Jug Parmar is a 42 year-old British Asian. He arrived in Mumbai in January, 2008 Mumbai can be a hot, wet and sticky mistress, but her warmth enchants me. There is no denying her friendliness, which is particularly apparent in restaurants.
Back in London, restaurant service can range from clinical precision to downright rudeness. In fact, one well-known eatery trades on the extreme surliness of its waiting staff as entertainment and this feature has been promoted as its distinctive selling point.
In England, a diner could frequent the same establishment every day for 10 years without gaining a hint of recognition from the staff. If there was an exchange of personal pleasantries, the diner would most likely be horrified at the intrusion and take his patronage elsewhere. By contrast, at my favourite restaurant in Mumbai, I have witnessed an accelerated charm offensive, which is typical of other places too. So, on my first visit I noticed their pride in their quality service. Then when I returned, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my drinks preference had been remembered.
A few more visits and all the staff were acknowledging me; before long the chef started to greet me at my table offering me ‘off menu’ dishes. Before I knew it, my arrival was heralded with a celebrity-style greeting. Was I being mistaken for someone else?
Imagine the impression left on my visiting English friends! My car pulled up there and as we got out, the head waiter exclaimed, “Mr Parmar, we’re delighted to welcome you back this evening!” We were fussed over at the bar. It was a full restaurant and we didn’t have a reservation. But that wasn’t a problem as ‘somehow’ we were accommodated. It may have meant that some other foreigners endured an unexpectedly lengthy wait, but went back home telling friends that ‘India teaches you patience’.
It then got even better. I celebrated my birthday there with a Sunday brunch and was given the best table in the house; the bartender mixed special cocktails for us and I was even given a personalised cake. Nothing was too much trouble. Where would it all end? I started to develop rock star delusions and imagined forming a band, trashing hotel rooms and sacking my tour manager over a triviality.
What I have found is that in Mumbai at every turn there is a welcoming face, be it at a gallery, café or shop. Friendships spark up and the sharply defined role of customer dissolves in a blur of social invitations and unexpected kindnesses. One time a waiter on his scooter recognised me, as I was walking home, and offered me a ride on the back.
It’s flattering to be constantly referred to as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr Parmar’ and easy to get used to. Yes, sometimes the attention can be effusive, but even with my natural reserve; I prefer that to being the invisible man. It’s done with such genuine enthusiasm and good heart that you can’t help but be charmed.