Amer Bakery Hut is not my favourite eatery in Bhopal, but a fried wats to go. With its American Barbershop decor its a sit down fast food McDonaldsification of Indian food.
Advity had wanted to go out, but why she chose to find herself sitting in a westernised Amer Bakery Hut I was not sure.I commented he was uncomfortable eating Westernised fast food momo’s, spring rolls and PaniPuri. Even the striped logo reminded him of a pre world war I American barber shops.
Now, I do sympathise with the locals wanting to enjoy what is modern, fresh and new. As an outsider, I suppose I am biased. Its just too … well… Western. Why travel to India to eat in a food hall, or a McDonalds? OK, I admit, McDonalds are good world over when in urgent need of a clean toilet. You know at least it’s clean. So is Amer Bakery Hut.
The one quirk of their outside take away service – a process found even inside Reliance and Star Bazaar supermarkets, is deciding your item, walking to a separate ticket counter, and returning ticket in hand to collect your food. Sit down, I can understand it, especially if an item mist be cooked. It seems to slow delivery of cakes or coffee just waiting to leap into my mouth.
But now, as my good Indian friend chooses a seat, the front desk attendant is playing “silly buggers” . Pardon my Australian. At first I thought it was my accent, I know my drawl is misunderstood, just as I mishear Hindi and English words I use freely spoken in unfamiliar dialects.
So I re- ordered in Hindi. He still only managed half the order, pointing to pictures of the wrong items on the back wall.
Frustrated, I resort to almost baby talk
“Ek …… Do ……, do lassi” pointing at each object. It is as if he refuses to comprehend I want to order multiple foods. My lady friend is sitting at a table but see her eyes betray annoyance.
He mumbles frustrations about “stupid firengi”.
I repeat the order. “Dont play games with me. Mai Bharat mai teen sal jata raha hun. I have ordered here many times before… with no problems.”
Clearly he was one who enjoyed the smug satisfaction of getting a rise out of upsetting “whitees.” There is a common nervous smile, mostly benign, that smugly ostracises outsiders. A smile I see looking for support of the group, the caste, or family. A smile I soon realised was born of insecurity and rarely malice, that came from coping and perhaps emotional of generations of colonialists.
However, that same giggle would be seen as an insult where I come from. Sometimes, my instinct is frustration, even insult. Then I remember …..
So often my gestures are also misinterpreted. Where I was taught direct truth shows another respect, here it is polite to be silent. Each position has streths and weaknesses. Explosive directess may cut a heart. Silence may degenerate into gossip and undermining .
It is said that the billion strong flocks of passenger pigeons that blacked US skies became nervous as their numbers thinned. As hunters machine gunned them from the sky their numbers shrunk and the few flocks became confused unable to cope without their huge numbers. While I don’t expect Indians to become extinct (the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha died at Cincinnati Zoo in 1914), there is something of the need of the group that drives people here.
Its not true of everyone. Its just that some need the approval of the tribe, at the expense of the other.
Yet, tradition says the man should move out to the forest alone in meditation, but I suspect few choose to be gurus.
Finally I place my order.
“What was wrong with him? “Advity is unimpressed by her fellow country men. “What are they staring at? The Khans are whiter than you.”
Undoubtedly true, my Mediterranean skin allows me to pass as an Indian until I open my mouth giving all away in accented Australian Strine.
But who are the Khans you ask?
If you want to know a little of the unscrupulous adventures of Bhopal’s founder dost Mohammad Khan.
The Khans were Bhopal founder s. The lake may have been built by 11th century Raja Bhoj – part of the requirement to expiate the sin of murdering his mother. However, Afghani Mohammad Dost gained prestigue for his unscrupulous military daring toward the end of Aurengzebs reign. He had also learned of Jahan and Akhbars religious accommodation and saw some of the problems ofAurengzeb more austere religious policies.
Originally from Afghanistan they are often very white – at least the locals think so.