In my opinion, a shady bar is not the same as a sidey bar.
There is something sinister about a shady bar. Illegal and unethical acts abound, in a shady bar.
A sidey bar, is where the other people drink. The glasses are lightly rinsed, your rum glass stinks of whiskey, the waiters wait, not on you, but, for when the bar will close. Their degree of dreariness is always requesting that you need to go home. Most patrons of the sidey bar sit alone. (And since they do, four lonely folks often share a table). There’s nothing sinister going there, in a sidey bar. Unless, you think of the frustration, anger, dreams, thoughts, questions, that hang precariously along the low-hanging roofs of such places. But all that *shit* eventually is gulped down by these limit drinkers. In such a place, no one is looking to meet someone, no one is looking for human accompaniment, no hitching, no hookup. The air is heavy with cigarette smoke, a rare phenomenon these days. [Statutory Warning: Cigarette Smoking is Injurious to health]. There’s a stench of alcoholic blends that competes with the dense humidity of this city of dreams. No conversation is private, given the arrangement of the tables. But, when everyone is engrossed in their own troubles, privacy is tossed on the street; for no one cares.
In such a bar, I stepped in. Honestly, I do not remember the name of that bar. That’s the nature of these places. We remember them by location (so that we may find them again, if we are in the vicinity); not by their identity. They have none, really — an identity — they have service, and that is all that matters. I had my own crossroads to think of. In such a haven, I stepped, where no one would care.
I shared a table with a man who was engrossed, for most part in the cricket match. My back was to the TV screen; I cared less. I pinged my friend in Africa. I pinged my fried in Florida. I pinged my friend in Jaipur. I was looking for answers that I would reject. Some conversations began, but at their birth, I sensed, they were unsustainable. I started a conversation with my own life. It’s not fair, I thought, that every step is a crossroad. I thought of my friend in Delhi. He wishes that design should be decision. Design should be such. Not having to take decisions. Design should dictate all. I thought of my design guru. I have learnt a lot from him. Of how things are, how they should be, and how they shouldn’t be.
The cricket match is over.
My table-mate gives me an acknowledging smile. It’s good to know I exist. I return it exactly as I received it. He says hello, I return the hello. And a long conversation ensues. He never drinks more than a quarter (~three large pegs), but today because of this conversation withe me, he decides to have, an additional, one small peg. He is an entrepreneur. No, not the one we celebrate; the one we ignore. For 25 years he has run a garment factory. Employs 50 people. For 25 years, without fail, he has paid salaries on the 1st of every month, for all his employees. I am sceptical. I say, it can’t have been easy in the early years? He confirms. I have had cash-flow problems, in the first few years. I sold my gold. But I have never delayed salaries. It took me 5 more years, but I have recovered my gold. Education? I failed 12th class, he says. No one would celebrate you, I say, almost. Shirts? Skirts? PPHH! You are not changing the world.
He keeps referring to me as as Sir, I tell him my name, please address me as Atul, I ask. He refuses; I know you are well-educated than me. I wonder, is there a relation between education and success? I wonder where this sense of respect comes from. If earnings are a metric, he is more successful than I am. I met, in a shady bar, an entrepreneur who wasn’t buttressed by venture capitalists and who has never been the focus of an Internet article. I know the brand of clothing he manufactures (he told me), but I will tell you not. [It might hurt your sentiments and assumptions.] I know the cost of his assembly line, and how he looks at reams of cloth as Rs/metre.
His additional peg, in my respect is over; he leaves.
I am alone at the table. I return to think of the crossroads of my own life, when three men descend on this table. Needless to say, conversation ensues. They are visitors to this city of dreams. Very soon, we are talking of caste constructs. All three of them are Dalits, and without prologue, we are discussing the philosophy of Dr. BR Ambedkar. The conversation carries on, I ask of the Grammar of Anarchy, and Dr. Ambedkar’s constitutional beliefs. We talk of how every political party has appropriated him. Without understanding the essence of his beliefs and philosophy. My caste, as you may already wondered, comes into play. I proudly declare it. One of the three is surprised in the manner with which I declare it. We speak of politics. How caste, is no more (which once was) a system of social segregation, but (is now) a system of political segregation. In the end we all agree. We eat Tandoori Chicken together. We exchanged phone numbers. I have been invited to my favourite place – Konkan (Dapoli) – as a guest of honour. Just then, a friend called me and said we could meet, so, with prolific excuses, I made my way out.
Shady bars are different. Sidey bars are different. In shady bars, alcohol is cheap. The patronage is ugly and uncouth (that depends on your perspective, BTW). Engagement is optional. Learning, even more so. For all the entrepreneurial stories of digital tech, there are ten entrepreneurial case studies of people who failed 12th and have provided sustainable income to 50 employees without “cash burn”, who come to such sidey bars for exactly one quarter. For the thousands of stories of caste strife that you see in in India, there are tens of thousands of stories of humans, devoid of caste identities enjoying, enriching each others company. Mass media, by it’s compulsions may pick and choose, and even distort the truth, but they can never alter the truth.
When, we sit in a sidey bar, we experience it.