I spent most of my college days in Iranian hotels where my friend and I chatted for hours over a shared cup of tea, or the famous ‘one-by-two’.
The tea was addictive and everyone swore by the taste of the tea they slurped at their particular haunt.
Some people spread canards at the tea which they alleged was spiked by the migrants to make you want to come back again and again for the tea fix. The migrants had settled down in various parts of India, such as the then Bombay, Poona, and even in the south of the country, in Hyderabad.
The ‘hotels’ took on the formidable competition from the Udupi restaurants from Karnataka state next door to Hyderabad, that had snacks like fried doughnuts and idli (rice cakes) that went well with a cup of ‘filter coffee’.
Your 4'0'clock tea
The ‘hotels’ in turn, offered ‘bun-maska’, which was basically bread and butter, to go with your 4‘0’clock tea, or butter biscuits which were loaded with salt and just melted in your mouth.
The Udupi restaurants in Hyderabad I hear, now even serve vegetarian dishes such as gobi manchurian or baby corn 65, in a foodie crossover delight.
The Udupi eateries always had curious signs over the washbasin. They always had admonitions such as, “Do not spit’, “Do not comb your hair” or “Don’t discuss politics”.
I could never understand what was all the fuss was about combing hair, though I spent hours over my hair that was like spiky springs and I could never keep it down despite using jars of “Brylcream”.
Motorbike helmets were unheard of then, and whenever I rode a bike I had to turn my head to the side, like a self-conscious villain in a movie, so as to keep my hair down.
I suppose all the college guys trying to impress their female classmates, would spend hours brushing and combing their hair over the restaurants’ sinks while admiring themselves in the mirror, and all the hair must have been clogging up the sinks.
Admonition not to discuss politics
I could imagine sane people coming in for a ‘vada’ and coffee and slowly the topic of discussion turned to politics and then maybe the place resembled the watering holes of the Wild West in America, and that is why the admonition not to discuss politics.
The sinks in the restaurants were usually right bang in the middle of the dining hall and many patrons loved to clear their throats before sitting down to enjoy a meal, and would make unearthly noises over the sink.
When Indians started migrating for work to the Arab Gulf states, the Udupi restaurants followed them, and so did the signs. I saw one sign that made it very clear just in case you spit on the sly. “Do not spit loudly”, it said. The restaurant does huge business over weekends.
I was reminded of the signs when a hotel in Pune went viral recently on social media after it put out a list of “Dos and Don’ts”.
It had the usual admonitions such as “No Combing”, “No Talking Loud”, and suddenly to, “No Running Away”, “No Free Advice”. (The last must be after people went to their lawyers asking how to file a FIR, a First Information Report).
This hotel must have never heard of Starbucks, but it warns customers that “Laptops not Allowed”.
The hotel has even has gone on Twitter now to tweet the picture of the cashiers, and it is an elderly duo with white hair, with huge smiles on their faces.
I am not sure whether this Pune hotel offers the ubiquitous, one-by-two tea. Maybe not, as the plastic cups are so tiny nowadays.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi