Hotel Nilam (Family Restaurant) in Pandharkawda in eastern Maharashtra is the kind of place that sticks colourful plastic flowers on the tables, lurid waterfalls and sunsets on the wall. Also a poster of a smirking couple with, in large letters in one corner, an inexplicable "OPY".
My driver Manish and I walk in one evening for dinner. "Pandharkawda dal fry, the best!" Manish had said, so that's what we plan to order. There's a family at one of the tables, but nobody else. The young waiter comes over and says, apologetically, that we can't sit here. He glances over at the family, turns back to us and offers this stage whisper: "Family room!"
"But there's nobody else here!" I say. "And plenty of empty tables! Don't you want our business?"
"Yes," he says, "but not here. Family room, family room!"
"All right," I say, and point to Manish. "He's my brother, so we're family. Now can we stay?"
Manish butts in, enlightening me on the essence of the situation. "Kya hai, uske liye aurat ki bahut zaroorat hai." ("If we want to pose as a family, we need some women badly.")
Waiter nods vigorously. "But don't worry," he says. "We're cleaning up the VIP room for you."
"But we're not VIPs!" I say. He ignores me and shepherds us out the door, into a large space with several empty tables and chairs. "Can we eat here?" I ask.
"But this is not the VIP room!" he wails in distress.
This is not going anywhere, so we just sit down. The dal fry is superb.