The Man from Madras Musings is certain that you have all heard of the six-faced, spear-wielding Hindu God of War. In recent years, as you also doubtless know, He as lent his name to a chain of eateries that became famous for serving what is known as fast food – of the South Indian variety. Coffee was the beverage for which the outlets were best known and it was said that most patrons stepped in for coffee and stayed on for more. MMM was one of the faithful.
There were certain drawbacks, of course. Most of the branches had standing room only. And in the few where you got seats, the serving staff would hurry you over your food with word and gesture. The idea was that the food was relatively inexpensive and of a high quality and so the chain survived by making sure it had a high turnover of patrons, throughout the day. No leisurely browsing and sluicing here, if you get MMM’s meaning. On certain bad days, those waiting to be seated at tables would be let loose into the dining area and take strategic positions behind the occupied seats. From there they would glower at those already seated and all except the most hardy (or short-sighted) would wilt under these glares. Most finished their meals in record time. But it was all taken in good spirit; after all, this was fast food.
Then the prices began to rise. This too was understood by most. Inflation was to be blamed, they said, as they sipped the still delectable coffee. It is only when the portions began to become smaller that most of the devout following saw red. Does ‘fast food’ also mean pulling a fast one over customers, they have begun to wonder. And none more so than MMM. The coffee tumblers are becoming smaller by the day and as for the coffee inside, it is only those with exceptionally good eyesight who can locate it.
The smallness of the helpings hit MMM rather hard on the day he travelled by the double-decker train and of which journey you got a full description in the last instalment of this column. Knowing full well that catering on board was by the Railways and whose culinary skills had not exactly impressed MMM, he decided to buy his breakfast at the six-faced spear-wielding God of War’s eatery which has an outlet at the station. Pongal was what MMM ordered and, he was gratified to be given a fairly large packet. How wrong they were, those who cavilled at the small helpings, MMM reflected. Once on the train and with an appetite sharpened by those around eating continuously, MMM opened his packed breakfast. He did so with a rather supercilious air, for those around were making do with ordinary railway fare while he was feasting on a takeaway breakfast from one of Chennai’s best-known eating-houses.
The packet when opened revealed a bulging plastic bag of sambar. There was an equally large one filled with chutney. All very gratifying. It was just that the pongal was nowhere to be seen. MMM poked around with the thoughtfully provided plastic spoon and discovered two measly blobs of pongal, hidden under the sambar packet. A magnifying glass would have been a more appropriate item of cutlery. MMM made a meal out of the sambar and chutney. Not that anyone asked, but if they had, MMM would have replied that it was the quality that counted and not the quantity.