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A trip to Vijayawada
I have been late in penning down my memoirs from Vijayawada and Vizag trips. Like cotton seeds drifting through summer breeze, those memories drift and become distant each day. I would have posted them all the moment I was back, but it so happened, that April proved even more eventful than the busy March that had just marched past. A good two weeks into May and John O’Conor’s recordings of Schubert’s impromptus and Beethoven’s bagatelles seem to have provided the requisite stimulus for me to recount at least first of the two memorable visits.

I and Jani had driven to Vijayawada from Hyderabad the same day as Sonia Gandhi was visiting Hyderabad. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw on our way to Vijayawada, trucks ferrying supporters from nearby villages to the Congress organized rally. Earlier in the morning, while driving from Airport to the heart of the city, I was somewhat aghast to find the city covered in litter of congress pamphlets, tricolors and other propaganda material – as if providence had plotted with party workers to ensure a rain of congress paraphernalia the night before. That complex construction, being assembled by the collective toil of my facial muscles, which is otherwise referred to as scowl, was demolished by a bolt of smile, when I saw that an enterprising party worker had contrived to insert the flagstaff of a congress tricolor into the hands of Ambedkar’s solitary stone effigy at a park in such an clever manner, that it seemed, the effigy itself must have come to life for a few seconds to enthusiastically accept the flagstaff.

We reached our hotel after five hours of driving, of which about forty five minutes were spent meandering through roads and bazaars of Vijayawada in search of our hotel.

Vijayawada, as Jani had always told me, is the home of ‘Babai Hotel Idli’. He had introduced me to this culinary delight at Chutneys in Hyderabad during a visit last year. The dish derives its origins from the humble idli (rice pancake). Succulent, hot idlies are served soaked in ghee with a dollop of home made butter on top, along with coconut paste and a dash of spice powder. On the whole, if it isn’t obvious from the description, this is such a delicious twist to the quotidian idli, that at its mere sight, an abstinent, austere sage will be tempted to end his fasting, while lesser mortals like myself, typically consume their year long supply of cholesterol in one sitting.

We reached ‘Babai Hotel’ at seven in the morning. The restaurant, set in a quiet neighborhood, had aura of an old man, who goes about the business of life with a practiced routine, but is burdened by the knowledge that his best years are already far behind him. And still the memories of the restaurant’s heady hay days, haven’t quite diminished – our Auto bore us there on mere mention of ‘Babai Hotel’ - without us having to qualify our destination any further. The building, where we stood after our auto-ride, could have been another one of those unpretentious houses in the locality but for the maroon Telugu lettering on a green board (much newer than the hotel itself) that identified it as ‘Estd. 1942, Babai Hotel’.


When we went in, to my surprise, the place wasn’t exactly buzzing with activity (like the hurly burly of Bangalore Shanti Sagars that I am used to). Jani and I sat across a wooden table on quaint wooden benches and waited for the waiter. I caught a glimpse of kitchen adjoining the main seating area. The waiter was meticulously laying out plantain leaves in a row and was putting together their trademark dish. The three or four people that were there before us, all had air of regulars visiting the restaurant for their daily breakfast; for a moment I felt a little out of place. Shortly we were given menus that we flipped through as a mere formality, for we knew well what we were here for - Babai Hotel Idlies.

The idilies came and pleased both our tongues and tummies. We did try another dish but our palates had already tasted a better variety elsewhere. The meal was washed down with hot coffee.

While paying the bill at a makeshift counter in one corner of the room, I surveyed the wall behind. Few feet above the cash counter hung a magnificent painting depicting dusk at a mythical battlefield where Ganesha, having slain the demons, stood triumphantly (this was the first time I had seen depiction of Ganesha as a warrior with bow and arrow, in a battlefield). As my eyes drifted down, I saw a framed citation stuck to one of the columns next to the wall. It was a short note from Rashtrapati Bahavan (President’s Residence), expressing former President Neelam Sanjeev Reddy’s gratitude for the services of Babai Hotel’s proprietor.


As I carefully kept the receipt; which I had demanded because I wanted to carry a souvenir from this historic restaurant, in my wallet, I couldn’t help but marvel at how a small restaurant in a small Andhra town; in this world of brand names, trademarks, and bloated marketing budgets, had not only invented a dish but had also propagated it throughout the state – while keeping its original name, that gives out the dish’s provenance, intact.


posted: 12.5.05


"lesser mortals like myself, typically consume their year long supply of cholesterol in one sitting. "

LOL Deepak if you managed to consume a YEAR's supply of cholestrol in that sitting, you either ate like an elephant or you sruvive on boiled food otherwise! So which is it? ;-)

Great reading as always - promise to read carefully next time! ;-)

By Blogger Geetanjali, at 13.5.05  

Your travelogues are awesome to read!

By Blogger ash, at 14.5.05  

Wonderful narration and what a memorable trip it was! I am waiting to take you one of the most blissful places in Andhra; my hometown Rajahmundry .

By Anonymous Jani, at 15.5.05  

:-) Thanks Geetanjali!

Thanks Ash!

Thanks Jani. We'll definitely do a Rajamundry trip one day!

By Blogger Deepak, at 17.5.05  

I love Rajamahendravaram :-)

By Anonymous Sudhakar, at 17.5.05  

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