A stray cat stares at me imperiously as I pick my way around her. Her amber eyes follow me as I enter Harkat Studios, the city’s hippest and possibly coolest co-working space cum performance venue. Once I’m in, the cat stretches and goes to sleep.
Harkat, I soon learn, has that effect on people. It makes everyone feel at home.
The co-working studio has been in the news ever since it opened its doors in the tree-lined, quiet locale of Aram Nagar in Andheri. The founders, Micheala Strobel (or Mika) and Karan Talwar knew they wanted a space that was quiet, green and welcoming. Indeed, walking on the gravel path to reach the studio, past bungalows shaded by a green canopy and breathing in the quiet, it’s hard to believe this is Mumbai.
Harkat has an outdoor and indoor space. The outside is a courtyard, now shaded because of the monsoon, with benches and potted plants. Inside, it is one big room, leading off into a narrow green room, and a kitchenette and bathrooms.
It’s been designed as a living room and it certainly feels that way. The all white space has splashes of colour, from the painted repurposed furniture, yellow girders, framed posters, and rugs. CDs hang from the ceiling, competing for attention with low-hung bulbs.
I spy little nooks everywhere, different seating zones to cater to every kind of freelancer. A sturdy centre table can be used for a business meeting; side retractable panels on one side of the wall for those who want privacy; mattresses and a painted trunk for those who like sitting on the floor. My favourite is the individual desk, painted in bright colours.
It’s fully equipped for work and my freelancer’s eye is appreciative of the plug points, the printer, the strong Wifi signal and that necessary writer’s fuel, chai (there’s kombucha for those drinking healthy). Another creative working staple, silence, is available in plenty – it is the first thing that attracts me to the place. “We did all this ourselves,” says Mika, her arm sweeping across the room. She points to a table, painted blue with glass on top. “This was a discarded window frame. We got it in Behram Baug and painted it. It was a team-building activity,” she says.
The coolest thing here, apart from a vintage typewriter, is the bookshelf. That Harkat staple is visible in almost every picture of the space; an unmoving background to the proceedings. For once, it’s not the books that fascinate me as much as the other knick knacks. “It was originally supposed to be moveable. But once we started putting in the shelves, and added in the books and other things, it became impossible to move,” says Karan. Now, it’s like an open treasure box, scattered with a kaleidoscope, vintage camera, a matryoshka doll, a tie, trophy, painted bottles, paintbrushes and candles. It’s not the prettiest sight; it looks like an elongated stepladder, draped with fairy lights. But, it certainly is compelling. It fits right in; all the furniture here is repurposed or salvaged antique. I run my hands down the wood, trying to imagine where it came from and the stories it must hold. It’s kitschy without being over the top. “The fact that we had no money proved to be a big advantage,” chuckles Karan. “It ensured nothing here is stark or perfect. Everything has rough edges”.
Harkat’s biggest asset is its ability to transform from a laidback co-working space to a performance venue. On most days, it’s a co-working space with people huddled over their laptops, nursing mugs of unlimited coffee and chai. On performance days, held over the weekends, it undergoes a quick 20-minute transformation. All the furniture is moved outside or lined against the walls. The kind of performance – a writing workshop, a film screening, a comedy special –determines the stage area, the décor and whether chairs will need to be borrowed from upstairs. Harkat can comfortable hold about 50 people, 75 if they’re squeezed in together. On Sundays, the outdoor area turns into a vegetable market, selling organic produce.
Hovering in the background and ensuring that everything is on track is a person Mika calls the ‘life of Harkat’, the office boy Ram. It’s not uncommon to hear someone call out his name, several times in the day, asking for his help.
Lunch at the co-working space is communal affair and often, after eating, people curl up on the mattresses and take a nap. “Everyone feels at home here. People come here to work or just to make some tea/coffee and chat with others. It’s a neighbourhood hang out,” says Mika.
As I sink into a plush yellow armchair, sipping on water from a wine bottle (‘no free wine here’), I can’t help but agree. Harkat is comfortable enough for me to work and for a break, I can curl up with a good book or just take a nap.
Harkat Studios is located at Bungalow No. 75, JP Road, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova, Andheri West.The co-working plans start from Rs 300 (a day) to Rs 7,500 (for a desk). Log on to http://co-work.harkat.in