In about a week after coming here, I started to feel what it is like being away from home. [IITM has become a home away from home, to most of us.] With all that sweet curries and baked papads, the food in Insti mess seemed much better. The difference showed up, especially during breakfast. One day I had to eat aloo-paratha for breakfast and I felt terrible.
I never understood when my Northie friends in Insti were grumbling in the mess about the food. The menu always had something in common to what I ate at home. Breakfast was mostly idly, dosa, pongal or in the least pesarattu which I would eat at home occasionally if not regularly. But I started eating aloo-paratha only in IITM, on Sunday nights in the mess, that it made me feel terrible when I had to eat it for breakfast in Surat. And this with something that tasted like curd, early in the morning made a deadly combo. [Combo= combination, caught the usage very recently from my IITB friends here.] The alternative was bread, which I felt was no better. So, it was a memorable day when I ate aloo-paratha with curd for a breakfast.
After that my heart started longing for dosa. Though I am not very particular about food, when the means were well within my reach I felt no problem in going for it. To put it clearly, if I have to live on aloo-paratha I will. But when I can search out a south-Indian hotel and eat a dosa, I found no point in not doing it. Thus started one of my most exciting searches, one that showed me a major portion of the city/town and gave me an idea of Surti (Surti= belonging to, or of Surat) way of life.
It would almost be seven by the time I came home on weekdays and being exhausted, I wouldn’t attempt to go out for a search. I have to work six days a week and hence Sunday was the only day when I could go out and search. On the first Sunday, I started of with my friend in search of malls and shopping complexes, just to wile away time. Subconsciously I was searching for any hotel that would offer south-Indian cuisine. I saw Parle-point, a small junction in Surat that had a model of Eiffel tower standing at its centre, then Athwa lines, where there was a model aeroplane standing in a small circle at the junction. Peculiar idea I thought! At all junctions and circles the city sported some or another curiosity. At some other place was a ship, while yet another contained the frame of a woman holding a basket. These are not exactly statues but things made out of iron frames. The first search was futile, as I couldn’t find any south-Indian restaurant.
The second Sunday I marched all along Ghod-dood road, with the hope of finding the place I was searching for. Two hours spent to no avail. All I could find was pizzerias and chat bhandars where people were eating something or the other for break fast. I came back exhausted, filled my stomach with a packet of chips and a fruit juice. I came to a conclusion that Surat doesn’t have any south Indian restaurants and the thought sickened me. And the worst part of it was that dosa was the breakfast at the mess, which I unknowingly skipped in search of it. That evening, having heard that a restaurant called “Bombay bites” offered south-Indian cuisine; I went there hopefully to lay my hands on a dosa. Imagine my disappointment when the proprietor told me “ We used to have that sir, but we scrapped it a few months ago.”
Now, having met with bad luck both times, I started using whatever brains I had. Some of the employees that work with me here in RIL are from south and hence I started enquiring about south-Indian restaurants. To my relief, they guided me to a one near by, one that I have overlooked in my previous searches, Mysore café. It is just 4km away and there I could have all the south-Indian dishes, I was told.
I didn’t wait any longer and finally on a rainy evening made it to Mysore café. I will cherish that moment forever, the moment I ate a plain dosa with coconut chutney and sambar in Surat. A coffee that tasted just like another coffee at Saravana Bhavan gave the day a perfect ending. Since then Mysore café, Athwa Lines, Surat became my place of pilgrimage.