When I was in India last year, I went to Surat in Gujarat to visit two of my uncles. One day, we were returning in the afternoon from one of our jaunts when one of my uncles’ decided to yield to a craving for Chatpati and took us all to his favourite street vendor.
For those who may not know, Chatpati is another shining star in India’s arsenal of pavement spice bombs. It is a mischievous, hot mix of chick-peas, onions and spices.
The two men who ran the stall smiled broadly when my uncle introduced me and others in our group. They knew my uncle well because he was an old customer and also provided excellent word-of-mouth advertising for them. So once introductions were over they immediately started counting heads so that they could serve and impress us all with their fare. That however made me nervous because I wasn’t sure if my system was ready to handle the change and with a long trip ahead I wanted to break it in slowly. So I refused politely.
But my refusal was dismissed by both men in a way that suggested they had seen many young women appear at the stall and lose heart, only to devour their Chatpati after a little prodding and encouragement. So the prodding and encouragement began. They both insisted that it was the stuff of dreams. My uncle agreed saying something about angels falling from grace under the temptations of chatpati.
But I continued to demur.
While this negotiation was going on, my eyes fell on the sign on the front of their stall. Painted on the top were the words “Zamzamaat Chatpati Centre”. Now this stall, was really just a cart on four large bicycle wheels. In all likelihood, the men wheeled it around from one crowded spot to another to find business and then wheeled it back home at the end of the day. But I found it absolutely adorable that this old toothless man in the black cap (see picture) and his partner had ambitiously called a cart a “Centre”. They certainly didn’t know just how presumptuous and therefore amusing their name was, but I loved it.
During this time the nudging and negotiation over eating Chatpati had continued and we reached a compromise where I wouldn’t order my own but I would certainly taste from the bowls already purchased by others in our group. Both nodded happily, now that I had returned to the right path after seeing the folly of my ways. They watched me with expectation as I gingerly tasted the Chatpati. I couldn’t get the nuance of the flavour but nodded and smiled bravely even as a slow explosion took place in my mouth. After my smile of approval they were satisfied and went back to fixing and mixing stuff on the cart. I had probably convinced them of two things. Women are fussy, silly people and that none can resist the creations of culinary powerhouse – “Zamzamaat Chatpati Centre.”