A new Delhi conversation

Dumb charades by another name can be more interesting, as we found out at a round of “social gaming" organized last year in the Capital by the Yellowcat Arts Co. theatre group. Played over video chat, social media sites and chat room-like windows by 24 participants across New Delhi and Berea, Kentucky, US, the social gaming project had reinterpreted the popular game, asking participants to create a montage of still images as clues to guess the right proverb.

In the 2-odd hours that the games lasted, there was hilarity as things were misinterpreted by team members coming from a different cultural context, there was friendly banter as teams put their heads together to figure out a puzzle—and to us, the evening signalled a new trend: that New Delhi was ready to fraternize with strangers on the basis purely of a shared interest.

Now, the Hyatt Regency Delhi, too, is betting on our readiness to come together momentarily over a shared interest by launching its Swiss and German Stammtisch.

The Stammtisch, or regulars’ table at the local pub or restaurant, developed originally as a space for discussion and exchange of ideas in Central Europe (one estimate dates its antecedence back to the late 15th century). Somewhere in between the elitist French salon and the massy Bengali adda, the Stammtisch was traditionally a space where the same set of people met each week to talk politics and local policies. “The Stammtisch is a long-standing political institution in Germany in which a group of gleichgesinnte (like-minded) persons…gather on the same evening every week to talk work and politics, processing events of professional and public life… (it) is a communicative space in which the more rigorous and formal expectations of intellectual culture are inverted—humour, polemicism and irony are common," explains anthropologist Prof. Dominic Boyer in the article “Conspiracy, History And Therapy at a Berlin Stammtisch", printed in 2006 in the American Ethnologist journal.

Today, the Stammtisch has evolved in two significant ways—it has travelled beyond Central Europe; and now anyone can call, or attend, a Stammtisch on a subject of their interest.

There is, for example, the Seattle Stammtisch, the German-language conversation group held every Tuesday at the Cedars Restaurant on Brooklyn, US. A community on the Reddit social media site, the BerlinSocialClub, calls a weekly meeting at the Mendy & Edeltraut in Berlin. A regular to this Stammtisch, Buetti, explains: “At the Reddit Stammtisch, it’s mostly about meeting new people. What happens? We hang out and drink a lot and make new friends."

That, in a nutshell, is also what early adopters of the Stammtisch in the Capital can expect. Marin A. Leuthard, executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Delhi, says the Stammtisch at the Café at Hyatt, which had its first session on Friday, will be set at a long table for a maximum of 12 guests. For the first few weeks, as Delhi gets better versed with the idea of the Stammtisch, the topics of discussion will be determined by the guests themselves. And if there’s a lull, Leuthard promises to step in to talk about the food on the special menu—fondue, raclette, rösti potato cakes.

The hope, Leuthard explains, is to provide a platform for conversations between people who would probably never have met outside of the Stammtisch—travellers passing through town, guests of the hotel, invitees from the embassies, and New Delhi residents with varied interests and backgrounds. “Stamm is like the main (trunk), the heart of the tree. It’s the base where everything starts—you meet there, and that’s where conversations and relationships begin," he says.

The Swiss and German Stammtisch will be held every Friday at 7pm, at the Hyatt Regency Delhi, Bhikaji Cama Place, Ring Road, New Delhi (66771306). Price, 1,900 (plus taxes) per person, for a buffet meal.