de retour encore une fois

ACT One : Metro Shoes in Mumbai

I stepped into Metro shoes at the Dadar TT in Mumbai. I have been buying my pair of shoes from Metro for more than two decades. This shopping happens once a year, generally during Xmas when Metro offers a good discount.  Salman, the person who sold me the first pair of shoes is still here. He is now old and has lately started limping.

We get into a conversation.

“Anything new Salman for me” I ask

“Yes Sir”, Salman answers and makes me sit, ordering a cup of tea

“Bring saab chai – lekin bina cheeni ke” (get sir tea but without sugar).

He yells at the young boy standing by the counter.

“No need for tea Salman, but since you ordered… “ I mumble.

After being a good host, Salman goes around the shop and brings to me a number of boxes of shoes. He squats in front of me and starts opening the boxes

Ekdam latest Sir”. He chuckles.

We try some of the shoe pairs. I walk around putting them on to check. Not seeing me satisfied, Salman goes around again and shows me some more shoes. The tea arrives.

I look into the watch and realize that we have spent around 30 minutes in trying different makes and designs but have reached at no conclusion.

Mistry from the counter watches me and Salman struggling for the decision.  He then calls out to Salman

“Salman Bhai, why are your wasting Dr Modak’s time, go get his “usual” pair of shoes. We still have some stock of size 9 in black on the mezzanine floor”.

So, after looking at all those latest collections, and trying them out, I finally settle on the same pair of shoes that I was wearing or always used to wear. Neither Mistry nor Salman are surprised.

While Salman starts packing the box for me, Mistry smiles and while swapping my credit card says

“It is so difficult Dr Modak to change once you get used to something.”

Stepping out of Metro, I realized that we have been having this conversation for past several years. Same Salman Bhai, same half hour search for something new and finally me ending with that same pair of Metro’s own brand black formal Moccasin. But then I would have not had all that fun if  I had decided to buy the same old Moccasin right in the first instance. You need to look at  the options for the sake of formality at the least.

ACT Two : iBrew in Ginza, Tokyo

Buying shoes was just one example, but I think I am a person who romanticizes patronizing. Essentially, I am a traditional and a loyal customer, not willing to step out or deviate, if comfortable.

I have been visiting Tokyo for conferences and meetings for past several years and have never missed visiting the kraft beer place iBrew – one of the most frequented craft-beer pubs in the Ginza area of Tokyo. iBrew is located about ten minutes from the Kyobashi exit of Yurakucho station on the JR Yamanote line.

Perhaps because I have been a regular visitor to iBrew during my travels to Tokyo, the Chief at the counter remembers my face. Last year, when I visited iBrew, he greeted me saying “Namaste

When I got on the stool at the bar counter, he brought a large catalogue of craft beers, each page describing the details on the beer with a picture and recommendations.

The first page of the catalogue displayed Hitachino Nest Beer White Ale. It looked “good” to me. But  I started browsing the catalogue to look at other options. The Chief did see me pause on the first page and taking a close look at Hitachino.

The catalogue had nearly 60+ varieties of craft beer. The Chief came back to me asking for my choice. But when he saw me confused, he patted on my shoulder and said in Jinglish, “coming again”. I continued flipping the pages of the catalogue, back and forth, but was completely lost on what to decide. After some 5 minutes, I looked around helplessly.

The Chief saw my plight and came to me. Smiling he said “you India like white craft I know take this one – he flipped the catalogue and put his figure on the first page where there was a picture of Hitachino Nest. “I know you wanted this one”, He said this while opening the tap.

Later, I asked for a second glass as I found that Hitachino Nest was the right recommendation for me.

I realized sometimes you experience “love at first sight” or get a kind of hunch tempting to go by that instinct. But then you also need someone to guide you when you are lost in taking a decision from several options available.

ACT Three : Taj Mansingh in Delhi

In my travels in India and around the world, I have been fixated to some hotels. Having tried several possibilities in the early years of life, I have discovered few hotels as my favourites where I feel like home. Fairmont in Washington DC in the Georgetown area, Cape House Apartments in Lung Suan in Bangkok, Papandayan hotel in Bandung, Indonesia and Vila Caroline on Flic in Flac in Mauritius have been some of my favourites. In Delhi, I am most comfortable to be at Hotel Taj Mansingh (known as Taj Mahal Hotel).

There are reasons why I have been patronizing Taj Mansingh. The “usual offerings”  like the comfort in the rooms, the cuisine, the ambience, and the service are indeed one of the best at the Taj. I have been always greeted with all the warmth and familiarity as a regular customer, with room offered overlooking the garden (without asking!) and a freshly ground black coffee served as a welcome gesture. But an incident during my early stays in Taj Mansingh changed my outlook to understand the human face behind the outstanding galore of rooms, lobby and the restaurants

I was alone on a mission. It was evening when I walked in Machan, the coffee shop. I was a bit early perhaps as the coffee shop  was practically empty. George, the head waiter greeted me and escorted me to the table, next to one of the large windows.

I asked for some gin and tonic.

George got back in a while with gin and tonic with some basil leaves dipped, accompanied by  a plate of cashews to munch.

“Thanks George” I said

“Saltless cashews Sir, your usual” George smiled.

“All alone today Sir?” He asked

“Well yes George” I said

George then stood far away at a distance and was observing me, sitting alone, looking outside the window and sipping gin and tonic.

I saw him stepping out of the coffee shop.

Five minutes later, George reappeared. I saw him towing a trolley towards me that had a stack of books.

I was surprised.

“Dr Modak, I thought I should get you a few books to read. But I don’t know whether you will find these books interesting.”

Oh, this was such a warm gesture, and so considerate for someone like me sitting alone in the coffee shop! George’s collection of books was really good, and I enjoyed sitting in Machan with a glass of gin and tonic till late hours.

George refused to accept the tip that I tried to offer while I was returning to my room. “Take a book your choice to your room Dr Modak”. He said “Good Night”

So, you often patronize hotel, for the people you meet there and not for the usual charm and comfort for which you pay a price. Experience with George was simply priceless! So you feel like returning …

ACT – Fourth and the Final

I was at a party with friends in a bungalow on Carmicle road in the Pedar road area of Mumbai. The party was held on a terrace and there were several Page 3 people around, many faces that were famous and looked so familiar. My Professor Friend had organized for me an invitation.

I picked up a glass of wine from the waiter and started looking for the Professor. Many of you know that Professor lost his wife some ten years ago and his personal life has been a bit lonely, lately.

Aha, I finally spotted him on the terrace, sitting next to a woman, whom I did not know. The woman looked sophisticated, with gold rimmed spectacles and was smoking a cigarette with grace. Both of them seemed to be in deep conversations.

Before I could move towards them, my Parsi friend Jamshed stopped me.

Oh, Dr Modak, don’t disturb them. Its  de retour encore une fois !

When he saw me perplexed, he said “Dr Modak, I forgot you don’t know French. It means back again! The woman sitting next to Professor is his old flame in the college days. Today they have met once again after a gap of forty years and accidently”

I decided to stay away.

I realized that there is nothing like getting back once again in life. One is always looking for  something familiar and, want to be with someone you are most comfortable with.

Yes, indeed, de retour encore une fois !

8 comments

  1. Enjoyed it thoroughly, Dr Modak! I could visualise all the stories though I have never visited any of the places

  2. It’s a wonderful reading.

    ‘Back Again’ happens quite surprisingly in areas difficult to explain. When I moved into one bedroom flat in Ratnaprabha, the building opposite to your residence, I didn’t mind the funny layout of the flat. To go to the bedroom one has to either travel through the kitchen or go to the balcony through the living room and then enter the bedroom. Earlier I was staying in Kalina in two (one room kitchen) flats side by side. The layout for our living had to undergo some refurbishment. In spite of that it didn’t match the present style of flats where the corridor or the passage connects you to different rooms. I wondered about the similarity of circulation and the behaviour of the new flat in Ratnaprabha with the one in Kalina and that was all.

    Many years later my old architect friend from Delhi called on my office in Mumbai. He has a large practice in Delhi region which he runs with his staff of 30 persons. He said he had recently bought a new office space which will allow accommodating more staff. He said he had seen many properties before this purchase and later he wondered how similar this new property is as compared to his earlier office. I connected my story to his and he said it is a law of “Returning Back.”

    Thanks for your four act story.

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