One moment I’m riding across skyscrapers and sea-facing bunglows, turn a corner and bang – a working class street and a tiny hotel called Hotel Geeta. Liked what I saw, stopped and got in.
Except the kitchen’s stainless-steel look with one too many people, the place is pretty old school. 4 tables, two on each side crammed next to each other. The menu board on the wall is written in classic chalk Marathi. I knew just what to order – inspiration being the guy on the table next to me.
Crisp white shirt, the office kinds, he didn’t seem made for it but he was trying hard, with his shave and cheap aftershave, all set to become a selling machine. But before that, he wanted to be himself and that i knew as I saw him eat the fav Maharashtrian dish. I wanted the same.
So I told my man who served. He had given me the once-over when he saw me in shorts, with white head phones and a helmet, but as he heard my order, he smiled. ‘One of us’, his smile read.
Hey Mohan, another guy in shorts – said hello to the salesman. His shorts were the same cut and make like mine, yet they were differnt. We sized each other, he maintained his gaze, I was the outsider, I looked away.
The guy in shorts was joined by another friend, not in shorts but might as well be. They threw me the ‘look’, I kept looking away, they moved on to ordering chai.
“Ek idli.” That shaky soft voice reached my ears as I was typing. I looked to the table in the front. A retired citizen, his covid mask firmly on his jaw, finished chewing on the idlis in his plate and wanted one extra idli. The server told him curtly, he couldn’t get just one and would have to order another plate. This upset the man as he muttered and ordered a cutting chai. He looked towards me, I pretended to look away. He went back to enjoying the last of his sambhar. I went back to my insta-feeds.
When from the corner of my eye I saw a hand reach for my bag.
Let me explain. When i had come in, most of the tables had been empty. I had plonked my duffel-bag on the other seat attached to my table. Now a hand had reached it. The hand took it from that end and deposited the bag to my side. I saw the rest of the body the hand belonged to, as it sat down on the chair. He was a man in a white shirt talking on his mobile. A different white from the fake corporate type. His was a politician’s white shirt. He looked at me in passing and gave the man who served a look. A glass of water arrived promptly. He continued talking on the phone as he gave his order for wada-sambhar, tea in a glass — strictly no plastic — and played with the empty salt-pepper shakers while pouring out water from the refilled bisleri bottles into his stainless steel glass. That he had shifted my bag without asking me or that I was even at that table was merely a detail as he continued yakking away on his phone.
The men who were boys waved at the politician, the politician waved at the wannabe corporate guy and everyone ignored the retired man. I finished up my misal pav and ordered tea. There were other people getting in, having a look and going back out to stand and watch life go by.
I was happy I discovered this place. A nice community joint, with real people, where everyone knew everyone, meals were simple and money was paper not plastic. I’ll be back again, maybe will drop by for chai. Time to leave for the high-rises.
I got up to take a picture of the menu-board. Held up my phone when the man who served me went, “Google pay nahi chalta hai”. I looked at him and smiled, so much for real money. I paid up the exact bill amount and left without leaving a tip. That’s for next time.
Writing credits – Soni Anthony.