Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Taste of Memories: The Journey 7

Koshy's Bengaluru
A traveler is always asked to go to certain food joints in a new place so that he could get a 'taste' of the place. A genuine traveler whether he is asked to or not definitely would check out certain culinary specialities in new place not only to titillate his taste buds but also to understand the nature of the people in the new place. I am not talking about the highly recommended restaurants in the star hotels but about the small little shacks and inns, the places where the natives as well as travellers haunt to eat food and share stories. One need not necessarily be a great foodie to test and taste the food of new places. These food joints tell the traveller how the ordinary and extra ordinary people fare there. Let's forget the people who go by the text book and often end up eating small portions of decorative food items for some unearthly prices. 

It is so true that when people recommend a place to eat they also lament the vanishing of another food point which they would have definitely preferred the traveller to go and taste had it been there. At times those people who accompany the traveler to the food places tell him that the quality of the place has come down so much in time though the ambience remains the same. A restaurant is always a requiem to itself or a better one once existed in the same place or elsewhere in the same city. A food joint is often enjoyed not just for its food and ambience but for the memories attached too. That's why you are taken to such a place your friends prefer to sit in the same table that they have been sitting since the first day of their visit to the place. You too tend to sit in the same seat if you happen to be there for a second time by chance or by deliberation, with friends or without friends. A food joint comes to you before you go there; it comes in the forms of anecdotes and stories. Ask someone who recommends you the restaurant whether he has been there himself or not, at times you may be shocked to listen that he has never been in the city let alone the food joint there. But he has heard about it from friends and read about it from books. He has been dreaming of sitting there in one of those chairs and enjoy a snack.

Koshy's Bengaluru

In Delhi as one rises up in the socio-economic ladder the recommendations change from parathawala gali in old Delhi to the Pandara Park restaurants to Hauz khas villages. As I am not into the night life in Delhi I do not have any clue about the night haunts. In Mumbai everyone suggests Leopold restaurant in Colaba which has been bulletholed into the history of the city. In Kolkata coffee house is a must. But in Bangalore everybody talks about the famous restaurant Koshy's.  When T.J.S.George writes the short biography of Bangalore in his book titled 'Askew' for the Aleph publishing company, he gives a flowery description about Koshy's restaurant. If the biography of a city cannot be completed without talking about a restaurant then it must be really important. There is another side to it. Food and the ambience that the place provides have already made Koshy's an inextricable part of the make up of the city; hence a biographer cannot avoid describing it. If a biographer does not then the bards would. However poetry and history cannot be as charming as they are once taken out of the pages and experienced directly. Koshy's is a similar case.

Koshy's Restaurant
In Bangalore we visit Koshy's with a young couple. I had visited this restaurant once before with some senior artists and this time we are with a Bangalore based young couple. Surprisingly I find myself moving towards the same table that we had occupied in the first visit. It has old furniture and old waiters. Some of them are Malayalis and some are kannadigas. All of them talk in something similar to Tamil. Koshy's ambience is that of the Indian coffee house; a coffee house chain started by A.K.Gopalan one of the pioneers of Indian communism in order to provide jobs for many people. Now it has become a covetable brand with diehard fans and clients. Koshy's also has similar clients who appear at a particular time at a particular table where they are served their favourite food or snacks without placing an order. Some of the clients are specially treated with a new table cloth and a small rose to go with it. Someone told me that one of them has been coming and sitting at the same table for over three decades.

Koshy's is started by an affluent Christian family from Kerala in Bangalore and has been there for over half a century. Those people knew the father Koshy have children who know the Koshy sons. With the city they too have grown up and eating out in Koshy's has become an extended family affair for many. When Koshy's came into business Bangalore was not the Bangalore that we know today. It was not an IT city and the mall culture had not gripped it. Nor were there any franchise eateries serving international tastes. Koshy's set the cosmopolitan tone in food by serving vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods till the taste was replaced by the brand value of the place. Of course the diehard fans of the place would say the food still tastes the same as it used to be. However for the city hoppers it is not just food but a slice of history that makes an eating session in Koshy's more memorable. If you are a selfie freak then you will be disappointed as there is nothing to show off in the interiors. The same spartan look and I doubt whether the stewards have gone a bit slow in their feet with time. The most agile waiters I have ever seen are those work in the Indian coffee house outlet just outside Trivandrum bus stand. The building is spiral and a waiter has to do the uphill-downhill run several times a day; still they serve with a smile. In Koshy's I find the waiters a little bit sluggish than the last time. It gives away an impression that the waiters know that even if they don't rush people would wait patiently because it is not the food that they serve that matters any more.

Anusha Koirala and Johny ML
The stay in the hotel is good. The breakfast buffet is capable of washing off the memories of Koshy's food last night. The breakfast dining is managed by a group of young boys and a middle aged chef keeps coming back to check the fairs that have been laid out by the boys. I meet the artist friends in other tables but I prefer to sit separately. I pick up two glasses of juice everyday; one for me and the other for Shibu. The head restaurant manager is a young lady. She grows curious and comes to the table and tells me that she finds it so cute that I pick up one glass of juice for my friend too. Cute is the word that could be used everywhere for any purpose. She is very talkative. As we eat she keeps asking questions. Learning that one of us is a painter and the other a writer she is excited to say that she is a singer. Her name is Anusha Koirala. She hails from Bhutan and she has come to Bangalore to pursue her degree in English literature. She attends an evening college and works as a restaurant manager during the daytime. She is just two and a half months into the present job. 

Anusha Koirala speaks through our breakfast. I ask her whether Bhutanese people also have Koirala as surname. She says that her father is from Nepal. She seems to be compulsive cell phone user. She opens the gallery of her phone and shows her family photo- a Nepali father, Bhutanese mother. Her sister is in the US and is married to a white man. Anusha says that her Hyderabadi boyfriend and herself want to settle down in the US and pursue restaurant business. While chattering into our breakfast she says she is just twenty one years old. But she looks a bit older. She even says that she has been offered roles in Kannada serials. I just make a mental comparison between the waiters at Koshy's and this girl in the hotel dining. The reason is clear; she is enjoying her job as she is new to it. Besides she must have been asked to be friendly to the guests. As years pass she may also become grumpy and would be relegated to backroom jobs. Or she may even leave the field and migrate to something else. As we go out she moves to the next table and start chatting up with them. However something comes back as a bad reminder of our colonial legacy and value systems. As I walk back to the foyer one day wearing a saffron dhoti one of the staff members comes to me and ask what am I looking for. I say, my room. He looks unconvinced. "If you are looking for a restaurant that's another side," he says. I live here, and I show my room key card. The commotion attracts the front desk people. I reach my room. The phone in the room to rings. "Sir, how is your stay?" A very polite and soft female voice asks me. "Yes, its going great except what you just saw at the foyer," I say. "We apologise sir. We are really sorry. On behalf of the management we apologise sir," she says. I hang up the phone.

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