Sunday, February 05, 2006
For close to 75 years, the dark wooden chairs and carved columns have stood witness to many conversations over a lone cup of Irani chai. From the students of Fergusson College, to aspiring film-makers at the Film and Television Institute of India and Prabhat Studios, to romancing couples, Deccan Gymkhana’s Lucky Restaurant was a part of life for many.
– from the Pune Newsline (5 February 2006)
For my friends and me, creatures of the night all, Lucky was the epitome of quiet undisturbed conversations that took place after midnight. I don’t remember ever entering Lucky before 11:30 pm. The owner, standing outside the downed shutters, would direct us around the building, where we could go in through the service entrance. In fact, if we arrived early, we would wait outside till the shutters and windows closed before entering.
While all around police patrol cars enforced the midnight curfew, Lucky was open as long as we liked. We generally sat there till about 2:30 – I even seem to remember leaving at 4 am once. Any nervousness about police raids was dismissed by the sight of two havaldars having chai at the next table, or a fat inspector gorging himself on biryani, smiling graciously when we looked in his direction.
Most of the restaurant would be empty when we entered, with just a few late diners scattered around the place. We would take a seat in the corner – or at the long table in the middle if there were many of us – and we would talk, looking around once in a while to see the restaurant slowly filling up, until it was almost full at 1:30.
The most wonderful thing about Lucky, for us, was the service. We never went there at a non-ungodly hour, so we have no idea how regular service functioned. For us, service was a cheerful exchange of enquiries about items and replies in the negative, before we settled on something that, by sheer good fortune, was available. Rather than being irritating, this always amused us no end, and made us value the simple cuppa or creamroll or bread pudding (a personal favourite) all the more.
After we were served, there would be no further disturbance until we called for the waiter ourselves. Conversation flourished – the topic never mattered – and time stood still for us, until suddenly we realised that people would soon be coming in for breakfast.
Lucky was a place to loaf – four (or more) people sharing a single coffee was a common sight, and reorders were not a prerequisite to stay. It was not unusual to spend about four hours there and come away with our pockets only ten rupees lighter.
Lucky was always warm and welcoming, and it was seldom closed. In the best possible sense, it was something of a last resort – can’t think of anything to do, go to Lucky. It was a constant, a comfort.
It was. Lucky was closed two days ago on Friday, to make way for a commercial complex. My friend tells me that the staff sat down in front of the restaurant and cried. And even if that isn’t true, it should be, because Lucky deserved that sort of reverence.
We heard about the closure yesterday, and couldn’t believe it till the news was confirmed in the papers today. We wish we’d known before – we could have gone there for a last tryst, and lifted our cups of chai for something that wasn’t just a place, but a symbol, a legend.
Lucky was frequented by everyone from Guru Dutt to Dev Anand to Ravi Vaswani to our parents, their friends and thousands of unknown students and other calamities. I don’t know a single person who had a bad opinion about it – I doubt there is one. For the city of Pune, this is, without the slightest exaggeration, the end of an era.
We reminisced freely, and cursed everything from commercial complexes to redone restaurants to greedy capitalists to the loss of ideals.
Everyone who knew about the end of Lucky had their own tribute to it. Our solemn tribute will be to beat up Chetan, who was the bearer of the bad news.