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Journal entry

Goodbye 2016. Hello 2017.

Seeking answers in the Permit Room.

YOU WILL NOT BE SURPRISED to learn, dear reader, that December’s fuggy cloud of tiredness is driving me once again to seek answers here in the Permit Room. It is my annual habit to try to make sense of the year, to understand what it was trying to teach me and to be grateful for it. A good bartender and a well stocked bar are helpful collaborators. I’m drinking this drink, my second Martini, too quickly. I normally find Royal Dock Navy Strength gin a little too robust, but this evening it is what I need. 2016 requires a strong response. A stiff drink, for starters.

Personally, I had found last year unusually hard. ’16 presented its own challenges too, but we get better at it I think. A dear and wise friend of mine, Mark, sometimes smiles at me and says, translating a German proverb, ‘We all have our little packets to carry’. I’ve been trying to carry mine cheerfully and without resentment. We have managed to make peace with each other, my packets and I, from time to time. Sometimes over a drink, sometimes in the fresh air of a nice walk.

On the other hand, I haven’t yet made peace with the mischief that 2016 may have wrought on the world. I’m left confused and I know I’m not alone. Maybe David Bowie was the one who was quietly holding things together. Those malevolent clowns. That rogue Microsoft chatbot. They were clearly signs of something.

Speaking plainly, sixteen, I don’t think any of us have the measure of you yet. You’ve been a capricious snake. Lying in wait with your angry tip-the-chessboard populism, your fake-news, your post-truth and your alt-right. I don’t like your ranting strongmen, whose cold-blooded sisters wait with sweet smiles in the wings (I’m looking at you Mme LePen and Frau Doktor Petry). None of us – not alarmist, not apologist – know what you have begun.

I’m disturbed that in 2016, nasty things that no-one could say became sayable. Single phrases – racist, misogynistic, homophobic – that were rightly unutterable just yesterday, became a good way to increase the poll numbers. It seems we can no longer assume that facts and evidence and reason are the right basis for debating our most important questions. Barriers are being thrown up everywhere. I don’t want this nastiness to get comfortable. It must stay unacceptable.

In times of uncertainty, it is all too easy for good people to turn against each another. We’ve seen this script played out in Europe – not that many decades ago – with utterly diabolical consequences. I have huge faith in the British to be fair and tolerant and I’m proud that Mosley and his goon squad couldn’t take hold here in the 1930s. I wasn’t for Brexit at all – and I have strong views on the subject – but I certainly don’t think Brexit was about racism. Brexit surely was about a lot of good people expressing dissatisfaction. And it must be true that we don’t really listen to each other enough. Not properly, not deeply and without agenda.

What to do? Take another gulp of Martini. And then? Earlier today I was with Carmel, the founder of Magic Breakfast who is on a mission to end hunger in schools in the UK at breakfast. She had some thoughts. She said (forgive my paraphrasing, Carmel) that good, kind and tolerant voices and good, kind and tolerant actions must carry conviction and thus set the tone of society. She strongly believes that each one of us in our own different way can help this cause and have an impact. She’s absolutely right and she’s an inspiration.

Good, kind and tolerant voices create decent, liberal and open societies. This is surely the best – the only – answer if we want to live harmoniously, if we want to live in communities in which we support each other. We can debate immigration law and customs unions, but let us never ever allow tolerance be on the block. Whatever gods you do or don’t worship, whatever the colour of your skin, and wherever you come from, we must all – deliberately and visibly – nurture generosity of spirit and openness of heart for each other. We can surely all agree on that.

For me, this is also specifically personal. I’m not just an immigrant – I was actually once a refugee. I came here when I was just a year old, ejected from home and without citizenship. This country took my family in, respected our difference, allowed me to grow and helped me to contribute. For that, I have deep gratitude.

My grandmother passed away this year. I was very close to her. She lived a long and incredibly full life, spanning at least three continents and nine decades. Her photo as a beautiful and demure girl in 1944 belies her formidable nature; steely, spirited and loving in equal parts. Wherever she was and however recently she had arrived, she was somehow always in the middle of things. She was expert at bringing people together over a table groaning with food, having cooked up a storm and tiring everyone out in the process. Without her, of course, I literally wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing. And without her influence I wouldn’t have grown to love Bombay. Her passing has prompted reminiscence about our own history as a family. My family have been migrants twice in the last century, once to leave poverty and once expelled by a dictator, with the British Empire a backdrop to our migrations. With much public discussion this year about refugees and immigration, it’s hard not to be conscious of your own story.

One of the things I’m most proud of this year is how many of you – our team and our guests – got involved with our celebration of Raksha Bandhan. We took inspiration from Rabindranath-ji, who appropriated this ceremony (more normally for brothers and sisters) to unite Hindus and Muslims in Bengal in 1905. Over several days in August we asked you to tie white rakhis (threads) on someone of a different faith, nationality or culture, as a symbol of peace and compassion – a literal knot of protection. Almost 7,500 of you took part in this humble show of unity. And for every rakhi that was tied, we donated £1 to Seeds of Peace, a remarkable charity that brings young leaders from conflict regions (including Israel and Palestine) together in summer camp to listen to each other and to create the mutual understanding that might actually bring peace. In 2017, we want to do even more of this.

Our events also continued to be joyous, barmy, mix-it-up affairs, and bigger and better than ever. Over a thousand people came to our Eid celebration in July. A similar number came to celebrate Diwali with us in October. It is a source of absolute joy to us that our Eid celebrations attract as many non-Muslims as Muslims and our Diwali celebrations attract as many Hindus as non-Hindus. Don’t just tolerate difference, come and celebrate it! At our Holi parties, two thousand people covered one another in (literally) a ton of gulal. That coloured powder has a wonderful effect. For a few sweet, mad, almost magical hours, we are all equal in crazy fun. There can be no barriers, no judgment, no prejudice. The memory is a touch bittersweet; it feels as though there isn’t quite enough of this in the world.

I mentioned I was with Carmel earlier today. Also with us was Bhawani, from Akshaya Patra. We spoke about the amazing year their respective charities have had, feeding millions of children in the UK and in India to make sure they can learn undistracted by hunger, breaking down the barriers to social advancement. We first linked up for Ramadan last year, and our ongoing partnership with both charities began last Diwali. The idea is simple – for every meal our dear guests eat with us at Dishoom, we donate another to one of these charities. A meal for a meal. And I’m incredibly proud to say we’ve so far donated more than 1.5 million meals. This is one of the best things we’ve ever done.

Now that Dishoom Edinburgh is open, we’ll be feeding even more kids next year. It also means we have added another 100 Dishoom-wallas to our team in a beautiful city. (We’ve also fallen in love with Edinburgh, and with Sir Patrick Geddes, and have developed a massive crush on the Scots.) It’s humbling to think that we now have the careers – the livelihoods – of almost 600 people in our care. We do not underestimate the weight of this responsibility. I can honestly say that looking after our team and trying to make Dishoom a great place to work has never been more important to us. The outside world may not make much sense right now, but within our walls – in Dishoom’s world – we are doing our best to be a place where good, kind people can flourish.

Last orders in the Permit Room. I don’t need another drink; I seem to have written myself into a clearer, more optimistic state. I’m not angry. I’m smiling, I feel better and I think I know what to do. Thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me.

So, then, 2016. You were a piece of work, damn you, and who knows what you’ve unleashed. But you haven’t gotten the better of us and you never will. We won’t take it lying down. If you gave us nastiness, we will raise our tolerant and kind voices. We will work to make sure that hate always looks obscene and intolerance just feels unwelcome.

And in 2017? I suspect it may not be an easy year out there. However, in Dishoom’s world we’re going to be doing even more of what we love. Breaking down barriers. Celebrating difference. Feeding more kids. Trying to help more Dishoom-wallas in our care find their paths and fulfill their potential. And of course, along the way, we’ll keep sharing our stories of old Bombay with you, and doing our very best to make you happy by serving you the most delicious food and drink we can possibly summon up.

So, to you, dear patrons of our livelihood, whose every meal with us in 2016 provided another for a child in need, we thank you with deep, deep gratitude. Without you, we are nothing. No wishes could be warmer than those we have for each and every one of our dear Dishoom-wallas, our barmy family of big-hearted heroes who work to make this all happen. I’m honestly just proud to be one of you. To our loyal and lovely suppliers, we give thanks for coming on this journey with us so whole-heartedly. And to our families, those deep reservoirs of patience, support and love, we are utterly grateful for putting up with us. We ask a lot of you, and we know it’s not always easy!

As ever, I invoke Ganeshji at the start of the year. May he help us to be big-hearted and gentle, resolute and unyielding. May he give us wisdom when we are confused, determination when we are worn-out and courage when we have lost heart.

From all of us here at Dishoom, a heartfelt Merry Christmas and sincerest best wishes for 2017.

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Beks

Beautiful, eloquent and inspirational as always, dear Shamil.

MT Grdi

Great to be reminded that tolerance isn't yesterdays news but tomorrows! Still drying up my tears.

Eileen

I've been chatting with your wonderful team in Edinburgh about the work that folks are already doing to address food poverty and isolation in our beautiful city. Despite the affluent and privileged first impressions, if you scratch the surface lots of people are struggling. Look forward to collaborating in 2017! PS: I think the crush you have on the Scots is mutual!

Arty Welch

Dishoom is setting the "humanitarian bar" very high for all of us. I sincerely hope that we and others can follow in your footsteps.

David Blagbrough

Moving and honest reflections that beautifully articulate what so many of us feel. Thank you.

Vish

Excellent piece, keep up the good work!

Dominique

Beautiful, humble and honest. Thank you.

Tony Sandles

As ever, wise words well said. Thank you. Is there a cookbook in the offing for 2017? Sales could assist your charity work...best wishes.

stephen and luiza kirk

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts which are as ever inspirational and moving. Love, stephen and luiza (loyal customers!)

Reclusive worrier

I have been similarly pessimistic about the state of the world. After the brexit setback and the overwhelming intolerance and hatred towards anyone with a different political opinion, or with any meaningful difference at all, I have become a recluse. Thank you for the sliver of hope. There are things I can do to make my world a little better.

Naina

Despite having only visited twice so far, Dishoom has quickly become my favourite restaurant,with not just the food being exquisite, but this post being an example of why I love it so much. The raw and real spirit existing behind Dishoom as a concept is unmatchable and I sincerely hope your popularity continues to grow, in 2017 and far beyond.

Reshma

Such a beautiful message! May 2017 bring you more peace, lots of love and beautiful moments of togetherness! My husband and I absolutely LOVE Dishoom - it is our place to go whenever we have to celebrate something, when we have guests, or when we simply want to have some chai! Much Love & Light to all

Leah

People ask me why I love New Year so much and it is not just for the parties and the drinking. More so the opportunity or catalyst to share optimistic, honest and hopeful reflections like yours above that make it such a poignant and special time of year. What inspirational and positive words and ideas... thank you.

Anna

Beautifully articulate and universal in its sentiment. 2016 has left America divided as well. Suddenly we don't know our own brothers as we thought we did, "I’m disturbed that in 2016, nasty things that no-one could say became sayable. Single phrases – racist, misogynistic, homophobic – that were rightly unutterable just yesterday, became a good way to increase the poll numbers... Barriers are being thrown up everywhere. I don’t want this nastiness to get comfortable. It must stay unacceptable". Same story across the Atlantic, unfortunately. So we all better pick ourselves up and dust off and get busy in 2017. As our First Lady says- "When they go low, we go high."

Annemarie Simpson -Rede

I have not visited your humble abode as yet, but I was browsing the web, as I have just moved from Kent to Westminster and your resturant's name came up. Having woken up today, feeling quite sad, wondering what I could do to make my life happier, and after reading your thoughts and welcoming 2017, I felt a warmth inside, and even though it is 10.30 am, I not only want, but need to have breakfast in your fine restaurant. How wonderful reading your thoughts. I now feel ready to "go for my life" in every way I can. Thank you......I will visit very soon. You really should write for a wider audience, from weary travellers to disgruntled, tired souls,and then some! THANK YOU Annemarie xxx

Jill

Absolutely lovely dining experience! I've eaten here twice now! The servers are so incredibly helpful! Beautiful restaurant. Actually, best Indian I've had in England. I have another reservation for when I return at the end of the month. I knew it was going to be good because every time I pass by, there is always a line out the door!

Ama Mo

I have just discovered you online...and give thanks = Bahut bahut dhanyavad.. please forgive if there is any misspelling...it has been a long time since I was in India..in 1987.... performing, and yet not knowing that I am a descendant from the Kissoonlal family of Channai...through maternal line in Jamaica, now as a descendant living in London. This looks like the perfect place for me to bring my daughter for brunch/lunch to celebrate her 23rd Earthday tomorrow: 29.09.17. Contact mobile: +7948-182-584. I shall ring you in the morning to see if we can secure a little spot to eat and enjoy your ambience. Mi Sallei. Love and Light Eternally...

Linda Bennis

Lovely :-) PS Can we join you to celebrate the new year 2018?

DJCherylM

How moving and so true! What a pity it's "hidden" here! Might I suggest that you publish it on your facebook page for the WORLD to see and read!!! ;-) Keep up the goodness! Kind regards, DJCherylM

Ginny

Of course! http://www.dishoom.com/bombayglam/

Gwendolyn S.

I've been a huge fan of Dishoom since discovering it last year and I loved reading this entry which gave me more insight to the history of Dishoom. Looking forward to having more meals at Dishoom!