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   When I was working in Dalal Street... (October 4, 1991)

When I was working in Dalal Street, there were a whole lot of restaurants around where I used to eat and which seem to have disappeared now.

In Apollo Street, opposite the State Bank, was Ramdev (or was it Ramdas?), which was the epitome of Tamilian cuisine. The waiters were white lungis, the customers had ashes on their foreheads, the coffee was drank, strong and filtered, the dossas came with pure ghee, and with the idli, with the sambar and the coconut chutney, was another dry chutney in which you mixed oil and ground with your hands.

My favourite was bagala bhat, rice and dahi, with green chillies generously chopped into it, and bits of seasonal cucumber, plus the earlier-mentioned powder chutney with oil on the side. The trick was that it was served cold, straight from the refrigerator that was kept under the old wooden staircase. On hot summer afternoons, such as the ones we are having right now, it was heaven.

Next to Ramdev was George Restaurant. It is still there, and it looks the same, but the food has changed. Though, more likely, I have changed. I used to be taken there as a child, twice a year, as a treat. We sat in the family rooms on the mezzanine and ate sticky gelatinous trotters. The ideal thing would have been to follow it up with George's famous falooda, but we were not allowed, since that would have been too much of a good thing and may have upset my delicate stomach. Sometimes I feel that as a child I led a very protected life.

By the time I proceeded to Dalal Street, I was off trotters and faloodas. Then we concentrated on George's equally famous chicken biryanis.

In Dalal Street itself, there was Modern Café. It is still there, but renovated. It was my first regular Shetty restaurant, and my familiarity with it was all the more because it also looked after the Free Press Canteen. Even now, when I pass by Modern Café, I drop in for old time sake, though nobody recognises me there. How could they. In those early days, I used to look like Urvax Karkaria, now I don't look anything like that. For that, at least, I am thankful.

Out on the main road, opposite the university, was Café Paris. A soup, main dish and dessert there cost almost ten rupees, a sum I could ill-afford, and I patronised it only on occasions or when I felt a little reckless and stopped thinking of the next day.

B. Tambe in Hamam Street was more in line with my economic status. It was a Maharastrian thali restaurant, two packed floors; you could have a whole vegetarian thali for 50 paise. But not unlimited thali. For some reason, the Maharastrian restaurants never give unlimited thalis, the Gujarati restaurants do. I do not know if this is signficant.

And out on the main road once again, there was the India Coffee House, filled with non-working journalists, non-working automobile salesmen, non-working film script writers, non-working advertisement executives. Fortunately, before I could be completely drawn into its non-working vortex, the place closed down. And I was saved for a life of work and drudgery.

 
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