“Birdsong Café, Waroda road, Bandra west, please”, I directed the auto-wallah as he struggled to encroach through the jam-packed hill road. Cars made inroads like sperms impinging inside a woman. “Bhaiyya, thoda jaldi chalo,” I demanded of him, contemplating on how helpless was he himself. The obvious reason behind pestering him to drive faster was that I was running 10 minutes late for an interview. Mumbai’s mounting heat made it uneasy for me in formals. Meanwhile, the street hawkers with fancy stuff caught my attention. It is mind-boggling how every time I pay a visit to this place, it is crammed with newness. The auto wallah, who now was (rather, could be) swifter took turns of asking people around for the exact location. We were almost there and clearing his auto-fare, I jumped out of the auto, hastily. A man in his late thirties appeared outside a plush espresso bar.
After a series of mandatory apologies for not being on time, we entered “Birdsong Café”. The petite place sheltered few more people who occupied 3-4 tables. The interviewer prompted me to take an adjacent seat as he himself sat across me. No sooner did we rest our bosoms on the chairs than the waiter placed two menu cards each on the table. “Go ahead, order something for yourself. I am good,” the interviewer almost compelled me to. It was both his insistence and my indecisiveness that led me to open the menu card. Uncanny how my eyes were involuntarily driven to the prices first, and the ingredients later. I hopelessly turned the pages for something “pocket-happy” to come into sight. The more I turned pages, the higher went the prices; and thus faster did my heart beat. After a couple of seconds, I settled onto a single espresso, the cheapest on the list (190 bucks); praying the interviewer hadn’t sensed my hesitation. The waiter took our leave and my purpose of being there was going to be served now.
The interviewer preceded over work placing his IPad against his demure interviewee. “This is a short online test based on your knowledge of the subject and field work experience. You have about 15 minutes to answer.” I caught hold of the glorified device and adapted myself to a more meticulous posture. Except for a few multiple choice questions, the rest were mostly subjective. More than the test, I found myself nervous about the coffee. Not that it affected my performance in the test, but my subliminal mind didn’t let me be; you know, at peace. Phone calls and text messages kept the interviewer too occupied to gauge at my apprehension. I was about to finish the test when the same waiter appeared, this time with props. The undersized cup-saucer matched the color of my clothes, ivory white and beige. “Here ma’am. Your single espresso.” The waiter looked at me while I smiled back sheepishly.
I peeped into the cup only to see an insipid liquid. I cared to stir it with the teaspoon alongside, just to get a better color; but to no avail. Soon after my first sip of it, I wanted to throw up, no kidding there. It tasted as bitter as wine or cough syrups, perhaps more. Moreover, the cup was so small it could not contain more than three sips of it. Quite obviously, this didn’t come as a disappointment. It was as though I was going to be tortured less. The coffee, devoid of milk, sugar and FLAVOR, gave me a constant realization of its price. I took smaller and more significant sips; both because I was going to be paying an exorbitant amount for the same and because my taste buds rebuffed. The coffee triggered feeling of both resentment and pompousness in me.
The test came to an end as I awaited the bill. I had gulped down the last two sips as fiercely as I could. The bill had to be paid at the cashier’s counter. I gathered two things now: my stuff and courage. “190Rs. + 7Rs. VAT (only)” the waiter said, with a smile. The soft Adele song playing in the background caused much disturbance now because the bill had tormented me. But before I could draw my wallet from my bag, the (kind) interviewer said, “Hey! That’s okay. I’ll look after it.” I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t have to pay for an insignificant thing which could have been consequential of several sleepless nights. Only a hostel-ite values money like nobody else. “Thank you, ma’am. See you soon.” “Yeah, sure.” I grabbed a chance to smile myself now.
The crux of the above story is not to promote Birdsong Café or to show how miser I am or to determine who should ideally pay; the crux is well, the growing inclination for western goods. The interview venue could have been something contemporary with minimal pompousness. Moreover, I felt obliged to order because I was held under a microscopic test of behavior and conduct. I was forced to believe that the more “modern” (read western) I came across to him, the more brownie points I would earn. I detest how every time people feel the need to eat something, MacD, Domino’s, CCD, Starbucks, KFC, etc remains an undisputed choice, as if no other eateries exist. The youth nowadays wouldn’t look back to spend huge amounts of money on something that’s “cool” and “western.” According to them, western is cool by default. Vada pavs have long been replaced by Burgers, chats by risottos, Shawarmas by Frankies, cutting chai by cappuccino, sugarcane juice by iced tea and so on. And the funniest part is, most of these “western patrons” themselves don’t seem to like it but they are such experts in faking to consume it and HOW! The other day, while I was in a conversation with an acquaintance, the person at the other end said, “so, what kind of food do you like? Italian, Thai, Lebanese, Chinese, Continental….” I cut her short and spontaneously responded, “I’m more into Chats, Kebabs and Tandooris.” “Ugh! You have such a desi choice!” “So?” “So… uh, nothing!” I was unapologetic about not having been fake about it. If you like something, you don’t have to necessarily hide it from somebody who is MOST LIKELY faking to be more “western” (and therefore, “Cool”) in his/her approach. Having a Desi choice is not all that bad. India is one of the few countries in the world that is enriched with a plethora of edibles and delectable recipes, why the unnecessary obsession for foreign products, then? Back then (and even in present times), India was the hub of spices. And our fellow citizens seem to be condescending foreign goods.
A visit to Starbucks has to be a youngster’s latest ‘check in’ update or a mandatory picture holding CCD cups as if to advertise them, has to be DP-ed or safeguarding a KFC chicken bucket because it is so priceless. My 15-year-old cousin can recite the ingredients on KFC’s menu card more accurately than he can recall the number or the names of states in India. Youngsters nowadays are the most apprehensive until the Domino’s pizza gets delivered in the said 20 minutes. ‘Party tonight? Who’s getting the pizzas and coke?’ Unwritten norms: no party is a party without pizza and coke. “American house salad? I don’t know why it’s called what it’s called, or what makes it a salad (and not pasta), or where it stems from, or what’s it made of; just try it, not because I think it tastes good, but because it’s the new cool.” Oh. Well. Sure. Then there’s CCD. Anywhere and everywhere. People (more specifically couples) pay regular visits here because ‘a lot can happen over a coffee.’ Same goes with MacD because ‘they’re lovin’ it’ and with KFC because it’s ‘finger lickin’ good.’ Not just that, the youth seems to be driven to places like this because, free Wi-fi! Paying double amounts to enjoy the free wi-fi service- Wow, that’s some logic! Anyway, no nationalist group prompted me to write this, it is really the evident derogation of Indian food items instead of something rather bland and corky. Nor is it a “be Indian, buy Indian” kind of a trouncing. It’s just an attempt to revitalize your lost identity of the self. Because according to a famous proverb, ‘You are what you eat.’ So who are you, really?