Tuesday, November 27, 2012



 SURTI GUJRATI HOTEL AND RESTAURANT,  SRINAGAR                                                                           
‘Rokadaa dene ka bhai. Cheque veck nahin lene ka . Cheque ka koyee bharosa nahin . Woh bank ka babu baitha hai . Poochho oss  ko agar hum jooth boltaa hai ’ meaning  ‘ Give cash brother. No cheque etc. Cheques can’t  be trusted.  If you don’t believe me, ask that man from the bank. There he sits.’
So said the Seth to some customer . And he was pointing towards me.

I never knew his name. We never bothered to know whether he was a manager or a partner or the owner of the hotel. Whatever he was, he was always in the hotel. Always busy in managing the affairs of the hotel quite effectively. We used to call him simply ‘Seth ’. He was gentle but firm. In money matters, he never compromised and always conveyed his message in a firm and loud tone. I had also noticed one of his peculiar communication styles. He never looked at the face of his customers when they came to settle their bills. He simply looked at their purses and the notes brought out for payment. It appeared as if he was preparing himself for the receiving mode. I mean the cash receiving mode. When no customer was around his counter, he would pull the drawer of his table and count the notes. He then kept them denomination wise under a tight rubber band finally moving to read some Gujrati magazine. He was possibly from Surat ( Gujrat ) in western India.

Ten tables with sunmica tops kept in two ground floor shops that were joined to make it look like a small hall, a counter cum table for himself and four Gujrati waiters who understood no other language; that was what we used to call ‘SURTI GUJRATI HOTEL AND RESTAURANT’. The waiters looked poor and from rural background. Seth would not allow his waiters to intermix with his customers beyond what they were required to do as per their assigned duties. They were prompt in service and kept running from the kitchen to the tables kept in the hall. The restaurant would serve Masala Dosa, Plain Dosa, Idli, Wada, Sambhar, Upma, Poha, coffee and  Gujarati vegetarian meals. Strict Thaali system existed for the meals. Both, Papad and the pickle in the Thaali tasted good.

The hotel cum restaurant was located close to the fashionable Residency Road area in a corner of the Lambert Lane. It was close to the Bund and river Jhelum.

The restaurant was located on the ground floor while rooms for tourists were located on the upper floors of the building. The hotel catered mostly to Gujrati tourists coming in groups to Kashmir.

Some important landmark establishments near the' SURTI  GUJRATI HOTEL AND RESTAURANT were the SBI bank (main branch ,Sringaar), Shakti Sweets, Vir And Co (dry cleaners),  India Coffee House, KVIC showroom,  Song And Drama Division( Sringaar office),  Hind Book Shop, Fashion House ( tailors ) Pamposh Hotel and  Premier Restaurant and Bar. V S Naipaul makes mention of some establishments from this list in his book 'An Area of Darkness'.

Everyone in Kashmir would call this restaurant as ‘SURTI  DOSA HOTEL’.My friends in the bank especially Basharat Fazili, Pranesh Nagri, Bushan Lal Raina ‘Johny ‘, Nanaji Bhan, Tej Dhar, Ajodhia Nath Kaul,  Showkat Ahmed, Ghulam Jeelani, Arvind Mujoo, Ashok Padroo and many more would frequent this place. We also saw advocate Ashok Bhan, Prof Riyaz Punjabi and almost all the medical representatives stationed at Srinagar eating Dosa quite often in this restaurant. Noted painter G R Santosh would also be seen sometimes during summers with his friends especially artist Bansi Parimu or  Actor Omkar Aima. One day I saw  Shamim Ahmed Shamim( MP ) sitting in a corner table and enjoying a Dosa with some friends.

Many times, local customers would also order for vegetarian Thaalis. Groups of young men, tourists, college students, lawyers, professors, artists and theatre personalities would also frequent this restaurant to eat Dosa served with coconut Chutney and Sambhar.

 I was always impressed by the style and professional attitude of the Gujrati manager. He had learnt some Kashmiri words also. Saying ‘Waraai Chhus ’ in Kashmiri meant greeting and welcoming the regulars. He was popular in the area. Though firm, he was fair in his dealings and a straight businessman who had ventured to do business travelling all the way from Surat to Srinagar. The restaurant would close for winters from November to April every year and during this, Seth would go to Surat. Regulars would keep vising from last week of March to see if Seth had returned for ensuing summer season. Many shopkeepers in the adjoining Lambert lane would also come to eat Dosa at this restaurant. Tea and coffee were served in small steels glasses. We would take two glasses of tea which practically were equivalent to one standard cup of tea served at other places.

 I was pained to see the plight of this restaurant when I visited the area sometime back.

The restaurant has been totally gutted and converted to a heap of debris. I could only see the door frame of the two shops that made the restaurant. Nothing more except memories.

Dosa is now sold at many places in Srinagar city but many friends miss Surti's Dosa, coffee and Gujrati Thaali. We equally miss the man whom we fondly called ‘ Seth ’.
Surti used to be a landmark location. Buried in the debris now; a place that remains unknown to present generation. So shall it remain for the posterity?
 I conclude with a wish for Peace and peace alone as it appears in some lines of  poem ‘Dua ’( Prayer )  by   poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz

(Jinki ankhon ko rukh-e-subh ka yaara bhi nahin
Unki raaton mein koyee shama munawwar kar dhe….
Jin ke qadmon ko kisi raah ka sahaara bhi nahin,
Unki nazron pe koyee raah ujaagar kar dhe…..

Aaaiye haath uthaayein hum bhi
Hum jinhein rasm-e-dua yaad nahin
Hum jinhen soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koyee buut, koyee khuda yaad nahin )

(Whose eyes require the nerve to face the crack of dawn,
Some lamps be lit for their dark nights as well.
Those feet that keep moving without the support of a path,
Let us put forth a way ahead for them as well.

Draw closer; let we too raise our hands.
Yes, we, who forgot the tradition of the prayer.
 Yes, we, who remember nothing except passion,
 Yes we, who remember neither an idol nor any God now.)

 ( Avtar Mota )


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