“If I do anything, it must be meaningful.”
Last year, late autumn, after a tiring day of packing, unpacking and luggage transportation, we have moved in an old house, with a certain special perfume of history, where we would find ourselves forgotten passions. Late in that evening, on a cold and drizzling rain, we went on a reconnaissance tour of the surroundings looking for a place to serve dinner and, maybe, some mulled wine.
Somewhere, in Bucharest, behind the Domenii Market, from beneath branches under the burden of rain, we saw, in the reflection of the street lanterns, a place with wide open wooden shutters, tall windows and discrete light, which seemed to be, from the outside, a warm place with a restaurant-bar still open. We were cold, tired and a little hungry. We went in hesitating, but we soon realized as we advanced that this place seemed to be an intimate corner with a rock-blues music in the background, with text messages differently written on the walls, with smiling people who seemed to know each other and with a library full of books. „Welcome! Please choose a table of the free ones. Wherever you want! „. A young man, with an undisguised smile, invited us, in the warmest tone possible, to feel at home. And so, like magic, all the fatigue accumulated for so many days has turned into a feeling of relaxation. And, like magic, without realizing, the story of the Boat has unfolded in all splendor.
Since then, we’ve come to Barka Saffron many times. Barka Saffron is the name of this beautiful place. Most of the time, I chose mechanically, without realizing the habit and the fact that I’m already familiar with the scrawled messages on the walls, the books, the undertone music and the old Vama Veche atmosphere in September, as I once knew. Everything seemed natural to me.
A few weeks ago, following an impulse for an old passion, to find out the stories behind the appearance, to discover the core behind the shell, I thought for a while where should I go first. And, while I was thinking, I was heading, me and my thoughts to Barka Saffron. After I came in and I was greeted, as usual („Welcome! …”), I realized that I just took a step in the middle of the first story I wanted to discover.
Barka Saffron means, in Hindi language, saffron boat and it is a pub-bistro set up in 2000 by Mr. Krishan George. The philosophy of the place is the freedom and privacy of thought. Anyone, after a preliminary discussion with the responsible staff, could write a thought, a state of mind, a statement or a verse on the walls, becoming, in the meantime, incomprehensible. The rule of the house is that, before proceeding to inspirational writing, on the walls, you „wake up” with a tequila shot. You can read from the pub library, you can even borrow books and the Rule of the House is to bring others in return. Lady Gabi and Lady Mami are the Chefs of the kitchen right from the opening of the restaurant. They borrowed from each other their own recipes, learned Indian and international recipes and prepared them with a dedication which they are respected for by all the other colleagues. They are all a community. Krishan gave them all the full confidence that came with a lot responsibility and loyalty.
Krishan George, the story-character behind the Boat, is native to southern India, has worked a lot of time in economy-finance, in the 1990s as an expert for the World Bank, traveled around the world involved in different projects, and around 1995 came into contact with Romania. „It was love at first sight”, he says with a smile. Just arrived here, in Romania, he was considered as a Romanian by name. Soon after the first visit to Romania, Krishan bought an apartment, premonitory, very close to the place that would be, in 5 years, Barka Saffron. So he returns quite often to Bucharest, visiting more and more cities in the country, and, somehow, a permanent relationship with these lands is gradually born.
In 2000, he acquired a space where homeless people were gathering, behind what was then Domenii Park. He managed to transform this insidious space into a bar-restaurant, one of the few in Bucharest at that time. Soon after, the investment proved to be successful and he created a loyal clientele around this place that appreciates the relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Krishan noticed, subtly, with the time, the change of the social mentality through those who cross the threshold: „At first, for young people it didn’t count how much money they had, it was important for them to be together and just feel good. Gradually, there was a subtle split with money being the central benchmark. Now, recently, I have seen a regrouping. People are beginning to see each other again just to be together, for sharing moments. ”
„How did you get to Rupea? How did the idea of the Farm come up? „I’m asking Krishan because I had already read an article on the subject. „By mistake!” he answers, laughing. He tells me how he participated in an auction for an old C.A.P. following an advice from a friend, and how, after a few months, he would find out that he had won it. Meanwhile, until it actually came into being the owner, the roofs, the pipes, the fences would disappear, mysteriously, basically, mostly everything. Of all this great nothing bidden and won, he managed to grow, in a few years, a buffalo farm. Currently, in “Ferma Indianului Transylvania” there are 150 buffaloes, some horses, dogs and cats, and Krishan practically moved there. He has not managed yet to find the right people who really love the animals, who want to work and leave them with full confidence to handle this farm. But he was able to find volunteers from other countries to help him in exchange for providing shelter, food and a warm atmosphere. „It’s a shame, it’s sad! There is no culture of work, there is no cult for education. The young people end some years of school and then leave the village to Brașov. There they work as unskilled laborers, sellers at hypermarkets, and leave behind the Village. „Krishan tells me.
For a few years, he also founded a clothing business. The textiles come from Asian countries, from business entities that respect employees’ rights and they are intended for companies willing to invest responsibly in ECO-friendly products that can be personalized by brand, event or necessity. Alexandra Matei, the manager of this project, briefly shares her struggles and disappointments. Alexandra is energetic, she conveys a state of „everything is under control,” and finds herself, in front of me, after a long day of work, at Barka. „Here, I feel at home,” she says, so simply. As all of us, in these times, I felt the disappointment, the sadness and resignation that she might have to leave the country for a better life for the simple reason that „the figures do not lie. The economy does not feel good at all, and where will the money come from for all the increases of salaries? From us.”How does the state of the economy feel through the prism of the business she manages? Companies restrict funds for marketing and corporate social responsibility, and these are the first signs of mistrust in the economy of a country. I try to find arguments that could encourage her, give her the power to go forward with the confidence that things will be fine. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded. I will try again because I find it very difficult to accept that young people, with such lively and constructive energy, no longer believe in Romania. We still have a chance. We must have.
Towards the end of my conversation with Krishan, I asked him what are his plans regarding Romania. „I don’t know. Into the actual economical parameters, I don’t see how anyone can sustain a business. It just becomes impossible. ” He has the sadness of a man who really seems to love Romania, I think more than some native Romanians.
People working at Barka are self-sustaining students and learn how a business works. When he looks at them, Krishan’s eyes shine and it is visible that he feels proud of them, of their synergy and the environment they created.
„If I am to do anything, it has to be meaningful.” Krishan, his colleagues and their customers feel at home. Somewhere, undertone, Dire Straits is on the playlist. Lights are discreet and I can see a message on a wall „Walking becomes boring when you learn to fly”.
After few hours of good time, listening to the story behind the story, I felt at home too. I still remember the first night in this neighborhood when, on a rainy evening, under autumn trees, Barka Saffron stood before us.
Now it’s almost summer, and I’m sure that I will hear and write many stories, but Barka will remain the first one. 🙂
Photo: Barka Saffron – photo taken with my Canon
Here you have a TEDx- Bucharest presentation with Krishan George: