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Table games at Cafe Goodluck

“Cheese Omlette nahi diya.”

After we said that, the waiter had a look on his face. It read, how had that happened?

Cafe Goodluck, 9 am, a Sunday morning. People queuing up at the outside section to get a table. Our man, Homi, walks in without a care to the inner section.

The inner section’s classic Irani style — walls of mirrors and wooden furniture —  and few tables, spread out at good lazing distance. I shake my head as I think of all the people waiting to sit outside — on plastic furniture and tables set close to each other. Wow!

“Any problem if we sit here?” I asked the two guys who were seated at the last table for four. Two office-types had just left from there and we moved in a flash beating another couple, who hesitated for a nano-second. That’s all it took.

Koi nai,” the long-haired youngster pointed at the chairs. The other guy just glanced at us.

Homi knew his order, as I see-sawed between the French Toast and the Cheese Masala Omlette. “Ek Mutton Kheema,” was Homi’s order, while for me, French toast won that round along with one Irani chai. The waiter nodded and vanished.

As the two youngsters exchanged notes on cricket, career choices and who would eat the last of their bun maska, I realised our tables were a great vantage point. At an angle, I could eye the people waiting for a table, while a big mirror on the wall in front reflected the happenings on the tables behind us. Let the games begin!

“Don’t occupy table space unnecessarily.” We spotted the signature signages all around us. The earlier line was a more a homage to entire generations of Indians who hung around all day. There were also the usual notes of, “Don’t comb hair,” “No credit” and newer digital signages of “Google Pay acceptable” to the immediate “No mask no entry”. The signs placed at corners on the mirrors read like a museum wall that people eyed with mild amusement. No one, including the owners, appeared to take them seriously, except for the waiters.

The waiters served as the referees to make customers adhere to these weird rules in the eating games. Like our guy, they all knew their customers. To the young student types, he slid the bill across before they had finished the last slice of Brun Maska. He didn’t interfere when the irritable daughter defied her grumpy father to order a Grilled Toast Sandwich instead of the Omlette, while the mother remained neutral. He pretended to not see the cute women’s raised hands as they debated pros and cons of Brun Maska versus Bread Butter Toast. To groups, he offered combos of coffee and quickie sandwiches while to random undecided walk-ins he suggested sasta samosas or egg patties. These suggestions usually worked — people ordered, ate and left faster than they would have without him saying, “Aur kya”? He adhered to the golden Irani rule — More customers, more tips.

After Homi’s opening order of Mutton Kheema, he knew exactly how to handle us. Keep quiet and keep up. Dishes got ordered, shared, compared and the process repeated. We had been there an hour and he hadn’t said anything about the bill.

“Let’s go,” Homi said finally. I mimicked a scribbled note. He nodded and the bill appeared pronto! He left to let us pay up. I was deciding on the tip when Homi went, “We didn’t have the Cheese Omlette”. With Homi and food, I had no doubt. I called the guy, expecting to read out the order, explain the chronology and, possibly, argue.

The guy turned up. Homi told him. A brief silence followed before he scratched his hair (thank heaven it was just that!) a bit, possibly breaking one of the rules on the wall. A puzzled look flashed across his face and he vanished saying, “Abhi layaa“.

Within two minutes, he got us a steaming Cheese Omlette, aplogised and disappeared again. He didn’t come back to our table, another guy asked us to pay up at the counter. I left feeling sorry for him, but not too much. He’d bounce back — good luck!


Published by appamprawns

soni writes about children and people in controlled spaces, in his quest for appam stew. homi writes in the hope of being able to buy prawns to make patiyo.

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