I wrote this yesterday and while I was writing this, I wasnt sure if I liked what I wrote. So I decided that I would re-write it. Here it is.
Meet Salman. He is barely of legal working age and despite not being as famous as his namesake actor, this Salman has a fan following of his own. He is one of those numerous waiters serving guests at makeshift "government approved drinking places", or thekas, in Gurgaon. Thronged by sparsely educated locals and highly educated employees of the multinationals alike, these thekas provide a safe haven for those wanting to indulge in their favorite spirit. And Salman knows his patrons and their whims and he knows how to take care of them.
Salman knows what snack goes well with what kind of alcohol and is quick to give his recommendations. Guests must buy their alcohol from a "government approved wine shop" and then they may choose to sit at these thekas, located often right behind the wine shops. Thekas are so comfortable that they can put cigar lounges at five star hotels to shame. These thekas offer a wide range of options to patrons. From seating in an open courtyard to rooftop seats to air conditioned rooms to separate enclosures for women to private cabins, they have it all. Of course you need to pay a premium for facilities like aircon and privacy. Not to mention things like cigarettes, lighters, snacks, cuisine from almost all over the world, juices, mixers, ice cubes, glasses and other such paraphernalia that you need when you want to booze.
Salman also has the knack of remembering his patrons by their names and their favorites. He can count about 40 guests that are regulars and Salman knows what would make them happy. This is probably why Salman is so popular amongst patrons at Knight Riders, the theka where Salman works. Even the managers and owners are not complaining as Salman requires far less motivation or supervision while he's working. Salman says he and other waiters, have just two types of patrons - rich Haryanvi villagers and second English speaking office workers.
The rapid transformation of Gurgaon from a sleepy farming village into the millennium city has given rise to a new community of nouveau riche. These men have sold their farming land to builders and developers as astronomical rates. As a result, there is an entire generation of Haryanvi young men with a lot of money, big cars, too much time and nothing to do. Needless to say in the era of globalization and exposure, these men indulge in "royal" pursuits. Of drinking and gambling. Gambling is still a taboo in India, everyone does it but secretly, drinking is the new social norm. Most evenings groups of these young brash Haryanvi men would head out to a theka and ask someone like Salman to put on some latest bollywood music. Music that would anyway be drowned by the vociferous laughter of these men.
Large parts of the land sold by farmers was turned into commercial and residential properties by the builders. And businesses, both domestic and international buoyed by the India growth story seemed to have an insatiable hunger and capacity for these office spaces. So what probably was once a agricultural land growing wheat, now that a sky scraper, made of steel and glass, that houses thousands of white collar employees. Most of these employees live dysfunctional lives (of India in 21st century) and have a lot of money and time to spend, with their colleagues at informal or formal parties. And more often than not, these groups end up at places like these, and call for Salman to get them their cheese crackers and chicken tikkas.
Funny thing is that all these wine shops are temporary in nature. They are apparently supposed to renew their lease and license every year and despite coming with an expiry date, the owners invest like anything in these wine shops. The decor, the collection, the ambiance, the staff, the service, all of it is at par with any high street shop, if not better. If you want a lesson in visual merchandising, there is no better place to learn about it, than at these wine places. Since alcohol companies cant advertise on mass media, they spend a lot of money on these shops and turn these into their marketing and communication playground.
But despite the temporary arrangement, business is good at these makeshift drinking places. Salman is not complaining. If not for this place, he would probably be an office boy at one of these companies. Here, apart from his salary of Rs. 6000 a month, he takes home as much each week in tips. He says, "On the month ends when most office going people have their pockets full of their salary, I get more tips. I love those days". And while he was reminiscing about those days, he spotted on of his regulars enter the AC room that he tenders to. Beaming from ear to ear, he put his cleaning cloth back on his shoulder and rushed to the table of another patron.