I loved that little eatery (in tonier parts of the world, they might have called it a boutique restaurant) - students, artists, drifters, salesmen, ad people, writers, travellers...just about anybody would walk in. The decor would change with the seasons - there was artwork (both pop and classical), the menu was eclectic with a dash of the fragrance of home.
Sometimes, a stray cat would walk in outside the fence and I would take bits off my plate and throw some at it, and watch as it went nibbling at my food. Sometimes I heard sounds of the hawkers, a distant sound trying to sell some foodstuff.
But you got everything here. It wasn't pricey, just classy. The kitsch added to its charm.
After my meal I would continue to sip on my guava juice and watch people walk in. While the ones with savoir faire enjoyed the meal, the drinks, the conversation, the ambience, a few wannabes decided that they should not miss out on their Great Opportunity. So, came the culture of exchanging business cards. Greasy hand to greasy hand.
One artist had looked terribly amused. This wasn't even real money speaking to help promote his work. It was just some shooting the breeze type salesman of a little shack that was trying to sponge on this place's USP. Very nouveau riche. Very infra dig.
The artist was giving him a long rope to hang himself with.
"And how do you plan to market yourself?"
"Oh, not necessary. I come here, meet people, give my card..."
"Ah, and what do you serve?
"We are 'hatke se'. We offer rebates, we say eat all you want, do what you want...there is a lot left over, so we keep re-heating, serving...good strategy, no?"
"Hmm..." said the artist. "So it is all free?"
"Ha, ha, there is nothing like free lunch. One day we will make them pay."
"And who are these people?"
"Don't care. All are welcome. You know that broker who used to come here and pick fights? He is a regular."
"He would be."
"You must also come."
"Really? I did not see you?"
"You wouldn't. There was too much beedi smoke and cheap alcohol. I sat there for a while and although there was no bill, a waiter hovered over my head; he had not even served me. I gave him a tip and, as per habit, asked him to keep the change. He was used to small change, so it did not strike him."
"Ah, sir, why don't you give me your visiting card?"
"I don't keep one. I don't need one. Those who know me, know me. Those who don't, find out. You go ahead and distribute your cards."
The cat was sniping at my foot. I threw one more bit from my plate. It was too hungry and looked pleadingly. I also knew that it would very likely scratch me. But how did it matter when I had my lovely leather shoes on with fur trimmings? Some fur would rub off on it too...
Since the artist has been an acquaintance of several years, I asked him what his next exhibition was about. He pointed in the direction of the receding back of the man he had just been speaking to, a man in a hurry to get out.
"Desperation. I will call my series that."
He started sketching on a paper napkin. That piece of paper is a work of art. And was hung up twisted near the lantern, moving with the light and creating different patterns from different angles.
Every inspiration finds a home.