neighborhood in the heart of Jamia Nagar, this is, perhaps, the city’s only all-women café.

Atiya Khursheed, 31, is the owner of the café. Concerned about the paucity of prayer space for women in the Batla House area, she waited for the Covid-19 lockdown to be lifted to open the café in July 2022.

“Initially, I used to think that I could just rent out a small space where women can pray. It was my husband’s idea of creating a dedicated café for women where they can pray, pause, take a break from shopping, and eat,” she added.

An architect by profession, Atiya designed the café along with her husband Frahim Akhtar who is an engineer. This 20-seater place is prettily decorated with pastel curtains and lights that hang from the ceiling. 

It can actually accommodate 30, confirms Atiya. Young students and girls prop their laptops on its tables to complete their assignments or sit around its tables for tea, coffee, snacks—and conversation. What inspired the name of the café? The couple’s daughter. Less than a year old in 2022, she was called “Sheeru” at home. “We considered plenty of names. Our family suggested we name it after her,” said Atiya. 

Varied groups of customers visit Sheeru Café these days. In the one year that they have been in operation, the word has spread of its service. “Initially, we used to draw only a dedicated set of women—students, professionals, and some who would come for dining during the evening. Now we have young mothers coming in who want to feed their babies or those who only wish to offer namaaz, and shoppers, who after shopping,  may want to relax.”

The café also serves as a cultural space, hosting events such as calligraphy workshops, poetry sessions, exhibitions on jewelry, Eid decor open-mic nights, art shows by local women artists, and guest presentations on topics that are important to its customer base, such as the importance of women in public spaces. A series of seminars and talks for women were conducted during Women’s Week this March, besides pop-up stalls to assist women-led local businesses like Aetbaar (a clothing brand) and Salzbakes (a home-based bakery). On August 19, the café is hosting a workshop on cooking the Afghani mantu, the Afghani momo. 

The café also has a small bookshelf with Islamic books for children, such as The Baby’s First Prophet Muhammad Stories and The Baby’s First Quran Stories. Currently, a very small team runs the café. Besides Atiya, there is Nahida, the manager, and two teenagers who cook the sumptuous food of the café. Besides beverages, Chicken Paprika Pizza, Chicken Zinger Wrap, Vegetarian lasagna and Italian bites are part of the menu. “As it is a small team, we are running the café in a single shift—2 to 10pm daily,” Atiya added.
But there are a few challenges.

“The first is accessibility and the second, of infrastructure,” said Atiya. “We plan to open a café on the arterial side of the neighborhood from where we are easily accessible. After that, we plan to open it in the markets of Lajpatnagar and Sarojini Market and also hope to take it to Aligarh and Hyderabad as well.”

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