Vista-71: Machetes and Mocha Swirl


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Machetes and Mocha Swirl

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

It seems like a city
That eats, and eats
Hundreds of restaurants
Dot the busy streets

Just as the river
Slices the city
So does food
Partition its identity

The affluent, burgeoning new town
Laying wide highways
Building fancy blocks of gated condos
Dotted with airconditioned bistros
With mouth-watering vegetarian menus
Starbucks-emulator Barista coffeeshops
Multiplex cinemas and amusement arcades
With swank-yank names
Like Fun Republic
And Wide Angle

Two new McDonald’s outlets
A Subway sandwich joint
Experimenting at the edges
With meat offerings
But popular Pizza Hut
Sticking to a pure vegetarian menu
With obligatory Indo-spicy versions

Hundreds of push carts
Vending local spicy delicacies
And pushing cutrate cosmopolitanism
For the flourishing “2-wheeler” class
Riding mobikes, scooters, mopeds
Indo-western smart young bipeds
Tempted by “Cold Exprees Coffee”
Chinese at Main Land China push cart
Punjabi, Italian, Tandoori, Omelettes
And dozens of local spice treats
Just park and eat on the pillion
Or plonk down on plastic chairs

Seven bridges span
The  divided city
Across two bridges
A different culture
In labyrinths of the old town
The victimized minority
Defiantly flashing all available symbols
Of religious identity

Muezzins’ calls
Heeded by capped menfolk
Burka-clad women
Riding side-saddle on mobike pillions
Going shopping for gold jewelry
Amidst push carts
Vending fragrant rice pilafs with mutton
Spicy lentils simmering with ground meat
Punctuated by pungent whiffs
Of charcoal-grilled kabobs

A hundred miles away
A train set ablaze
Rumors spread like wildfires
Mobs emerge out of nowhere
The city set afire

Complicit cops
Swinging night sticks and bayonets
Just look the other way
The city burns
Gruesome lynchings
“They deserve the comeuppance…
…. these Pakistan lovers”

Vigilantes of vegetarianism
Perhaps unable to burn, knife, or rape
Move to the new town
Bearing menacing pipes and machetes
Smashing the omelette carts
And the chicken stir-friers
Torching the Tandoor stands
“No meat… Be pure, or die…
“Like the thousand who already have
“Across river
“In the impure meat-eating ghettos”

Acrid calm descends
On a torn city
Leaders shrug off international media
Denying ethnic cleansing
Browbeating into silence
The local “secularists”

Months pass by
Fat foreign exchange reserves
Racy rate of growth
A hot economy
More new shopping malls
In the shining new side of the city
More restaurants
And bistros
Fast food franchises
And, of course, the push carts

At first, slowly
But then boldly
The omelette maker
The chicken stir-frier
The Tandoori baker
Pandering to the two-wheeler class
Conceptually vegetarian
But craving the occasional kabob
“It’s okay to eat Hakka Chow Mein here…
… we don’t cook it at home”

Vegetarian vigilantism
Receding into the past
Along with
Blazing train
Torched minority ghettos
Retaliatory machine-gun temple massacre
Car bombings in Mumbai
Strife dissolving temporarily
Into frothy consumer capitalism
Of Barista mocha swirl coffee

Ahmedabad, July 27, 2004


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