For quite some time now, I have been complaining about the utter lack of swanky hotels in Mysore to my Dad. No ambiance, if tried very badly done. Waiters don’t know that starters are to be served before the main course. Some don’t even have the concept of starters. No one gives you finger bowls after a meal. I don’t want to go on about the state or the placement of the washing area. The menu cards are centuries old, some soaked on old coffee or wet with water. Heck, its better to ask the waiter “Whats there?”.
I’ve gotten used to entering names and waiting in queues for a table. The waiter pulling chairs, and handing over napkins after folding them in a triangle. Neatly made menu cards, sometimes leather bound placed in front of me. All of them immaculately dressed. Music to set the mood and good decor. The order taking guy comes takes it and goes, the others serve food and some others come and take away the plates when done. The second guy comes and sets the plates for the next course. All this is done like clockwork. Each table is an island in its own way. Orders of one not affecting anything in the other table. The bill comes in a leather bound folder. Cards get swapped. And I leave, sometimes the waiter pulling the chair back for me. Overall it feels like an evening well spent.
Today, I entered an average hotel in Mysore cursing my dad for not finding a better one. It was an old house convert. Looked very unclean, with rickety chairs (The chairs don’t match the tables!). None of the tables were empty, so we ended up sharing the table. The guy who brought water, spilt it on the table, and took a while to clean. The waiter told us the whole menu. He knew it by heart. I ordered a set masala dosa. My dad, a south Indian thali. My dosa came on a humble banana leaf placed on a steel plate. He brought my dad only a part of the thali saying that he would serve it hot when he came to it. The appalam late, so it wouldn’t get wet on the rasam. He kept asking if we wanted more, of anything, if the consistency was good, like my aunt at her place would. No fuss, nothing. He was even endearing to the cleaning boy when the chap took away our plates, that he could have done it later. In the end it was a very humble bill.
Some one in the hotel business once told me that a set of tables are assigned to a particular waiter, and that that is their territory. I was also told that a certain strict hierarchy exists. If you give feed back less than average in the end, the waiters are taken to task (And hence not to give bad feedback). I don’t know if such rules exist in this place. But it surely felt like home and it was the best dosa I have had in a very long time.
(Now, If you are religious or are a great fan of Bombay’s famed Mahalakshmi temple, I dont mean to offend you… Just laugh. If you don’t find it too cliched already for your taste, that is. )
Friend: Kya yaar, I wanted to go to the wall at the back. You know, if you wish for something and press a coin against it and it sticks, the wish will come true. Sadly, that area is closed.
Me: May be God shrugged and said, ” Recession. Too many asking for favours. Its affected me too, you know?”
I have relatives and friends in Mumbai. Luckily they live on the outskirts, nowhere near Colaba. Though, my uncle had been to the Taj that afternoon. He returned back to base much before anything happened, thankfully. Just like he was planning on going jogging on the beach in Pondicherry the morning of the Tsunami, but changed his mind at 5 am… but that’s beside the point.
Oh, and I was supposed to go to Forum Mall but didn’t the day they found explosives there. And I watched them defuse a bomb outside Military School on July 25 on my way back home.
After all these ‘close-shaves’, what am I supposed to feel? I can’t feel ‘the spirit of India’ or ‘the resilience of the people’. It is a scary feeling when you know you could have been pushing the daisies along with the rest of the victims. You certainly do not want to feel that emotion again. It’s not the same feeling as thanking God for saving you when you narrowly miss falling off a skyscraper or something. Because you know that a terrorist attack means sure death or maiming, and that it can happen to anyone anytime. And a terror attack is NOT an accident.
Everyone says ‘we need to stay calm’. Yes, I know panic makes things worse, but how can I put my mind at rest when I’ll be had next time if not this time? I don’t mind not panicking, but they expect me to behave as if nothing’s wrong. When it so clearly is.
Everyone says ‘Be resilient, if we show we are affected, the terrorists have had their way’. Why should I pretend nothing’s happened? Doesn’t the incident deserve the attention it does? Don’t I need to acknowledge in some way? Some way different from placing flowers and lighting candles, of course.
And I feel helpless, because there is nothing I can do to stop these attacks. My life is not in my own hands. It never was, but there never was this level of uncertainity when it came to “Will I be alive and well in the next fifteen days?”. And there is nothing I can do about it.
Or is there?
There must be some way citizens can assert their right to live.
Voting is one way. But the average Indian considers it a choice between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway, I don’t think there is any point in advising people about who to vote for… that is the job of others.
I suppose we should form Citizens’ Vigilance Groups. Because terror can’t take such a form without the explicit complicity of locals. When people can agitate so much that people stop bursting crackers during Diwali, I’m sure people can go about educating others on the little things they do that create a loophole which terrorists use. You can go about making it compulsory for police verification of prospective tenants, but nothing will happen unless citizens themselves take the initiative.
You have richkid Rahul Bose blabbing that he does not want India to become a Police State. I’m sure he and his ilk will successfully stop any stringent measure to contain terrorists from being implemented. So what’s the solution? Locality watch. Where people of a certain locality make sure they know each other reasonably well that any oddness is spotted immediately. Like the guy claiming to be from Gulbarga, but who speaks English and Urdu and not Kannada or Marathi. Or the guy claiming to be a Malay citizen but who speaks Urdu and doesn’t pepper his sentences with ‘Lah’s and doesn’t know too much about KL and doesn’t know about the existence of Michelle Yeoh. Or the engineer from NITC who has strange friends dropping over. Or the reclusive Yahoo! engineer who stops everyone at the door and says bye.
Sure, it’s not going to stop all attacks, but it makes it a wee bit more harder for them to find a safe house.
And… such a group which shares a common interest will be able to agitate for speedy justice to be administered in case of caught terrorists, and balance out those Human-Rights activists.
We have groups to agitate for water, power and good roads in their localities. Since basic safety is a more pressing concern, why can’t existing groups make it part of their agenda?
Janaagraha, Mr. Ramesh Ramanathan, are you listening?
Update: I guess I exaggerated the vigilantism bit. It probably wouldn’t have that much of an impact in that direction, considering there are always entire neighbourhoods full of brainwashed folks who’ll very nicely collude in hiding terrorists. But where citizens can help is in forming pressure groups. Groups that pressurize the government and media to make sure terror is not let go scot free. Like people can agitate for the immediate execution of Afzal Guru, or pressurize the ATS into investigating all these attacks more efficiently… or something like that.
Another area where citizen groups can help is in creating awareness. Jaago Re and all is great, but groups of citizens just like you telling you to get off your seat and register yourself to vote has a better impact that radio and TV ads. Also, most people have a very cliched idea of politics, and assume it’s all blame-game and siphoning off funds. This perception needs to be changed, because it is not true of all politicians. It’ll be great if these citizen groups actually went about spreading awareness about each political party, each controversy, and told people not just the TRP-generating stuff. Distant dream, lots of technical glitches here – like how do you keep it unbiased , but worth a try all the same.