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A café run by seven young HIV-positive people in the Ballygunge district of Kolkata attracts unprejudiced customers from all walks of life, as well as dispelling misconceptions about the disease.

‘Positive Cafe’, first launched in a 100 square foot garage in Jodhpur Park in 2018 by Dr Kallol Ghosh, recently changed address and moved to a larger space in Ballygunge to respond to the ‘rush growing number of customers.

The seven young people do everything from preparing food and drinks, such as coffee, fish and chips and sandwiches, to serving customers.

Ghosh, who said it was the first cafe of its kind in Asia, told PTI on Monday: “Our regular customers have no qualms about visiting a place run by HIV-positive people. We provide every visitor with leaflets giving all the details about the cafe.

“Most of them say they don’t have a problem, although some leave anyway. People in their twenties are very receptive and progressive. You have to keep in mind that HIV does not spread like other contagious diseases,” he said.

Recalling the early days of struggle, Ghosh, who runs an NGO for HIV-positive children, said he struggled to find a place to set up the cafe but, after being convinced, the owner of a self-contained building in Jodhpur agreed to lease the garage to him.

“Some neighbours, however, objected to our business claiming that the waste generated by our coffee could spread AIDS to the surrounding area. Mind you, it was an upscale locality in South Kolkata,” he said.

“It was a tough battle but the city never looked away. Now, at our new address in Ballygunge, a cross section of Kolkatans – from young professionals, students, executives to housewives and even celebrities – flock to us without hesitation. This new address has a larger space and can handle crowds better,” he said.

Ghosh said the initiative has helped HIV-positive teenagers, who contracted the virus through no fault of their own, to earn a living with their heads held high.

“During confinement, the café was closed. However, customers returned shortly after the restrictions were lifted. The NGO took care of the seven employees during the closure,” Ghosh said.

He added that “Positive Cafe” outlets will be opened in four malls across the city in the coming days.

An 18-year-old serving pasta to a group of customers said: “We are no different from anyone else and shouldn’t be treated like outcasts. Sidhu da (Siddhartha Ray) from ‘Cactus’ group visited our cafe many times and encouraged us to keep working hard. We thank the city for accepting this coffee.

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