Usually, when you go to wish a 36 year old Happy Birthday, you have to utter a number of platitudes. You have to say things like “Darling, how young you look. Err this IS your 28th isn’t it?” and much more in the same vein. In fact, if the 36 year old is a lady, other guests of the same gender will be peering closely for tell-tale signs of botox, even while the champagne is being swilled. One thing that none of the guests would say at a 36th birthday party is “You are quite the dowager now”.
However, from the 2nd of August to the 11th, a dowager will be celebrating her birthday. She revolutionized the restaurant industry and many factors about it. And when the champagne swills, Botox will be the last thing on anyone’s mind: her eponymous dal will be what everybody is focussed on.
When Bukhara came into existence in 1978, restaurateurs and hoteliers were apoplectic with outrage. It was felt that the menu was too tiny, it was felt that the idea of Indian food without pickles and papads on the table was tantamount to blasphemy, the idea of an entirely tandoori menu without any curries was madness. When they saw the seating, the nay-sayers had a collective fit. “What!” they roared with one voice. “There’s no cutlery laid out on the tables. How can you have a restaurant with only backless stools for seats? No foreigner will ever dine here!” A number of well-known industry watchers gave the restaurant a year to last out.
Granted that those were supremely conventional days back in 1978 when nothing path-breaking ever happened, certainly not in restaurant design. Still, one cannot but feel a pang for the herd mentality of the so-called ‘industry seniors’ who were unable to spot a touch of genius when they saw one. Let’s make no mistake: from the late 1970s till now, the one runaway success story is Bukhara and Bukhara alone. Perhaps it was the bold breakaway from the ‘family’ style of restaurant with six page menus and fawning waiters. Perhaps it was the refreshing novelty of being able to eat with your fingers in a five star restaurant. Perhaps it was the ability to actually see people cooking your food – for Bukhara was the very first restaurant to boast of an open kitchen.
36 years later, neither has the menu changed, nor has the heavy bias in favour of meat-eaters. There is no cutlery: you are still expected to eat with your fingers. Every international celebrity who has visited Delhi has dined at Bukhara. Even their mutton supplier has remained unchanged for all this time. And just for the record, he supplies mutton to nobody within India except Bukhara. Even the rest of the hotel gets its meat supplies from elsewhere.
Today, there are, expectedly, no nay-sayers. What there are, instead, are plagiarists, longing to cash in on the success of a brand that is neither young nor old, but ageless.
About the only thing that has changed is the number of seats. From 55 at the beginning, the neighbouring areas have been co-opted into making Bukhara the 36 year old that it is now. All else remains the same, even the crowd waiting for a table in the evenings.