Vantage point

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Why Anantashram deserves to go out of business

It was great to read Shahane's article on Amit's blog. When I read the news about Anantashram a couple of weeks back, my instant reaction was one of sympathy. But then I noticed some things that de-sympathised me. The restaurant takes its last order at 9 p.m. no matter what happens. For me this policy alone is sufficient for any sympathy to vanish. If a restaurant in today's world expects to close down at 9, it is hastening its own doom. There is no use in blaming vegetarian Gujjus for it.

In Bombay, most restaurants, at least most successful restaurants, are not necessarily ones where only customers in its neighbourhood go for a bite. So just being situated in a Veggie-dominated area is not reason enough to justify lost business.

This may sound like management jargon, but change is a reality, and you need to adapt to the change. Young people,as well as families today are staying out later than ever before. It is absurd to shut the kitchen down at 9 pm and yet expect a flourishing business. By doing so, you are turning down a bulk of your potential clientele that eats only after 9.

The Khadpes have only themselves to blame. They ignored what the customer wants and so now the customers are ignoring them. That's the reality of business, and they can ship up or ship out.

Anil Awchat, a Marathi author, once wrote about a restaurant in Pune which is famous for its misal-paav. He said the restaurant was run very casually. The owner just sat at the counter reading a paper. The waiters, with no supervision, were lazy, and the service was horrible. Sometimes, if they ran out of paavs, they would just close down for the day, instead of sending someone to buy more paavs from a bakery. And yet, the restaurant did great business, with people travelling great distances to eat the misal.

He wrote this in 1991, in a book titled "America" in which he was comparing the American culture with the Indian one. He seemed to be saying that people still visited the restaurant because of some sense of loyalty and appreciation for the misal itself. I don't think so. The reason for such arrogant behaviour was lack of competition. Now with competition, I'd like Awchat to go and see if the restaurant is still as successful.

However there is one thing I have noticed. The most unwilling-to-change Marathis are in Bombay. The most orthodox Marathis are in Bombay. No wonder then that except for Bombay, there is no geography where the Sena can readily command a great following. The reason for the success in Bombay is the insecurity against the "outsider". Outsiders are coming by the hordes and competing on equal terms with Marathis. What can they do? No Marathi is going to travel to UP, Bihar and Rajasthan to compete with people there.

I don't know if I am getting my point through here, but the fact remains that Marathis from Bombay.....are the only people to have created a 'Shivsena' because they are the only people who have really faced such a large scale competition from 'outsiders'. The whine about outsiders is wrong, but it is understandable.

Other peoples, faced with such competition, would surely react in a similar way. Just look at Bangalore. Even now, just a small percentage of the population is non-Kannada. Yet they imposed the ban on non-Kannada movies, forcing them to be released only after they are at least 6 weeks old. This, when Bangalore's grocers, rickshawwallahs, and even beggars, are mainly Kannada. Imagine when they start facing competition in that from the hordes from the BIMARU states? You will soon have a "sons of the soil" movement there too.

Being an urban Maharashtrian from outside-Mumbai, I find the Marathis here very "old-fashioned" in their way of thinking. While Puneris themslves are thrilled at the change in their city over the last ten years or so, Mumbaikars keep lamenting that Pune is losing its "Marathipan". They feel the last bastion of "Marathiness" is falling. To be fair to them, Pune is getting the benefits of cosmopolitisation, like Mumbai did, without the "outside competition". So we don't understand what the big deal is. Our rickshawwallahs still speak marathi.