A trip to the rheumatologist in now incomplete unless we stop at the Central Tiffin Room in Malleshwaram after the appointment for their golibajje and benne masala dosa which really is the best in Bangalore. The taste hasn’t changed in all these years we’ve been eating there and some of the waiters even smile and remember me, which is a nice thing.
The food is the only nice thing about Malleshwaram and such areas because they make me feel distinctly uncomfortable all the time. I can’t put my finger on it. But it’s a combination of hauteur and fear. I am entirely too disdainful of the people from those areas when regarded en masse and the fear that I could have so easily been them. I might still so easily be them – typical, middle class, Kannadiga Brahmin girl. And then where would I be? A cousin’s daughter once said “chee” to people eating egg dosas (that looked wonderfully delicious) on a trip. Those are my roots. At least a part of my roots. Now you can appreciate why I am so uncomfortable.
Like today, at the restaurant, it was terribly crowded as usual. The restaurant is very quaint, old, busy with small four-seater tables and equally small chairs as if it were designed for the mass of tiny, hard-working, self-effacing but talkative Kannadigas who would sit on the edges of these small chairs as they gobbled the dosas and gossiped about the relative’s children settled in the US.
And so when we were half-way through our goli bajjes, a thin man in his early 40s came by, shook the bag that was on the extra chair said “Yours?” And when my dad said, “Yes”, he promptly lifted it, handed it to my dad, ordered a dosa for himself and waited to eat.
In my world, this won’t happen. In my world that is the regions of Indiranagar, Whitefield, M G Road, even Koramangala, people would say “Please, may I sit here?” if at all they had to share tables and chairs in a crowded restaurant. We would be polite and awkward about these intimacies and we’d both be very conscious of encroaching on someone’s private space.
But not in Malleshwaram.
I consoled myself with the magnanimity of how hungry he might have been to have behaved in such an abrupt fashion. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he just didn’t know manners. Maybe no one taught him these things. And I barely tasted my dosa wrapped as I was in all these thoughts. I worried about how shallow I was to spend so much time thinking of this mild discomfort. It’s not like I had to share a life with that man, just a table for the duration of one dosa. It became fairly easy after that. I even warmed to him because like me he couldn’t stand the empty plates lying on the table and he summoned the cleaner boy himself to clear away our used plates – as if we were truly companions eating out together.
Then when he left, another man occupied his seat, again with scant ceremony. This one was in his 40s with an overbearing paunch and a manner of arrogance. By now I had stopped caring about this communal dining experience and just waited to see what would transpire. We sat waiting for our helping of an extra dosa and coffee. He fidgeted, drummed his fingers on the table, willing us to finish early. So I ate rather slower than my usual pace. Then, finally, when the coffee came, he shouted at the waiter. “Couldn’t you tell me that these people had also ordered coffee? Do you know how many seats I let go thinking this will empty?”
I rolled my eyes. The waiter merely shrugged indifferently. The man had asked no one’s permission or approval or advice when he sat in the seat. The waiter quickly gave us the bill to appease him somewhat, I think, and when I paid a 20 rupee tip to the waiter, I felt a quick wave of disapproval from the paunch. I had noticed that not many people tipped the waiters in that place.
My father had barely tried to move his chair before the paunch started rearranging the chairs hoping to claim the four-seater all to himself.
A wife materialised.
She said meekly, “Wait, it’s okay. Let them finish.”
“They are finished. You sit.” he ordered in a very haughty tone at the poor woman.
Just to be capricious, I lingered over the terrible Kannadiga coffee.
I tried being kind again and told myself that maybe he was terribly hungry too. But I think I had reached the end of my kindness quota in a day. These people could easily have been my neighbours were we to have continued living in those areas. I’m sure a few far-flung relatives behave just as obnoxiously. In another universe, I might even have been the wife of a man like him. Shudder.
I often think I thrust these notions on my poor parents who probably don’t mind the area or the people. I know my mother loves the flower markets and vegetable vendors there. My father will calmly and blissfully walk with all our bags as we troop up and down those noisy streets. They also feel very comfortable that it’s a predominantly Kannada speaking area, another fact that gives me something of the heebie-jeebies.
And then my mother said, “Did you hear that man in the restaurant?”
“Good thing he didn’t ask us to hurry or anything,” my dad replied, “I would have given him a piece of my mind.”
“How shabbily he treated the waiter. It’s a good thing you didn’t hurry. I thought you would when he was trying to rush us.” she told me.
And that’s when I was reassured that this gene pool did indeed make me.
<An excerpt from the brand new journal I have begun keeping in 2016. Ha.>