Thursday, June 08, 2006

India in a restaurant

Having dinner in an Indian restaurant in Singapore can be a very familiar experience. I don't mean it in from the culinary point of view. Purely from the people that frequent the place. Of course I'm also not talking about the upmarket, snooty sorts of places frequented by expat communities and foreigners trying to get a taste of India (the 'Oh you have to try the Chicken Tikka Masala at Rang Mahal' types). I was in a mid sized place in Serangoon the other day, and the experience for an occasional social voyeur like myself, was interesting to say the least. On the table next to me was an Indian girl who was introducing her Caucasian boyfriend to her parents for what I believed to be the first time. I expected muted and skeptic conversation. But what ensued was a friendly and amiable chat. Quite symbolic of the new emerging trend of disappearing borders amongst countries and communities. The Indian of today is far more at ease with the global phenomenon than he was even a decade ago. There is no awkwardness, no 'sahib' mentality. It is slowly developing into a meeting of equals. Pleasant and refreshing. LN Mittal can embrace steel plants and factories the world over, but the joy of watching this little meeting in a non descript eatery had its own significance and potrayed an encouraging and indicative reality.
A nearby table hosted a family of animated Bengalis, complete with pesky kids and over protective mothers. One of the ladies obviously thought that her 9-10 year old was completely incapable of eating on his own and hence laboriously continued to shove dollops of rice and daal down his throat. The kid was on a trip of his own and was more interested in exploring every corner of the premises, much to the annoyance of the other members of his family. 'Tubai! doude barash ni! Chup kore bosh! Uff eyi chele ke niye aar parlam na!' ('Tubai, don't run around and sit down quietly! Uff what shall I do with this kid!'). How many times have we as kids heard this? Brought back so many memories. Bengali boys, as children tend to be tremendously sheltered. Visions of Bula aunty (my neighbor a long while ago) feeding a visibly embarrassed Montuda at school during exams came flooding back. The poor fellow was instructed to cram his algebraic equations for his class 7 term exams and not waste time on eating! Mothers complain sporadically, but dutifully discharge their motherly chores, to the point of excessive pampering. How can one deny little Tubai? He will grow up to become an engineer or a doctor someday, the pride of the Bhowmick brigade. Nothing much seems to have changed since our time...
Then there was the Tamil group a few tables away. They stuck to curd and rice...staple diet down south. C'mon guys, there was a whole menu to chose from! But I guess home food is home food and it was quite possible that they had chanced upon this place after a while and wanted to get a good meal in. Politics was on their minds, perhaps thanks to the just concluded elections in TN. One gentleman was mighty dislpeased with the outcome and claimed that the state would not be the same without 'Amma'. He was pleased, however, that he would receive a free TV from the ruling party and hoped that cable would also come at no cost. They also proceeded to draw up how they could see the whole of Singapore and its sights in the next day and a half! A little time saved from taking this bus route, a little time saved from cabing it from point x to point y. Sometimes I feel, we Indians return from vacations far more exhausted than we were before we take them. The kind of schedules we put ourselves through! Perhaps its an economic thing. Westerners always seem more relaxed and appear to have more time on their hands...
A Punjabi couple occupied the table to our right. They were honeymooning in Singapore, (glow, bloody...glow!) I gathered. The guy in his smart turban and majestic whiskers and the girl...in a tank top and a miniskirt...I had no problems with the attire per say...hey its your honeymoon, enjoy it, but please get rid of the elaborate mehendi, the nose ring, the long earrings and the 800 red bangles on both hands! I know its the age of mix and match and fashion fusion and all but this looks plain ridiculous! They discussed their travel plans over the weekend and then diverted their attention to a fancy handy cam the guy had just purchased, along with his equally fancy I-Pod nano. The prosperity of the Punjab/Haryana belt was amply evident.
Here was India playing itself out in all its stereotypes. I am in no way judging their actions or the motivations behind them, but it was a very interesting evening in all. We all are so different, region from region, yet the union is so strong and the blend so natural. It was like cutting up bits and pieces of a country and re-arranging them somewhere else. The picture still remained the same, familiar and beautiful. And for people such as myself, who do not get to go back that often, this was a pleasurable and unique opportunity. It just took a microcosm of the country to feel the pulse of India, old and new, to gather public opinion, to get an insight into a changing country, and to feel at home.

Cheers!

Abhishek.

8 comments:

Ekta said...

hey,
Can soo relate to what uv written!
Everytime we go to an Indian restaurant its a familiar sight!!....
get to see plenty of gujjus here all hustling over the kids and of course the honeymooning couple as well!:-)
Well its these little snippets of India that keep you going sometimes!

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

ekta - yup! for a while i forgot i was in sing. really interesting.

stuti said...

hey, thanks.

this post kinda alleviates petrified feelings of leaving home, on way to unknown territory.

on a lighter note, memories of 40 Dollas for Daal, Paneer, and Half a Chicken come flooding back. :-)

Anand said...

:-)
Its these little things that make ur day!!
Sometimes I love going to an indian retaurant just to feel like an indian once again!!:-)

Cogito said...

watching people can be very interesting ! Indians in particular..I do it all the time...

Anonymous said...

y da eavesdropper?

Anonymous said...

hey babu moshai,

My pet peeve as well: honeymooning couples with all the remnants of their wedding..yech! those bangles and sindoor and such..I just wanna scream.."Take a shower and GET A ROOM!" liked the way you drew out the pictures of all the ppll..can so imagine it..and yes..even i often observe other people when then they are eating in restaurants... cheers

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

stuti - the prices have gone up since then...lol

anand- dont they? lotta my friends chide me for 'social voyerism', but i find it very interesting indeed

cogito - observation..isnt that the first action indicating scientific temper..?..;-)

aroon - CYHDP

anon - dont even start me off with the honeymooners!..lol..must tell you about the glow bloody glow bit sometime..