Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thalli-ho!

To fulfill my craving for robust Gujju veg food, Amit and I decided to go to Rajdhani, the new branch of the Opera House place in Ghatkopar. The first time we were thrown by the size of the Gujju mob outside who braved the heat and the rain to eat authentic Gujju food that they could, yes, eat at home as well. This time there was no crowd, and so we were happily set to sample their Kathiawadi cuisine. Amit was knife-keen, given that he’s from Kathiawad. But sorry, no specials, only the thali.

I've nothing against thalis, except that they are too fast-paced for me at times. But this one seemed ok, beginning with Surti Patiss and Khandvi. The meal went along at its usual clip, and slowly, very slowly, the surreality began to creep in. For one, we noticed that the waiters were using some strictly-coded, Stock-Exchange-type hand signals to communicate with one another. So the manager’s fingers twiddling magically as he chatted with a patron meant ‘Finger-washing needed here!’ If the captain (a tall, nice-looking Kathiawadi with earrings and a spaced-out manner) snapped his fingers in the air and held up three fingers, it meant ‘table three, rotlis!’ It was all very complex and entertaining, especially because I think it was meant to be discrete, but fell short by a couple of kilometres!

Then, as we chomped through the rotlis, mug ni daal, chaas, kadhi and ringna nu shaak (fantastically robust brinjal bhaji), there was a weird banging noise and people yelled loudly and discordantly. Whatthehell!! Were they coming for us finally? We turned in a panic and were surprised to see normal, smiling faces.

After this happened twice, we finally figured out what was going on. See, there was this gong, positioned cleverly at the narrow doorway, and planted firmly next to it was the solid manager. As you tried to leave, he’d tell you, “Hit the gong!’ So you struck the gong, and as soon as you did that, all the waiters – each and every stressed-out, harried, thali-serving, partitioned steel vessel-bearing fellow – would let out a loud ‘AAVJO!’ Nice way to keep up employee morale and self-esteem; and to interrupt any stray thoughts or talk that lunchers might dare to have.

After that, we were merely chewing between gong-watching. To please us, a family of gujjus left, laughing merrily and cheerfully and sounding the gong many times as they left; yelling out ‘AAVJO!’ in reply to the waiters’ continuous, raucous bellows. A five-member mallu family was next to leave, and I swear I saw the first guy try to sidle out. He made it past the Gong Meister, but the next guy got caught. He gave the gong an insignificant little tap, and scooted away. (Next to the whole shebang was a large sticker that said, ‘Mazaa aaya? Thali bajao!’) It was all too bizarre.

I hate places that take a simple, nice, enjoyable thing like having a meal and make it into an exercise in showy dementedness. More hip places – like a coffee shop in Delhi, I think – have employees break into dance down the aisles. Why? Are we toddlers who should be kept amused as we feed? Do we need gimmicks to camouflage any part of the food experience? Or is this how consultants earn their fat bucks? Is Dilbert – as I have long suspected – the truest mirror to the mess our civilization is in? I can just see evil HR consultant Ratbert thinking, “Okay, so how do I make a waiter’s life a little more difficult today?”

Did we have to sound the gong? No, thankfully, our excited daughter did that for us. The manager hoisted her up and she struck one, and somebody yelled out a tepid 'Aavjo!'. She was truly taken by the madness of the whole thing, though, and was grinning ear-to-ear.

3 comments:

Space Bar said...

heh! truly surreal. i esp hate the tgif guys doing the happy birthday number, but this sounds harrowing. poor mallus. my heart goes out to them!

Gauri said...

:-)))
I did see a branch of Rajdhani at "in orbit" in Malad as well. Again was too crowded so we had to look for other options. Next time shall go in, just to watch the fun in case they have a gong out there too.

Batul said...

It all started with Pizza Hut and their weird gong at the door. Haven't experienced this Gujju version though. Very embarrassing for grown ups, but the kids love it.