The ordeal of eating at Hotel Saravana Bhavan
Back then, when there was no concept of pocket money/allowance, it was hard work trying to “collect” enough money for a visit to the hotel. There was a tacit understanding with my mom that any “unattended” coin with a value of <= 1 rupee could be claimed by me as mine. There were other sources of income too. I would always immediately respond to anyone's call for help in recovering coins which would have fallen behind tables/shelves. I would attempt (or rather attempt to attempt) to recover those coins, but ensure that i make back-breaking groans and moans when i do so. This would immediately prompt my mom to say "It's ok. Leave it if you cannot reach it" and the coin would be forgotten. But the location would be promptly stored in my mind and when the time/need arrived, i would go over and, with the slightest of ease, recover the valuable 50 paise. So, once i had collected 7 rupees (the price of a sada dosa back then), I would run over to Saravana Bhavan and enjoy a sada dosa with the three types of Chutney, the sambhar and the Molaga Podi. Pure Bliss!
But, when my brother started growing older, there was competition for the stray coins. My mom, realising the rising inflation along with the competition from my brother, increased the threshold of coins defined as “stray” to 2 rupees! So, from then on, the only hotel i swore by, the only hotel which i considered worth visiting has always been Saravana Bhavan.
So, it is no surprise that i look forward to this whenever i visit Chennai. I was in Chennai last week and had been to Saravana Bhavan. Then began the ordeal!
It was around 7 in the evening and the place was full of people. So, it was tough to find a place. I had to wait a few minutes to find one empty seat on a table of four. But, considering the humidity in Chennai in summer, this place was a wrong choice as it was far away from the reach of the ceiling fans. So, i didn’t place my order and was on the lookout for a better table. To my luck, a place on the other side of the room (just below a fan) was vacated. So, i jumped up and walked across the room. But, it looked like i was not the only one with this idea. Another guy, who was unfortunately nearer, occupied this seat before i could go over. Disappointed, i turned back to go to my place. But, even this was gone now as it was forcible occupied by the family on the next table who decided to give a separate chair to a child not even tall enough to reach the table. No wonder there is so much competition in India for everything! So, i was back on the waiting list. Luckily, all this action was seen by a waiter who was kind enough to come over and volunteer to find a good place for me. True to his words, he found a good seat – right under the fan. After thanking him a lot, i sat down to enjoy a good meal.
Now, i had to order stuff. In the past, when i had been on month long home leaves, i usually start ordering based on the serial number on the menu and go one by one. But this time, I was in India for just a week and it was already the 4th day into this week. So, this concept would not work. I had to go for plan B which was to either choose according to my likes or according to availability. If i were to go based on my liking, it had to be one of the dosas accompanied by the sambar. What i meant by “availability” is the probability of getting that particular item back in Cyprus. Yes, we do get Dosas in the Keralam restaurant in Cyprus, but i have to drive a 100 kms and pay a humongous 14 dollars for a single masala dosa, but theoretically, dosas are available and so they are out of consideration. Then, it had to be the famous Parotta kurma. So, i ordered it. You can never have only one dish in saravana bhavan. So, for the next item, i chose the 14 idli sambhar dish. Nowadays, you might have to request for a magnifying dish as an accessory to see the “mini” idlis. The main course was done. A dinner at Saravana Bhavan is always finished with the famous “Masala Milk”, yellow in colour with the “paal edu” (that which many hate to have in their glass of milk, but which i love!) floating on top.
So, after having ordered for the Masala Milk, i went over to the wash basin. When i returned, the inevitable happened. My seat was gone, taken over by the next saravana bhavan enthusiast. Now, do i just leave and hope that my bill will be paid by this guy? But, i havent had my glass of masala milk!! There is no way I am going to leave without it. So, not knowing what to do, i slowly wander near by hitherto seat. The friendly waiter comes into the picture again, smiles and offers another seat and even brings over my water glass to my new seat.
One hour and three seat changes later, i finish my dinner. Yes, it was an ordeal, but it was worth every bit.