By: Pavle Radonic
Hard to believe, but precisely on the point of seating the famous old Hindi song from the mid-seventies over the speakers. Remarkable coincidence. Did the look-out pass the wink to the lads in back for the switch to be flicked? Could it truly have been complete freak coincidence?
Mein Shay’Ar TO Na’Hiii…. Mein Shay’Ar TO Na’Hiii….
The catchy refrain that gave the song its title, repeated a number of times through the course, carried the chief fluttering lilt.
Da DaaR DA DaDiii…. Da DaaR DA DaDiii…. Magic.
On Youtube there were numerous film clips from the period with smooth moustachioed leading men sending Beauties spinning over palatial ballrooms under the spell of the wolf call. Cut to green fields, sports convertible with passenger door flung open after the lass had taken flight. Cavorting thereafter and a chase that wasn’t through lush, flowering garden splendour belonging presumably to the Tata Empire. (Formerly the estate of one of the British nabobs).
Light skin tones, bright eyes and slender waists, the vocalist never a patch on the naiad.
Here on Buffalo Street last week the wrong waiter had been chosen for the enquiry.
Closer observation would have noticed the sliver bracelet on the hand. Fellow was too young for another thing. Plenty of the younger Sikhs working here dispensed with the turbans.
The older Tamil enlisted for help knew the thing straight off easy as pie. Who didn’t know Mein Shayar for goodness sake? A short little pantomime ensuing in the passage before the table.
You dolt! Hand clap to the forehead. What good are you? Out. Out I say…. The whole bag of potatoes right this instant…. High Nazi salute. (The swastika had originated in Hindu India after all.) Marching orders in the direction of the kitchen.
One fears the reno job cannot be too far off at Komala Vilas, now in the third generation here. The old founder is still venerated enough to maintain his place in the frame hung above the register. A couple of times a year the elderly daughter comes out for a review from Chennai. Even in these few months new furniture has been introduced—metal-framed chairs shrieking across the tiles. As the various heirs have gone their own way, there are now numerous Komala Vilas in Singapore, Buffalo Street opposite Tekka Market holding the line as much as possible.
K. V. two long weeks later according to the Chief. (Magnificent smiling gallantry from the time equivalent to the Troubadours.) Gone quart past three on another hot afternoon, busted sandal strap making it hotter. Thiru a couple of days ago reported back after a first visit, commenting on the typical middle-class South Indian form. The kind of place where the money-making imperative was not ruling and absolute; not entirely. The speechless head-loll of the waiters taking orders without any pen or paper was noted. (Better class places in India with those aids invariably got the order wrong, Thiru said.) It was something of a surprise to hear the characterization. Occasionally one found working boys there from the construction industry; a couple of foremen had been struck, and oil-industry men. The gold, rings and watches ought to have indicated the matter more clearly. Eating with the fingers, the manner and behavior across the floor, had masked the reality. In Singapore the construction workers cooked in the dorms or their illegal shelters—heavy 25 kg. sacks of rice and tins of cooking oil lugged in the gutters of Geylang Road nightly. Even S$3.50 meals and S$1.80 masala chai definitely pitched the place into the middle bracket, no two ways about it. One recalled Yanasagaran complaining about the latter and abashed at being treated the former. Still, places like Woodlands around in Upper Dickson and Aravinds behind the temple were something else with their epic wall paintings, cuckoo clocks and place mats. Butter-milk just the shot here against the heat—the Chief had once complimented on the wise choice one other hot afternoon. (Who would have thought green chilli and coriander leaf?) Dark balding fellow opposite with dyed goatee and mullet very much the aspect of one of our Aboriginal ex-football stars dispensed with the physical regime. A definite worker, as confirmed by the Ang Moh Kio Council tee when he went to wash his hands. Some of the older sari-wrapped widows and spoilt kids ought to have made the matter abundantly clear, together with the whitening creams. Almost entirely full-house, four vacant chairs in total. Numerous hopefuls had turned on their heels after an initial survey from the corner.
Lunch crowd thinning quickly. First few spoonfuls of the rasam surveying the tables one was about to say a chap always felt warm in that place! Such has been the delightful cool of recent days here on the equator. With only short bursts of rain not much evidence of the Nor ‘westerly monsoon. A couple of days ago a bold and brilliantly illumined moon low in the east and slow-rising. A boy at the Haig bus-stop the other night must have sighted it a day or two before because he was drawing mummy’s attention to a corner of the sky where he was hoping for re-appearance. Rather touching: there were at least two of us on the island taking note. With some opportunity in the respite Shanmugam rounded for a couple of chats. Lad had noticed the absence last few days and well-knew the reason. Sly smiles. Thankfully the white collared Colorado shirt had been donned for lunch. At Al Wadi in the morning there had been close scrutiny from Zaharuddin at the counter. A passing look in the mirror preparing for the second outing provided a shock when the loose collar of the tee showed big-toothed Ni’s marks of passion from the day before. Odd for Zaharuddin, a father of four young children, to see on a professional Westerner and an intellectual of sorts. (In younger years Zaharuddin had studied Arabic seven years in Syria and then one more year in Egypt. We were fixing for a meeting and chat.) Cricket it was again with Shanmugam; other subject matter quickly ran dry. The New Zealand lad Guptill had made a quick-fire half century the day before almost in world record time: a mention on ABC online. Fellow didn’t know how close he was till the last few balls, Mugam knew. Pity. Record gone begging. Wasn’t the lad an all-rounder?… Yes, earlier in his career. Now solely a batsman. Not a Tamil by any chance?… Brought head-lolling assent. What, Tamil? Guptill a Tamil?… Ah. Born in India was he?… No, parents or grandparents; immigrated. In earlier conversations Shanmugam had bemoaned the kind of deracination that occurred with immigration. Often enough at Komala a Chindian entered who would have no idea of his heritage. With Shanmugam’s assistance one was slowly beginning to discern. Shanmugam twisted his head like a pony in those instances. So Guptill almost a world record. The performance would have made it into Tabla on the Friday had it been realized, whether or not young Guptill acknowledged his ancestry. Another thing too on Guptill was it?… Shanmugam’s heavily chewed English could not be comprehended immediately. When Mug bent close to deliver one was often surprised by the level of vocab; it was only pronunciation that continued to snag. Twice incomprehensible now brought Mugam around the table into the narrow passage in order to show his sandaled foot…. Oh. Oh. Young Guptill missing one or more toes from one of his feet? Really?… Well golly. It had not stopped the young champ’s progress; almost a world record. Claimed by the people from the land of his forebears however young Guptill might conceive of himself. Bright Tamil star. Shanmugam was a proper aficionado. Australia v. West Indies meanwhile at the G? Last time Mugam looked Windies seven down second innings. Not much of interest here, though there was more than one Indian name in that line-up too.
Singapore 2012 – 16