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The week right after Christmas I spent a few wonderful days with the wife on the sunny, sandy beaches of Goa [Images]. We just lay there soaking in the sun, reading our books, making small talk and trying to ignore the four million or so people who offered to show us dolphins, deep sea fishing and, when the wife was away getting a juice from the restaurant, 'a good time with Russian lady and ayurvedic massage you like?'.
I was mildly offended of course. I had no interest in the ayurvedic massage whatsoever! What with all those oils and herbs and such like.
Alas, the wife returned in a jiffy with her grape juice and Svetlana remained a fleeting moment somewhat.
Something about the sun and sand makes them foreign folk throw away their clothes, change into swimming clothes, run down to the beach, swim for 15 minutes and then run back to lounge chairs where they spend the rest of their holiday taking in the natural beauty and unspoiled lush environment of Goa, mainly in the form of marijuana.
So much so that individual beaches in Goa are now, quietly, turning into the purview of intrepid entrepreneurs from certain countries. For instance, the beach we were on was apparently the Russian zone. Shortly northwards was a strip that was resolutely Italian with some Belgians thrown in. And to the south was a famed beach run by the Israelis seeking oneness with themselves using organic products in little pipes.
One morning, we were gently sunning ourselves on lounge chairs by the beach in front of our resort. As we read our novels, a thin, scrawny local ran to us and asked us to leave immediately. I sipped on my seventh vodka orange juice and spoke defiantly to the centermost of the five identical men in front of me:
"Why should we?"
"This lounge chair is not free."
"Well there was no one sitting here."
I sensed a scam coming up. No way he was going to get me off a vacant lounge chair, one of thousands, on an otherwise abandoned strip of beach. I was determined to show the wife that I was no pushover.
"Well, sorry but we ain't moving mister!"
"Okay fine. You should know that it belongs to the Russian mafia."
"Well, in that case you can keep this lounge chair for yourself dude! I don't want it! Let's go darling and not feed the international crime syndicate!"
By now I was screaming as I had already reached my room, running in my urgent need to show fearless disgust with this criminal nexus. My wife followed a few minutes later very quietly, possibly in awe of my moral uprightness.
But soon we were to learn that keeping the locals at bay from 'foreign property' was the job of the locals themselves.
Let me explain.
Thanks to the extreme cultural diversity of the beach crowd in Goa, there are a range of fine restaurants along the seafront that cater to a variety of culinary tastes. Our experiences with one of them more than illustrate the fact that when things get elite, the desi takes great pride in giving the other the cold shoulder.
We had heard high praise of an Italian restaurant on a beach half an hour up the coast. Apparently their pasta was most spectacular and they made the cheapest cocktails you can get in a non-election year anywhere in India.
When we walked in, we quickly noticed that we were the only locals around. Amidst a sea of a hundred or so foreign tourists all lustily biting into pizzas and pasta and garlic bread. Also lots of seafood.
We were both dressed in most civil jeans and t-shirts, looking very Friday casual like they show in the TV clothing ads. Shoes even.
Pointlessly, of course.
The Indian waiters ignored us completely. It was like they were looking right through us. Like we were Indian footballers in a bustling public place anywhere in the country.
"Can we get a table for two please?"
He stood and gave us the complete once over from head to toe. A condescending smirk spread on his face.
He spat the word out with utter disdain.
"How long?" I asked him, beginning to get a little pained at his insolence.
"I don't know. Wait."
If you are wearing a purple shirt with a yellow collar, crimson coconut palms plastered all over it and a wide-brimmed straw hat you expect to be treated by waiters with some respect. Instead, I was beginning to appreciate what it feels like to be a Congressman in Ahmedabad.
Just when we were about to give up and go back to our room and another night of violent, relentless, animal Scrabble, the Italian owner walked over and immediately spoke to us with great politeness and humbleness.
He apologised for making us wait and in 10 minutes had us seated as a table with the same 'attitude' waiter now waiting on our every whim and fancy:
What is it with waiting staff at premium restaurants in India that make them treat Indian customers like crap?
Why, in our country, do we suddenly have to treat everyone else like royalty except our own people? Sure we might not know our Camembert from our Chardonnay. Sure we might not leave thousands of rupees in tips, but we still have every intention of paying our bills provided the Rediff people send us our cheque for our columns in the preceding week.
So why treat the phirangs like they are some sort of godsend?
There is a restaurant here in Mumbai on Marine Drive that is quite popular with the swish set. I will refer to it by the false indicative name "Fault Matter Frill". Once, a few months ago, a friend called up and tried to get a booking:
"Hello Fault Matter Frill? A table for two please."
"Sorry, we are all booked for the evening."
Partha was mildly upset till someone in the office gave him an alternate strategy. Partha called them up again 10 minutes later. This time with some extra emphasis on the vowels.
"Hello, Fault Matter Freell? A table for thoo please."
"Of course sir. Your name please, my dear sir!"
"Parto. Parto Cerratti, frowm Naaapolee"
"Oh, how exotic sir. Would you like a table by the sea?"
"Of kowrse, of kowrse."
"Our pleasure sir. Look forward to meeting you sir."
"Ooh la la, I said ooh la la."
Then there was the time I went to Chennai. There was this disco type place that allowed no single men inside UNLESS you were a fair-skinned foreigner. The others had to go upstairs and look at the crowd from a balcony above though a net.
Why, when foreigners are around, do we have to suddenly look down upon our own countrymen? Frankly, the whole thing gets me a little upset. And frustrated. I would never think of giving priority to any foreigner over an Indian if I was running as establishment. Except, of course, Angeline Jolie.
Thankfully, later during that trip to Goa we went for dinner to yet another restaurant. This one managed by a French man who was known for his excellent customer service. We went with much hope only to be made to wait while an ugly, blond man with a paunch, bad teeth and stubble was waved in ahead of us.
However, this time we didn't take it badly at all.
It was only Rohit Bal. He is, after all, one of us.
More adventures of the Vadukuts, mister and missus, can be found at Domain Maximus.
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