The Invisible Hand, The Velvet Rope

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Ok, so here’s what happened.

An executive visiting the city wanted to treat her driver to dinner at a posh restaurant. A bit of gratitude for some exceptional service. The restaurant is one of those old-school places – not the most expensive but certainly one with history. High ceilings, uncomfortable chairs, archaic menus, stiff waiters and, let’s be honest here, good food. It’s like the British never left…the 1930’s.

Turns out, the colonial hangover hangs over more than just the decor. See, the guy at the door didn’t like how the driver was dressed. I assume this is because he was dressed like a, well, driver. I’m also reasonably sure that his clothes, while plain, couldn’t have been shabby or dirty, because his job was driving a visiting executive around.

Anyway, the doorman, or concierge, or someone, decided the man didn’t look posh enough, and asked the lady to leave him where he apparently belonged – the roadside. They graciously allowed her to come in, because her outfit was a-ok, but about her driver, no ma’am, so sorry.

If this was ten years ago, this is where the story would have ended. They would have humiliated the man, and the woman by extension, but maintained their exclusivity, which, as we can all agree, is the important thing here. But man proposes, Mark disposes. The lady posted the story on Facebook, it went viral, and the restaurant started getting slammed on social media, reviews and ratings websites – indeed all of online. Clickbait farms got wind of it far before legitimate media organisations did, of course, and fanned the flames so hard one would think they were being paid by the stroke. The whole thing blew up. Exclamation keys exploded from stress…

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Elaborate schemes of revenge were planned…

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People proved to be VERY misinformed about what “democracy” means…

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Some people tried playing devil’s advocate (apparently the devil has really weird capitalisation)..

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Even Huffington Post got in on the act.

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But among all the hand wringing, and screaming, and anger, were the comments about how Mocambo was “no more what it used to be”.

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And this is where I have to stop, point, and laugh my ass off.

Not what it used to be? What do people THINK it used to be? A haven for the poor and lower-middle class? A place where everyone is equal? How deluded does someone have to be to not realise that this is EXACTLY what it used to be, and what most such places continue to be? You think they get to charge half a grand for a couple of chicken breasts dipped in cheese (delicious, mind you!) because of its open door policy? No! Mocambo tried to do exactly what it was meant to do, what it is paid a premium to do. Keep the riffraff out – not let them spoil the delicate colonial atmosphere they are trying so hard to cling on to within those venerated walls.

Problem is, they are not supposed to make it obvious. Because that too, upsets the patrons. Makes them realise that they are “bad people” to want that barrier. So the velvet rope is supposed to be delicate, subtle, but always there. Always keeping those that don’t conform to the aesthetics of the place right where they belong – outside.

In this kerfuffle, it is somehow forgotten that the man who asked the driver to stay outside probably doesn’t earn a whole lot more himself. He was not doing it out of spite, he was just doing his job. And it’s his job, because the people inside would not accept it any other way.

It’s always there. Call it a colonial hangover. Call it romanticism. A pining for the good old days where the clothes were classy and the poor were invisible. But it’s there. How many have grasped a copy of Oliver Twist and wished they lived the story? No one. How many have done it with Pride and Prejudice? Call it royal, or vintage, classy, but this is the romanticism that places like Mocambo promise us a slice of. And they can do it only by keeping away those who don’t match those aesthetics. It’s there when diamond ads gush over the beauty of Maharani Gayatri Devi. It’s there when Calcutta Club enforces a dress code (Suits only!). It’s there when discotheques don’t allow sandals. Hell, it’s there when local goons manning pujo pandals chase away the beggar, or shove him to the back for a spoonful of prasad (if they are feeling particularly generous). Everyone is protesting Mocambo today, but we have lived with these social contracts forever. Perhaps it’s because we know this makes us “bad people”, but it doesn’t feel like it unless it happens in naked daylight.

Perhaps this will die down. After all, Mocambo is old-school enough that most of the clientele do not give a flying fuck about social media. But perhaps a poor man who kept another poor man out would be suspended, reprimanded, or fired as an example. All because he was doing exactly what he was expected to do – just not invisibly enough.

 

 

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