Hotel Sunny (Chembur, Mumbai)

“Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend. And why not?” (Conrad, Heart of Darkness)

Chembur East. It’s a place I seldom go at night. The streets are dark, crowds of men roam the streets, and signs for “Live Orchestras” flash from every angle. For those unaware, “Live Orchestra” is in general a euphemism for a dance bar, where saree-clad women dance for money. It’s hard to know what to make of theses places. On the one hand, this all seems rather tame compared to an actual red light district. On the other, I’m reminded of the Hindi words jo dikhta hai wo hota nahi (what you see, is not what is). Behind these highly guarded bars, while notes are being flung at beautiful bodies in every direction, there are personal stories of which we have no awareness…

Sunny Hotel in Chembur would, thus, seem a strange location for me to be meeting a left-wing feminist and NGO worker; let’s call her Tee. She’s certainly not of the “champagne” variety of left wingers or feminists; apparently she’s been waiting all day for this meal – either testament to her lack of means or the zeal with which she goes about her mission. I’m not sure what she would have to say about the rather patriarchal waiter who awaits the order of “sahib” (being the male, he thinks I’m well-equipped to make decisions on Keralite food).

“Memsaab se poochiye” (please ask Madam, I reply in my most gloriously Shudh Hindi).

Memsaab orders cumin water, papad, veg kurma, aviyal, some appam & iddiapam on the side. I take little offence when the waiter chides me for eating like a “crow” (after all a man should have a healthy appettite, should he not?)

Out of this selection, the best of the lot is the Veg Kurma. The use of coconut is exquisite; the dish is rich (not heavy) and has a decent amount of spice. The appam on the side is soft and light – it’s been a while since I’ve had the privilege. The aviyal is another solid dish, commendable for the variety of vegetables (I won’t attempt any English translations!) The restaurant is functional, and is open late; I’m sure this might soon become a post-work spot.
The prices are absurdly low, a meal of delectable food for two and you’ll pay the price of a large coffee in Starbucks.

I agree with nothing Tee has to say on economics, politics or virtually any issue. She has the Sociologist’s curse: high on empathy and detail, low on the bigger picture, exactly the opposite of the Economist’s: low on empathy and personal impact, high on long run and “aggregate” analysis.

Yet like Heart of Darkness’ protagonist Marlow, amidst all this chaos, there is something I understand, some kind of kinship that we share…

Is that the food?

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