About this time every year I do the exact same thing. I sit in the Permit Room, a Viceroy’s Old Fashioned at my elbow, and think about the year gone by. All that’s happened and not happened. Always some ups. Always some downs. Always tears, always laughter, always joy. I suppose that’s the fun of it.
We’re asking where the time went, and wondering if we’re really any older or wiser, or just a touch barmier. There’s definitely more salt in the pepper and a little more comfort in the seat. (Roll on O January, fresh with your cold press juice and daily Sun Salutations…)
Somehow I’d like to think that each passing year brings a little more collective wisdom. Each year must make us better, surely? Perhaps sometimes it does, perhaps sometimes it doesn’t. Do we become more respectful of each others’ differences? Do we become more supportive of our fellow men? Those walls that separate us – you know, the ones that Rabindranathji warned us about – narrow domestic walls that break our world into petty fragments. Did we build them higher? Or did we work to dismantle them, even if we only removed a brick or two?
Late in the year came the news of Madiba’s death. A giant amongst men, he humbly tore down massive walls. For 27 years, he watched from prison as his people were systematically deprived of their rights, and yet he quietly stood firm in a Springboks shirt to teach us that retribution didn’t have a part in reconciliation. He created a nation anew and averted certain bloodbath. His passing certainly gave us reason to pause a moment.
We lost a few other good ones this year too. The blue-eyed Irish rake, who brought a Bedouin in from the heat for a lemonade. Mr. Reed, his talent fashioned in the white light white heat of Andy’s Factory. He looked good in eye shadow and influenced just about everyone who later made records. Two Auntijis – Tarla-ji whose cookbooks must grace every Indian kitchen and Maggie-ji, who certainly chiseled modern Britain. The Little Master left too; he’s still with us in Bombay, but lost to the wonderful game of leather on willow taught so successfully by the British (Memsahibs) to us (tax-dodging but handsome) natives. We’ll miss his grace and his cover drive.
In other sport news, we were thoroughly carried away by the ascent of the once-awkward Mr. Murray. He transformed himself in front of our eyes from the gangly Scot from Gregory’s Girl to a muscled statesman of tennis, a legendary Brit. Less convincing, of course, were the ash-less and whitewashed English cricketers.
The year, inevitably, brought much sadness too. Before we had grieved the horrific death of the young woman raped in Delhi, came the gang rape of a journalist in the Mahalaxmi Mills in Bombay. Appalling violence against women seemed to be everywhere. We were angry. Was India really this lawless? In some ways, however, it seemed we had too much law; December brought with it the decision to recriminalise homosexuality, to make good people into outlaws, a firm step backwards to greater intolerance.
People across India marveled at Mr. Modi, the man, the orator, the 3D avatar hologram, and many were taken by Gujarat’s growth, but we found it hard not to be shaken by the past of a man who may yet become Prime Minister of Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike and equal. Certainly he seems more at ease than Mr. Gandhi who gets older but always seems too young.
Elsewhere, the world suffered. Syria appalled us. The earth quaked in China, and a typhoon raged through the Philippines. A factory in Bangladesh collapsed and exposed rot in the West. Cyprus was (just about) bailed out while Mrs. Merkel sort of held it together. Nairobi’s Westgate Centre shocked while Cairo burned. Two bombs shook Boston.
Pop culture continued to fascinate us. The smiley virus twerked. Mr. Thicke thought he was ironic and blurring lines, but we knew he was just plain crass. (He does look like Simon Cowell, doesn’t he?) Harlem shook repeatedly. What was that about? Wholesome and lovely Ms. Lawson (or should we say Hi-gella?) fell from grace, while Mr. Saatchi was the worst he could be. We were secretly impressed that the Domestic Goddess was also a hardcore party girl. The deliciously bad Mr. Heisenberg finally broke. Two randomly daft Frenchmen in helmets got lucky, while the fashionable Mr. Bowie and the motherly Mrs. Carter came back unannounced. Kanye and Kim produced baby North, surname West. It was the year of the selfie (and the belfie and the helfie, apparently), which we took while wearing onesies which we paid for with bitcoins. We ate ever more burgers and chicken was just clucking everywhere. Cronuts came and went.
In our world, we feasted on Ginger Pig Bacon Naans, basked in the unusually glorious summer sun on our new Verandah, and finally celebrated a proper Holi (which was properly technicolour awesome). We ate Haleem at Eid and watched the Ramayana come to life at Diwali. We tried to catch memories of the Irani Cafés and baked them on to plates. And we had the best time ever when we got the whole Dishoom clan together (the whole caboodle – all of us, our families, our suppliers, their families) for our inaugural Family Mela. (We apologised for closing both cafés, and received an overwhelming response to our placatory offer thanks to this sign.)
Who really inspired us this year? It was those who broke down walls. Like the Muslims who saved the synagogue in Bradford. Like brave, firm of purpose Malala; if you are not moved by a teenage girl prepared to face bullets for her right to go to school, what are you moved by? Pope Francis – truly amazing. He washed the feet of women and Muslims, refused to judge homosexuals, sold his Harley to benefit the homeless and critiqued the harsh aspects of capitalism. He may not have ‘done’ anything yet – but he has already dramatically changed the tone of the conversation. And then there are the Mango People of the Banana Republic, the Aam Aadmi, who may yet change both the tenor and substance of our almost comprehensively corrupt politics in India. Mr. Kejriwal certainly has a task on his hands in Delhi, but millions are watching and willing him to succeed.
In our own small way, I suppose we’re trying to chip away at the walls. We can’t right every wrong, and who knows, the Palestinians and the Israelis may never find peace. But within our world, inside the threshold of Dishoom, we’d like to think that we can create a warmer world, a more innocent, barmy kind of place. Where we can all express ourselves a little and where we can all bring out the best in each other. Where Geeta, Sarah and Ayesha can celebrate Eid together. Where Holi wipes the slate clean whoever you are, whatever you believe. Where Pau Bhaji, Turkey Raan, Keema and Koliwada, all with their various religious pedigrees can jostle happily for room at the same table.
So, next year, we’re going to keep chipping a little. We’ll keep serving chai, making drinks, feeding you and looking after you. We’ll keep inviting you to Holi and barmy New Year’s Eve parties. We’ll keep trying to get non-Muslims to learn about Eid and non-Hindus to learn about Diwali. And at least in our world, we can try to make sure the world is as it should be, where difference is a cause for celebration and not judgement.
As ever, we reach into our hearts and wish you all the very best for 2014. We thank – profusely – all of those who helped us do what we do. Without our teams, without our families, and without you, our guests, we are literally nothing.
Sincerely, once again, in 2014 may Ganesh-ji make all your beginnings greater, your obstacles (and walls) a little smaller and your laughter a little louder.
Happy new year!
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.