He comes from Virar. He comes from Vashi. He comes from the distant suburbs to South Mumbai in a train — crushed, cramped, creases being added to his already lined forehead.
He then alights at a station — VT, Bombay Central, Churchgate, it doesn’t matter — he is hot, bothered and harried. He needs to transform immediately.
Illustration/ Amit Bandre
His grimace needs to become a grin. Slick diplomacy must replace his sweaty demeanour. He enters into his imaginary telephone booth and emerges from it, Superman-like, in a new avatar.
He now wears a black (or maroon) jacket or actually what once used to be a jacket — now much faded from years of heavy ironing and time spent in the interiors of a restaurant that overworks and underpays him. If he’s sartorially lucky — the owners accessorise the jacket with a tie.
If he isn’t, the accompaniment is a bow tie, like an out-of-work violinist. Mumbai city is a cauldron of multi cuisine restaurants.
Mughlai, Mughlai Chinese, Mexican, mezze, Mediterranean, Malvani, Maharashtrian, fast food, fine-dining, fish, family style.
But the job is the same. It’s about hours of waiting. And dollops of subservience.
The clientele comprises varying shades of annoying.
He takes his position, menu cards in his hand, pen poised over pad, ready to serve with a smile.
People look in his direction. The rude merely snap their fingers to get his attention. The mildly politer say, “Hello”, “Suno”, “Eh, waiter” or simply, “Boss!”.
He hands them menus and when they ask, ‘Veg mein kya hai?’, he wants to answer, “Moron, the menu has a detailed vegetarian section, are your problems retinal or to do with illiteracy?” Instead he rattles off with a smile, “Paneer, palak, dum aloo ...”
His eyes have deadened, his emotions on hold, he watches the Indian palette chomp away at large morsels of food. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen.
He watches spoilt Indian children running like wild Lionel Messis around the restaurant disrupting everyone else’s meals. He waits patiently while two alpha males typically fight like dogs over the bill — “Nahin nahin boss, you can’t pay.”
“Arre mujhe bill de yaar. No no, don’t give it to him.” “Don’t let him pay, give it to me.”
And in his head he thinks, ‘Will one of you just settle the financial transaction here so I can fling you out and usher in a equally badly behaved set of patrons who’ve been sitting on the white Modella chairs outside?”
Occasionally even a gun has been flashed in his face. And when it’s all over, he goes back into his imaginary telephone booth, takes off his Superman maroon jacket. His Cambridge bush shirt is back on and he trudges to the station — VT, Bombay Central or Churchgate.
And he wonders whether tomorrow will be any different. Maybe a couple of customers may actually have a word of appreciation. The phrase ‘thank you’ is as extinct as Pali.
But he will confess, mannerless people he can handle. It’s the monotony that’s killing him.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.