The story of  the waiter of  Hotel Sawon by Raja Ravi Sekhar -

Parts of this story are true and some have been made more interesting to hold the attention of the reader. Many of my chess students, especially those aged between 6 to 10 have heard this story many times over and enjoyed it a great deal too.

It must have been sometime in the years close to 1977 when I used to play in many chess tournaments all over the country , often as many as 17 to 20 tournaments in a calendar year , most of them being of short duration of  7 to 9 rounds swiss - I think that we have many bachelors , young men today and perhaps even young women with a rather similar lifestyle - Many people who are not very active in the chess field often wonder what the lifestyle of a typical chess player would be - Put simply , they play in many tournaments , stay in hotels , eat in restaurants , possibly watch movies or play cards when they are not engaged in serious chess analysis and preparation for their games - A lot of time is spent in serious opening preparation for their prospective opponents - Some players indulge in noisy group analysis with many suggestions coming from several "hands" - Some are very secretive , keeping to themselves , do not socialise much and lock themselves within their rooms to keep on studying about the game - A few have their favourite and loyal cronies around to keep company when analysis is going on - Life does not change much  no matter where you are and when it is -     

The Indian Railways has improved a great deal over the years especially since the time all reservations were made computerised , doing away with the long queues , touts , agents etc - However in the early days there were no catering services on board the trains - No pantry cars where you could sneak off for a quick bite - Travellers were forced to alight at important stations and have their food , sometimes in a hurry lest they miss the train that would depart within 30 or so minutes - It was a common sight to see all travellers making a beeline for stalls peddling meal packets , snacks like idlis , omelettes etc -

Coming back to the story , this was also the time when Andhra Pradesh was facing the Naxalite menace , the  struggle for an independant Telengana and it turned out that there was an all state "bandh" (foreigners read "shut down") in Andhra Pradesh just around the time our train was passing through - I think that we were travelling from Calcutta (now Kolkota) to Madras (Now Chennai) and though the train did stop at many towns in Andhra , the stations wore a deserted look - The point is that none of us could get anything to eat for maybe close to 30 hours - As the Andhra border is only a couple of  hours from Madras , we had to go without anything till we got off at good old Central Railway station in Madras -  

Feeling terribly weak , I got into an auto in a hurry and asked him to proceed to Hotel Sawon at Luz Corner , Mylapore , one of our favourite haunts - (In earlier times I think there was a Hotel Gupta's at the same spot and later on I came across a Hotel Picnic - Wonder what is there now) During 1972-1979 we used to visit  Rayar's cafe on Kutchery road for hot idlis and also the famous Shanthi Vihar where they also had a lawn section serving hot chola baturas - Udipi Sukha Nivas was also well attended with people having a special fancy for their "ice water" costing around 5 paise and looking pale yellow in colour as also their nice "ice bagola baath" - 

Coming back to famished RRS in Hotel Sawon , I sat down at one of the tables and raised my hand - One of the waiters , you know the kind wearing a white uniform with red bands , came over to my table to take the order - Feeling faint I thought it would be a good idea to pep myself up with a cup of hot coffee for starters - Yep, I needed to get a coffee inside me so that I would have the energy to eat further - " A coffee" I said and the waiter walked off - Very soon , he was back , plunked the coffee down with a thud and sauntered off again to attend to others -    

Aah! it was so pleasant to send the coffee down inside me and already I was beginning to feel a lot better - The waiter was back at my table and to my surprise he slapped down the bill beside my right palm and made to leave the place - A bit annoyed at this , I stopped him - Hey , I said " Who told you to bring the bill ? Fetch me a parotta now" The waiter seemed to frown at this (he seemed to want to swear or curse too) and apparently muttering under his breath, his eyebrows went up but silent he nodded and walked away - Must have thought I was some kind of nut who would take a coffee and then a parotta instead of the other way around -

He was back with a parotta - Oh! I loved the parotta of Hotel Sawon , so brown and crispy with tasty kurma to go along with it - I ate it very carefully with generous helpings of the green yellow kurma to go along with it - It lasted quite awhile but it was really good all along and not just because I was very hungry - A really good parotta and the kind we could get in Madras then only at Hotel Suprabatham near Valluvar Kottam - Ah ! I felt quite satisfied now and looked up to see the waiter - This time the bill came down on the table with a loud clang - You know how for waiters usually present the bill in a small metal plate so that the customer can leave some small change behind as a tip - I became furious - What did this guy think? Did'nt he know that almost everyone who ate that wonderful parotta had to continue with a coffee ? How could anyone end a snack without winding up with  a coffee or two for that matter ? " One more coffee" I barked "and take this bill away" - More grumbling , mumbling and grunting but the bill went away -

Back he came with a good cup of coffee and I took my time with it - (The taste of coffee varies - Tastes different when taken after snacks , better on an empty stomach or rather clean mouth and best after eating some vanilla icecream) - The coffee too was real good while it lasted and when I was through I looked around - Where was this guy and what about the bill ? I saw him lurking at the end of the hall behind the last table and raised my hand to call him over - The waiter sauntered over , taking his time and stood before me - "You'll want a parotta now, I suppose" said he and though spoken in the vernacular the sarcasm came across - He must have taken me to be some kind of crazy guy alternating between coffee and parotta indefinitely - Once bitten twice shy and he was'nt taking any chances - I understood and smiled "Bring me the bill" and his face looked a lot better as I left behind his tip -